The cheating will continue until morale improves

Atlanta wasn’t an isolated incident. Neither was El Paso, or Washington, DC, or Columbus. A new General Accounting Office report demonstrates that cheating by school officials on standardized tests has become commonplace despite the use of security measures the report recommends. The only solution is one that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has so far refused—removing the high stakes attached to standardized testing.

The latest embarrassment is in Columbus, where this month Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost seized records at 20 high schools. This is part of a two-year-old investigation into “scrubbing” 2.8 million attendance records of students who failed tests. Yost has recently widened his investigation to look into whether school administrators also changed grades to boost graduation rates.

A GOA reportreleased May 16 recommends adopting “leading practices to prevent test irregularities.” However, the report reveals that while all states and the District of Columbia use at least some of the recommended best practices, 33 states had confirmed instances of test cheating in the last two school years. And states where the worst offenses are occurring already have adopted most of the practices identified in the report, making it unlikely that greater security will improve test integrity.

Ohio employs five of the nine security plans recommended by the GOA report. Atlanta, where the superintendent and 34 other educators were recently indicted for changing test answers, has adopted eight of nine security practices, as has Texas, where the former El Paso superintendant is now in federal prison for a scheme to encourage low-performing students to drop out. And Washington, D.C., where 191 teachers at 70 schools were implicated in a rash of wrong-to-right erasure marks on tests, uses every single security measure.

The Department of Education responded to the GAO’s findings by holding a symposium on test integrity and issuing a follow-up report on best practices and policies. But the federal government convening a meeting and issuing yet another report might be even less effective at stopping cheating than increased security.

The report also noted that linking awards and recognition to improving test scores and threatening the jobs of principals for low test scores “could provide incentives to cheat.” But at a conference of education writers in April, Sec. Arne Duncan denied that linking test scores to career outcomes could drive educators to criminally manipulate the system.

“I reject the idea that the system forces people to cheat,” he said.

Maybe so, but cheating now seems inherent in the system, and our Education Secretary seems incurious as to why. It’s even hard to get him to admit there is an epidemic of test cheating. Asked about the Ohio investigation, Duncan said, “I almost don’t know of another situation like this.”

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NEA and AFT reaction to NCLB Waiver proposals

We brought news of the Administrations proposals to waive NCLB requirements in the face of a broken congresses inability to rauthorize it. Here's the official response from NEA

Obama, Duncan to provide relief from many NCLB restrictions
Van Roekel: Flexibility from rigid rules welcomed by educators

WASHINGTON - September 22, 2011 - President Obama announced a plan today to provide relief to states from many of NCLB’s more onerous provisions, such as meeting Adequate Yearly Progress requirements and other deadlines. “President Obama has taken a welcome step forward with this plan. It sets much more realistic goals for schools, while maintaining ESEA’s original commitment to civil rights, high academic standards and success for every student,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.

“Teachers have been sounding the alarm on NCLB’s test-label-punish approach for more than 10 years. Now, there is an opportunity to move forward with real reform, especially for the most disadvantaged students,” said Van Roekel.

“Educators want commonsense measures of student progress, freedom to implement local ideas, respect for their judgment and the right to be a part of critical decisions,” said Van Roekel. “This plan delivers.”

Van Roekel notes that the waiver plan provisions get away from labeling schools as failures. “Instead, the Department of Education has adopted a term NEA also uses for low performing schools: Priority Schools. The waivers recognize the Title I schools that need the most help—and the students they serve—as a federal priority.”

Last week, Van Roekel completed a back-to-school tour for a first-hand view of how teachers are collaborating with key education stakeholders to significantly improvement student learning and success. “I’ve been visiting schools across the country and I know that teachers and education support professionals care deeply about their students and they want policies that work to benefit students,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “President Obama and Secretary Duncan have crafted a path that breaks through the logjam of bad NCLB policy and opened the way to better ideas that will work for students and schools.”

“NEA will continue to work with Congress and push for comprehensive NCLB reauthorization,” said Van Roekel.

See NEA’s letter to Sec. Duncan requesting regulatory relief for K-12 schools here.

Here's the response from AFT

Statement by Randi Weingarten,
President, American Federation of Teachers,
On Waivers for NCLB Requirements

WASHINGTON—No Child Left Behind needs to be fixed. Reauthorization, which is Congress' responsibility, is the appropriate avenue to do so. We applaud Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) for their efforts to move that process forward, and we share their frustration that reauthorization is long overdue. In the absence of congressional reauthorization, we understand why the Obama administration is taking this action; we are keenly aware of the calls from parents, teachers and administrators for change—sooner rather than later. Waivers are an imperfect answer to the stalemate in Congress and, at best, can provide only a temporary salve.

Some of what the administration proposes is promising, some is cause for concern, and there are missed opportunities that could have enhanced both teaching and learning.

We are pleased that the administration's proposal includes more options prospectively for improving low-performing schools, recognizing that many of the remedies prescribed in NCLB were not flexible enough. The proposal also acknowledges the importance of adopting higher college- and career-ready standards, which could include the Common Core State Standards, to prepare kids for a 21st-century knowledge economy.

However, after all we've learned about how to construct and implement meaningful teacher evaluation and development systems since Race to the Top was announced two years ago, we're disappointed that the lessons learned are not evident in this package. Evaluation needs to be more teaching-focused, not more testing-focused. Successful school districts in the United States and in the top-performing nations understand that teacher evaluation systems should be based on continuous improvement and support, not on simply sorting, and it's a missed opportunity not to follow their lead.

Common Standards to Play Pivotal Role in NCLB Waivers?

Unless you've been in the wild without an Internet signal, or on a vacation where you really, um, don't check your SmartPhone, you've heard by now that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has given states the formal go-ahead to apply for waivers from No Child Left Behind requirements. As was made clear in a White House press briefing on Monday, this direction comes from President Obama.

Details of what states must do to get the waivers won't emerge until next month, but at the briefing, Duncan listed the elements in the all-or-nothing package of reforms states have to embrace (and you've heard this mantra before): teacher and principal effectiveness, turning around low-performing schools, growth-based accountability systems, and yes, college- and career-ready standards.

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Relying on Magic: The Foundations of Would-be Education Reformers

With high unction, priests of educational reform often proclaim their notions are grounded on a strong scientific base. Embarrassingly, the President and his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, have made similar assertions of scientific footings, notwithstanding the failure to actually support those claims.

Science, of course, has certain advantages, in that its proofs are subject to verification, are based on careful observations, must generally be replicable, and must follow commonly accepted designs and rules of evidence. But science has the pesky drawback of not necessarily confirming the answers we want to hear. There are all those awkward things to explain like reformer Joel Klein claiming success as an “established fact” while Arne Duncan says 83 percent of the schools are failing.

Magic, however, has been discovered to be a far more flexible and useful tool for supporting policy reforms. Contrary scientific findings can be brushed away with the same untroubled ease as an end-of-worlder explaining why the apocalypse didn’t happen last week.

As magical notions gain political traction, a supporting “science” is retro-invented. Contemporary retro-science includes reports that provide squishy, oblique and leading evidence on how untrained teachers will do as well or better than trained ones, class sizes can be increased without harm to children, and test-based accountability will save all despite the last twenty years of less-than-stellar success. Magicism is most easily recognized by its strong declaratory incantations, frequently delivered by people with limited or no experience in the field. Being short on science, it relies on the brandishing of symbols, rituals, and rites.

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