West Virginia public school students rank so low in standardized test scores — trailing most states in science, equaling Bulgaria in math — that the 2013 Legislature overcame howls from teacher unions and passed a major education reform demanded by Gov. Tomblin. Nobody knows whether the law changes will boost learning levels.
But the demand for better test results begets a different problem: cheating by some teachers and administrators to inflate scores in their schools and enhance their own careers.
Lincoln County teacher Kelli Burns told the Lincoln Journal she was fired after, among other things, she and her mother reported “continued, widespread and pervasive cheating on standardized tests.” She said the county school board’s only response was “sweeping the whole thing under the carpet.”
Meanwhile, national attention has been grabbed by a large cheating scandal in Atlanta. Indictments accuse 35 educators of holding after-school “parties” in which incorrect student test answers were erased and replaced with correct ones. The cheating allegedly infested all levels of Atlanta schools. Those charged include former Superintendent Beverly Hall, who was America’s 2009 National Superintendent of the Year.
One teacher, Jackie Parks, wore a hidden microphone to help prosecutors break the system. She said grade-changing was so routine that many teachers considered it a job obligation. …
The National Center for Fair and Open Testing points out that cheating incidents have been confirmed in 37 states and the District of Columbia during the past four years. In Philadelphia, two principals surrendered their credentials last month after a probe into suspected cheating on state tests.
Last year, investigative reporters of USA Today said they found evidence of fraudulent test scores in six states and Washington, D.C.
What a mess. What a dilemma. West Virginia must strive for higher test scores — but they must not be attained dishonestly.
The Legislature and the state Board of Education should create an internal investigative system through which whistleblowers can report suspicions of cheating. For starters, it could examine the Lincoln County report.
— Distributed by The Associated Press