By Yeha Youm, University of Michigan
In July, an extensive investigation revealed that 178 teachers and principals at 44 Atlanta public schools were found to be involved in cheating on the state’s standardized test. These standardized tests are given to students but their performance is heavily linked to school, teacher and district evaluations.
Julie Rodgers-Martin is a teacher who has taught inner-city students for almost 30 years. She began to see a gap between her student’s standardized tests scores and those of her colleagues, which led her to believe that she lacked good teaching skills. However, she began to notice inconsistencies between her new student’s abilities and their standardized test scores from the previous year. Students who had been “exceeding expectations” from the year before would come into her classroom unprepared. When she brought up her concerns to the principal, she was told that the students must have been good guessers.
In Atlanta Public Schools, teachers and administrators receive bonuses based on the percentage of students passing the Criterion Reference Competence Test (CRCT). These bonuses reach up to $2,000.
This was difficult for teachers at inner-city schools as they had to compete for bonuses against teachers in areas with high-achieving, upper-middle-class children. As a result, many teachers were unable to resist temptation, inflating the standardized test scores of students and allowing them to pass to the next grade—in spite of their academic performance.
For this reason, many people have spoken out against evaluating teachers and students in this way, and awarding teachers for the number of passing students with bonuses. I believe that every student learns in different ways and at different speeds. Therefore, I also believe that standardized tests are often limited in gauging where a student is at academically because they do not take into other factors, like family background, that can really shape a student’s academic life.
It’s unfortunate that teachers felt pressure to inflate students’ scores for the sake of passing, and not for the sake of actually educating them and making sure that they were prepared for the next step. Hopefully, Atlanta can learn from these steps and move forward in a way that values the quality of teaching over the quantity of students of “passing.”