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.