Cheating runs rampant (Salon.com)

Diagnostic testing in education and hammers can be useful tools … both can be effective when used properly and damaging when used improperly:

“No Child Left Behind has created a culture in which people will do anything to keep their jobs,” says Diane Ravitch, an education historian at New York University and a leading critic of corporate-inspired school reform. “There are states that have gamed the systems, there are districts that have gamed the system, there are people who have gained the system.”

President George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002, spelling out a reform movement blueprint and unleashing an escalating set of benchmarks compelling teachers to deliver ever-better student scores. NCLB mandates high-stakes standardized testing to monitor student achievement and aggressive intervention into schools that fall short: making Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, became a matter of a school’s — and increasingly teacher’s — survival.

Test results have been used as the pretext to fire teachers and force schools into becoming privately-managed charters, even though research has shown that corruption-prone charters are not, as a whole, better, and are often much worse than traditional public schools. And the testing mandates have proven to be a bonanza for for-profit education companies like Pearson and Kaplan (the latter is owned by the Washington Post Company), which produce tests and materials to drill students in preparation.

And the pressure to raise scores continues to build. NCLB requires districts to achieve the impossible goal of demonstrating that all students are proficient in reading and math by 2014. Unsurprisingly, school districts nationwide are set to fail this mandate. The Obama administration, meanwhile, isn’t offering much of a helping hand. Its Race to the Top initiative uses billions in federal dollars to encourage states to incorporate “student achievement” in evaluating teacher quality. And Obama has conditioned waivers for NCLB’s 2014 deadline on implementing more Race to the Top reforms — such as removing barriers to charter school growth and, once again, evaluating teachers based on student test scores.

This year alone, Washington, Colorado and Connecticut have passed laws requiring the inclusion of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations. In March, New York legislators acceded to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to base 40 percent of a teacher evaluation on “student achievement.”

In Los Angeles, one-well regarded teacher at a low-income school committed suicide after the Los Angles Times posted his low “value-added” score online. The New York Times, though it faced widespread criticism and acknowledged the data’s shortcomings, followed suit in February and published individual teacher test score data online. The New York Post, for its part, did what could be expected and personally attacked one teacher, by name and photo, as “The Worst Teacher in the City.”

And perhaps we should follow the money to see who benefits from ill-considered so-called “education reforms”:

Likewise, (almost) never before have so many private interests had so much opportunity to profit. Testing has — much like privately-managed charters (and certainly cyber charters such as the one owned by Mike Milken), vouchers and myriad unproven but expensive “learning technologies” that have proliferated over the past decade — alchemized an enormous pile of taxpayer dollars into generous contracts with private education firms that produce tests and prep students.

The profiteering from the high-stakes test regime is, it seems, also tinged with corruption: corporate education behemoth Pearson, Winerip has reported, pays for public school officials nationwide to attend lavish conferences in Helsinki or Rio de Janeiro, “meeting with educators in these places” and “with top executives from the commercial side of Pearson, which is one of the biggest education companies in the world, selling standardized tests, packaged curriculums and Prentice Hall textbooks.”

Testing companies even make money from trying to make sure that no one cheats on their tests: New York state has a $3.7 million contract with Pearson to examine test results for irregularities.

You can read the entire article online here.

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Filed under Charter Schools, Education Reform, Funding, Testing

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