Here are front-page headlines in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the last week:
“CRTC scandal stuns the state”
“Cheating details revealed”
“Atlanta board calls for cheating probe”
“CRTC” stands for “criterion-referenced competency tests,” and they are administered to students in grades 3-8 to gauge learning. The problem is signaled in the first few paragraphs of one of the stories:
“One a late June day two years ago, two DeKalb County school administrators panicked. A few dozen of their elementary school students had just finished high-stakes summer retests–exams first taken in spring but not passed. With just a glance at the answer sheets, Atherton Elementary Principal James Berry and Assistant Principal Doretha Alexander saw they were in trouble.
“We cannot not make AYP,’ Alexander said. Not making AYP, or adequate yearly progress, meant not meeting a required federal benchmark. These students, all fifth-graders, also faced being held back if they did not pass.
“‘Okay,’ Barry answered. He pulled a pencil from a cup on Alexander’s desk. ‘I want you to call the answers to me.’ With that, he began to erase the students’ answers.”
That’s one scene, and it occurred a while ago. But official investigations have enlarged the problem, and the general picture is this: fully 191 schools in the state of Georgia, 10 percent of the total number of elementary and middle schools, are up for investigation for altering test answer sheets, the story reported.
The next day’s story put the count at one in five Georgia public schools. More than half of those schools had at least one classroom that displayed abnormal numbers of wrong answers changed to right answers. In one elementary school classroom, 4th-grade math tests showed an average of 27 answers changed from wrong to right (out of 70 total answers). In one middle school in Atlanta, nearly 90 percent of classrooms came up suspicious.
The extent of the scandal remains to be seen, and its impact is long-term. What happens to kids whose tests were flagged, but who might have done much of the answer-changing themselves in the course of taking them? What about the fate of the governor’s proposal to tie teacher pay to student performance (in other words, is this too strong an incentive to cheating)? Who is going to investigate all the individual cases and measure out relative culpability and punishments?
This is going to take awhile.