Test pressure didn’t create the CRCT cheating scandal

The numbers were good — too good. They kept rising, beggaring belief. The people who should have questioned them, should have inquired as to how those producing the numbers kept moving from strength to strength, instead got caught up in celebrating them, even taking credit for them.

The numbers were good — too good to be true.

Enron? Major League Baseball?

Atlanta Public Schools?

Let’s stipulate that the state’s review of dodgy CRCT results, prompted by an earlier AJC investigative series, does not on its own explain exactly what happened in Atlanta’s schools during last year’s standardized tests. The state’s analysis of erasure marks on student test sheets does not reveal who did, or knew, or ignored what. For that reason, Gov. Sonny Perdue and his staff have been wisely patient in waiting for the rest of the facts to come to light.

But let’s also acknowledge that cheating occurred. Barring some anti-APS conspiracy by the state, no innocent explanation suffices for a system whose schools were vastly overrepresented among the suspicious.

Surely, there are many innocent teachers and administrators — just as the majority of major leaguers didn’t take steroids, and only a handful of executives cooked the books.

Still, the alternate explanations from Superintendent Beverly Hall don’t cut it. The idea that Atlanta students are just really diligent about double-checking their test answers (and just happen to get dozens of questions right the second time around) doesn’t pass the laugh test any more than Barry Bonds insisting he was just a vitamin-popping gym rat.

When the next phase of investigation ends and — let’s hope — we learn more about how the cheating took place, some people will rationalize it as the inevitable result of an emphasis on testing.

That rationalization isn’t laughable, it’s abominable.

Start with the fact that some of the people who will take this broad-brush swipe at educators’ integrity are the same ones now bemoaning an unfair rush to judgment following the state’s CRCT inquiry.

Plenty of teachers and administrators in plenty of school districts faced the pressure to perform without cheating. Of the state’s 188 districts, 175 managed to avoid having a single school on the “severe concern” list that ensnared three-fifths of APS elementary and middle schools. Statewide, 80 percent of the schools under review were deemed in the clear.

So, clearly, cheating is not a reflexive reaction to pressure. We ought to be gravely concerned about any leader who would suggest that it is.

That’s particularly true for anyone who works with children and teenagers. If schools are not equipping students to face this kind of pressure, they will be even worse off as adults than we thought.

We can’t simply trust people to do the right thing, but we can verify it. For too long, we didn’t verify education results.

Now that we’ve begun to verify, the answer isn’t to de-emphasize tests. Baseball didn’t react to steroid use by playing down home runs, and Wall Street still measures earnings.

There’s one last commonality among APS, steroids in baseball and financial fraud.

Baseball players didn’t use steroids to be all-stars; they cheated to achieve the unprecedented: 66, 70, 73 home runs in a season. Enron didn’t cook the books to be merely profitable, but to reach soaring earnings and share prices.

And the scores of APS students didn’t just rise; they skyrocketed. Yet Atlantans didn’t demand that APS double its passing rates within a decade, only that it record steady, sustainable improvement.

Now, like fans and investors, we have to wonder whether we got even that.

220 comments Add your comment

Thank you

February 17th, 2010
7:34 pm

Thank you Kyle, for having the fortitude to call it what it is, cheating, instead of referring to it as an irregularity as if though somebody just needed a little fiber in their diet on test day.

Eric

February 17th, 2010
7:55 pm

“So, clearly, cheating is not a reflexive reaction to pressure. We ought to be gravely concerned about any leader who would suggest that it is.”

Sorry Kyle, but it is not at all clear that the cheating in this case was not due to pressure. In my view, it was done exactly because of the pressure to succeed. It’s time we quit focusing so much on artificial indicators of student success that distort otherwise good people’s personalities so they can save their jobs, make the schools look better, etc.

The Tar and Feathers Party

February 17th, 2010
8:19 pm

Fire kathy cox, fire cathy cox, tar em and feather em

Cobb Tax Payer

February 17th, 2010
8:58 pm

All schools in the state of Georgia that had a single “yes” on the number of erasers per student should be carefully reviewed and challenged by someone other than the District – this includes Cobb’s East Cobb Schools just like the South Cobb Schools. Cheating must not be tolerated ! Atlanta might be the worst but there are likely others !

puff

February 17th, 2010
9:01 pm

I agree that cheating is intolerable no matter what the motivation. “No tolerance” should be the policy, whatever the reason. However, there still is an issue about whether the way testing is done, and the rigidity of consequences for poor performance, make sense.

