The Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal may be recognized by educators and investigators as the most prolific case of cheating to date, but it is indicative of the state of education as a whole. In fact, those who deal with education matters say cheating is widespread throughout the United States.
Fair Test, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, reported in 2013, while the Atlanta Public Schools case was receiving national attention, that 37 states and Washington, D.C., had reported widespread test score corruption. Some areas which had reports of cheating were Baltimore, Detroit, Cincinnati, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, El Paso, New York City, and Philadelphia.
The forms of cheating included teaching the test, discouraging low-performing students from taking the test, and organizing test drills that involved actual test questions. Some of the more serious violations include, erasing the wrong answers and replacing them with the right ones.
Thirty-five employees of the Atlanta Public Schools, were indicted on accusations that they erased wrong answers and gave students correct answers during tests, among other things. Employees indicted include now-deceased Superintendent Beverly Hall, school administrators, teachers, and lower-level personnel, including a secretary. Fulton County judge, Jerry W. Baxter, ordered 10 of the 11 convicted at trial, to be arrested immediately after the jury issued its verdict. One defendant is out on bond because she is pregnant. A twelfth defendant was acquitted. Sentencing is expected next week.
Prosecutors used a federal racketeering and organization corruption law, called RICO, to charge those from the Atlanta Public Schools. The law, typically used for mobsters, states that an organization planned and ordered underlings to carry out crimes. It has been applied in other cases against groups like the Ku Klux Klan, and pro-life groups targeting abortion clinics.
The conclusion of the Atlanta Public Schools widespread cheating case came after years of speculation and investigation. Questions were raised by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, after a remarkable rise in school scores on the Criterion Reference Test (CRT) in 2008 indicated a problem. Andy Porter, a University of Pennsylvania dean at the Graduate School of Education, was called in to review the scores. A non-profit group dedicated to boosting student achievement, The Atlanta Education Fund, hired him. His report agreed with the findings of the newspaper, but no action was taken to resolve the issue. The governor followed by ordering an investigation, which was conducted by then-Attorney General Michael Bowers.
Those who follow education matters are trying to figure how widespread cheating is occurring. The general consensus is, that there is a lot of stress involved with testing, because the outcome is linked to money given to the school system and, ultimately, to bonuses for teachers whose classes score well. State and federal governments also penalize systems, like the Atlanta Public Schools, who do not meet accountability standards.
Those at Fair Test indicate, that the issue is not that schools are now getting caught because of more aggressive investigations being done. The issue, is that schools, like the Atlanta Public Schools, are misusing tests for their benefit, while the widespread cheating and lack of reporting is hurting students, who depend on a high-quality education to prepare for the future.
By Melody Dareing
Photo by Richard Lee – Flickr license