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The roots and ramifications of a cheating scandal

October 21, 2011
Since June of 2011 an ongoing investigation in the Atlanta, Georgia public school system has found that a number of administrators and teachers were involved in a cooperative effort to cheat on standardized tests that are required by The State of Georgia according to an article in USA Today. The article went on to say that so far as many as six states besides Georgia have been implicated in ongoing academic dishonesty investigations regarding state mandated standardized achievement tests.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution first raised suspicions about raising test scores in Atlanta Public Schools about three years ago. Further investigations in APS found that suspicious erasures in 58 Atlanta Schools tests. Former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue stated that such happenings were “woefully inadequate.” The article goes on to state, “At least 10 states now currently utilize students standardized test results in teacher evaluations.” USA Today reports further that many teachers in APS felt pressured to cheat in order to remain in employed in the APS.
Further, in March of 2011, in The District of Columbia, 103 schools were found to have high erasures on standardized test exam answer sheets. The Dallas Morning News found in 2007 there were 50,000 cases of high stakes cheating on Texas Public Schools standardized tests.
On Friday, October 14, 2011 the first round of judgments arrived in Atlanta when 11 certified educators would receive formal letters of reprimand from Georgia’s professional standards commission. Eight teachers will receive 2 year suspensions of their teaching certificate. In addition, 3 administrators will have their licenses permanently revoked. Each will also be granted 30 days to file an appeal which would be very lengthy and costly. The commission is investigating 180 additional cases of cheating in the APS investigation that will remain ongoing.
Some have argued that legislators and State officials have contributed to this era of academic dishonesty in many states through unreasonable expectations The National Education Association, The American Federation of Teachers and even The ACLU have have held that legislating academic performance was not a path to success, and that the resulting high-stakes environment can invite trouble.
Teachers involved in the Atlanta cheating incidents defended, if not their actions, at least their desperation. Some described the pressure that staff were under, in part due to actions of the building administrators. One teacher reported that she was made to crawl under a table in a staff meeting because of her students’ low test scores. Apart from the potential legal ramifications of such behavior, school leaders should be very concerned about addressing student achievement in ways that demean staff members; in addition to the effects of workplace stress and low morale, some people, when pushed, will create the appearance of achievement. Cheating on assessments is indefensible; even so, its widespread and repeated occurrence suggests issues that are systemic, not limited to a few bad actors.

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