July 14, 2014

"One afternoon in the spring of 2006, Damany Lewis, a math teacher at Parks Middle School, in Atlanta, unlocked the room where standardized tests were kept."

"It was the week before his students took the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, which determined whether schools in Georgia had met federal standards of achievement. The tests were wrapped in cellophane and stacked in cardboard boxes. Lewis, a slim twenty-nine-year-old with dreadlocks, contemplated opening the test with scissors, but he thought his cut marks would be too obvious. Instead, he left the school, walked to the corner store, and bought a razor blade. When he returned, he slit open the cellophane and gently pulled a test book from its wrapping. Then he used a lighter to warm the razor, which he wedged under the adhesive sealing the booklet, and peeled back the tab."

The first paragraph of a New Yorker article titled "Wrong Answer: In an era of high-stakes testing, a struggling school made a shocking choice."

45 comments:

Fernandinande said...

Tests be raciss.

glenn said...

Here's a news flash for you. Every one of Damany's statements is self serving bucksnort. He's just another cheap cheat. Like the many in his district and all over the country who routinely lie and cheat.

Anonymous said...

For about an hour, they erased wrong answers and bubbled in the right ones. They exchanged no words. Lewis couldn’t even look at her. “I couldn’t believe what we’d been reduced to,” he said.

This is the sort of thing that gives the passive voice a bad name.

Boltforge said...

It is time to drop common core and no child left behind testing concepts. The federal government needs to get completely out of the education business and we should dissolve the Dept of Education. The states have the resources to measure the performance of schools (teachers and students). Let them do it.

My advise to the states is to completely drop standardized testing. Rather have their state universities provide the resources to run online homework using open source and free CMS solutions. No need to have standardized tests. You strip out student identification and study the week to week performance of students.

It is better for teachers. Because you can see actual performance as students go through the year. There is no "make or break" exam. Only "did your students get better in your classroom?" A teacher who takes horrible students to just below average students should be rewarded for that. A teacher who takes great students to just above average students should not be rewarded.

It is better for students. Because you can see classes that improve throughout the year and then focus on the why or why not of it. Rather than just money solutions use the university system to find if the problems are the principal, the school board, the parents, the students, or individual teachers.

Tank said...

Unexpectedly.

David said...

That was a depressing read. Anger inducing. But anger at whom? There are so many possibilities.

The cheating is an act of civil disobedience. Or a response to bad incentives, Or a grab for money and power. A product of a stupid federal law. A misguided attempt to set things right. A momentary lapse that created its own momentum and got out of control. A disassociation from reality. A personal tragedy of a good man who made bad decisions.

Nobody says that it's a pervasive moral failure top to bottom of the whole educational system. Nobody states the insidious underlying assumption that the vast majority of these kids can't possibly learn well enough to pass the test. But that assumption is there. It's the huge stinking elephant in that room.

Imagine how incompetent, corrupt and despairing a system has to be to believe that its central mission is unattainable.

wildswan said...

Data isn't everything but it's good enough for government work.

Here's another flash from the school/government interface
There is a Federal requirement that each state show how it is going to get the same percentage of its senior, high performing teachers to work in the lowest performing schools as are working in the high performing schools. And then, when the teachers have been moved,they will become low performing. Or they can cheat like this poor man. Then they can go back to the high performing schools. Or else maybe fired.

I would worry about this new government plan but I have total faith in our Wisconsin teachers' unions. This plan will never be implemented here. Rather I expect to see teachers occupying the Capital with Governor Walker. They will be singing We Shall Overcome and On Wisconsin with the Governor while surrounded by cheering citizens from all the parties. Chanting:

Hell No,
We won't go

Shorewood: a Teacher Sanctuary City

Jupiter said...

The math teacher wears dreadlocks? Sure, why not. Forget about it, Jake, it's Atlanta.

fivewheels said...

It's a good story that does its job fairly well, which is to make you sympathetic to the cheater and to make testing look bad. The agenda is pretty palpable.

But while I'm pro-testing and obviously anti-cheating, I am sympathetic to the teachers who are in a no-win situation. Educating kids who don't have adequate parental involvement just might not be susceptible to "technique." Some problems can't be solved at all. Sad but probably true.

Oso Negro said...

So. Not only is it apparently impossible to teach Negro children in Atlanta to read without sounding out each letter after fully seven years in public education, but they are taught by morally corrupt teachers. Clearly the solution is to give them all college degrees and government jobs.

Does it cross anyone's mind here that these kids should be given small plots of land to tend and little herds of goats? It appears they lack the mental capacity for anything more complex. It doesn't matter how much money is spent, children who cannot be taught to read by 7th grade cannot be made into productive citizens of modern society with further academic effort. They can be put to manual labor or become bricks in the edifice of the poverty industry.

