A Troubling Verdict

I had planned last week to devote my U.S. News column to Common Core testing, opting out, and what parents need to know as testing ramps up in earnest. But I found myself caught up short by the Atlanta verdict this week and eleven educators found guilty of racketeering in a widespread cheating scandal.

I’m in no way suggesting we should forgive those who cheated, misled kids and parents, and so doing, robbed kids of their education. But at a time when debate about testing has reached fever pitch, I worry that the image of teachers leaving a courtroom in handcuffs and facing lengthy prison stints is a bridge too far for education reform and risks straining our already complicated relationship with testing and accountability to the breaking point.

From the piece:

It’s hard to look at what’s happened in Atlanta without alarm and a bit of revulsion. How could this happen? What signal, spoken or unspoken, leads elementary school teachers to engage in “organized and systemic misconduct” bad enough to warrant a conviction on racketeering charges? Racketeering! No one wakes up one morning with a fully formed plot in their head to change hundreds of test scores in dozens of schools. Who bears the responsibility for creating “a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” that leads to “cheating at all levels” in a major American school system that goes “unchecked for years”?

Education reform runs on moral justice, political will, and test scores. Testing is, by far, the weakest leg of the stool.  It’s the most reliable means we have of evaluating performance, but it is deeply unpopular. The popular means—observations, portfolios, and “authentic” performance tasks—are imprecise, squishy, and easily manipulated. The Atlanta verdicts can only muddy our already complicated relationship with testing.  Accountability may start in classrooms. But it could easily end in courtrooms.

You can read the entire thing on the Knowledge Bank blog, here.

– Robert Pondiscio

This first appeared on Flypaper.

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