Education reformer urges caution on CRCT erasure report

Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust in Washington, D.C., responded to the recent CRCT erasure report with a call for caution in a correspondence posted on AJC education columnist Maureen Downey‘s “Get Schooled” blog. Here’s what she wrote:

I hate cheating. I detest it when students do it. But my blood absolutely boils when educators themselves are the ones fudging the numbers.

Few things are more serious violations of the sacred public trust that we educators hold. Those guilty of cheating should lose their licenses, period. The idea that “No Child Left Behind made them do it” is exactly what it seems:  an excuse, and an unacceptable one at that.

But as I have watched the “Georgia Cheating Scandal” play out in Atlanta and its surrounding school districts, I can’t help but be transported back nearly 30 years to my home school district of Los Angeles, where astoundingly high results on the AP Calculus examination by low-income Latino students at Garfield High School drew similar accusations of cheating. Then, as now, there is a powerful subtext:  “These students can’t possibly be performing this well.”

Those who have seen the powerful film version of this story – “Stand and Deliver” – may remember the devastating effects of those doubts on the children and their teacher, Jaime Escalante.

Sadly, that episode was far from unique. Ten years ago, after a new principal worked with her teachers to completely overhaul instruction at Philadelphia’s Stanton Elementary School, the poor black children who attended that school posted huge gains on the state assessment. District and state officials, though, were aghast. Once again, in their minds, there was no way those kids could possibly have gained that much.

Georgians would be wise to note how each of these two stories ended. In both cases, skeptical officials retested the children under more secure conditions. In both cases, the students did as well, or better, on the retest.

I learned two lessons from these experiences.

First, don’t ever assume that students can’t achieve at high levels because they are poor or black or have limited English skills. We now know unequivocally that – regardless of race, income, or family background – children can learn at high levels when we teach them at high levels. Public schools all across the country prove this to be true every single day.

The second lesson I learned is to pay attention to details, look at all information available, and never rush to judgment.

The report from the state’s testing vendor stated specifically that erasures themselves are not evidence of cheating and that “alternative explanations are possible.” The flagging criterion, the report concluded, “should thus be taken as a stimulus to look for additional evidence and find out what happened in the school” because “this kind of check only addresses the possibility, not the certainty, of teachers or administrators altering the responses of students.”

But that’s not what has happened. Nobody is saying, “Before drawing any conclusions, let’s retest the kids or see results from the next state assessment.” Nobody is saying, “Let’s look at other sources of evidence,” including Atlanta Public Schools’ significant gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress – a voluntary national test administered under highly secure conditions that carries no stakes for the student or the school.

Instead, many are rushing to judgment. As a result, many fine educators in Atlanta have been tried and convicted in the public debate, or exonerated because “they were under such terrible pressure from No Child Left Behind.” Frankly, I don’t know which is worse. Both are sad for children and for the educators who serve them.

Instead, let’s make sure the state test conditions this April are totally secure. And let’s complete the investigation and prosecute to the fullest any educators found to have cheated.

In the meantime, though, let’s also remember that when both our teachers and our children “stand and deliver,” enormous things are possible.


Add Yours
  1. Anonymous GAteaacher

    IMO, there is a problem with taking unrelated anecdotes and using them to compare this data collection from various schools in multiple school systems. This is not an individual case of a school or a classroom, where innovative pedagogy aligned with dedicated students to produce uncanny results. If such innovations were happening in Atlanta, for example, we teachers at the middle school would not experience students without basic computation skills despite scores that say that they have mastered or exceeded the standards.

    What’s worse is that middle school teachers here and in other districts often have to caution students that they will be assessed independently–without any hints or sly tricks from the proctor. I’ve heard of distributing Skittles that kids are taught correspond to test answers. Or, students were coached that their teacher would point or face a corner that designates an answer.

    Yes, Atlanta has the majority of the schools in question, but not the sum. That weakens the idea of a race-based conspiracy. Again, teachers in the metro-area were not surprised because such gains would have to be the result of an incredibly powerful literacy and mathematics initiative.

    One reason that the Jaime Escalante story was made into a feel-good movie was the fact that his students were able to show their mastery when re-tested. I’ve found that my students who’ve attended schools involved in the testing scandal are weak in all areas.

    So, I vigorously disagree with the idea of patience because the guillty parties have perhaps ruined the chances for a lot children. It’s just not right and it’s not OK!

  2. Georgia Teacher

    I welcome the state coming in to monitor testing. I think the state should monitor all classroom to ensure an even playing field. The problem comes in with how we use these results. We should look at the results to determine the school in the greatest need of resources and strategies. I am tired of seeing a seperate set of rules for norhtside and southside schools. It should be an equal education for all. Does it really make sense to give all our money to schools that are already successful?? Most educators in inner city schools are working twice as hard as educators in other areas. It is a tremendous oath educators take and some mountains are much greater to climb…can they get some HELP!!! Let the chips fall where they may this year on the CRCT, but let’s use the results to help our children. Put the money where it is needed most and get rid of bonuses or performance pay based on ONE TEST!! Don’t but all your eggs in one basket!!!

  3. Sal Marco Yancey

    Why focus on teachers when we have principals and Executive Directors “looking the other way” in the face of glaring inconsistencies.

  4. They Cheated Just Like Deerwood Ele.

    Yes APS Cheated again just like Deerwood Ele. Administrators Cheated previously!!

  5. Eze A.Ogbuagu

    I am a Expectional education teacher (T5)with nine years of teaching experience. I will be delighted to teach in your school

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