Cue Crack to blame whitey.

Seeing Red said...

Tests or voting, what, difference, at this point, does it make?

damikesc said...

Poor teacher who opened the tests and changed answers.

He is obviously the victim. Of the SYSTEM!

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

This makes me want to throw up. I can't even read the article, sorry.

Someone tell me if I'm wrong, but I predict it will be full of whining and excuses, but no examples of any teachers or administrators attempting to stand up and push back against a SYSTEM that is shit, rather than trying to protect their own sorry asses under the table.

I hate high stakes testing as much as the next person, but it will continue limping down the road as long as these weasel-ass teachers and administrators are too cowardly and integrity-poor to do anything but worry about their own paychecks, kids and learning bedamned, while continuing this fantasy we have in our culture of teachers as selfless saints.

Peter said...

The test made me do it.

Not my fault. If it hadn't been for the test, I wouldn't have done it!

gadfly said...

Without NCLB testing, our socialist teachers would have passed the problem students into the next higher grade and their twisted sense of duty (as well as last year's problem students) would be summarily dismissed from their minds.

So why must the New Yorker write this long and senseless journalistic soap opera in order to justify the unjustifiable?

Liberals defending the illegal acts of liberals sadly makes up most of the claptrap available in the MSM today.

William said...

Anyone who feels that just because some people fudge test results that other people are capable of voting fraud is a racist.

lgv said...

I believe there are some apt analogies in the business world, whether it be Enron or Lehman Brothers. When performance is so singularly focused on one attribute, it becomes easier to cheat the system.

The idea that this is a victimless crime is abhorent. The victims were the students and taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

I blame this on the conservative Republican white supremacist scum who run the Atlanta schools.

Revenant said...

Schools have been cheating for as long as they've been compared against one another -- i.e., since long before "No Child Left Behind".

Tibore said...

I guess lesson #1 is that cheating is forgivable if the intent is pure.

I guess lesson #2 is that standards end up being oppressive.

I guess lesson #3 is that gaining objective measures of accomplishment is not an important goal given #2, so the whole idea should be discarded.

I see what's being taught in this article. I'm just not sure they're healthy lessons.

----

Ok, look, I fully accept that there are areas where schools struggle to overcome severe difficulties induced by the social environment: Parents looking like they're on the "not fun drugs" (quoting Lewis from that article), economic disadvantages, pure and sheer inertia from students for a whole laundry list of reasons... no one dismisses these problems. Furthermore, that teacher is right about several things: No one should hold that standardized tests should be the way to lift students out of bad circumstances. And just saying "Metric: Achieve or be fired" is useless without corresponding support structures; something that works for, say, sales professionals is not necessarily transferrable to the education profession simply due to the differing environment.

But none of that changes the fact that, in the end, a metric ends up being inaccurate due to deliberate contrivance on the part of the teachers and administrators involved. Truth and lies are not just moral concepts: They're at the basis of genuine and accurate comprehension. If a student gets a high score on a test due to such cheating and is placed in a higher level academic environment, that will set the stage for failure. The failure simply will happen later. Does the inaccuracy of a measurement truly help that student achieve when there's yet other levels beyond that which will not care about good intentions or pedagogical issues with standardized exams?

I disagree with government standardization to such a degree that I even empathize with the educational profession's complaint about standardized testing's limits. It's just a lazy, easy way out for lawmakers: "Here's a standard on a test we designed. Meet it or else." I don't hold that government has enough wisdom to make such metrics accurate, nor enough knowledge to set such harsh penalties for failure to meet them. But none of that changes the fact that students are ultimately the ones screwed by such "social protest".

Sure, I admit there may not be that many ways to complain about the testing or work to improve things (that much is obvious by the complaints coming from teachers in well to do districts whose students do pass these tests well. As an aside, it's also one of the reasons I continually mistrust government overreach: It locks out avenues for change). But contriving to misrepresent students performance levels is most certainly not a method that protects students while working towards the goal. That sort of social protest only harms the victims it's trying to fight for.

tim in vermont said...

"My advise to the states is to completely drop standardized testing."

Especially spelling tests I take it.

Joe said...

Fivewheels said: "It's a good story that does its job fairly well, which is to make you sympathetic to the cheater and to make testing look bad."

Yeah. It's hard to reconcile the urge to trust "THE DATA" with the disastrous results. It's like, being unscientific, or something.

