Tuesday, September 06, 2011

How They Cheat

Paul Karrer

What does any society do when something is fundamentally wrong?
Answer - Obstruct, minimize, fudge, deny, resist, revolt, and cheat.
Why do educators cheat? Because of the results of high stakes testing. Testing now determines teachers’ fate. Merit pay is based on test results. Job security and job placement are based on test results. However, teachers don’t take the test - kids do.  No consideration is given to the soup of other variables  impacting a child’s test results. Why are wealthy cities’ scores high and poor areas low? Because it is all about poverty and wealth. Unfortunately some educators feel their backs are so against the wall, the only recourse they have is to cheat.
   Here are some ways districts and educators manipulate (cheat) standardized testing.

Institutionalized Cheating- (Mostly utilized in wealthier school districts with marginable but growing minority enrollments)
    1. The 15% rule -  If a school has a subgroup population (special education students, for example), comprising 15% or less, their scores are NOT counted. Imagine that you are an administra­tor at a school with X number of Special Education students. A few more kids in this group will make their low scores count by putting them over the 15% CAP. It is in the schools’ interest to make sure the subgroup never reaches 15% because then the scores count. Teachers want to do the to do the right thing and have Timmy tested, but if he qualifies, that would mean that subgroup's scores would count against your school, and likely cause you to miss scores that are required. So Timmy does NOT get tested, or the child is told there is no more room in the school, or he is encouraged to attend another school in the district. Thus the 15% trigger is not met.
   Ethnicity Switcheroo
 Schools fudge kids’ ethnicity - if a child is a low performer and of mixed race, he is put in a group below the 15% population trigger. His score does not count now. If he is a high performer he is put in a high performance group like Northern Asian or white (statistically and historically these are high performing groups) – Now his score will count and the school benefits overall.

  3. Test Preparation
    Currently any teacher in the state of California (and certainly other states) can go online and find previous years’ test questions for their grade level. These are state approved test questions  - so even the state is in on this.
   This has NOTHING to do with learning and all to do with test score improvement. It also paves the way (and financial incentive) for companies to create even more test preparation pre-tests.
 Teachers have meetings about how these tests, and areas of these state approved tests are weighted. In math, for example, teachers are told in the fifth grade test 35% of the questions are word problems. 10%  algebra.  Well, just take a wild guess what teachers are supposed to focus on now? (answer - word problems) This is not about learning – this is a trap in every way. All districts do this.
4. Attendance Fudging
   Students’ school placement is determined by where the kids live. If they live on street X they attend school X in their area. If they live in area Y, they attend school Y. But many kids attend schools they are not entitled to go to. If a child is a low performer and he is attending the wrong school (based on where he lives) the school can insist the child attend the right school designated by his residence. Conversely, if a child is a high-performer, he is not asked to leave. Either way the scores for the school go up.
5. Direct Cheating
   The Georgia Method -Administrators or teachers change answers as in AtlantaGeorgia. Some teachers and administrators actually erased tests themselves. Some even had test changing parties. (More and more districts which had reported unbelievable success stories are now revealing rampant cheating – Washington D.C. being the latest. It will get worse and closer to home.)
6. Indirect Cheating
   Teachers “advise” kids to re-look at specific answers as the kids take tests. Or they point to the correct answers. Somehow, the teachers re-direct the student toward the correct answers.
7. Other Ways of Cheating
  If a child is an academic lowballer they can be “encouraged” to stay home or have their vacation time coincide with testing.
  The entire test in elementary grades is in one booklet. So, if the kids take reading tests on Monday on Tuesday the teachers can look ahead on the test booklets in the math or science sections. Teachers can then “review” with the kids those same test questions or ones very similar to them.  
Do I think teacher assessment and evaluation only based on testing is right – absolutely not.  But I do understand the pressures that might cause desperate educators to cheat.  Do I think cheating is right? No.
   However, I do encourage teachers to resist.
  Tell parents they can opt their kids out. Then the kids do not have to take the test.

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