We've seen it coming. We all knew

February 17th, 2010
9:05 pm

As someone whose kids went through the Atlanta public school system, I can say without hesitation that this scandal is entirely consistent with the ethics and culture of APS. Years of involvement with the school administrations, PTA, School Board and central APS offices have revealed to my wife and I a corrupt and arrogant bureaucracy being propped up by some outstanding teachers and local administrators and the efforts of parents and students. It is absolutely impossible for any rational person to observe Beverly Hall and her cohorts at close range and not be nauseated by their attitudes and actions. APS operates primarily for the benefit of its central employees and corrupt suppliers; education quality, if it is considered at all, comes dead last in APS’s deliberations.

Dr., and I use that term loosely, Hall must go and should be prosecuted for negligence and malfeasance.

Chief Wiggum

February 17th, 2010
9:08 pm

So, Eric, serious question here. If standardized tests are ‘artificial indicators” of student success, how do we measure student success at the elementary and middle school levels? Grades? Those are so variable, and even more open to inflation and cheating.

So, how do we figure out who is doing well, and who is not?

Mike

February 17th, 2010
9:26 pm

Eric is obviously a product of the Atlanta Public School system…

An Educator...

February 17th, 2010
9:50 pm

Mike or Chief, could you give me some evidence that standardized testing is the best way to judge student achievement and is not just an ‘artificial indicator’ as Eric suggests. I have searched and searched for something concrete and have not found anything. However, we do know that some students, and even adults, do not test well. You can ask a student to explain something to you, and they will do it perfectly fine. But take that same student and put a test in front of them with the exact same information on it and they will freeze up. The anxiety of testing, coupled with knowing these tests decide your educational future, can be too much for some students. I see this every day. They get visibly sick just thinking about testing for the CRCTs. We separate students by tracks and tell some they are smarter than others and will be more successful, but we give them the same test. Does that make any since. Just as instruction needs to be differentiated, so does assessment.

I think that the people who sit back in their big offices and make these decisions, without ever teaching a class about anything or asking the advice of any teacher before implementing these crucial policies, are the ones doing the real disservice to schools. Children are not pieces of data to be examined and experimented with in order to figure out where not to spend federal dollars. Students are not learning what they need to be learning in order to be successful in life because tests dictates what teachers can spend their time on. Does any of this excuse cheating, if it happened. No it does not. But it sheds a little light on the difficult position teachers are placed in, which can lead to terrible decisions being made. We must wake up and demand education reform, before it is too late for our children.

Mariposa

February 17th, 2010
9:53 pm

The story of the CRCT testing scandal has been so sad and disturbing. In reviewing the CRCT tests my kids take, they aren’t particularly hard. I wonder if the answer is to use only national standards. Another question – why do the schools even have access to the test answers? The answers should not be provided to the schools.

midtownguy

February 17th, 2010
9:58 pm

Cheating is one thing, “dumb cheating” is another altogether. There are so many simpler ways to cheat other than erasing answers after the fact. Dr. Hall should be fired for no other reason than her “explanation” of the erasures. Any “educator” who would utter those words is, by definition, incapable of leadership.

This is why almost all the kids in my neighborhood go to private schools. As my neighbor says “You only get 12 years and one shot at your kid’s education.”

Devildog

February 17th, 2010
10:03 pm

You’re about as exciting and interesting as a cold bowl of oatmeal, no sugar, no milk, no raisins.
That’s committing the worst sin of newspapering—you’re dull. Better kick it up a few notches.

Dale

February 17th, 2010
10:17 pm

My question about this whole mess is simple. Why do the teachers even have the answers to the tests if this is something that is supposed to be “graded” by a third party entity? In my county (Dougherty, but don’t tell anyone), I believe the changes were 77% at one school, and more than 25% at several others. These tests are a joke in more ways than one.

bart

February 17th, 2010
10:24 pm

Of course there is no excuse fro cheating. However, Perdue has cut over 4 billion dollars from education in the 71/2 years he has been in office. And Cox has stood idly by and let him. Teachers have very little to work with, and in addition many teachers have been laid off so class size is larger.

