The Atlanta cheating scandal was a black mark on education — and then, similar scandals emerged in other major cities. How do we prevent this in the future? We convened several experts to discuss. You may also be interested in our report for PBS NewsHour on the topic, embedded above.
Andy Porter, UPenn
Set targets and be accountable
Andy Porter is the dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.
In K-12 education, we’ve been moving to hold educators accountable for their students’ performance on state-administered standardized tests. The accountability movement’s goal is better instruction for all students, but accountability tempts some people to cheat.
People are tempted when they see (a) a benefit to cheating and (b) an opportunity to cheat.
Some would solve the cheating problem by eliminating accountability — that is, by eliminating the incentive to cheat. To me, that would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Education needs accountability to help us improve schools and, if we have to, weed out the incompetent.
I have a simple formula for doing K-12 accountability right. First, we must set a good target by testing exactly what we want our students to know and be able to do. Second, we must hold students as well as educators accountable on the same tests; we want both to have incentives to do their best. Third, accountability must be fair. Students must be given adequate opportunity to learn what is tested, and teachers must get the resources to be effective. Fairness also requires that we anticipate cheating, and that we put in place measures to prevent it and to detect it when it occurs. Much is known about how to do both.
Brian Backstrom, Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability
A basic four-step process
Brian Backstrom is Vice President of the Albany-based Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, a state education policy research organization that focuses on the areas of educational innovation, accountability, and choice.
Thanks to the federal Race to the Top grant program, more states than ever are considering student outcomes on state assessments when evaluating individual teachers and principals. Given the increasingly heavy weight these assessment results are playing, states should be reexamining the integrity of the administration and scoring of their assessment systems.
As an example, New York took the long overdue step of banning the practice of teachers re-scoring exams to find an extra point or two to help borderline students pass. While this may seem like a no-brainer, it took until this year for the ban to become policy.
Additional common-sense ideas that states should consider (if they aren’t already policy) include:
- Prohibiting teachers from scoring their own students’ exams, a practice currently allowed in New York.
- Computerize the process for scoring extended response questions, sending them electronically to a centralized location that is staffed by trained, more objective and consistent scorers.
- Prohibit teachers from proctoring exams for their own students and subject areas.
- Strengthen whistle-blower protections for reporting cheating and criminal punishments for test-scoring cheaters.
Systems of accountability and evaluation are only as strong as their weakest links. Like New York, no doubt many states’ assessment administration and scoring processes should be overhauled from top to bottom to eliminate the opportunities for cheating.
Joan Arbisi Little, Center for School Change
Is it as simple as praise?
When I think about kids and cheating I think about motivation: what is motivating them to cheat?
I asked my teen-aged daughters what they thought about cheating and here are a few of their comments:
“Desperation to please people — or a feeling that there is no way out. They would rather do it quickly, and get it done. People tell kids they aren’t good enough all the time. It’s not a good morality to cheat, but I don’t see why people don’t just say that it is wrong and move on. I don’t think they should be severely punished. Smart kids do it all the time.”
“It’s not a question of how smart you are, it’s a question of how far are you willing to go to get that praise from adults.”
“It’s contradictory because you just wanted to get praise, and it feels weird when they severely punish for it. They should punish for violence and bullying because it hurts someone. Cheating is just wrong.”
Praise. It never occurred to me that a student would be looking for praise.
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