Education More Cheating

Test Score Irregularities

Commonly Known As Cheating

By Daniel Muniz

My favorite columnist, Roddy Stinson wrote the following in one of his columns:

An analysis of student answer sheets from the spring 2005 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills found evidence of “irregularities” (commonly known as “cheating”) in 702 of the state’s public school classrooms.

Not that anybody cares.

Source: San Antonio Express-News

Before the advent of using standardized testing as the means to allow students to either advance to the next grade or graduate high school, lousy schools were fairly safe. Bad bureaucracy, poor leadership, and a host of many other terrible conditions allowed them to exist and even get worse because they really couldn’t be penalized. And since the public school system was a monopoly, there wasn’t much parents could do other than move to somewhere else.

And the bad schools didn’t have a problem with allowing students who were barely literate to graduate. For a long while, social promotion and a rigged grading system was the norm, so in a way it was really difficult for a kid to flunk out of school. And sadly, some parents didn’t mind either as long as their kids graduated.

As a result, the push for standardized testing was actually a revolt against lousy schools, especially by minority groups. They contended that not only did certain school districts have inadequate funding, but that bad schools could easily graduate almost illiterate students without any repercussions. The solution was to implement standardized testing so that every student was on equal footing with everyone else on the subjects that they should have mastered. And that way a bad school could be identified and appropriately dealt with.

The problem was that too many wily principals and teachers decided to circumvent the solution. The lousy schools and even some of the good ones began to “teach to the test” to ensure that their students passed. The perverse incentive was that everybody must pass the test no matter what. Consequently, the subjects that were once important to learn were tossed to the wayside if it wasn’t included in the standardized test. Instead of using a broad approach so that a child can have a full learning experience, schools took the easy way out and woe to any teacher who had students that failed.

And many principals refused to accept the concept that failure of a student is actually natural and that it may even be a positive event in determining how to accurately gauge effectiveness and identify deficiencies. In addition, some students don’t want to learn while others have to struggle with their schoolwork and then there are other kids that just have bad habits so that learning is next to impossible in their current situation. Consequently, there are just so many instances where the teacher and the education system may not be at fault.

However, instead of identifying problems and focusing on solutions, schools identified the “test” as the problem and passing it as the answer. Consequently, this half-baked approach became an easy solution to a problem regardless of the fact that a kid may not learn much else. I don’t want to go into the pros and cons of standardized testing but I will say that its intention was noble. There was a bad system in place and nothing was being done about it so standardized testing became the solution.

So regardless of how noble the intent was, lots of schools took the easy way out which is what produced the ire that so many critics have heaped upon standardized testing. But for the worst of the worst schools, even “teaching to the test” was too difficult in the first place; not that it wasn’t done but spoon feeding kids still did not get enough to get kids to pass, hence the widespread cheating in Texas and across the country. There are simply plenty of horror stories where schools simply encouraged their students to cheat.

And the cheating was easy for independent auditors to identify although the euphemism used was the more neutral sounding word of irregularity. That is, a bad school all of sudden had spectacular standardized testing results. And besides, it is not really cheating if you can call it an irregularity.

But the worst thing about the so-called “irregularities” is that nothing is going to be done to the offending schools. Parents sure aren’t going to complain as long as their children are passed to the next grade or are allowed to graduate high school. And the top leadership doesn’t really have the backbone to solve the problem except to ask for higher taxes or to get rid of standardized testing altogether.

Outside of true community and parental involvement, there really isn’t a way to solve the problem across the board. The good schools have strong community support to make them better. The bad schools don’t. And the lousy schools really don’t have much to worry about because they can teach to the test or simply allow students to cheat. And as it is often explained by my favorite columnist, there are no negative consequences involved so the cheating is perpetuated.

In essence, the revolt to use standardized testing to improve our education system has failed.

However in all reality, nobody really cares. So schools allowed the kids to cheat. Big deal! There is no public outcry or outrage. There are no organized demonstrations demanding a principal’s head on a stick.

Maybe if something racial happens or someone gets caught cheating in a football game, then more than likely it will get front page headlines. But lousy schools producing spectacular standardized testing scores while their own student body is failing is not enough to force big changes in our education system. And that is the real shame.

Perhaps now is the time for another revolt but this time the public has to hold the educational leadership responsible.

It takes plenty of hard work to create a great school. The good schools just didn’t appear overnight and it wasn’t money that made them good although that is often the false perception that is circulated. Parents and local residents have to care about what happens in their schools so that positive change can truly happen.