Dale

February 17th, 2010
10:24 pm

Sorry Mariposa. I was typing, while you were posting. Someone please answer the question.

Intown Lib

February 17th, 2010
10:33 pm

The more I hear about our crappy schools, our dim prospects for a prosperous future thanks to transportation and water woes, and our leaders seeming inability to do anything approaching competent and smart to deal with it all, the more I just want to move back to the Northeast. Georgia is self-destructing. The snow just isn’t looking that bad anymore.

JB

February 17th, 2010
10:37 pm

The gov’t shoulda never got in the educatin’ bid’ness in the first place.

mike

February 17th, 2010
10:45 pm

I am sure glad all this effort is being spent to get those folks who are responsible for some erasures on these tests. This state has consistently been at the bottom when it comes to standings when ranked with others schools across the country. The current state leader has done everything in his power to nothing for education or for the people who teach it. Heck during Katrina, ole sunny canceled schools so the middle ga farmers had gas to get their crops to market. But lets us spend all this time, money and effort trying to catch someone based on a pattern of finger prints on a piece of paper. This will really be good for a lawsuit.

irishmafia

February 17th, 2010
10:58 pm

It’s a cultural thing like the acceptance of crime in the hood, trash lying around everywhere (how does being poor relate to not being able to pick up trash lying around?), the feeling that geetting an educaion somehow makes you white, and the general feeling that they are owed something because their great great great grandpappy might have been a slave. Cheating is acceptable if not condoned

Racer T

February 17th, 2010
11:26 pm

The state is picking on all the schools that are primarily African-American. They need to look into the white schools too—they are cheating just as much but getting away with it.

96 SC

February 17th, 2010
11:44 pm

APS is Guilty as charged of cheating on the CRCT. All APS Principals routinely take Title I Funds and buy luxury cars, homes, resort vacations and hot female and/or male companionship, etc. There is no mechanism for control or accountability of the Millions of Dollars the Fed pump into APS designated for low income students. Some schools do not even buy toilet paper for the student’s use. Please focus on the shenanigans at Mays High School and request an accurate accounting of all Title I Funds for the past ten years. I am sure the results of your inquiry will mean JAIL TIME for many of APS’ MISEDUCATORS.In the past, I have written specific info regarding APS misconduct to the AJC to no avail. Hopefully you may have the gonads to pursue these villains.

Scooter

February 17th, 2010
11:47 pm

Mariposa and Dale: The answers are not given to the administrators of the test, but each child has the test booklet. The principal and vice principal who erased answers last year (in a previous story) would simply have had to look at the test booklet and figure out the answers. In that situation, I’m assuming that the principal then made a list of the correct answers and then called them out to the vice principal.

Let’s picture a teacher changing over 100 answers on a single test. The test is given with a proctor in the room. The answer sheets and the booklet are immediately taken to the office, counted, and kept in some sort of container. The teacher heads back to class. There is simply no time to create a cheat list, pull out the answer sheets of students, check them over, and then erase them, then get them turned in on time. The proctor is right there. Other teachers are all turning in their books right around the same time. Is the teacher supposed to have stopped on the way to office, found an empty restroom stall, and then did everything I mentioned already?

So here’s another possibile way teachers are involved. Let’s say the teacher sees the child making a wrong answer on the test (after stooping down to peer myoptically at the test, read a passage or a math word problem, and figure out the correct answer.) She/He then calls it to the attention of the student. Now that would have to be done constantly with multiple students all within the time frame given for the test. And the teacher would have to be dodging the proctor as she/he scurries around the classroom to each student, peering at each test. The proctor would either be blind, in cahoots, or stupid. One hundred erasures on one test in one classroom? Come on.

OK. One more scenario. The teacher is told to come in during planning period or after school and erase stray marks, i.e. “clean up the test”. Which means that all the teachers are in the same room together wherever the testing materials are being kept. Don’t tell me that the administrators told the teachers to take them down to their own classrooms to “clean them up”. The rules are specific, written down, and told to everyone in a meeting before the test. Everyone understands that the tests are not to be taken anywhere. So…..What scenario is left?

