A March 29 grand jury indictment details the shockingly sick culture of adult cheating that existed within the Atlanta public schools under former superintendent Beverly Hall, who resigned in disgrace two years ago. A one-time “Superintendent of the Year” who earned $580,000 in performance bonuses, Hall allegedly fired skeptics and whistle-blowers and protected the jobs of the very same principals and teachers known to have held “erasure parties” to change students’ standardized test answers from wrong to right. Here are some of the biggest questions this scandal raises for national education reform:
Is Atlanta an isolated case? The extent of the top-down malfeasance under Beverly Hall may be unprecedented, but as I report in this Slate piece, there is reason to believe that policies tying adult incentives to children’s test scores have resulted in a nationwide uptick in cheating. An investigation by the Atlanta Journal Constitution found 196 school districts across the country with suspicious test score gains similar to the ones demonstrated in Atlanta, which statisticians said had only a one in 1 billion likelihood of being legitimate. A 2011 study by USA Today of test scores from just six states found 1,610 instances in which gains were as likely to be authentic as you are likely to buy a winning Powerball ticket. Absent independent, local investigations of suspected wrongdoing—which are rarely conducted—we simply cannot know the full extent of the cheating, which makes it difficult to assess whether the United States ought to continue down the road of tying teacher and administrator pay and job security to kids’ standardized test scores.