Tag Archives: Testing

Why paying teachers for student test scores is a bad idea

While everyone in British Columbia is paying attention to the teachers’ strike, the Fraser Institute launched its latest effort to marketize education. This week the Fraser Institute, a neoliberal think tank, released a report promoting incentivized pay for teachers.

Teacher Incentive Pay That Works, summarizes 10 “case studies” from around the globe, which the Fraser Institute argues illustrates successful incentive pay programs. The press release for the report is titled “Evidence shows teacher incentive pay improves student performance,” which is ironic since the report ignores the long history of these schemes, and studiously avoids the details of the debate around value-added measurements in the United States (which is currently enthralled in a public revolt against test-driven education), as well as evidence illustrating damage done to schools and learning under such schemes.

The Illusion of Paying Teachers for Performance

… history shows that any pay-for-performance gains are mostly illusions. Not only do they fail to improve student achievement, they are also destructive, encouraging administrators and teachers to cheat by manipulating statistics, or by teaching to the test. Inevitably, children wind up the losers because curricula are narrowed to include subjects that can be taught by drill and repetition and that are easily measured. (Wilms & Chapleau, 1999)

Wilms and Chapleau note that pay-for-performance was first rolled out in England, around 1710! Teachers’ salaries were based on their students’ scores on examinations in the “three ‘Rs.” “This early payment-for-results system had great appeal because it promised to help keep children from poor families in school, where they might learn the basics.”

The scheme became a permanent fixture in English schools by 1862 (as part of the Revised Education Code) and was in effect for over 30 years. Historical accounts of England’s scheme describe teachers and administrators as becoming obsessed with the systems financial rewards, which according to Wilms and Chapleau were dubbed “the cult of the [cash] register.”

Curriculum was narrowed to include just the easily measured basics. The sciences and the arts, along with many other non-tested activities disappeared from schools (foreshadowing the disappearance of recess from elementary schools in the United States as a result of the test driven reforms like Obama’s Race To The Top).

Teaching became increasingly mechanical, as teachers found that drill and rote repetition produced the “best” results. One schools inspector wrote an account of children reading flawlessly for him while holding their books upside down.

The English system of pay for performance produced a mechanical approach to teaching and learning that eroded teacher creativity. Standards for student success (or failure) were spelled out in detail (just as the new Fraser Institute reports as a “Key Lesson 1” in their study, “Define what we expect teachers to do.”)

An inspector wrote that the Education Code “did all the thinking for the teacher; it told him in precise detail what he was to do each year.” Another recalled, “Every teacher in the country takes his orders from the Code, studies the Code, and devotes his energies to satisfy or to circumvent it.”

Predictably the English system imploded in a cheating scandal that included falsification of records and teachers coaching student through examinations, not unlike the recent massive cheating scandal in Atlanta, Georgia and across the USA, which highlights deleterious effects of test-driven education.

the overwhelming judgment was that it was unsound policy. Cynics referred to schools as “grant factories” and children as “grant-earning units.”

In the later third of the 19th Century, teacher pay-by-results appeared briefly in Canada. Student achievement initially rose but, as in England, teachers started to focus on students who were most likely to succeed, turning their classrooms into test prep centres. By 1883 the Canadian experiment ended as a result of public outrage.

One hundred years later in the United States, the Nixon administration funded an experiment in “performance contracting” in which school funding was tied to students standardized test scores. The experiment provided incentives for administrators, teachers, and students. Private contractors, who were suppose to bring innovation and business know-how to the effort, were given contracts in 18 cities to raise student achievement levels in reading and math.

Turns out contractors offered no pedagogical innovations only teaching to the test. The project was declared a failure in the midst of poor results and a cheating scandal.

As Wilms and Chapleau illustrate, the wake of pay-for-results education reforms is strewn with detritus of dishonest behaviour (cheating, falsifying records) and teaching to the test.

Similar incentive efforts in the 1990s and the recent examples of cheating scandals in Atlanta and Texas prove that incentive pay reform is a failed idea.

Flawed Logic of Performance Pay

Donald Gratz, the author of Perils and Promise of Performance Pay, describes the flawed logic of incentive pay plans that aim to boost student achievement.

False assumptions #1: Teachers lack motivation.

