I remember reading about this problem in the book Freakonomics by Steven Levitt. Teachers have been accused of rigging the results of standardized tests so that schools are not penalized for low performance, as legislated by the No Child Left Behind Act
Cheating among teachers has become epidemic in America’s schools, with cases from New York to California, Florida to South Dakota, Tennessee to Maryland. “It’s more prevalent than anyone wants to admit,” says UNC-Chapel Hill professor Gregory Cizek, an expert on cheating in schools. “Teachers are paid to be role models. It sends a really destructive message to kids.”
Many experts say this disgraceful behavior has surged due to the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, which annually tests academic performance and can punish struggling schools that don’t show improvement. Feeling this heat, some teachers resort to showing students test questions in advance or—if you can believe it—changing their answers after the fact.
This is so sad that education has come to this.
Anything that raises the stakes to a level this high will always provoke this kind of response. Particularly when the stakes involve your career and livelihood. As the pendulum swings too far to the other side, it throws everything out of balance. It is my firm belief that rather than being a summative assessment, these tests should serve more as a formative tool, to highlight areas of potential weakness that should be shored up.
NCLB was a very good idea, motivated by the best of intentions, implemented extremely poorly. But this story just reinforces the perceptions about the educational establishment that led to NCLB inth e first place: Teachers and administrators refuse to be held accountable.
I would have to disagree with a blanket statement that “Teachers and administrators refuse to be held accountable.” While there are always those rotten apples, on the whole I would have to believe that there are many education professionals who do hold themselves accountable, just not to a rigid set of standards that poorly defines what constitutes “good learning,” particularly for the 21st century.
I agree that the desire to cultivate global standards by which student progress and teacher efficacy could be measured was pursued out of the best of intentions. However, and as you have pointed out, the implementation was most definitely not. One of the biggest impacts I’ve observed is that NCLB has simply further reduced the amount of time that students and teachers actually spend in the learning process. As an example, in districts where students were already taking one standardized test as a means to gauge student progress, they are now mandated to take yet another. Each of these testing cycles has the impact of disrupting two weeks of class time due to the way that the testing must be conducted. The school was already gauging its efficacy in a way that made sense to its community members and the cost of lost teaching time was accepted as the test results held meaning that allowed the district to focus its energies. These additional testing requirements do not hold the same value for these districts and the punitive measures serve only to cultivate resentment instead of collaboration and cooperation. It is forcing government and education to act as adversaries rather than allies. And we all lose because of it.
I still have to wonder about how NCLB has implemented high stakes testing. In what other field is one’s measure of efficacy judged by a test that is taken by others? How many doctor’s lose their jobs because their patient’s cholesterol level is consistently too high? How many dentist’s lose their jobs because their clients come in with too many cavities? I have no doubt that if that were the case, many in those professions would also seek to circumvent such a punitive system.
And yet here we are judging a teacher’s efficacy on a test that does not take into account the ability, aptitude, learning style, socio-economic status of those students who are tested?
I am not surprised by the article. I do not agree with the measures taken by some, but I understand why it happens. While I do not know a lot about the U.S. system, I never understood why a state government would threaten this kind of action if results did not meet a certain “standard.” I read a similar story in a North Dakota paper of how a district superintendent commented that, “even though results improved in the distrcit quite favourably, they did not meet the state tsandard and within a couple of years the state would take control of the district.” Talk about a hopeless situation. I always wondered about states/provinces taking over a school division. What would they do with it? How would they manage it? Better yet, how would they get results to improve?
We are just starting to get our heads around Assessment for Learning in Sask. It is good to measure results. At least our assessments are made based on the provincial curriculum and not some test brought in from elsewhere. I also have heard of cases where teachers are paid their salary based on test results. Merit pay overall sounds pretty freaky.
I travelled with a woman from St. Louis this week who said the St. Louis school district had lost its accreditation because of poor test scores. She agreed that these schools need more support, not to have their funding taken away.
No Dentist Left Behind
My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don’t forget checkups. He uses the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I’ve got all my teeth.
When I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he’d heard about the new state program. I knew he’d think it was great.
“Did you hear about the new state program to measure effectiveness of dentists with their young patients?” I said.
“No,” he said. He didn’t seem too thrilled. “How will they do that?”
“It’s quite simple,” I said. “They will just count the number of cavities each patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a dentist’s rating. Dentists will be rated as excellent, good, average, below average, and unsatisfactory. That way parents will know which are the best dentists. The plan will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better,” I said. “Poor dentists who don’t improve could lose their licenses to practice.”
“That’s terrible,” he said.
“What? That’s not a good attitude,” I said. “Don’t you think we should try to improve children’s dental health in this state?”
“Sure I do,” he said, “but that’s not a fair way to determine who is
practicing good dentistry.”
“Why not?” I said. “It makes perfect sense to me.”
“Well, it’s so obvious,” he said. “Don’t you see that dentists don’t all work with the same clientele, and that much depends on things we can’t control? For example, I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle-class neighborhoods. Many of the parents I work with don’t bring their children to see me until there is some kind of problem, and I don’t get to do much preventive work. Also, many of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from an early age, unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and decay. To top it all off, so many of my clients have well water which is untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference early use of fluoride can make?”
“It sounds like you’re making excuses,” I said. “I can’t believe that you, my dentist, would be so defensive. After all, you do a great job, and you needn’t fear a little accountability.”
I am not being defensive!” he said. “My best patients are as good as anyone’s, my work is as good as anyone’s, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than a lot of other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most.”
“Don’t get touchy,” I said.
“Touchy?” he said. His face had turned red, and from the way he was clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth. “Try furious! In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below average, or worse. The few educated patients I have who see these ratings may believe this so-called rating is an actual measure of my ability and proficiency as a dentist. They may leave me, and I’ll be left with only the most needy patients. And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it is labeled below average?”
“I think you are overreacting,” I said. “Complaining, excuse-making and stonewalling won’t improve dental health… I am quoting from a leading member of the DOC,” I noted.
“What’s the DOC?” he asked.
“It’s the Dental Oversight Committee,” I said, “a group made up of mostly lay persons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved”
“Spare me,” he said, “I can’t believe this. Reasonable people won’t buy it,” he said hopefully.
The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, “How else would you measure good dentistry?”
“Come watch me work,” he said. “Observe my processes.”
“That’s too complicated, expensive and time-consuming,” I said. “Cavities are the bottom line, and you can’t argue with the bottom line. It’s an absolute measure.”
“That’s what I’m afraid my parents and prospective patients will think. This can’t be happening,” he said despairingly.
“Now, now,” I said, “don’t despair. The state will help you some.”
“How?” he asked.
If you receive a poor rating, they’ll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help straighten you out,” I said brightly.
“You mean,” he said, “they’ll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had much more experience? BIG HELP!”
“There you go again,” I said. “You aren’t acting professionally at all.”
“You don’t get it,” he said. “Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score made on a test of children’s progress with no regard to influences outside the school, the home, the community served and stuff like that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think of doing that to schools.”
I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened. “I’m going to write my representatives and senators,” he said. “I’ll use the school analogy. Surely they will see the point.”
He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and suppressed anger that I, a teacher, see in the mirror so often lately.
If you don’t understand why educators resent the recent federal NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT, this may help. If you do understand, you’ll enjoy this analogy, which was forwarded by John S. Taylor, Superintendent of Schools for the Lancaster County, PA, School District.