Opinion: Real scandal in APS and other districts is intense focus on testing

APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen says the district may resort to furloughs if Fulton tax holdup is not resolved.

AJC education reporter Molly Bloom updated us last week on students whose test scores were changed in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal and whether they’re getting the promised academic help.

She wrote:

By the time Atlanta Public Schools got serious about fixing the legacy of a districtwide cheating conspiracy, half of the victims were already gone — dropped out, moved away, graduated. The other half, about 3,000 kids, are now the target of a 6-year, $18 million program to make up for educators “helping” students bubble in the right answers on state tests.

That effort, which combines tutoring, counseling and social services, ran through about $2.6 million before it fully launched this year. And the extra help it provides leaves out hundreds of children likely affected by cheating; it’s only open to children whose test answer sheets showed high rates of wrong-to-right erasures in the single year state investigators confirmed cheating, even though former Atlanta educators say cheating went on for years before then.

Educator J. Marcus Patton took up the issue in his blog this week. With his permission, I am sharing his column. A veteran teacher who has written several columns for the AJC Get Schooled blog, Patton is working on a book, “History is Story: Reforming the Way We Teach and Learn About Ourselves in the Information Age.”

By J. Marcus Patton

The children who were harmed by the notorious Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal are finally getting some help, sort of.  A story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week stated that half of the approximately 6,000 students whose scores were changed on standardized tests dating back to the year 2009 are no longer enrolled in APS.  The story explains that a program has been set up to offer tutoring, counseling, and social services to the “victims” of the scandal – but it is only open to those students.

Some of the students cited in the article seemed unclear about why they were placed in the program.  Some students who had asked for help were required to wait for years to get it.  And many, many students who need extra help are not qualified for the program because they were unlucky enough to have had teachers who didn’t change their answers on standardized tests when they were in elementary school.

This tragic mess was mismanaged from the beginning. It was created in an environment in which test scores have become the unquestioned standard of measurement in education – pushing aside all data about the quality of the learning experience.  It was provoked by a celebrated school superintendent who put enormous pressure on teachers to show improved performance on tests.  It really screwed things up for the number crunchers who misled the public.  And an enthusiastic prosecutor and judge made sure a few teachers and administrators paid the price for everyone’s inconvenience and embarrassment.

But did it adversely affect the students?  I just don’t see it.

A study commissioned by the current superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools goes to great lengths to describe the difficulty in separating the effects of the scandal from the myriad of other influences on a child’s performance in school, and concludes that the effects were “mixed” in math “moderate” in reading and English/Language Arts – “about the same negative impact as a student being taught by a first-year teacher compared to a teacher with five or more years of experience.”

Who was hurt here?  Certainly the former superintendent, whose reputation was pretty much trashed, the educators who were put through the grinder of the criminal justice system, the data collectors who were given corrupted data ….

But were the students – the specific students whose scores were changed – harmed any more than any other students whose education is being judged by standardized tests? Whose learning is directed by overworked teachers forced by their superiors to focus on appearances instead of quality? Who are caught in a system that focuses on uniformity of outcomes instead of cultivating individual talents and abilities?

Our educational system is broken, and it is laughable to think that a program designed to help a few kids and exclude all others is anything other than a public relations move by Atlanta Public Schools.  It promotes the fiction that the scandal was a discrete event.  It was not.  The truth is that our acceptance of easily-measurable outcomes as a mark of achievement in education is an insult to actual learning, and sustains a serious and ongoing harm to our children.

Every student deserves individual attention.  Every student deserves help in reaching his or her goals.  Every student deserves the best education possible regardless of the actions or inactions of adults in their lives.  It is time we take our obligation to the next generation seriously.

 

Reader Comments 0

75 comments
Dick James
Dick James

Don't blame it on the testing.  The testing didn't make the teachers cheat.  


There was a culture of cheating promulgated by the educators in the Atlanta Public School system.  In a civil society based on the rule of law, cheating is unacceptable.  