The sad fact is, all those administrators in faraway lands (like Washington DC) are looking at irrelevant numbers, mostly because it's all they have. I see a parallel in large, supposedly successful defence contracting firms, where the data goes only to the 12th floor offices. Their success is an illusion too, attained because they've garnered political influence, not customers. You might as well call that cheating also.

Mediocre administrators in faraway lands relying on the wrong data will likely cause failure. Perhaps we should reduce the number of *those*, first, before we reduce the number of people in the trenches.

Rockport Conservative said...

I have mixed emotions about this article. I could not even read all of it, because it was sickening to me. I admit it, I did feel for the teacher who didn't want the kids to feel they had accomplished nothing. On the other hand, if he knew they were not reading anywhere close to grade level; if he really had a sense of urgency to help he should have been honest and started an intense tutoring program in reading and language. That would have helped those children forever. Instead, they still cannot read and he and other teachers are in deep doo doo, or in real English, well deserved shit.

Krumhorn said...

Anyone who has read Thomas Sowell's book, Inside American Education, will not sit still for this librul tripe that excuses poor school performance of low income minorities.

The lefties want their way. And when they get it, they refuse to accept responsibility for the remarkably piss-poor outcome.

-Krumhorn

Anonymous said...

Didn't Bush use Laura's expertise and his experience in Texas to try and reform education tying performance to funding in order to better outcomes for students and keep us competitive as a nation?

How is that working nationally?

Are schools kind of like the VA at this point, where structural flaws are causing and being exacerbated by other tensions and simply crumbling in many cases?

We could go the Federalism route but how far?

Aren't there larger forces at work that lead to trying to include ever more people and groups into the system we have, causing great frustration with the system and politicians?

Kids in bad schools and bad neighborhoods have a host of problems schools and funding aren't likely to fix, though schools can help in a part of their lives... but at what cost when we keep pouring money in and losing efficiency?

The New Yorker's ideological lights and sentiment likely lead to support for unions, bureaucrats, and progressive-type reforms politically, hence the passive voice, but I'd love to be surprised.

robinintn said...

Poor sweet slender guy with dreadlocks. "Reduced" to collecting his rather hefty pay/bonuses/benefits on the backs of the children he's responsible for. What a douche.

Todd said...

The reason there are standardized tests in education is the same reason there are so many mandatory minimum sentence laws across the land.

Citizens got tired of those that have been placed in positions of control and influence, not doing their jobs.

Teachers passing on students that can't read time and time again leads to high school graduates that are not.

The test is a metric. Intended as a minimum standard that a student must meet to move on to the next grade. If the student passed the last milestone and is not able to meet the minimum after a teacher has had a school year to prepare him (or her) that is also an indication of a problem.

Standard tests also force teachers to teach the material and not whatever they want. A teacher's job is to educate their charges with the specified material in the time allocated. Either they can do it or they can't. If one child out of a class fails, it is likely the child. If the majority of the class fails, it is likely the teacher and if the majority of the school fails, that is call public education.

Doug said...

Someone should ask the teacher why he didn't make his actions public at the time he was acting. I suspect has answer would have been something to the effect that, "It was wrong." or "I could lose my job for giving my students an unfair advantage." In any case, if he covered up his subterfuge, he most likely did so because it was prima facie wrong and unethical.

traditionalguy said...

He didn't do anything more than Dr. Michael Mann, Phd did at Penn State did to climate data to get millions of government dollars from a hoax Hockey stick graph of temperatures suddenly going up when he and his co-conspirators knew they were going down.

Everybody cheats with altered facts today.

Seeing Red said...

William...it's only racist in your mind. I live in Illinois, that's SOP.

MadisonMan said...

Especially spelling tests I take it.

I've had my iPad change spellings in mysterious ways. I'll assume that's what happened here.

iPad Irony for the win!

Boltforge said...

tim in vermont said...
"Especially spelling tests I take it."

You spell potato I spell potato. How would you advise people on how to give advice?

... oh well. Back to butchering the pronunciation and application of Runge-Kutta.

Boltforge said...

MadisonMan said...
"I've had my iPad change spellings in mysterious ways. I'll assume that's what happened here."

Nah. Changed the sentence from "I would advise ..." to "My advice ..." without fixing how I would advise my advice.

Should I fish for advice from four fish who would advise Colonel Bologna to set the set of play sets that play wind instruments that they wind up ...

madAsHell said...

We just need a lot more first place ribbons!!

Ironclad said...

"No Child Left Behind" was based on the premise that all children conformed to the standard IQ curve. So all children could reach the same basic level of competence. Charles Murray warned about that fallacy in the "Bell Curve" and this story just goes to show that his work was on the money. When the group in question has a mean 15 points below the "control group", you are going to have serious issues trying to educate them to a level equal to the "expected mean".

