July 11, 2011

In what’s being described as the most extensive case of test-tampering in US public-school history, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal dropped an 828-page bomb on the state last Tuesday detailing fraud in Atlanta public schools that was so ineptly concealed, it suggests that many of the city’s teachers are too stupid to be school janitors.

The report concluded that 178 Atlanta schoolteachers and principals—82 of whom have already confessed—either assisted students to cheat on the state’s standardized competency tests or deliberately corrected wrong answers themselves. Of 56 Atlanta public schools examined, 44 were found to have engaged in statistically significant cheating.

For a decade, Atlanta’s public schools had been depicted as a shining national star that dared leave no child behind as dedicated educators and their eager-to-learn pupils joined hands, chanted slogans, marched together, chest-bumped and fist-pumped one-another’s self-esteem, established a clear vision, looked to the future, kept their eyes on the prize, and made countless other ultimately hollow gestures. For a decade, it seemed as if Atlanta was a real-life example of every cloying Hollywood movie where loving-yet-stern teachers grabbed gaggles of shiftlessly misbehaving urban youngsters by the scruffs of their necks and taught them that teaching was something worth being taught and that learning was a valuable thing to learn.

“What dizzy bastard came up the demented notion that school is a place where children are administered tests?”

Then it occurred to people with a basic grasp of ’rithmetic that the reputed gains were too good to be true. In one implausibly stellar year at one school, eighth-graders whose scores exceeded basic math standards leapt from 1% to 46%. At another, English scores suddenly catapulted 51% higher. At another, math scores rocketed up 62% from the previous annum. At another school, special-ed students were suddenly scoring higher than gifted students in math.

One student passed the exam while reportedly being unable to read the word “cat.” Another left an entire section blank and passed. Another slept through the entire test and passed. Another sat under his desk, refused to take the test, yet still passed.

It was an educational miracle.

Optical scans of the multiple-choice tests revealed high irregularities in answers that had been changed from wrong to right. In many cases, the statistical likelihood of such changes occurring randomly ranged from one in a million to one in a trillion. When the state sent in monitors to oversee the testing process in 2010, such irregularities plummeted across the ATL.

Multiple interviews revealed that some teachers seated lower-scoring students behind gifted students so they could copy their answers. In oral exams, teachers would drastically change their vocal inflections to suggest which multiple-choice answer was correct. Others would simply point to the correct answers. Others would read them aloud. At several schools, teachers would change incorrect answers by hand after students had completed their tests. In one instance, teachers gathered together for a weekend “changing party” at one instructor’s home and corrected faulty answers en masse.

The report stated that many teachers lived under a “culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation” where instructors were rewarded for cheating and often humiliated or terminated for refusing to cheat. One principal commanded a teacher whose students’ scores were low to crawl under a table in front of other teachers as punishment. Teachers who objected were told that “the door swings both ways” and “Walmart is hiring.” One teacher said that Atlanta’s public-schools system was “run like the mob.”

The report also accused superintendent Beverly Hall—who was named 2009’s National Superintendent of the Year as well as receiving numerous other glitter-spackled accolades—of stonewalling reporters’ investigations into the fraud and going so far as to instruct her underlings to alter and destroy documents. Hall was reportedly receiving a salary of $400,000 per year and had racked up over a half-million dollars in bonuses for her district’s high test scores. In November, mere months after the state launched its investigation, Hall resigned her post. Last Tuesday, the day the report was released to the public, Hall took a vacation to Hawaii.

Those with a financial and/or ideological stake in America’s public-schools system have blamed mandatory testing for creating “unrealistic” standards based on the daffy-assed concept that children should graduate from school with basic competency in reading and math—standards that didn’t seem unreasonable a generation ago and aren’t deemed preposterously rigorous anywhere else in the industrialized world today. To these condescendingly anti-intellectual idealists, school is a place where children come to live and explore and create and be inspired and touch and smell and dance and feel and have their self-worth validated—it is most definitely NOT a place where they should learn to read and write and add and subtract. And what dizzy bastard came up the demented notion that school is a place where children are administered tests?


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