Teachers care about their students and want them to succeed. “Does anyone really think that large numbers of teachers know what their students need but are willfully withholding it? That they would help students learn more, if only someone offered them a bonus to do so? This is a highly cynical view of teachers, one that teachers understandably find demeaning, not motivational.”

False Assumption #2: Schools are Failing

The manufactured crisis of school failure is a basis for corporate education reform or what is also called the Global Education Reform Movement (Berliner & Biddle, 1995). This is not to say that there aren’t troubled schools or that public schools do not need to be improved, but most students have higher levels of academic achievement now than in the past.

False Assumption #3: Measuring Academic Achievement is All that Counts

“If we want students to develop as well-rounded human beings who are empathetic, thoughtful, and creative, we will have to include these characteristics among our goals for schools and seek ways to gauge our success. A system that rewards schools, students, and teachers only for test scores will get mostly test scores. This is not what most of us want for our children.”

And What About the Research on Incentive Pay?

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing has compiled information surveying the research on paying teaching for test scores and concludes that it is a practice that damages schools and undermines learning.

Paying for higher test scores creates score inflation, not genuine learning. Paying for test scores encourages teaching to the test, which creates inflated results without improving learning. (Koretz, 2009; Madaus, Ressell & Higgins, 2009; Nichols & Berliner, 2007)

Payment for performance narrows the curriculum to what is tested and leads to reduced focus on or elimination of important subjects, such as social studies, science, art, music, and physical education. (McMurrer, 2007; Morton & Dalton, 2007)

It is unfair and ineffective to pay teachers for test results that are often marred by scoring and other errors. (Rhoades & Madaus, 2003).

Payment for gains in student scores does not solve the problem of test-induced educational damage. There are too many flaws in “value-added” measurement approaches to trust the results. (McCaffrey, et al., 2005; Bracey, 2007; National Research Council, 2009)

Most teachers’ primary motivation is not high pay. If it were, they would have chosen another profession. Teachers know test scores are a poor barometer of their abilities, so pay for performance damages rather than enhances their sense of professionalism and morale (Whitford & Jones, 2000; Nichols & Berliner, 2007). It can decrease motivation (Ryan & LaGuardia, 1999). Payment for “performance” also has been shown to increase cheating (Pfeffer, 2007).

Payment for test scores may not even to raise student scores and has been shown in one country to reduce scores. This is despite the extensive evidence of score inflation from teaching the test (Martins, 2009; Springer, Podgursky, & Lewis, 2009).

Paying individual teachers for student scores encourages unhealthy competition. Incentive pay may reduce cooperation among teachers and can cause divisions among staff and parents (MacInnis, 2009; Pfeffer, 2007). In addition the OECD has recently released a report that says competition in education is a failed policy. The bottom-line:

Research on pay for performance finds that it rests on dubious assumptions and lacks evidence it succeeds, and there is good evidence that it often fails.


Berliner, D. C., & Biddle, B. J. (1995). The manufactured crisis: Myths, fraud, and the attack on America’s public schools. New York: Basic Books.

Bracey, J. 2007. Evaluating value added. FairTest Examiner, July. http://www.fairtest.org/whats-value-growth- measures

Bradshaw, W. J., & Gallup, A. M. (2008, September). Americans speak out: Are educators and policy makers listening? Phi Delta Kappan, 90(10), 7–31.

Gratz, D. B. (2009). Perils and promise of performance pay. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Koretz, D. (2009, April 29). What’s Missing in Obama’s Education Plan? Education Week. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2009/04/29/30koretz_ep.h28.html?tkn=QTLFEqyaUfgkzI4vRyp6Q0c2kzhDTpngNM 9B&print=1

MacInnes, G. (2009). Eight reasons not to tie teacher pay to standardized test results. Century Foundation Issue Brief. http://www.tcf.org/publications/education/gordon%20brief.pdf

Madaus, G., Russell, M., & Higgins, J. (2009). The Paradoxes of high stakes testing. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Press.

Martins, P. (2009, March). Individual teacher incentives, student achievement and grade inflation. Queen Mary, University of London, CEG-IST and IZA, Discussion Paper No. 4051.

McCaffrey, D., Koretz, D., Lockwood, J.R., & Hamilton, L. (2005). Evaluating value-added models for teacher accountability. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation.