Of course, poverty, hunger, bad environment, poor schools are all trotted out to explain the difference - but no one ever pulls out studies to show that taking all that away improves the scores over the long run. Just like Head Start was a miserable failure because the results don't last last the 3rd or 4th grade. But we keep throwing money at the "problem" thinking we will fix it. We can't admit there might be a more rational explanation.

Atlanta cheated and got caught big time - the same goes on in many places. But in the effort to eliminate testing, the whole reason for the act is being lost - too many kids reached graduation without being able to read or write or do math at even a near grade level. No one offers any real alternative to make that not happen - certainly not "common core"

Gene said...

Jupiter: "The math teacher wears dreadlocks? Sure, why not. Forget about it, Jake, it's Atlanta."

That's genuinely witty.

Michael said...

The Atlanta cheating scandal is Affirmative Action writ small. The poor children who were the beneficiaries of the altered tests were happy to believe they had passed, had in fact done well. They celebrated. They did not know what they did not know. When they found out their own answers had been changed to the correct ones they were devastated. People prefer to succeed on their own.

The New Yorker article is very sad. The issue is not money. it is not facilities. It is not necessarily even teachers. It is the culture at home.

Anonymous said...

Bolforge,

Close.

It's time to nuke common core, No Child Left Behind, and the Teachers' Unions. And It's time to roll up all Federal funding of < college education, turn it into a block grant, and only offer the money to states that have a voucher program allowing families to send their children to any school they want, including religious schools, and / or to home school their children.

States can require non-public school children to pass standards imposed on all public school kids, other than that, States get no say on how parents spend the vouchers.

Deal?

Because the simple fact of the matter is that the Teachers' Union is the number one impediment to education reform, and the education establishment is the number two impediment. So nothing that empowers either is even remotely acceptable.

Anonymous said...

As for the cheating, the starting problem was that grammar schools were allowed to cheat their students, and send them on to the middle schools that either had to cheat those students, or else get nailed.

So step one: honestly test everyone.
Step two: Assign to appropriate grade levels
Step three: anyone caught cheating / social promoting gets fired.

Problem: 80% of Atlanta's high schools get closed because they don't have enough students at grade level to fill the schools.

Shrug.

surfed said...

I've been there - haven't done that. I taught in an inner city school for several decades working closely with refugee and immigrant children as a Geography teacher. at the time these students were required to take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test many with zero English reading and language skills. I know the temptation he faced but I wasn't going to lose my retirement because politicians were clueless. So I just chewed Xanax and let the politicians have their way until it burned a hole through my soul and the Xanax didn't work anymore. And I retired after 38 years. There have been two teachers in my position since I retired. I hear there will soon be a third.

jono39 said...

In 2005 and 2006 I taught college in NYC. It was an eye-opener. My grown sons went to NYC public schools until grade 6 and 9 for differing reasons but because I believed they could not get a decent high school education. 20 years later I was teaching classrooms filled with young men and women on Pell Grants, all graduates of NYC. I taught an honors freshman program in one school which had outstanding kids. At my request I was given a world history course for general ed students. When I assigned a paper, I learned that not one of my Pell Grant kids could read and write above grade 6. These children, all of whom went to school, did not do drugs, were not gangbangers have been deprived of a real education by people who must despise them.

ken in sc said...

I was in the Air Force for 24 years. If you did good there, you got a pat on the back, an attaboy, or maybe even a Commendation Medal when you transferred out. Of course, if you did bad you got your butt chewed. I taught in public schools for nine years. Teachers don't get sh!t for doing good. In public education, rewards and punishments are totally random. My students beat the sixth grade Social Studies standardized test average at both the school and district level, two years in a row, without cheating. They were the same demographic as the rest of the school. There was no recognition or official mention of this at all.

In my opinion, it is a failure of leadership. They don't know how to do it. They don't believe in recognizing actual achievement.

tim in vermont said...

"I've had my iPad change spellings in mysterious ways. I'll assume that's what happened here."

That's my policy 99% of the time too. It just seemed pretty funny given the content of the post.

Gahrie said...

So step one: honestly test everyone.
Step two: Assign to appropriate grade levels
Step three: anyone caught cheating / social promoting gets fired.


Step four: Build bigger parking lots at the middle school so the 18 year old sixth graders can drive to school.

Unknown said...

"And It's time to roll up all Federal funding of < college education, turn it into a block grant, and only offer the money to states that have a voucher program allowing families to send their children to any school they want, including religious schools, and / or to home school their children."

Collect money from States, return money to States with conditions.
Why does Fed Gov need to be involved at all?