The Black Hole of School Fraud

The state cracks down on standardized testing fraud.

The state is finally cracking down on the practice of teachers grading their own students’ standardized tests. The state Board of Regents, the supreme authority in education, will not permit this practice to continue beginning in the 2012-13 school year.

One can’t help wondering: What took them so long?

Audits by the state comptroller for the last two decades have shown, The New York Times points out, that schools give better grades to their own students on state Regents exams than do teams of expert scorers. It’s well known that many more students score just above a passing grade than just below a passing grade -- showing, experts say, that teachers have given them a special push over the bar.

It is sad that the whole concept of No Child Left Behind, the federal policy that has been the foundation stone of national educational policy, has been corrupted. In an effort to show that they are doing a good job, some teachers and principals and education officials have taken extreme steps to improve student test scores. This enables them to advance their careers, at the expense of the children.

Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, a parent advocate, told me: "It’s no surprise that there have been fraudulent practices. When you threaten to close schools and discipline or fire teachers and principals, you can hardly expect to keep the system honest. You put the teachers and supervisors in an untenable position. Schools shouldn’t be closed or teachers fired because of test scores."

Haimson also laced into the city’s Department of Education over allegations made by Richard Condon, the city’s special commissioner of investigation for schools.

He submitted a report about how teachers and even a principal have cheated to enable children to score higher on tests. But Condon has been able to investigate only a handful of 1,250 allegations of test tampering. The Department of Education has refused to make the details available, insisting on investigating most of the charges itself. It declines to make the results public.

This seems like an outrageous breach of responsibility to the parents of 1.1 million school children.

Haimson says: "It’s like there’s a black hole into which these charges of cheating disappear."

Ten years after education was centralized under City Hall’s leadership, the suspicion grows that there has been no substantial improvement. Indeed, by a slavish dependence on numbers as a measure of academic achievement, the system seems to have deteriorated.

It‘s little comfort to know that there have been cheating scandals in other cities like Atlanta and Washington. The scandals in our city are bad enough, like the assistant principal who erased hundreds of answers on an algebra exam and the educators at the High School for Youth and Community Development in Brooklyn who engaged in a "herculean and dishonest" effort to give students answers before a biology Regents exam.

Perhaps we need a special remedial course in ethics for the test givers and the educators who administer the system. Maybe a similar course should be required for the politicians who sit astride the educational bureaucracy. Many would surely get bad grades.

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