The teachers cheated, and they harmed their students by creating an environment where their cheating behavior was deemed acceptable.  It is, in fact, not acceptable in any environment where we seek to teach children the importance of ethical behavior.  The testing didn't make the teachers do it.  Their lack of ethical direction is what caused them to do it.

bev1972
bev1972

What if...testing was used as a diagnostic tool and the testing companies knew that was the intent? Would they then focus on preparing resources for remediation and extension rather than testing prep curriculum?  The "high-stakes" associated with testing would then be using data for a more noble reason - and the monies spent would be on actual ways to help students in real time. Change the assessments to include whether schools are using data to provide remediation for those in need and accelerated opportunities for advanced students. Change the assessments to encourage collaboration, rather than competition, among teachers/schools/districts. Change the rhetoric - from the status quo (high stakes testing) towards new methods using what we now know about how the brain works. High stakes testing is old school.

class80olddog
class80olddog

No, teachers are not against testing - heck, they invented the practice.  What they ARE against is using the results of testing to 1) retain students 2) give grades 3) award a diploma, and most importantly 4) evaluate the job a teacher is doing.  Heck, if you don't use the test results, why give them!  (of course, that is what teachers want - no testing, just trust us on grades, and SEND MO' MONEY, because increased spending on education always increases results)

class80olddog
class80olddog

I have been excoriated before on this blog for comparing Beverly Hall to Hitler (Godwin's Law), but I think it is an apt analogy.  So do you let all those German soldiers who herded the Jews into the gas chambers go free because it was their superiors telling them what to do and they would suffer negative consequences if they did not do what they were told?

class80olddog
class80olddog

The social promotion issue is one my "trinity" issues and is one thing that is deeply entrenched in the culture of teachers and in the educational system and in education colleges.  Every teacher says it is a problem, but then they can cite seven studies that linked (correlation not causation)kids being retained and higher levels of drop-outs.  Did it not ever occur to the authors of these studies that students who are retained are the worst students, either because of low IQ, or poor attitude, or poor attendance?  Of COURSE they are going to be at more risk from dropping out that the student body at large.  The better question is how many of the socially promoted students end up catching up and refrain from dropping out?  Many years ago I said that the best solution would be to return to the best practices of the past: if a student fails math, for example, they must attend math summer school.  If they still fail to master the MINIMUM requirements of that grade level, they are retained.  People on here constantly talk about how money would drive charter schools and other "anti-business" attitudes - why do you think principals are so keen to promote students who are clearly not ready to progress?  IT COSTS THEM MORE MONEY TO TRY TO RE-EDUCATE THESE STUDENTS (and it makes them look bad, too).

dg417s
dg417s

I was in the room 2 years ago when the former NEA President said the following:

Equity, excellence, and accountability for the whole system. That must be our focus and our agenda. You see, as we are all so painfully aware, the current accountability system--as they call it-- is totally driven by high-stakes standardized tests. But when it comes to tests and testing, let's be clear, we as educators are not opposed to tests. Good gosh, we invented them and we use them every week in our classrooms, but we also know the purpose of the testing should be to drive learning, not label in punishment. And most of all, and most of all, we understand that the misuse and abuse of test scores harms students. It is indefensible to use test scores to evaluate all teachers when only 30 percent of teachers actually teach the subjects tested and the students who take the test. And you cannot cover it up with value-added models. It is absurd to believe that using bad data from multiple years will somehow magically be converted into good data. Research says, no, not possible. And no matter how good a test is, no matter how well-designed, if the results are used improperly, it will result in bad decisions, period. (Van Roekel 2014)


To answer class80's constant complaint about social promotion and why we must have standardized tests, I don't argue that we do need to have some sort of measure of what students can actually do and make sure they can do certain things before they move on. I will say, I use the word "do" intentionally here. All the knowledge in the world isn't worth 2 cents if you can't do anything with it. I would propose that we move to a more authentic form of assessment. Frankly, how often do you go into a workplace and have to fill in a scantron to show what you have accomplished? No, rather, you have to give presentations, assemble a car, make sales, etc that show that you can actually do what the employer wants you to do. I googled "authentic assessment" and came up with this definition "A form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills -- Jon Mueller"


I like that - but unfortunately, it's not as cheap and easy to grade as a scantron test. I will say it over and over and over again, if we really want to improve education, we need to make sure that our students can "DO." No current standardized test will accurately measure that. We need to rethink how we evaluate learning. 


