Wednesday, January 16, 2008

An early start in the school of life...


In 2005, every single fourth- and sixth-grade student at City Day Community School in Dayton, Ohio, flunked the math portion of a statewide assessment test. That landed City Day an "academic emergency" rating, meaning state intervention or even takeover. But 2006 brought a stunning turnaround: 100 percent of the school's seventh-grade class, and 59 percent of its fifth graders, passed. Same test, same kids. It seemed too good to be true—and it was.

A few months later, the Dayton Daily News reported that 44 questions on a practice test were nearly identical to the ones in the state test the kids took a week later. When proctors came in to monitor the next year's tests, scores plummeted.

Clearly there was massive cheating at City Day. But the students didn't rig the tests—the teachers did the dirty work. (The school's superintendent denied the charges but was later fired.)

Cheating among teachers has become epidemic in America's schools, with cases from New York to California, Florida to South Dakota, Tennessee to Maryland. "It's more prevalent than anyone wants to admit," says UNC-Chapel Hill professor Gregory Cizek, an expert on cheating in schools. "Teachers are paid to be role models. It sends a really destructive message to kids."

Many experts say this disgraceful behavior has surged due to the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, which annually tests academic performance and can punish struggling schools that don't show improvement. Feeling this heat, some teachers resort to showing students test questions in advance or—if you can believe it—changing their answers after the fact.

Of course, the vast majority of teachers would never dream of cheating, but "when tests are all that matter, teachers feel pressure to boost scores, and some people cross the ethical line," says Robert Schaeffer of FairTest, a group opposed to standardized testing. Cheaters are siphoning off taxpayer dollars meant to reward the real achievers.

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