Educators understandably bristle at the term “failing schools.” But if there’s a more graphic indicator of utter and abject failure than administrative cheating on children’s test scores, we’re at a loss to think what it might be.
Forget euphemisms, excuses and spin. There’s already more than enough of all that, and there will no doubt be plenty more.
Here’s the stark reality: The evidence of tampering in the administration and scoring of 2009 Criterion Referenced Competency Tests, across Georgia and here in Columbus, suggests an education scandal of truly startling proportions.
A state audit of test scores labeled two Columbus elementary schools, Muscogee and Davis, as being of “severe concern” for tampering on the CRCT, as measured by the number of answers changed from incorrect to correct. Seven other Muscogee County schools, or 15 percent, were classified as being of “moderate concern” in the audit. (The state “moderate” rate was 6 percent.)
Statewide, the audit cleared about 80 percent of elementary and middle schools — meaning one-fifth of the state’s schools showed cause for at least some concern about test score tampering. That’s hardly grounds for celebration.
Here, the percentage of schools cleared in the audit was 64 — which prompted the Muscogee County School District to issue a ridiculously headlined news release proclaiming: “MCSD Data Overwhelmingly Good.”
There are circumstances in which accentuating the positive, or putting the negative in a larger context, is called for. This is not one of them. Further, that kind of ham-handed spin merely adds insult — not to mention embarrassment — to injury. It also suggests to kids who are falling short that the best way to handle poor performance is simply to label it “good” and move on.
We can talk all day about how pressures — on educators and students alike — to succeed on standardized tests have created an unsustainable educational atmosphere. We can argue that too much rides on the CRCT (Adequate Yearly Progress status and some promotions are dependent on this test).
All of which might be valid, and absolutely none of which has the slightest bearing on the fundamental integrity of public education. If we can’t trust that students have learned what test scores say they’ve learned, or indeed that those scores are even real, then the whole process is grossly corrupted.
Superintendent Susan Andrews says the MCSD will conduct its own internal investigation into possible test tampering — which, we suppose, is where any corrective process must begin. But that investigation must be thorough, unblinking and relentless. Anyone found to have deliberately cheated on student test scores, or to have sanctioned such conduct, should be fired.
That’s not harsh or pitiless. It’s a necessary first step toward restoring trust in our schools.