Believe me, class80 - I don't want a class full of socially promoted students. Unfortunately, I frequently get that. How do I deal with it? How do I show growth using the current tests? I cannot. I had a conversation with a colleague who teaches elementary school (I teach high school), and we were discussing how a student could come into 4th grade not being able to count past 20 and leave 4th grade adding and subtracting. Would you agree that that student has shown significant growth? He may not be on grade level, but he has grown. Unfortunately, Georgia Milestones rolls around and the student is asked to perform long division. The growth the student has made is not captured and both student and teacher are labeled as "failing." I agree with you 100% we do need some sort of standardized measure, but the tests we use aren't the appropriate measure. 


One last thing - I'll bring up the Common Core - and how mutated the intention got. Common Core was supposed to be standards, not curriculum, but the perception is that it is the latter. Common core was designed to keep students on the same level no matter where they were in the country - why should *what* a student should know be different in Georgia or Montana for example? Just to quote one standard from 9th/10th ELA "Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text." Does it matter where the student is? Shouldn't a high school freshman leave 9th grade be able to do that? I understand that there will be some differences - the Montana student doesn't need to know the intricacies of Georgia government, but it could be customized to make what is truly local just that.




MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@dg417s


It is not enough to assess what a student can "do" as in building a birdhouse, though skills are part of education.  Educators must, also, make sure that students are literate enough so that they can "think" with clarity, depth, cohesion and without sentimentality, seeking always the deepest truth possible. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@dg417s  You should use the tests to evaluate the STUDENT.  Evaluation of the teacher should measure how well they know the subject matter and how proficient they are in conveying that matter to their students.  Whether the student absorbs anything is up to the student.  Obviously, the best teacher in the world (from Finland, of course) cannot teach a student who is not present.

dg417s
dg417s

@MaryElizabethSings @dg417s Rushing in my few minutes I had to myself, I did not address the "think" part - I agree that students do need to be able to show critical thinking and that can be part of the "do" in writing and other types of assessment. My over arching point is we need to move from bubble tests that cannot measure what students can reason and do and move to the more authentic assessments.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@dg417s  So how DOES a student enter the 4th grade not knowing how to count above 20?

dg417s
dg417s

@class80olddog @dg417s I wish I knew. Do we blame the 4th grade teacher though? The current test and punish mentality says that we do.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@MaryElizabethSings @class80olddog @dg417s  Maybe they earned their trust.  Would you be comfortable driving over a bridge designed by a civil engineer who was given an oral test by a professor who in the past had a record of cheating on grading?

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog @MaryElizabethSings @dg417s


European universities have students take oral examinations after four years of study to see if they have been educated well for their degrees.  Those professors have been "trusted" all along the way.


Readers of this blog would do better to "trust" the perceptions of educators about educational phenomena, such as Marcus Patton and myself than to trust businessmen such as yourself and Astropig, and the bulk of Georgia's legislators.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog @MaryElizabethSings @dg417s


I am not going down your rabbit hole with you any longer today, Class80.  You keep digging that rabbit hole, though, since you keep stating the same educational mantra that is stuck in your mind, over and over again on this blog, for years on end.


The point is not blame. The point is how to improve the education of Georgia's students for the present and the future.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@dg417s @MaryElizabethSings


Thank you.  And, I would add that we must demonstrate for students not only how to utilize critical thinking skills (which has become pat lingo in educational circles) but also how to think creatively and uniquely.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog @dg417s


How?  Read all of the educational entries on my blog, www.maryelizabethsings.wordpress.com, and digest what I am saying, through the written word, and you will stop asking that question because you will know the answers for yourself. But, I have told you that for years, without your ever having bothered to read my entries in their entirety. That is why your discussion here is inane.  Your thoughts are based on educational ignorance, imho.

pay4play
pay4play

The NEA spokesmen are masters at appearing to support accountability and reform. But the truth is quite the opposite.

