Even during the aftermath of the Atlanta cheating scandal, APS’s former superintendent Beverly Hall continued to defend the district’s academic record. Not so fast says Binghamton University Professor Lawrence C. Stedman:
The Atlanta Public Schools system has been rocked by a series of reports documenting widespread cheating on the Georgia state tests. Its reputation, and that of its leaders, has come into question. In response, former superintendent Hall asserts that, despite any cheating, the city’s students made “real and dramatic” progress during her tenure and cites the district’s trends on NAEP as part of her evidence (Hall, 2011). In this report, I analyze Atlanta’s performance on NAEP during the 2000s to assess this contention. I use diverse indicators: district trends, national comparisons, grade equivalents, and percentages of students achieving proficiency. My preliminary assessment is that Atlanta’s progress has been limited and, in many cases, slowed. In spite of a decade of effort, Atlanta’s students still lag 1-2 years behind national averages and vast percentages do not even reach NAEP’s basic level. Less than a fourth of its 4th and 8th graders achieve proficiency, a key national goal; in some subjects and grades, it is as few as a tenth. At current rates, it will take from 50 to 110 years to bring all students to proficiency. Such findings raise profound questions about current approaches to school reform, including No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. The emphasis on targets and testing is failing and has contributed to cheating across the nation. More fundamentally, it has greatly distorted teaching and undermined authentic learning. While test tampering is a serious problem, we need to re-conceptualize what we mean by cheating. Every day, test-driven, bureaucratically controlled institutions are cheating tens of millions of students out of a genuine education. That is the real scandal.
No Child Left Behind has been the new status quo since 2002. It’s reliance on standardized tests serve as a gold standard for education. Results are used as spreadsheet data to justify the shift of taxpayer dollars from the commitment to the civic tradition of public schools to one driven by profit.
Perhaps it will be that the Atlanta cheating scandal signaled a beginning of the end of sorts – a time when standardized testing began to loose its image as a fair and reliable arbiter of anybody’s accountablity. It was the children who ultimately suffered in Atlanta. Maybe this was the point we finally began to see that attaching kids test scores to dollars to advance the agendas of adults is wrong.