McMurrer, J. (2007). Choices, changes, and challenges: Curriculum and instruction in the NCLB Era. Center on Education Policy. http://www.cep-dc.org/

Morton, B. & Dalton, B. (2007). Changes in instructional hours in four subjects by public school teachers of grades 1 through 4 (Issue Brief). National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2007305

National Research Council, Board on Testing and Assessment. (2009). Letter Report to the U.S. Department of Education on the Race to the Top Fund. National Academy of Sciences, available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12780

Nichols, S.L, & Berliner, D.C. (2007). Collateral damage: How high-stakes testing corrupts America’s schools. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.

OECD. (2014). When is competition between schools beneficial? PISA in focus, 42. http://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisaproducts/pisainfocus/PISA%20in%20Focus%20N42%20(eng)–Final.pdf

Pfeffer, J. (2007). Testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives. http://federalworkforce.oversight.house.gov/documents/20070313111150-45256.pdf

Rhoades, K. & Madaus, G., (2003). Errors in standardized tests: A systemic problem. Boston College. http://www.bc.edu/nbetpp

Ryan, R. M., & La Guardia, J. G. (1999). Achievement motivation within a pressured society: Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to learn and the politics of school reform. In T. Urdan (Ed.) Advances in motivation and achievement (Vol 11). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Springer, M., Podgursky, M., & Lewis, J. (2009). Texas Educator Excellence Grant (TEEG) program: Year two evaluation report. http://www.performanceincentives.org/ncpi_publications/policybriefs.asp

Whitford, B. L., & Jones, K. (2000). Accountability, assessment, and teacher commitment. Albany: SUNY Press.

Wilms, W. W., & Chapleau, R. R. (1999, November 3). The illusion of paying teachers for student performance. Education Week, 19(10), 34, 48.

The latest test resistance news (Compiled by FairTest)

Alaska Repeals High School Exit Exam, Plans to Award Withheld Diploma

New Connecticut State Tests Mean Less Time for Teaching and Learning

One Florida Mother Has Had it With High Stakes Testing

Union Challenges Florida’s Test-Based “Merit Pay” Law as “Irrational”

Indiana State-Federal Assessments Stand-off Illustrates Politically Driven Testing Charade

Louisiana School Grades Distort Picture of Education

Gov. Jindal Wants to Pull Louisiana Out of Common Core Testing

Maine School Grading System Has Major Flaws

New Massachusetts Teacher Union President Supports Three-Year Moratorium on Standardized Testing

New Jersey Testing Concerns Grow as PARCC Phase-In Begins

More Questions on Accuracy of New Mexico Teacher Evaluations

Upstate New York School Districts Say “No” to Pearson Field Tests

Field Test is Exercise in Futility

Just Say “No” to NY Field Tests

New Yorkers Demand Release of Test Questions for Public Inspection

New York Republican Legislators Promote Plan to Review Common Core Assessments

Bill Would End Pearson’s Common Core Testing Contract

Why I Despise North Carolina’s End-of-Grade Tests

Ohio’s Standardized Tests: What’s the Point?

Oklahoma Schools Challenge Flawed Writing Test Scores

Standardized Tests for Tennessee Learning Disabled Students Make Little Sense

Bringing Transparency to Tennessee Testing

Vermont to Develop Local Proficiency Standards, Not State Exit Exam

Virginia Kids Are Not “All Right” Due to High-Stakes Testing

NCLB Falsely Labels Wyoming Schools as “Failing”

Obama-Duncan Education Policies Test Our Patience

What Happens When a Student Fails a High-Stakes Test

This Is Not a Test: Jose Vilson’s Vision of Race, Class and Education in the U.S.

You Don’t Fatten a Pig By Weighing It

Testing Overkill Won’t Draw In Better Teachers

Correcting a Harmful Misuse of Test Scores

Morality, Validity and the Design of Instructionally Sensitive Tests

Common Core Assessment Sales Job is a Hoax

National Principals Groups Seeks Pause in Common Core Assessments

“We Will Not Let an Exam Decide Our Fate”

I Am a Scientist with Learning Disabilities, And That’s OK

New edition of “The Social Studies Curriculum: Purposes, Problems, and Possibilities” in production

I’m very pleased to announce that the Fourth Edition of the The Social Studies Curriculum: Purposes, Problems, and Possibilities is now in production at The State University of New York Press and will be available in 2014.