Rent the documentary film WAITING FOR SUPERMAN.

pay4play
pay4play

LOL. The film's director was Davis Guggenheim, who also directed AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog @dg417s


Just to be clear:  I am not advocating for doing away with paper and pen testing.  Those tests, however, should be used primarily for precision in instructional guidance.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@dg417s @class80olddog  The student never should have reached the 4th grade for the teacher to be "blamed".  If there was adequate testing in the first grade (or kindergarten), the student would not have left that grade unprepared.  But the teacher (first grade) should not be "blamed" for the child's lack of education if it can be shown that the child missed 40 days of classroom instruction. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@MaryElizabethSings @class80olddog @dg417s  I think I have read every one of your links.  But I don't think you have ever addressed directly to problems of discipline, attendance, or social promotion (maybe social promotion a little).  Or do you think these things make little difference in achievement?

class80olddog
class80olddog

@dg417s  "Common Core was supposed to be standards, not curriculum"  - but what use a standard if it is not enforced?  We have a standard that our product must meet a certain value - but what if we tested and found out it was much lower than the standard - and then we shipped it anyway?  (Hint: we would soon be out of business because of COMPETITION)

class80olddog
class80olddog

@dg417s @class80olddog  I tell you how a student gets to the 4th grade without being able to count past 20 - the ADMINISTRATORS (read principal) got him promoted (occasionally the teacher might take it upon himself/herself to promote them).  That is usually because they want them out of their classroom so they won't have to deal with them the next year.

pay4play
pay4play

What I'm concerned about are the millions in NEA dues money regularly funneled into blocking school reform.

And electing pliable Democrats.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@MaryElizabethSings @class80olddog @dg417s  Creativity is great.  If a student can come up with a better way of multiplying 19 X 15 (maybe multiplying 20 X 15 =300 - 15= 285), that is great.  But he/she should not be penalized (in my opinion), if he/she just uses the taught tried and true long multiplication method.  And hopefully they have memorized the multiplication tables by then. Of utmost importance is that the get the correct answer.  Close is only good enough in horseshoes and hand grenades.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Again, you're only thinking insimple dichotomies. Educational delivery should include students learning basic academic skills as well as exercising creativity. That fact should be obvious.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@MaryElizabethSings  Of course it should - but you need to concentrate on getting the basic MINIMUM requirements satisfied FIRST, before you move on to the creativity part.  What is happening now is that students NEVER get the basic building blocks.  You have to know your ABCs before you can learn words.  You have to learn words before you can learn sentences.  You have to learn sentences before you can achieve critical reading.  You can't teach critical reading to a student who doesn't know the words.  It is fine for the top students, but it doesn't work for the bottom students. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog @MaryElizabethSings @dg417s


Through testing. And, that can be through verbal testing, not simply pencil and paper testing.


I have never proclaimed I was against testing per se.  However, I have put testing into its proper perspective and relevance, as Marcus Patton has done.


You, on the other hand, have been trained to think in simple dichotomies, which rarely contains truth of a higher order.  That is WHY your discussion here is inane.  You have set up your own strawman and have debated that.  You have not absorbed what Patton is communicating.

BDKMBISH
BDKMBISH

@class80olddog @dg417s  Actually, if the child qualified as special education then often the parents will refuse to have the child retained.

class80olddog
class80olddog

"The truth is that our acceptance of easily-measurable outcomes as a mark of achievement in education is an insult to actual learning, and sustains a serious and ongoing harm to our children. "  So how would you measure achievement in education?

class80olddog
class80olddog


"Who was hurt here? " Try the businesses who hired graduates of the cheating systems and found out that the diploma they held was worthless.  They spend a lot of money trying to train these employees, and find they can't (hard to train a guy that can't read), then they have to let them go.  Then that student is unemployed.  Where is the help for those students? 


class80olddog
class80olddog

Because teachers and administrators hate testing so much (because it exposes their cheating in grading), they not come up with this idea that you should not teach facts and skills, you should only teach students how to "think". (how do you measure that - oh, you CAN'T - that is the great thing about it).  So it doesn't matter if a student can't do simple arithmetic and give correct change at McD's, or can't read that safety manual that tells him that if he puts his hand THERE, he could end up dead, or that it was once illegal to vote at 18 but later it was legal to drink alcohol at 18. The only important thing is that he/she can THINK (whatever that means).

