When Test Scores Become a Commodity
The recent spate of cheating scandals in cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington presents an interesting conundrum. Those opposed to education reform schemes tied to the evaluation of student test scores and teacher compensation, or “value added” evaluation, claim that the teachers and administrators who were caught cheating were the victims, compelled to cheat out of fear for their livelihoods. On the other hand, value-added advocates solemnly pronounce that there is no excuse for cheating and that, moreover, cheating teachers and administrators provide the very evidence that reform is necessary. Both positions are valid. Can we work our way out?
The best way to resolve a conundrum, short of dramatically cutting the knot, Alexander-style (which requires chutzpah and a certain genius), is to clarify what the knot is, how it is tied, and then figure out how to undo it. And the reason this particular problem is so knotty—to overuse the metaphor—is that value-added reform systems create one of the most unpredictable and complex artifacts of...
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