Widespread cheating damages accountability framework


Cheating in Atlanta schools to beat standardised tests in 2009 appears to have been systemic and pervasive. Eighty-two of 178 educators implicated in the investigation admit cheating; misconduct was documented in 44 of the 56 schools examined (the entire district is 100 schools). One school organized an “erasure party” where teachers and administrators created a social occasion out of illegally and immorally faking their students’ test results. The cheating in 2009, was prompted primarily by pressure to meet targets in a data-driven environment, a statement released by Governor Nathan Deal’s office said.  “A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation existed in Atlanta Public Schools, which created a conspiracy of silence,” the state report concluded. The 2009 cheating was said to include teachers erasing incorrect answers on state standardized tests. Former Superintendent Dr. Beverly Hall , who retired last month as head of the 48,000-student district, is accused of creating a culture of fear, pressuring faculty and administrators into accepting ever-increasing targets of achievement and turning a blind eye to the way those goals were achieved.  The scandal threatens the whole test-based accountability system.  It’s the scale of what has happened in Atlanta that is so shocking -it was not just a case of individual bad apples  but was clearly much  more widespread. The problem is that the system encouraged and  tolerate , or turned  a blind eye, to the violations in ways that  are still not  fully understood.  Something has gone very wrong if so many resorted to reprehensible behaviour in the Atlanta Public Schools system.  Critics suggest that such widespread abuse reflects a lack of confidence in the teaching profession over accountability measures reinforced by a sense of injustice.  The search is now on to find a healthier balance between accountability at the level of individual teachers and focusing on building organizational capacity to develop teachers and support their continuous professional development.

Reforms in the US are, interalia, focused on improving the quality of teachers and teaching, holding teachers more accountable for their students performance but educators are finding it a challenge to develop a system that fairly judges an individual teachers performance. As the stakes increase, the temptation to cheat  the system increases.


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