1. A school that violates testing procedure by having teachers take their tests to their homerooms. That ought to be easy enough to find out because there is no way all the teachers at the school will cover something like that up for everyone. So ask the teachers at the school if they were allowed to take the tests to their rooms.

or

2. An administrator whose job security is on the line because if his school doesn’t make AYP, he/she might be either fired or reassigned to the classroom.

Hmmmm…. Over 60 answers on a test changed in a single subject? It’s got to be an administrator.

96 SC

February 18th, 2010
12:02 am

Kyle, let’s cut Dr. Beverly some slack. Maybe in her hectic world on numerous acronyms and buzz words, she was more than confident that her students could easily master the contents of CRCT. The Good Doctor obviously assumed that CRCT meant Can’t Read Can’t Talk which her charges could easily excel at without a doubt.

Getting real

February 18th, 2010
12:13 am

If you don’t know how the testing process works for the CRCT, please read Scooter’s post before automatically assuming it’s teachers cheating on these tests.

Will Remain Nameless

February 18th, 2010
1:07 am

Standardized testing is a horrible barometer for student achievement, and the grading process is equally corrupt. Shortly after I finished college in 2006, I took a temp job as a grader for one of the companies who creates these tests. For legal reasons, I will not be able to name the companies or states involved, however this information should disturb you.

The portion of the tests that requires human grading are the constructed-answer questions (essays, non multiple-choice math sections, etc.). When graders were hired, they were sent to an orientation run by the testing company about the grading protocol. First of all, we were instructed not to grade essay responses for spelling or grammar. Basically, the student could barely be able to write and could still receive a perfect score. Content of the answer was the only thing to be takes into account. The scoring system was a simple 4-number numerical system, with no justification given to the parents or teachers for the score. Just a number. A student would receive partial credit if they as much as copy a line verbatim from the material they were tested over(whether it was relevant to the question or not). Their reasoning – “Well, at least he read it.”

The hiring process was rather interesting as well. They became so desperate to staff this project, that anyone who managed a 4 year degree in anything was taken in. After the initial orientation, all employees were tested over the grading standards by being shown examples of student tests and assigning a grade. If enough matched what the testing company would have scored them, you’re in. If you failed, you got to take it 3 times. If you still failed, you were taken to a backroom to take it again, where you were fed the answers. Once you were in, you were assigned to a group who world be responsible for a certain portion of the test. For example, your group could be assigned 7th grade reading comprehension, 6th grade math, etc.

Once the actual grading process started, employees were trained on the materials for the first state. The passages the students had to read were – for the fiction: stories from other cultures and for the non-fiction: passages either having to do with environmentalism or the first woman/minority to do something significant. I’ll reserve judgment. Regardless, the process began for the first state, and the answers received were perhaps the most disturbing thing I have ever seen in my life. Absolutely horrific. The levels of grammar and spelling displayed by these students was pathetic. The level of reading comprehension was equally awful. I probably graded 50,000 essays at this position and I would roughly estimate that less than 10 were perfectly written. Good thing for them we didn’t have to take that into account! At about halfway through this project, representatives for the State Board of Education for this unnamed state showed up to oversee. One day, all work was brought to a halt, and we were informed that the scores were coming in too low, and that the grading standards were being changed. The standards were lowered in order to inflate the scores. Logically, that would mean that all the students’ tests that had been previously graded would be redone. Unfortunately, because this would mean increased labor cost, things were not done that way. The students who had their tests graded under the old standard did not have their tests re-scored under the new standard.Therefore, you had 2 different standards of grading used, and the parents and teachers at the schools would never know of the little “secret”.

As the project continued, we moved on to materials from other states. However, we were on a deadline to finish, or the testing company would have had to pay for another month of rental on the facility. Solution – once a group of graders finished a portion of the test, move them with little or no training to another portion of the test! During the last few days, after the group I was in finished our portion, we were moved to another, never shown the material the students were tested on or the grading criteria for that particular set of questions, and simply told “Well, you know what the scores should look like.”

