The governor’s office today reported the results of an impressive and eye-opening investigation into cheating on the state’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, or CRCT. In a nutshell: Shocking levels of cheating were discovered at 74 (or 4 percent) of the state’s elementary and middle schools; the vast majority of those 74 schools are in the Atlanta city and Dougherty County systems. (You can read more about the investigation, methodology and results here and here, and you can search the data here.)
We will see fallout from this investigation for weeks and months to come. But let’s go ahead and clear up one thing: The results, devastating as they are, provide no excuse for ending testing and accountability measures.
The ability to identify cheating when it takes place is a crucial element of any testing system; if anything, the state should have been doing this kind of work before now. But better late than never.
The rationalization that teachers and principals are bound to resort to cheating when their jobs and potentially their pay are linked to test results is already cropping up (see the reader comments section on my colleague Maureen Downey’s blog). That’s sick — and insulting to the thousands of teachers who play by the rules.
Even more insidious, however, is the implication that, because cheating occurs, we should de-emphasize testing.
In no other area of life would we accept such logic:
Corporate executives are under much pressure to make profits, so let’s eliminate balance sheets.
Political campaigns are hard-fought and have high stakes, so let’s eliminate voting.
There is no other area of American life where cheating is regarded as an argument against measuring success in the first place. In all other fields, we regard cheating as something to be guarded against vigilantly — and punished when it’s discovered.
It’s particularly pernicious to cheat in education, or make excuses for educators who cheat, because of the consequences and lessons for young people. What is the message to students who see their teachers and principals breaking the rules to avoid punishment? This is one kind of character education that doesn’t cost a dime, or take a single second of instruction time away from other subjects.
If schools need some ideas about how to guard against teachers and principals cheating because of the incentives they face, the rest of the world has plenty of experience to share.