Scandal casts more doubt on validity of school test scores

It’s become almost a given that real estate search portals will provide would-be homebuyers with information about the quality of local schools.

Educators have complained that test scores and simplified school rankings don’t always tell the whole story. A school with a higher proportion of students who speak English as a second language may have lower test scores than a school attended mostly by kids who grew up as native English speakers, they say, but still be doing a better job of educating kids. Nevertheless, buyers will pay big premiums for homes served by highly rated schools.

But what if school test scores are not only more difficult to analyze than some buyers might realize, but just flat-out wrong?

In a complex and sympathetic look at the motivations of teachers and school administrators in Atlanta accused of changing students’ answers on standardized tests to hit performance targets, The New Yorker’s Rachel Aviv makes a case that this was not an isolated instance.

“There have been accounts of widespread cheating in dozens of cities, including Philadelphia, Toledo, El Paso, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Houston and St. Louis,” Aviv writes. “According to a 2013 report by the Government Accountability Office, 40 states detected instances of cheating by educators in the previous two years.”

The stakes in school testing are so high, Aviv writes, that teachers and administrators feel tremendous pressure to hit targets because missing them may not only hurt their own careers, but the quality of education that their students are provided.

NYU sociology professor Jennifer Jennings tells Aviv that “even in Texas, whose reform model inspired No Child Left Behind, scholars doubted whether students had progressed as rapidly as the data suggested — administrators exempted low-performing students from taking the test and underreported dropouts.”

Jennings says that the cheating in Atlanta “should have been very easy to anticipate,” given what happened in Texas. Source: newyorker.com.


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