No cheater left behind

Students cheating during testTwenty-two California schools had their standardized test scores thrown out this year for offenses ranging from cheating to minor mistakes and noncompliance with mandatory procedures from the National Center for Fair & Open Testing.

Teachers and principals have been busted after giving out answers, letting the students talk among themselves, and outright tampering with the answers by changing them after the students completed the test.

Almost half of those schools lost their Academic Performance Index scores, which determines federal funding for the districts.

Higher rankings can improve the schools’ status and reputation and help increase property values within the districts. Faculty receives bonuses for their students’ performance as well.

Conversely, lower scores result in lower rankings that can ding a school’s reputation and encourage parents to enroll their children in private schools.

The problem with the federal funding scheme is that the worse a school does, the less funding it receives.

The incentive-based No Child Left Behind policy sets a mean score — the average grade measured by standardized testing — that determines how much a school gets.

This policy encourages a race to the middle, where students from poorer and consequently underperforming schools are not learning anything past the tests they must take to meet the federally mandated conditions that set the amount they get.

No one should blame the teachers for their moral and ethical deficiency. Too much is at stake, and a system that measures learning through a shallow threshold begets shortcuts, and a myopic focus on test scores alone.

What the teachers have done, however, should not be condoned. It is shortsighted to identify their misstep as the root of the problem.

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Helping children increase their test scores through cheating when all other methods have failed isn’t the type of lesson any society would want to pass down to its children.

That’s not an excuse to revisit a broken funding system that is blind to anything but numbers. When the standards are as hollow as quantitative national averages, it begets an unethical approach to achievement.

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