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School Testing Scandals – Time to Stop the Madness

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It has happened again here in New York. Some people in the Glen Cove City School District (Long Island, NY) may have felt enough pressure to generate high test scores that they cheated to get them. The district indicated that it is involved in an investigation to determine if “testing administration irregularities” occurred during NYS English Language Arts (ELA) and math exams given in April 2012.

18 or more teachers in the district are being probed regarding “coaching” of students on those high stakes English and math examinations. Teachers in the district’s Margaret A. Connolly and Landing elementary schools are being investigated for inappropriately helping students in 3, 4, and 5th grades in those two schools. Glen Cove Schools Superintendent Joseph Laria revealed this information on the schools’ website in a “Testing Irregularities Statement.” As part of this statement, Laria condemns the alleged actions by the teachers writing, “It is with great disappointment that the Glen Cove City School District must report allegations of testing administration irregularities. These allegations, if true, represent a grave disservice to the children, families and community of Glen Cove.”

We can remember only too well the most recent testing scandals in Great Neck public schools on Long Island and at Stuyvesent High School in Manhattan. These incidents are not isolated to New York alone because there have been similar scandals in other places such as El Paso, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia. In El Paso, Lorenzo Garcia, the school superintendent, is currently in jail, and this could happen in the Atlanta case as well. Are superintendents everywhere taking notice? Well, they should be.

The motivation is always the same: boost students’ test scores to either enhance the district’s performance, protect people’s jobs, or for students to secure better grades for personal gain. The New York State Education Department, according to spokesperson Dennis Tompkins, is “monitoring the situation” in Glen Cove. This is another way of saying that they are waiting to get involved once Glen Cove is done conducting its probe. All signs point to this thing not going away but becoming a much larger problem for the district.

The issue here in New York State and elsewhere is that so much weight has been tied to students’ scores on these assessments that the increasing heft is weighing down everyone involved. With New York also linking test scores to teachers’ evaluations, there is a great fear that lower scores will get teachers terminated. The reality is that both Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg are waiting patiently for this to happen, and with the tests being linked to the new Common Core State Standards, there is a tangible reason for teachers being nervous about what will happen next. If some of them are thinking that their jobs are on the line, is it so incredibly impossible to believe that they may try to boost scores to protect their positions?

Of course, this goes back to the districts and state education departments that have enabled testing companies to rule the day. While it makes sense to come up with “common” standards that all students should aspire to achieve, forcing them to be linked to assessments is the first mistake. Allowing those assessments to then be used to qualify teachers and districts as good or bad is poor practice, but when it then becomes a case of determining teachers’ employment status, then we have gone to the lowest depths of absurdity.

All of this is nonsense happens to be business – extremely big and lucrative business – for those testing companies and the districts. If districts can be locked into long-term, expensive deals with testing companies, and those districts in turn can use the test results to eliminate some higher end salaries, it’s a win-win for both parties, with teachers and students being on the losing end of the deal.

About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.