The last thing proponents of linking standardized tests with graduation and other high stakes wanted was teachers in handcuffs. But the indictments of 3 dozen Atlanta Public Schools educators for falsifying test scores will put the test on trial.
The group, ranging from classroom teachers to principals, face steep fines and jail time on 65 counts that include racketeering, making false statements and writings and influencing witnesses. Former superintendent Beverly Hall is accused of encouraging the vast cheating conspiracy through threats and monetary bonuses.
“Not only were the children deprived, a lot of teachers were forced into cheating, forced into criminal activity, said one of the scandal’s investigators, former Georgia Attorney General Michael Bowers. “Now, granted they did wrong, but a lot of them did this to protect jobs.”
Some of the teachers will argue that they were in a no-win situation. The public wanted better academic performances from schools but it can take anywhere from three to five years for positive changes – such as better teachers, curriculum and parent involvement – to show up in standardized test scores. Fake it until students make it may have been a more attractive choice than risking painstakingly slow, but real, academic gains.
That excuse is no more acceptable than the bank employees who argued that their livelihoods depended upon fraudulent mortgage loans. Refusing to commit a crime is not a brave sacrifice, it is our moral obligation. Some educators in Atlanta may be headed to jail. The vast majority of administrators and teachers do not cheat. When they do, it is just as wrong as when students do it.
High-stakes testing should surive its day in court. The expectation that all students can achieve ought to remain. And public education should continue to search for the proper balance between teaching and verifying that students learned something.