Keep in mind what these tests could be used for. Your child could be recommended for special ed because of something like this. Please keep this info in mind when your child’s scores come back.

benny

February 18th, 2010
5:15 am

Wow, such condemnation. Am I to figure out that all the posters have never cheated? Never adjusted your taxes? Never went 1 mph over the speed limit? Cheating is cheating – call it like it is. The holier that thou stuff is really sickening. Also, goes on in private schools. They do not tell you as their goal is to keep their job. Why is it that I never see anyone willing to take action? No solutions that are realistic? Stop grandstanding. Stop politicizing. Start firing. Stop being politically correct. Say it like it is. Most students do not care and neither do their parents. Some teachers got into education because they thought it was easy. How about – it you cannot read on grade level you get one chance to catch up or you are out and in dish washing school. If you disrupt class you get sent home NOT TO ISS (which is so stupid). Go back to accountability and responsibility. Make it harder. Oh, that’s right. Every person has a right to be a genius. Every person can teach. Nobody ever cheats on anything. Private school is always the answer. Everyone is an expert on education and learning. Anyone could do a better job. Yup. We is in trubble and is we fixin it.

Edu-ma-cator

February 18th, 2010
5:30 am

Fire ‘em all, we know there are thousands of people ready to take their jobs….NOT!

Cheating pays better on Wall Street and the baseball diamond. I’m sure the fired teachers can find work there. I wonder how many people read the paper, act shocked, then rip somebody off in their daily business dealings….hypocrites!

Wallace

February 18th, 2010
5:47 am

Kyle, I like your article, and thank you for actually using the word “cheat.” I do have to say, however, that as an employee of APS for over ten years – And an employee at one of the schools on the severe list – That people, including you, are NOT GETTING IT!
The “pressure” that we get in APS is un-freaking believable. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen elsewhere, but working for APS is SHEER hell. I’ve quit twice. I’m getting a degree right now and will be leaving the day I get my diploma.
These administrators and central office people are loving their BMW’s, their “purchased” doctorates, the chance to finally have someone they can treat like crap – the staff.
The pressure in APS is off the charts. It does not make cheating ok and that is not my point. My point is that someone (myself included) needs to do something about these horrible people who are raping taxpayers and students while kickin’ back and chillin’.

MM

February 18th, 2010
6:14 am

I hate to tell you but not all classes are proctored. It would be easy for teachers to change answers before turning in the tests….. I also believe the state needs to look into those “purchased” doctorate degrees…It is amazing to me that they can complete a PhD in a year. We have many people that are being paid big bucks for those “so-called” degrees and are having other people do all the work.

GT81

February 18th, 2010
6:26 am

Is it “no child left behind”, or “all children left behind”?

David

February 18th, 2010
6:34 am

No Child Gets Ahead would be a more accurate description.

Churchill's MOM

February 18th, 2010
6:42 am

This just proves that my husband and I did the right thing sending our children to private school. We are lucky enough to be able to afford this expense, Georgia really needs to abandon the CRT testing system and go to a national norm referenced testing system. There are several good national test that could be used rather than allowing the Kathy Cox bunch waste money generating a Georgia only test. Georgia is in grave need of real educational leadership and it is obvious that Cox is NOT the one. I would say vouchers are the answer but someone needs to verify that the schools are doing their job and this mess proves that our State School Administration is NOT up to the job.

redweather

February 18th, 2010
7:17 am

After last year’s findings regarding End of Course Test results, this about the CRCT should come as no surprise to anyone. I just happen to teach many metro Atlanta high school “graduates,” and most enter the college classroom wholly unpreprared to do college work. There are reasons for that, and this scandal exposes at least one of the reasons.

Jeff

February 18th, 2010
7:47 am

Good job Kyle. Finally someone in the media is beginning to hold people who receive a government check to the same standard as they hold private companies.

Baghdad Bob

February 18th, 2010
7:50 am

It’s time school officials roll up their sleeves, pull up their pants (off the ground), and tighten their belts.

It’s very easy to prove the administrators cheated: Students use a #2 pencil to take tests. Administrators used the eraser on a #3 pencil. That eraser has a different texture and it leaves tell-tale streaks. Some of the administrators used white out and a pen to change the scores. Not cool.

I think we have a slam dunk case against the dunces who erased.

The Tar and Feathers Party

February 18th, 2010
8:04 am

Looks like Argentina and England are going to go at it again, time to play “Sink that Carrier.” Anyone got a thousand or so spare Exocet missiles, I need to know before I place my bets? Perhaps this time Uncle Stupid can stay out of it, I lost ten bucks when Argentina failed to sink the Ark Royal, mostly because of American satellite data, mostly. Oh well, I got it back on the sinking of the Sheffield.