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

If we are really interested in improving public education in Georgia, we will re-read J. Marcus Patton's article above and internalize his perceptions. Patton has spoken truth. His thoughts are sound as to how to improve public education in the APS and throughout Georgia. All of the rest being discussed now is inane.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@MaryElizabethSings  But he made zero specific recommendations on how to improve education, other than his non-starter about not testing.  If he wants to influence education, he needs to get down to the nuts and bolts of instruction - to see what are the primary causal factors in the failing systems, and what corrective actions need to be put in place to address them.  That is what a business would do to improve the quality of their product. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog @MaryElizabethSings


Patton wrote:  ". . .a program has been set up to offer tutoring, counseling, and social services to the 'victims' of the scandal . . .'


Patton further wrote:  "The truth is that our acceptance of easily-measurable outcomes as a mark of achievement in education is an insult to actual learning, and sustains a serious and ongoing harm to our children.

Every student deserves individual attention.  Every student deserves help in reaching his or her goals."


---------------------------------------------------


Check out the Democratic Caucus' Educational Plan in Georgia's legislature.  Improve the community resources to individual students and you will improve education. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

Let's be clear about WHY we have the testing "craze" that we have now.  At one time (sixties, maybe seventies), teachers gave grades and those grades were truly reflective of the students' work.  If they had totally failed to achieve minimum mastery of the subject, they got an "F".  Only the best students got A's and B's.  Then came social promotion - the PC belief that you irreversibly harmed a student's psyche if you retained him with his younger peers.  In order to pass them (especially after they did away with summer school), you had no choice but to change their F to a D.  Then came HOPE scholarship, with its 3.0 minimum requirement and suddenly students who were C students became B students.  Back to social promotion, students were continually promoted to the next level and now they were 3, 4, or more grades behind.  They were hopelessly lost in the classroom, teachers could not teach that range of education levels (even MES agrees with that).  They then graduated, even though they could not read a simple safety manual, could not write a simple report, and could not do arithmetic simple enough to make change at McDonald's.  So then the legislature invented testing, and in particular the GHSGT, so that these people would not show up at a workplace with a diploma and could not do squat.  But then someone decided that this BAD test discriminated against these students who had not learned anything, and the GHSGT went away.  Now, schools can show that they are "better" because their graduation rates have suddenly gone up significantly.  The bottom line is that any teacher that gives a grade that is not representative of the mastery of the subject is cheating just as surely as those APS bubble-changers.  But teachers will tell you that if you give those correct grades, you will find yourself unemployed.  So testing was born to give a realistic appraisal of where students actually stand, and that is why teachers and administrators are constantly fighting against them.  If the tests are bad, improve the tests, but don't get rid of them because WE NEED THEM.

class80olddog
class80olddog

I guess MES has no problems with the Wells Fargo employees who set up fictitious accounts for people and charged them fees - it is exactly the same reason they cheated - to meet unachievable goals.

Astropig
Astropig

@class80olddog


I've walked away from a job where they asked me,and then told me,to do things that I knew were wrong and illegal.I survived.My conscience doesn't bother me about making the right decision back then.If anything,I feel more strongly now than I did in those days.


MES and everybody else that tries to excuse this is simply doing it for purely political reasons.There's no moral principle involved,just political opportunism.


Nice analogy about WFC,by the way.Spot on.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Astropig @class80olddog  Those teachers had the opportunity to blow the whistle on their superiors - why did they not?  Or did some?  I have never heard of any whistleblowers coming out and getting rehired and back pay given for being fired for blowing the whistle on cheating administrators.

Astropig
Astropig

@class80olddog @Astropig


From everything that I have read,the teachers that tried to do the right thing were run off and their careers destroyed by a criminal gang that was in place at APS.


But no,we're told that the "real scandal" here was testing.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@class80olddog @Astropig

Unfortunately, the modus operandi is to convince the teacher it is in their best interest to resign or retire in lieu of termination.  If you "voluntarily" resign, it is almost impossible to prove that you were treated unjustly.