The Bigger Cheating Scandal

An editorial from a recent USA Today titled “Don’t blame tests for school cheating scandals” is so full of crap it’s hard to pinpoint exactly which part is worst.

However, this statement would be a good candidate.

To be sure, standardized tests shouldn’t be the only measure of a student’s knowledge or an educator’s performance. But given the depth and breadth of the school reform movement they’ve ignited, it’s hard to deny their value. (my emphasis)

The “reform movement” ignited by NCLB and the ever-growing layers of state and federal mandated standardized testing has brought with it neither depth nor breath when it comes to the quality of American education.

Instead for a majority of students, an increasing amount of time during the school day is spent on practice tests (now we get to do them on computers!) and drill and practice addressing a very narrow set of skills, most of which don’t even cover the minimum they’ll need in the real world.

No, the tests themselves are not responsible for teachers and administrators trying to rig the system by cheating.

However, the bigger scandal in all this is how USA Today and other media outlets uncritically assume this all-testing-all-the-time system of schooling is actually improving student learning.

It’s actually cheating millions of kids out of a real education.

Aiming For a Higher Level

In his Monday morning Post education column, Jay Mathews relates the story of a disagreement between a teacher and his principal over the issue of student cheating.

The teacher, an instructor of AP US History in DC, during his evaluation conference explained the steps he took to discourage copying during tests, which included creating multiple versions of the exam and printing the pages in a smaller font.

His principal was not especially impressed.

“You are creating an expectation that students will cheat,” Martel [the teacher] recalls Cahall [the principal] saying. “By creating that expectation, they will rise to your expectation.”

When I asked Cahall about it, he did not deny that he said it. His intention, he said, was not to prohibit Martel’s methods but to urge him to consider another perspective.

“I am not opposed to multiple versions of a test or quiz; it is standard operating procedure for every type of testing program,” the principal said in an e-mail to me. “Instead, I would prefer that teachers use more rigorous assessments when possible, that require written responses and higher levels of thinking. In addition to being more challenging and requiring a sophisticated skill set, these types of assessments are also more difficult for students to copy.”

Mathews sides with the teacher in the dispute since “questioning a teacher’s approach to cheating may be going too far”.

Especially when dealing with an AP classroom, since, of course, that program is the golden salvation of high school education.

However, in this case the principal makes the better point.

We should be asking more of students than just copying back material they’ve been given or making rudimentary connections between the facts, stuff that’s easy to rip off without detection since it doesn’t ask for any value-add from the individual.

In the larger context, we should consider that if a test, or any other assignment, is easy to cheat on, it’s likely a poor or invalid assessment of their learning.