Educator testing scandals have lit up the news wires recently and some call the cheating unprecedented. It is not unprecedented; journalists simply paid little attention to the issue before now. To my mind, the most profound factoid revealed by the Atlanta schools scandal is that the cheating had continued for TEN YEARS before any responsible person attempted to stop it, and before any journalist paid attention. US public schools are that well buffered from public scrutiny.
The education establishment declares there to be too much pressure on educators, so we should end the testing or, at least, the stakes attached to the tests. For the moment, set aside the ironies–they want a little bit of oversight lifted so that they are free to operate with none, and they admit that they cannot be trusted to administer tests to our children properly, but we should trust them to educate our children properly if we stop paying attention.
I’m reminded of a story, popular in universities when I was of the age, and probably still popular today in updated forms: A young college student of the complementary gender enters a professor’s office and says, “I’ll do anything for an A.” The professor responds, “Anything?” “Yes, anything,” replies the student.
The professor locks the office door, lowers the window blinds, turns down the lights, and repeats the question. “Anything?” “Yes, anything”, the student replies.
The professor leans toward the student and whispers softly in the student’s ear, “Try studying.”
Some of the school systems caught in these scandals have not yet attempted the easiest, simplest gestures toward test security. Teachers are giving answers to their students during test administrations? Teachers should not even be in the same room with their own students. On test days, teachers should be rotated so that no teacher is administering a test in his or her own classroom.
School administrators get the tests a week in advance and read them, then afterwards erase incorrect responses on answer sheets? School administrators should never see nor touch the test materials for their own school. Tests materials should be delivered not to schools but to test coordinators—persons who do not work at a particular school except on test days. The test coordinators, not school personnel, should distribute sealed test packets to those administering the tests in the classrooms, receive sealed test packets with answer sheets inside at the end of the test period, and take the materials out of the school when they leave each test day. Or, if the materials are to be kept in a locked school safe between test sessions, no one inside the school should be given the key or combination.
Simple. Teachers cannot help their students with test questions if not in the room during the test. School administrators cannot manipulate answer sheets if they never touch them.
First things first. Before abandoning testing, let’s take some baby steps toward a minimally acceptable level of test security.