Unintended Consequences Of Standardized Testing?

Aug 19, 2013

The State Department of Education is investigating possible test tampering at a Hartford elementary school.  This follows a cheating scandal in Connecticut two years ago  and dozens more nationwide.

An outside investigator is looking into potential irregularities on the 2013 Connecticut Mastery Tests at the Early Reading Lab at Betances Elementary School. What those irregularities are is not clear yet, but a 2011 cheating scandal at an elementary school in Waterbury involved the school’s principal, an administrator and 15 teachers who coached students to erase and correct wrong answers.

Bob Schaeffer is the public education director for FairTest, a national group that keeps tabs on the testing industry.   

"In the last four years, cases of cheating have been confirmed in 38 states and the District of Columbia, most often in large, low-income areas like Hartford where students and teachers are under the most pressure to boost scores by any means necessary."

He says the widespread scandal in Atlanta involved a top-down strategy to manipulate test scores.

"Principals and teachers did everything from erasing wrong answers on the test, to going in and using exacto knives to slit open copies of tests before they were administered so they could see what was on those exams."

Atlanta’s former superintendent goes on trial later this year.

Though its disheartening to hear about cheating, Schaeffer says its not surprising.

"We believe that test scores can be a portion of the system that is used to evaluate students, teachers and schools. But in the current ideological and political environment, test scores have become the be-all and the end-all. And when that happens, people counterfeit test scores in order to get the rewards and to avoid the punishment attached to them."

The Hartford  Courant reports that the principal of the Connecticut school under investigation received a 10 thousand dollar performance bonus for gains in test scores and school employees district-wide received more than 2 million.

For WNPR, I’m Diane Orson.