Horrible Horrace

February 18th, 2010
8:06 am

Hopefully we will see many pink slips. Not probation, not improvement classes, not a second chance…NO…FIRE THEM with extreme predjudice.

Life is a high stakes test

February 18th, 2010
8:15 am

Way to go. Cheating is cheating and those who chose to break the rules harm their students and all of the other students and teachers who did not cheat. Perhaps as many as 10% showed evidence of potential cheating. That means that 90% did not.

At the same time, we need to take a hard look at the schoo systems who spend the most money and get the poorest outcomes. If the leadership cannot produce results, it’s time, not to cheat, but to get new leadership.
APS…are you listening?

The Tar and Feathers Party

February 18th, 2010
8:22 am

Well, if we are going to have cheating, we need smarter cheaters, these administrators need to be fired for stupidity. If the Stupid students use a # 2 pencil to take the test, then the administrators need to be smart enough to use a # 2 pencil to change the answers. Fire em all, and hire smarter administrators, even if you have to go outside the stupid education system to find them.

Bob

February 18th, 2010
8:26 am

Does anyone know the true per pupil cost per year in the APS ?

Horrible Horrace

February 18th, 2010
8:28 am

Bob…I would guess its the hightest cost in the State with the least return and worst test scores.

The Tar and Feathers Party

February 18th, 2010
8:28 am

12,000 bucks per year, Bob, that is the cost of the aps school system per pupil. I say give the teachers all a 50% pay cut, half for cheating, and half for being stupid.

Baghdad Bob

February 18th, 2010
8:29 am

What if, and I’m just sayin, what if the students were the ones who were cheating. What if, and I’m just sayin, what if an entire generation has snuck by us by cheating at everything. They don’t eat all their vegetables, they’ve been feeding them to the dog when we’re not looking. They’re not mowing the lawn, their spraying herbicide (salt solution) on the grass so it dont grow. What if this new generation of cheating brats is responsible for this cheating scandal?

I did some checking. The children of the corn are now old enough to have sired an entire new generation of corn people who cheat.

The Children…..of the CORN!!!!

Road Scholar

February 18th, 2010
8:32 am

Some above stated that too much prssure is at fault. What BS! We all have pressure inour lives. When a child grows up, and you make excuses for the pressure, how will they function in society? The boss asks you a question; you don’t answer because of the pressure? The teachers, and more importantly, the parents need to talk to their children to explain the need to calm down and take the test. Do your best, forget the rest!

The Tar and Feathers Party

February 18th, 2010
8:33 am

and they ALL became teachers, Bob, the Teachers of the Corn.

dewstarpath

February 18th, 2010
8:47 am

MM – You hit it right on the money. Hall’s Ph.D was
earned from a paper mill. She is clearly in over her head.

Road Scholar – Great quote at the end of your post.

The Tar and Feathers Party

February 18th, 2010
9:06 am

Speaking of paper mills, did ya see the paper mill schools where the tenure committee got their phd’s at Northern Alabama’s alleged biology department? Not one was half as good as Harvard, yet they dared deny a Harvard PHD tenure? Well, ah fer one says they got what was commin’ to em. Clearly school envy and racial discrimination were at play here. Should make a good defense come trial time.

The Tar and Feathers Party

February 18th, 2010
9:07 am

The tenure committee of the corn.

neo-Carlinist

February 18th, 2010
9:09 am

this may be a semantic beef, but the word “cheating” is misleading. it suggests that the students “copied” answers or employed the Sarah Palin “notes on the hand” technique. the crime here is FRAUD. the APS administrators who doctored results to suggest progress where there was none, committed FRAUD. we can debate the merits of the CRCT and standardized tests (I find NO value in such nonsense), but like it or not, it is the “standard” by which the GA Dept of Ed uses to measure success. the idea that a handful of bureaucrats and administrators would doctor test results in order to create the illusion of a job well done is no less criminal than the aforementioned Enron, MLB and you forgot to mention WMD frauds fosited upon Americans. if the state’s investigation warrants it, charges should be filed, certifications should be stripped and the guilty should go to prison.

Peter

February 18th, 2010
9:14 am

I agree with you Kyle…

Just say it…there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction !

The lies started 8 plus years ago !