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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.

It really is time for parents to be advocates for their children because no one else will be. Parents are actually the employers of public school employees, including all those highly paid superintendents who seem to like standardized testing and all of its trappings. The taxpayers must stop the madness, and one of the most powerful ways is by opting out of the testing. Of course, parents are concerned about these grades being used for placement and graduation, but if they all came together and universally refused for their children to take these tests, something powerful would happen all across the nation.

Right now we are mired in a testing nightmare in this country. Assessments are only instruments, and just like drums, guitars, and keyboards, they can make no music without someone to play them; however, the testing companies are counting on everyone to push their children to be reluctant performers, no matter how bad the music may end up being. Since the companies already have their big contracts, no one is worrying about students playing the wrong notes.

That is why someone has to come in and stop the madness now. Word about the possible scandal in Glen Cove is yet another example of what high stakes testing is doing to people. Teachers who have always followed the rules are worried and rightly so, and the pattern is continuing all over the country. It is time to put the most important people in this equation first – the children!

The only way to do that is to eliminate the source of the problem: faulty assessments that should never have been given so much importance to begin with. If we can stop the pattern, we can hopefully ensure that children won’t be going to school to be taught to test but rather to learn they way they are supposed to be learning. Otherwise, the testing will continue to overwhelm all other educational matters and that will be a disservice to all especially the students.

Parents must ask themselves this question: do I want my child’s teacher teaching to take tests all year long or do I want him/her to provide meaningful instruction that will prepare my child for college and life? The answer is relatively a simple one if you view assessments as “evil” that is not necessary. Testing is only a necessary evil for the companies and districts who stand to gain from them. Stopping this testing madness now will ensure that our children will receive a quality education, and that lasts a lifetime.

Photo Credits: glen cove-newsday.com; lorenzo garcia-npr.org; classroom-mashable.com

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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.