In Atlanta, educators allegedly cheated by changing students’ answers, but the state of Georgia cheats our students by mandating standardized tests in the first place. Georgia’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) drives instruction away from the development of performance skills and critical thinking. Schools are pressured to yield high scores and promised monetary bonuses if they do so. Under the circumstances, educators are duped into teaching to the test with skill-drill activities, ignoring why they became teachers to begin with.
What is this faithful reverence for test scores anyway? The happy faces of parents when their child exceeds standards? The students heralded as “high achievers” who we are then supposed to treat as school trophies and model as exemplars to “low-achieving” students?
In reality, we’re pushing students to be submissive thinkers, to submit answers on multiple-choice exams using process-of-elimination instead of the process of critical thought. Why are we so celebratory when our students “beat the test” when it’s a poor diagnostic of student learning to begin with? Can shading in a bubble encompass all that they know about the world? Or is it their best guess at a question about the Boxer Rebellion or mitochondria? Are we, as educators, serving educational or economic interests?
Education is a billion-dollar industry, and we teachers are the underpaid factory workers. The students are products of our labor. We are given test-prep tools to assemble young minds so that they can perform accordingly on state exams. Quality control of our teaching is assessed with ScanTron grading machines. Schools with high scores become brand names in education and schools with low scores are deemed to have production-line defects. “There must be something wrong in the warehouse,” the
businessmen superintendents say. It couldn’t be the prepackaged curriculum. It couldn’t be the brain dump of information, polluting students’ perceptions of school. It couldn’t be increasing class sizes, 31 students boxed in a room together. It couldn’t be that everything about the schooling process is geared towards THE TEST and there’s no place for even the smallest cog of independent thought.
Neither rewarding teachers when students achieve high tests scores nor punishing teachers who cheat is going to transform the schooling process. Assessments must extend beyond recall of information and allow students to apply their knowledge to real-world contexts, to not only identify the “what” but to analyze the “why,” to evaluate the biases in the information they are receiving, to formulate opinions about what they are learning, and to construct new ways of seeing the world.
We cannot scapegoat the schools and educators involved in the Atlanta cheating scandal; they are symptoms, not root causes, of the problem. Broader reforms need to take place when determining the modes of assessing teacher effectiveness and student learning.
Darnell Fine teaches 6th and 7th grade humanities at an Atlanta middle school and facilitates creative writing seminars and social justice workshops across the country. He is a recipient of Teaching Tolerance’s 2012 Award for Excellence in Culturally Responsive Teaching.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.