This fourth edition includes 12 new chapters on: the history of the social studies; creating spaces for democratic social studies; citizenship education; anarchist inspired transformative social studies; patriotism; ecological democracy; Native studies; inquiry teaching; Islamophobia; capitalism and class struggle; gender, sex, sexuality and youth experiences in school; and critical media literacy. Chapters carried over from the Third Edition, which was published in 2006, have been substantially revised and updated, including those: on teaching in the age of curriculum standardization and high-stakes testing; critical multicultural social studies; prejudice and racism, assessment; and teaching democracy.

As with previous editions——the first edition of The Social Studies Curriculum was published in 1997 and the Revised Edition was released in 2001——the aim of this collection of essays is to challenge readers to reconsider their assumptions and understandings of the origins, purposes, nature, and possibilities of the social studies curriculum.

A fundamental assumption of this collection is that the social studies curriculum is much more than subject matter knowledge—a collection of facts and generalizations from history and the social science disciplines to be passed on to students. The curriculum is what students experience. It is dynamic and inclusive of the interactions among students, teachers, subject matter and the social, cultural, economic and political contexts education. The true measure of success in any social studies course or program will be found in its effects on individual students’ thinking and actions as well as the communities to which students belong. Teachers are the key component in any curriculum improvement and it is our hope that this book provides social studies teachers with perspectives, insights, and knowledge that are beneficial in their continued growth as professional educators.

I am very appreciative to all the authors who wrote chapters for this and previous editions of the book, including: Jane Bernard-Powers, Margaret Smith Crocco, Abraham DeLeon, Terrie Epstein, Ronald W. Evans, Linda Farr Darling, Stephen C. Fleury, Four Arrows (aka Don T. Jacobs), Kristi Fragnoli, Rich Gibson, Neil O. Houser, David W. Hursh, Kevin Jennings, Gregg Jorgensen, Lisa Loutzenheiser, Joseph Kahne, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Christopher R. Leahey, Curry Stephenson Malott, Perry M. Marker, Sandra Mathison, Cameron McCarthy, Merry Merryfield, Jack L. Nelson, Nel Noddings, Paul Orlowski, Valerie Ooka Pang, J. Michael Peterson, Marc Pruyn, Greg Queen, Frances Rains, David Warren Saxe, Doug Selwyn, Özlem Sensoy, Binaya Subedi, Brenda Trofanenko, Kevin D. Vinson, Walter Werner, Joel Westheimer, and Michael Whelan. Each of one of these contributors are exemplary scholars and educators and their work has had a tremendous impact on my own thinking and practice as well as many other educators.

The Social Studies Curriculum: Purposes, Problems, and Possibilities
(4th Edition)


Part I: Purposes of the Social Studies Curriculum

1. Social Studies Curriculum Migration: Confronting Challenges in the 21st Century
Gregg Jorgensen, Western Illinois University

2. Social Studies Curriculum and Teaching in the Age of Standardization
E. Wayne Ross, University of British Columbia
Sandra Mathison, University of British Columbia
Kevin D. Vinson, The University of the West Indies

3. Creating Authentic Spaces for Democratic Social Studies Education
Christopher R. Leahey, North Syracuse (NY) Public Schools & SUNY Oswego

4. “Capitalism is for the Body, Religion is for the Soul”: Insurgent Social Studies for the 22nd Century
Abraham P. DeLeon, University of Texas, San Antonio

Part II: Social Issues and the Social Studies Curriculum

5. Dangerous Citizenship
E. Wayne Ross, University of British Columbia
Kevin D. Vinson, The University of the West Indies

6. Teaching Students to Think About Patriotism
Joel Westheimer, University of Ottawa

7. Ecological Democracy: An Environmental Approach to Citizenship Education
Neil O. Houser, University of Oklahoma

8. Native Studies, Praxis, and The Public Good
Four Arrows, Fielding Graduate University

9. Marxism and Critical Multicultural Social Studies Education: Redux
Curry Malott, West Chester University
Marc Pruyn, Monash University

10. Prejudice, Racism, and the Social Studies Curriculum
Jack L. Nelson, Rutgers University
Valerie Ooka Pang, San Diego State University

11. The Language of Gender, Sex, and Sexuality and Youth Experiences in Schools
Lisa Loutzenheiser, University of British Columbia

