I first met researcher Ben Scafidi, then at GSU, at a conference on school resegregation where he presented a paper. Soon after, he became Gov. Perdue’s education adviser. We have philosophical differences, but I think he is true to his principles and I think he is always forthcoming on what he’s thinking.
You will likely agree once you read his piece on the CRCT cheating probe.
Now chairman of the state’s new Charter Schools Commission and a professor at Georgia College & State University, Scafidi wrote this piece for the op-ed page.
By Ben Scafidi
When Bernie Madoff and his accomplices embezzled billions from clients out of the world’s largest Ponzi scheme, it wasn’t the traders who ran the company who were sent to prison. Instead, Madoff himself earned a life sentence for the collapse of his securities firm.
So, too, should those at the top of public schools that have experienced widespread cheating during the Georgia CRCT be held accountable for what happened in their schools. For top brass to keep their jobs would be like BP’s CEO Tony Hayward keeping control of the company despite the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
But the education establishment continues to protect itself at the expense of Georgia children. Since this scandal broke last year and evidence emerged this month that cheating was indisputable in hundreds of schools, all we’ve heard is excuses including blaming kids for doodling on their exams to failure to properly erase and change their own answers.
The state identified classrooms as having “cheating problems” if the number of erasures from wrong to right answers were dramatically above the average for their grade level and subject.
An audit of the tests showed that there were, in fact, an extremely high number of answers changed on tests, and they weren’t changed by students.
What is the likelihood that a classroom of 20 students had erasures from wrong to right? If this occurred by random chance, the likelihood is one in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. That number is too large to even have a name — but with 39 zeros, it is quite an impossible chance.
Yet last year, some school districts were able to beat those odds because some wanted to take an easy route to show success for their students.
Once state monitors were put in place, test scores statewide dropped significantly this year in many schools that obviously had cheating problems. That leads many of us to believe that cheating occurred on important exams in 2009 and potentially earlier.
● In Dougherty County, for example, the fifth-grade reading pass rate at Martin Luther King Elementary in Albany dropped by 45 percentage points, after the independent probe of the 2009 test results showed cheating.
● At Atlanta Public Schools’ White Elementary, 88 percent of third-graders supposedly passed the CRCT’s math exam in 2009. This year, with monitors in place, only 27 percent of third-graders passed the math exam at the same school. This disparity in results should not only be shocking to parents but taxpayers who pay high taxes to fund public schools.
● National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, by contrast, increased significantly between 2002 and 2009 — a statistic that Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall defends as indicative of foolproof testing in her school system. Yet the sample of students taking the exam has changed since 2002 versus 2009, leading to questions whether the NAEP sample truly reflects the population of the school district and thus the true learning outcomes of Atlanta students.
It all comes down to this: Adults are supposed to set an example for children and teach them how to be successful grown-ups. When adults cheat, they send the wrong message to pupils that shortcuts are acceptable over hard work and learning.
This scandal is particularly harmful to kids because under state policy, those who fail the CRCT often are entitled to extra tutoring. Georgia parents are being misled about the quality of their public schools and whether their child is learning.
For the next few weeks, there is a fear that we will continue to see the business community enable school leaders in Atlanta and other districts where there has been cheating. To date, no leader had demanded real accountability for a scandal that hurts young people. Until all stakeholders say enough is enough, they, too, are morally responsible for another generation of children being promoted without basic skills needed to read, write, earn college admission or even obtain a significant job.
Just as BP’s Hayward will eventually go, the stakeholders of public education will have to rise up and seek the resignation of those who make excuses for cheating and failure. Kids don’t deserve the blame. Responsibility starts at the top.