Policy Said To Spur Teacher Scandal
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Someone’s been cheating on tests in the nation’s schools and it isn’t the students.
In less than a week, the principal of a high-scoring Maryland elementary school has quit and two teachers _ one from the Potomac, Md., school and another from Reston, Va. _ were suspended after pupils told their parents that adults gave them test questions or guided them to correct answers.
As investigations continued Wednesday, critics said these test scandals _ following others in New York, Texas, and Ohio _ will only increase as more states link scores to a school’s reputation, teachers raises or a superintendent’s job. Both of the major presidential candidates, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, have proposed tying federal education dollars to states’ test scores.
``We don’t have the luxury of piously condemning individual teachers when the real villain here is an overemphasis on test scores at the expense of real learning,″ said Alfie Kohn, a Cambridge, Mass.-based author and former teacher who has lectured extensively on standardized tests.
But in the last year, several cases linked to standardized tests across the country have led to rescheduled tests, teacher firings and even indictments. For example:
_A Reston, Va., teacher was placed on paid leave last Wednesday and 18 eighth-graders were retested after they allegedly were prepped with questions that showed up on their state social studies exam.
_Students at a Columbus, Ohio, school praised for its test scores by President Clinton said last month that adult tutors guided their pencils to the correct answers or calculated math problems while they took the mandatory state test.
_A grand jury in Austin, Texas, indicted 18 school officials in April for altering student tests.
Awards, punishments and publicity are increasing the pressure on teachers to produce higher scores, even if a school is doing well, said Karl Pence, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association union.
``That kind of horse race mentality is counterproductive,″ he said.
Test scores at Potomac Elementary School, in an affluent Maryland suburb outside of Washington, earned it third place in state rankings. But the schools’ accolades unraveled last week when the principal quit after students alleged she and a teacher helped them cheat on a mandatory state test. Although Maryland _ like 16 other states _ rewards schools based on test performance, district spokesman Brian Porter said Wednesday the Potomac school had not earned money for its scores.
Reward or no reward, a Potomac homemaker angered over cheating allegations said most parents like her believe there’s no excuse.
``I have no problem with tests,″ said June Trone, whose fourth-grader was not helped by an adult when she took the test last month. ``These people are adults. Kids know what cheating is. In the larger picture of things, people have to stick to their beliefs.″
Sometimes teachers and principals can hurt children even if they unwittingly cheat, officials say. Last year, Rhode Island officials had to cancel five English and math tests because teachers had copies of the previous year’s exams and used the tests, which have the same questions, to help students prepare.
``There were some protocols that were not followed,″ said state Rep. Paul Crowley, a chief architect of Rhode Island education reform. ``We have been very, very careful not to use these assessments as an indictment of failure.″
Critics said flagrant cheating isn’t the main problem surrounding standardized tests, which have also been blamed for watering down lessons, turning off students and hampering teacher creativity.
``What is massive is teaching to the test,″ said Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. ``In some ways, I would argue that is borderline cheating. And that is encouraged by states and presidential candidates.″