LA Times Editorial | http://lat.ms/ox3sAR
The rising tide of cheating scandals shows that the job of curbing unethical behavior cannot be left solely to schools and school districts, which are directly affected by the outcomes. (Los Angeles Times)
19 September 2011 - For better or worse, the stakes attached to standardized test scores are higher than ever. Now that schools can be taken over if their students' scores don't improve on the annual state tests, and now that the test results are considered in teacher evaluations, educators have more incentive to cheat, by giving students correct answers or erasing incorrect ones — or by looking the other way when others do it.
Incentive, yes. Excuse, no. The rising tide of cheating scandals shows that the job of curbing unethical behavior cannot be left solely to schools and school districts, which are directly affected by the outcomes. In Atlanta, the chief of the school system is accused of covering up widespread misconduct; locally, top managers at the Crescendo charter schools allegedly gave orders for teachers to open the tests early and drill students on the correct answers.
Most educators don't cheat, and we don't need to build an industry around preventing them from doing so. But there are simple, inexpensive steps California can take to search out and discourage the practice. It should analyze the multiple-choice test forms to see if they have unusual numbers of erasures. And it should flag schools where the improvement in test scores seems just too good to be true, because sometimes it is. Both signal that closer examination is warranted.
The state Department of Education did flag schools with excess erasures until 2009, when it stopped, for budgetary reasons. But the cost was only $105,000, and even in these trying times, that amount is a blip compared with the tens of billions of dollars the state spends on education. Not that California is alone; a survey published last week by USA Today found that more than half the states similarly fail to do this rudimentary screening. Yet the massive Atlanta deception was discovered because Georgia flagged excessive erasures.
California should waste no time reinstating the erasure checks, and should flag eyebrow-raising test gains. And then it should use the information to investigate any schools that seem suspicious. That last step sounds laughably obvious, but Pennsylvania has a system for flagging high numbers of erasures and yet did nothing with the results until education bloggers published a report on the 60 or so flagged schools.
The ones being cheated are students who aren't getting the education that falsely burnished scores suggest they are. States shouldn't need prodding to do something about that