Friday, July 22, 2011

Atlanta Schools Created Culture Of Cheating, Fear, Intimidation

Boy, the more I learn about this Atlanta scandal, the more awful it is. 

Teachers spent nights huddled in a back room, erasing wrong answers on students' test sheets and filling in the correct bubbles. At another school, struggling students were seated next to higher-performing classmates so they could copy answers.

Those and other confessions are contained in a new state report that reveals how far some Atlanta public schools went to raise test scores in the nation's largest-ever cheating scandal. Investigators concluded that nearly half the city's schools allowed the cheating to go unchecked for as long as a decade, beginning in 2001.

Administrators – pressured to maintain high scores under the federal No Child Left Behind law – punished or fired those who reported anything amiss and created a culture of "fear, intimidation and retaliation," according to the report released earlier this month, two years after officials noticed a suspicious spike in some scores.

The report names 178 teachers and principals, and 82 of those confessed. Tens of thousands of children at the 44 schools, most in the city's poorest neighborhoods, were allowed to advance to higher grades, even though they didn't know basic concepts.

One teacher told investigators the district was "run like the mob."

"Everybody was in fear," another teacher said in the report. "It is not that the teachers are bad people and want to do it. It is that they are scared."

But schools (and school systems) cheating on tests isn't new and didn't originate with (or because of) NCLB.  Obviously, when accountability is introduced into any system, the incentive to cheat goes up – but the solution isn't to abandon accountability, but rather to take measures to combat cheating.


I don't think I've ever written these words before, but Diane Ravitch has it exactly right: "To say that tests create cheating is wrong.  What creates cheating is people who cheat. If we spent as much time teaching kids as showing them the answer, they might have learned to read."


OK, OK, pick yourself up off the floor – Ravitch didn't really say this about the Atlanta scandal: she said it about a NYC scandal in 1999 (, before she went off on a crazed personal vendetta, lost her marbles, and became a spokesperson for the unions.  While it's hard to believe now, she really used to be top notch.


Atlanta Schools Created Culture Of Cheating, Fear, Intimidation

By DORIE TURNER   07/16/11 10:20 AM ET

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