Cheating scandal raises questions about standardized tests

Jessica Machado, Staff Writer

Students know that getting caught cheating on a test will cause the teacher to void the test and give no credit for it, resulting in a sharp decrease in most students’ grades.

But what happens when the cheaters are the teachers — and instead of a zero, the punishment is jail time?

Last month, 11 Atlanta educators were convicted of cheating on a standardized test in a scandal that ruined both the reputation of the school district in Atlanta and questioned the role of tests that weigh so heavily in American schools. The jurors convicted the defendants of a felony called racketeering, which is a type of criminal activity that benefits an organization and warrants up to 20 years in prison under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

After students in a troubled Atlanta school district had drastically improved their scores on a standardized test given in Georgia known as the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, questions about the students’ sudden success were raised. Investigations found that an astonishing 44 schools in the district had been involved in the cheating scandal.

“I’d feel kinda used,” junior Cory Osborn said. “They’re basically making me seem smarter than I actually am.”

According to the 2014-2015 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) test security affidavit, it clearly states that the following are all forms of cheating and may even be in violation of copyright restrictions: “verbal cues […] and nonverbal cues […] to the correct answer (anything that may indicate correct or incorrect answers), or completing or changing pupils’ answers.”

In one case, a principal wore gloves as she erased and bubbled in the right answers on students’ answer sheets. As a result of the increase in test scores, employees collected bonuses and the schools’ reputations were positively affected. The cheating scandal put the debate over standardized tests back in the spotlight.

“I’d feel very cautious and afraid because if they’re doing that, even if it’s [just] raising my test score, imagine what they would do in other situations [where they] could screw me over for their own personal benefit,” junior Samantha Calloni said.

“[T]hose who oppose testing also argue that the exams force teachers to narrow their lessons and may not represent what students learn,” Alan Blinder said in his “New York Times” article “Atlanta Educators Are Convicted of Racketeering.”

Today, many people question the validity of standardized tests. A new set of standards that are currently adopted by 43 states, four territories, and the District of Columbia is commonly referred to as Common Core, which includes high-quality standards for education that challenge students to apply what they have learned to real life situations rather than mindlessly memorizing mathematical formulas and definitions of words.

The cheating scandal only added to the debate over standardized testing and the way that it can integrate itself into the education system so much so that the test scores take precedence over learning.