When Teachers, Not Students, Do The Cheating

I appeared on All Things Considered last week talking about the Atlanta cheating trial, in an interview that drew on my research for The Test. Listen and read here.

The defendants are 12 former employees of Atlanta Public Schools. They are accused under the state’s racketeering laws of conspiring to falsify their students’ results on state standardized tests. Dozens more school employees have faced ethics sanctions in a case that has rocked the city of Atlanta for the past few years.

The trial is unusual. It’s likely that millions of dedicated teachers around the country spend their entire careers without engaging in the kind of behavior that happened in Atlanta, or that I heard about in that spa.

But high-stakes state standardized tests of this kind are not unusual. They are mandated in nearly every public school by No Child Left Behind, the 2001 federal education law. These tests are high-stakes because they trigger serious consequences for students (like grade promotion and graduation); for schools (like extra resources, reorganization, or closure); for districts (the loss of federal funds); and for school employees (bonuses, demotion, poor evaluations, or firing).

And so the Atlanta trial should bring two questions: How common is cheating on these tests? And short of cheating, what else might be happening in schools as a result of these tests?

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