Cheating Scandal Spreads to Pennsylvania

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It’s one of those news stories that just gets more depressing:  the cheating epidemic that hit Baltimore earlier this year has moved on to Pennsylvania, where a whopping 89 schools were flagged for possible testing improprieties. (28 of these were in Philly, a city with 257 schools; in the Baltimore scandal, 2 out of 56 elementary schools were implicated.) As a New York Times story notes, “Never before have so many had so much reason to cheat. Students’ scores are now used to determine whether teachers and principals are good or bad, whether teachers should get a bonus or be fired, whether a school is a success or failure.”

The Pennsylvania story is much like the one in Baltimore, which was similar to a previous scandal in Atlanta:  School districts have little incentive to call foul on fellow educators; cramped newspaper budgets mean that damning reports sit gathering dust on reporters’ desks. When the news finally breaks, everyone wrings their hands for a little while, but ultimately not much changes.

The New York Times reporter concludes that we need a top official with the clout and political will to make a real investigation happen — and to make sure the cheating doesn’t recur. What do you think — does that sound like a likely prospect for Baltimore?



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  1. This “cheating” uproar is really the predictable outcome of a scheme which proposes to measure learning by means of a multiple-choice, standardized, closed-end instrument. Any true educator can tell you that such tools may measure factual recall (What year was the battle of Bull Run fought?), but have little to no chance of determining a person’s understanding of a topic, or ability to relate that topic to something happening in their life this year.
    The discovery that students, teachers, or administrators are boosting test scores only tells me that the institutions failed to set up proper measurements of what we want from a school system. If we want twelve-year-olds who can read a newspaper editorial to assess its value, balance a checkbook (or decipher a credit card bill), and express themselves intelligibly to their peers and government representatives, I have yet to see a multiple-choice test to measure that. So rather than throw up our hands in horror, let’s look to the disease and not just spot the symptom.

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