The Special Investigators, appointed by Governor Perdue and continued under Governor Deal, describe in near-excruciating detail how administrators and teachers in 44 APS schools systematically changed students' answers on exams to boost scores. While the cheating that gave rise to the investigation happened in 2009, the report says the cheating has been going on since 2001.
Of the 178 teachers and administrators identified by investigators as taking part in the cheating, 82 confessed to being involved; many others simply refused to answer questions or asserted their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves. Sixty-eight percent of the principals of these schools were involved in the cheating themselves. Those teachers and administrators who confessed to being involved provided detailed testimony about the extent of the cheating, including the high levels of coordination and planning used to insure that the cheating was effective, in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
In many cases, teachers would simply correct students' answers after the test was given or direct students to the right answer during the test. In others, poorer performing students would be seated next to higher performing students so they could cheat off their tests. In at least one instance, a group of teachers met after school to have a "changing party" to change students' answers on the exam. And these are just examples. The report catalogues virtually every manner of cheating imaginable being used by APS employees to insure students received an acceptable grade on the exam.
When asked why they cheated, those who confessed described a high-pressure environment where cheating on the CRCT was demanded and enforced from high levels within APS because funding and jobs were tied to the results of the exam. Let that sink in for a moment. Cheating was necessary to preserve or enhance funding and jobs, not to ensure that the children in those schools received a world-class education or had greater opportunities. Cheating was necessary so that the adults could prosper, not the kids.
And, in fact, the children in this system did not prosper. Some harms are just obvious. Students were given a false sense of achievement. They were promoted but were ill-prepared to perform well in higher grades and were thus set for failure. Their poor performance was masked and their parents were denied a chance to know that their child needed help.
Some harm caused by the cheating was much more tangible. The report cites instances where children in serious need of special education instruction were denied funding for that instruction because their scores were too high on the CRCT (implying that they didn't need special help).
Another harm done to these students is found in the message that the cheating must have conveyed, as teachers and administrators -- role models and mentors -- enlisted the students to help them cheat. The message clearly delivered was that cheating is perfectly fine if the stakes are high enough and the probability of being caught remote.
That's quite a life lesson for a second grader.
Why the cheating in APS happened is not a mystery. The system set the stage for the cheating and the adults played their part. Little to no independent oversight of the CRCT meant that teachers and administrators became accustomed to acting with impunity over a number of years, assured that they would absolutely not be caught. Couple that with a system that offers few alternatives -- to students or teachers -- and the pressure to cheat or face retaliation was likely more than some otherwise honest people could withstand.
None of these factors absolves adults of behaving this way, nor should it. Those found guilty of cheating in APS should face criminal penalties for their actions. However, it is clear that the system that allowed this scandal to fester must be reformed. Remember, APS was but one system out of many across Georgia where cheating was suspected in 2009.
To reform the system, many changes are needed. Sensible public school reforms must be instituted to prevent cheating. Independent auditing of all standardized tests is an example that would likely have prevented the APS scandal.
That kind of common sense public school reform needs to be coupled with greater school choice for students and teachers. Having more options will give both the freedom to expose behavior like that in APS without fear of reprisals or the threat of being unemployed, or worse yet, unemployable. The monopoly that is public education -- like virtually every monopoly -- is unhealthy, as the cheating scandal makes clear. In reforming it, we must, absolutely must, understand that giving families access to more education options is an indispensable part of that reform.
Eric Cochling is vice president of Public Policy for Georgia Family Council, a nonprofit research and education organization committed to fostering conditions in which individuals, families and communities thrive. For more information, go to www.georgiafamily.org, 770-242-0001 or email@example.com.