Part III: The Social Studies Curriculum in Practice

12. Making Assessment Work for Teaching and Learning
Sandra Mathison, University of British Columbia

13. Why Inquiry?
Doug Selwyn, SUNY Plattsburgh

14. Beyond Fearing the Savage: Responding to Islamophobia in the Classroom
Özlem Sensoy, Simon Fraser University

15. Class Struggle in the Classroom
Greg Queen, Fitzgerald Senior High School (Warren, MI)

16. Critical Media Literacy and Social Studies
Paul Orlowski, University of Saskatchewan

17. Teaching Democracy: What Schools Need to Do
Joseph Kahne, Mills College
Joel Westheimer, University of Ottawa

Part IV: Conclusion

18. Remaking the Social Studies Curriculum
E. Wayne Ross, University of British Columbia


National Center for Fair & Open Testing

for further information:

Dr. Monty Neill (617) 477-9792

Bob Schaeffer (239) 395-6773

for immediate release Monday, January 14, 2013




The country’s leading testing reform organization today announced its support for the boycott of Seattle Public Schools’ Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) exam launched by teachers at Garfield High School. National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) Executive Director Dr. Monty Neill said, “Children across the U.S. suffer from far too much standardized testing that is misused to judge students, teachers and schools. We applaud Garfield High educators who refused to administer these useless exams and urge others to join in.”

Dr. Neill explained, “Seattle requires administration of the MAP tests three times per year. This eliminates days of valuable teaching time and ties up the school’s computer labs for weeks. The tests are used to judge teachers even though they are not aligned with the state’s standards and not instructionally helpful. The Northwest Evaluation Association, which makes the test, says the MAPs are not accurate enough to evaluate individual teachers. No wonder some Seattle parents began opting their children out of these pointless tests even before the teachers’ boycott.”

“Nationally, students are inundated with tests far beyond the ‘No Child Left Behind’ (NCLB) requirement to assess students annually in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school,” Dr. Neill continued. “States and especially large city districts have piled on many more tests. For example, Chicago tests kindergarteners 14 or more times per year. Many of these tests were added to obtain federal NCLB waivers, which force states and districts to impose more exams so they can judge teachers by student scores.”

According to FairTest, the high stakes attached to tests have led to narrowing curriculum, teaching to the test, score inflation and cheating scandals. Despite the focus on tests, scores gains on the independent National Assessment of Educational Progress have slowed since the 2002 start of NCLB and are well below pre-NCLB score increases. Score gaps between whites and African Americans and Latinos have stopped narrowing.

“High-stakes testing is undermining the quality of U.S. schools and the education our children deserve,” Dr. Neill concluded. “Teachers and parents who boycott standardized exams are taking the lead to reduce over-testing and the consequences attached to it. President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the Congress, governors, state legislators, and local school officials need to heed these voices and stop imposing unnecessary and educational harmful testing.”

Great Schools Project Teach-In: How Should We Assess Our Schools?

You are invited to the Great Schools Project Teach-In:
How Should We Assess Our Schools?

Saturday, December 1
10 am to 12:30 pm–coffee from 9:30
Simon Fraser University Surrey Campus (Surrey Central Sky Train)
250 – 13450 – 102nd Avenue

The Great Schools Project is a collaboration among individuals who want to strengthen and protect public education in British Columbia. For almost four years, educators, parents, researchers, and leaders, both inside and outside the education system, have met to discuss how to improve the way we evaluate and assess our schools.

We feel the current system is both too narrow (focused on only a portion of the important work schools do) and too punitive (with substantial negative impact on individual students and educators).

After extensive discussions of the current system of Foundation Skills Assessment (FSAs) and their use to rank schools, the GSP working group has developed ideas about alternatives that would better serve both students and public schools.

The Great Schools Teach-In provides an opportunity for us to present some of these ideas and for you to debate them and provide your input.

1. Alfie Kohn, outstanding critic of standardized testing and proponent of richer ways of understanding how well our children and their schools are doing (by videocast).
2. Speakers from the Great Schools Project
3. Discussion and debate.

