ressure is intense for students to succeed on standardized tests, but no matter how high those stakes are, there is no excuse for cheating to improve test scores.
We aren't talking about students cribbing from their classmates. We're referring to a scandal that has been exposed in several states, including Pennsylvania, where journalists revealed that some schools may have cheated to meet the escalating requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act.
Under No Child Left Behind, schools are required to raise the percentage of students who are proficient in math and reading every year. The intent of this educational reform is to make sure that U.S. students can compete academically, but improved scores are also linked to funding incentives, so there is added pressure to improve scores.
Critics charge that No Child Left Behind creates an atmosphere in which schools spend so much time teaching students to take the tests that other subjects are neglected. There are also complaints that it's unfair to expect students in poor urban districts to perform as well as students in wealthier districts. Yet most experts agree you can't reform education without some kind of measuring stick.
The Erie School District skirted the law when it withdrew struggling students from their home schools and enrolled them in short-term programs for extra help, at the same time that Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests were scheduled. The state Department of Education ordered the Erie School District to stop the practice in 2009. When PSSA results for 2010 were released, the Erie School District overall and some individual schools failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress
The news in Philadelphia and other school districts is even more disturbing. The Notebook, an independent news organization that covers Philadelphia schools, uncovered a Pennsylvania Department of Education study "to identify schools and students who may have engaged in testing behavior that may have allowed them to gain an unfair advantage," in the department's words.
This "Data Forensics Technical Report" examined PSSA reading and math scores and identified 90 Pennsylvania public and charter schools with questionable results, based on the number of erasures and unusual leaps in scores. Without the Notebook's investigation, the state report would have stayed buried. State Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis is reviewing 2010 and 2011 test results to see if there are similar suspicious patterns.
By 2014, under NCLB, 100 percent of students are supposed to be proficient in math and reading. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will give states waivers on that ambitious benchmark if states can prove they have high educational standards and that education reforms are succeeding.
But do the math - and read the writing on the wall. Every child will be left behind if cheating on standardized tests is tolerated.