Thursday, August 4, 2011

Public Education: Falling Victim to Performance Anxiety?


Those of us who care about the fate of public education and the increasing emphasis (or over-emphasis) of standardized testing should find what follows interesting.

In Atlanta, the scandal revolving around the role of teachers falsifying or helping students cheat on state standardized tests has had an impact on DeSoto, Texas, where an Atlanta assistant superintendent was hired for the top job in DeSoto's ISD. Prior to her first day on the job, it was discovered that she too was implicated in the scandal.

And now this.

A Philadelphia, Pennsylvania public school teacher admits to helping her students cheat on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA)...


"During multiple conversations with the Notebook/NewsWorks, both on the phone and in person, the teacher provided a detailed, consistent account of her own actions to abet cheating. Her compelling personal testimonial highlighted frequently shared concerns about the conditions that high-stakes testing have created in urban public schools. The Notebook and NewsWorks believe that her confession sheds important light on the recent spate of cheating scandals across the country."
"In the last two years alone, 22 states and the District of Columbia have had confirmed cases of cheating, according to Robert Schaeffer, Public Education Director of FairTest, a nonprofit critical of the “misuses and flaws” associated with standardized tests."
"Almost always, says Schaeffer, those involved say they broke the rules because they felt pressured to generate unrealistic test score gains and avoid sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind Act."
"“That’s the background against which teachers and principals cross the line,” he said."
"This teacher, a middle-aged White woman who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, told a story of tangled motivations and constant stress. At the end of it all, she said, she had trouble recognizing herself."
"The intense pressure from administrators to raise scores at her former school did indeed contribute to her cheating, she claimed:
"“It’s easy to lose your moral compass when you are constantly being bullied.”"
"But she was adamant that she did not care about boosting test scores. Instead, she described her cheating as an act of self-styled subversion, motivated by loyalty to her students."
"“I wanted them to succeed, because I believe their continued failure on these terrible tests crushes their spirit,” she said."
"Whatever the teacher's reasons, School District of Philadelphia officials say such actions are unacceptable."
"“In the end, the children are the ones who suffer from an adult’s poor judgment, regardless of the motive,” said District spokesperson Elizabeth Childs." 
An educator gone rogue?
A liberal whose compassion has run out of control?
An incompetent covering for her own failure?
A confused woman who doesn't understand how she's crippling her students?
None of the above? Some of the above? All of the above?
All I know is that we court this kind of thing, when public education becomes more of a jobs program for adults than a means by which we prepare future generations for productive lives which will positively shape the future of our country. 
I've seen the frustration on the faces of students who have successfully done course work but choked on standardized tests. I've seen the consternation of their parents. I have heard the stories of children who have literally gotten ill days before and the day of testing - nervous because, able to articulate it or not, they know the high stakes testing game adults are playing. 
Maybe this woman is simply an embarrassment to a very noble profession. Or maybe she's one of a number of heretofore noble professionals fed up because we've not been as creative in finding a better way of gauging how much students have learned, as we have been determined to pay the adults who keep selling us these tests. 

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