Please RSVP to: dlaitsch@sfu.ca

For more information see our website:

Great Schools Project Working Committee:

  • David Chudnovsky (retired teacher; former MLA; BCTF President 1999-2002)
  • Janet Dempsey (retired teacher; ESL specialist)
  • Iglika Ivanova, (Ecomomist and Public Interest Researcher CCPA)
  • Bill Hood (recently retired teacher; current PDP Faculty Associate SFU)
  • Larry Kuehn (Director Research and Technology BCTF)
  • Daniel Laitsch (Associate Professor Education Leadership, SFU Surrey; Founding Director SFU Centre for the Study of Educational Leadership and Policy; Co-Editor International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership)
  • Sandra Mathison (Professor of Education UBC; Co-Director Institute for Critical Education Studies)
  • Adrienne Montani (Provincial Coordinator First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition; former Chair, Vancouver School Board)
  • Marion Runcie (former Chairperson BCTF Teacher Personnel Services Committee; Facilitator, Programme for Quality Teaching; co-designer, Burnaby School District Professional Growth Programme)
  • Paul Shaker (Professor Emeritus, Dean of Education SFU 2003-2008)
  • Michael Zlotnik (retired teacher; retired BCTF staff person: President, Public Education Network Society 2007-2012)

Open Letter to the New York State Regents from New York State Professors Against High Stakes Testing

Open Letter to the New York State Regents from New York State Professors Against High Stakes Testing

March 30, 2012

As lifelong educators and researchers, from across the State of New York, we strongly oppose New York State’s continued reliance on high stakes standardized testing in public schools as the primary criterion for assessing student achievement, evaluating teacher effectiveness, and determining school quality. We write to express our professional consensus and concern, and to offer our assistance to the Regents in generating educationally sound alternatives to high-stakes testing as the primary strategy for assessment in New York State.

Researchers and educational organizations have consistently documented, and a nine-year study by the National Research Council has recently confirmed, that the past decade’s emphasis on testing has yielded little learning progress. In New York State and New York City, the consequences of testing policies have been most disappointing.

Disparate impact on students. Numerous studies document that the over-reliance on high-stakes testing bears adverse impact on student achievement and has been accompanied by widening racial/ethnic gaps. Using New York City as an example, we see that large numbers of students are performing below proficiency. High numbers of the city’s public school graduates fail the CUNY entry tests and are required to take remedial courses. Results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) suggest a failure to achieve significant reduction in the achievement gap separating New York City’s white students from African American and Latino students since 2003. The negative effects of our high-stakes testing environment are perhaps most pronounced for English Language Learners for whom the tests were not designed, who cumulatively and consistently fail to achieve proficiency within the limited school time (a year and a day) before they are required to take the exam in English. In 2010, 24% of 4th graders labeled as ELLs were deemed proficient in English Language Arts compared to 58% of non-ELLs. By 8th grade only 4% of ELLs were classified as proficient compared to 54% of non-ELLs. It is therefore little surprise that of the 2006 cohort, only 40% of ELLs graduated after four years compared to 75% for non-ELLs.

Negative impact on educators. High-stakes testing creates adverse consequences not only for students but also for educators. Statisticians and educational researchers have challenged the validity, effectiveness, and ethics of using high stakes test scores to evaluate educators. As argued in an open letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel by CReATE (Chicago Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education), “There is no evidence that evaluation systems that incorporate student test scores produce gains in student achievement. [and] Teachers will subtly but surely be incentivized to avoid students with health issues, students with disabilities, students who are English Language Learners, or students suffering from emotional issues. Research has shown that no model yet developed can adequately account for all of these ongoing factors.” Given various value added measures, it is not possible to actually identify with accuracy the teachers who are most effective or least effective. This is already causing some highly effective teachers to leave the profession and may very well serve as a significant disincentive for aspiring new teachers to enter the field. The recent release of New York City Teachers Data Reports unleashed a hugely demoralizing media attack on the professional dignity of teachers.

Disparate impact on children who are disrupted by school closings. Finally, we are extremely concerned about the misuse of test scores as the primary criterion for the closing of schools. The 117 schools closings authorized by the New York City Department of Education since 2003 disproportionately affect children receiving special education services, those who receive free and reduced lunch, and those who are English Language Learners.

In conclusion, we stand with the 1400 principals who signed a petition against teacher evaluations based on high-stakes testing. We offer our intellectual support to the State to help generate public policies that bolster schools to be intellectually vibrant environments where inquiry-based pedagogy is encouraged, class sizes are reduced, educators are respected, parents are welcomed, and students are granted dignity while learning. We make ourselves available to the Regents to create just policies to transform the public schools in New York.

