To the Editor:
Michael J. Feuer’s Commentary on the Atlanta cheating scandal contains his own set of empty claims in order to protect the use of standardized testing. Some examples:
• “Do we react to the worst instances of tax evasion by condemning the concept of taxation rather than by prosecuting the evaders?” Actually, we do. Certainly from people opposed to taxation generally and to current federal tax policy specifically. Even progressive tax-policy advocates recognize the distortions that enable cheating, and thus seek an overhaul to create a more effective system.
• "[E]ven if one could make an evidence-informed case that testing ‘inevitably’ leads to illegal behavior,” there is “no evidence that federal policy causes cheating, or that ‘cheating is inevitable.' " If testing inevitably leads to illegal behavior, the source of the test would indeed be implicated. This is one reason teachers have soured on President Barack Obama, whose administration promotes testing.
• "[W]hat’s needed is a sensible approach to assessing the ratio of benefits to costs and to the design of mechanisms meant to keep the ratio strongly positive.” Educators opposed to using tests as the sole metric for evaluating student learning derive their thinking from experienced cost-benefit analysis. They feel it is more effective to utilize a diversity of context-appropriate metrics.
• “We shouldn’t allow score gains inflated from cheating to be misconstrued as evidence that any measured improvement in student learning ... must always be the result of cheating or other mischief.” Mr. Feuer should request in-depth qualitative research into those schools that did improve. Then we can examine why.
I support Mr. Feuer’s overarching point. We do a disservice to our students when our dialogue devolves into partisan abstractions about what is happening in schools. Effective discussion requires no one to cheat their way through an argument.
Neil J. Liss
A version of this article appeared in the May 08, 2013 edition of Education Week as Atlanta Cheating Essay Contains ‘Empty Claims’