Bernadette Anand, Instructor and Advisor, Educational Leadership, Bank Street College
Gary Anderson, Professor of Education Leadership, NYU
Jean Anyon, Professor of Urban Education, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Lee Anne Bell, Professor, Barbara Silver Horowitz Director of Education, Barnard College
Douglas Biklen, Dean, School of Education, Syracuse University
Sari Knopp Biklen, Laura and Douglas Meredith Professor, School of Education, Syracuse University
Robert Cohen, Professor of Teaching and Learning, NYU
Edward Deci, Professor of Psychology and Helen F. & Fred H. Gowen Professor in the Social Sciences, University of Rochester
Greg Dimitriadis, Professor, Educational Leadership and Policy, University at Buffalo, SUNY
Arnold Dodge, Chair, Department of Educational Leadership and Administration, Long Island University -Post
Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Urban Education, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Ofelia Garcia, Professor of Urban Education, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Beverly Greene, Professor of Psychology, St. John’s University
Suzanne Kessler, Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Purchase College, SUNY
Wendy Luttrell, Professor of Urban Education and Social-Personality Psychology, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Ernest Morrell, Professor, English Education, Teachers College, Columbia University; Director: Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME); Vice President: National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
Leith Mullings, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Mark D. Naison, Professor of African American Studies, Fordham University
Pedro A. Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education, Executive Director, Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, New York University
Celia Oyler, Associate Professor and director of Inclusive Education Programs, Teachers College, Columbia University
Pedro Pedraza, Researcher at El Centro, The Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY
Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education, New York University and Former Assistant Secretary of Education
Michael Rebell, Professor of Law and Educational Practice, Teachers College, Columbia University
Richard M. Ryan, Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry and Education and Director of Clinical Training, Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, University of Rochester
Ira Shor, Professor of English, CUNY Graduate Center
Louise Silverstein, Professor of School-Child Clinical Psychology, Ferkauf Graduate School, Yeshiva University
Carola Suarez-Orozco, Professor of Applied Psychology and Co-Director, Immigration Studies at NYU
Henry Louis Taylor, Jr. Professor of Urban History and Director of Center for Urban Studies, University of Buffalo, SUNY
Ethel Tobach, Curator Emerita, American Museum of Natural History
Sofia Villenas, Director, Latino Studies Program and Associate Professor of Anthropology and Education, Cornell University
Lois Weis, State University of New York Distinguished Professor, Educational Leadership and Policy, University at Buffalo, SUNY

Special report on Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal

In the wake of the recent Atlanta Public Schools test cheating scandal, Critical Education has just published a special report examining the performance of Atlanta students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The report, written by Lawrence C. Stedman, an Associate Professor in the School of Education at the State University of New York at Binghamton and an expert on historical and contemporary student achievement trends, analyzes Atlanta students’ performance on the NAEP during the 2000s to assess the contention of former Superintendent Beverly L. Hall that students made “real and dramatic” progress during her tenure.

Critical Education
Vol 2, No 9 (2011)
Table of Contents


Special Report


A Preliminary Analysis of Atlanta’s Performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress

Lawrence C. Stedman, State University of New York at Binghamton


The Atlanta Public Schools system has been rocked by a series of reports documenting widespread cheating on the Georgia state tests. Its reputation, and that of its leaders, has come into question. In response, former superintendent Hall asserts that, despite any cheating, the city’s students made “real and dramatic” progress during her tenure and cites the district’s trends on NAEP as part of her evidence (Hall, 2011). In this report, I analyze Atlanta’s performance on NAEP during the 2000s to assess this contention. I use diverse indicators: district trends, national comparisons, grade equivalents, and percentages of students achieving proficiency. My preliminary assessment is that Atlanta’s progress has been limited and, in many cases, slowed. In spite of a decade of effort, Atlanta’s students still lag 1-2 years behind national averages and vast percentages do not even reach NAEP’s basic level. Less than a fourth of its 4th and 8th graders achieve proficiency, a key national goal; in some subjects and grades, it is as few as a tenth. At current rates, it will take from 50 to 110 years to bring all students to proficiency. Such findings raise profound questions about current approaches to school reform, including No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. The emphasis on targets and testing is failing and has contributed to cheating across the nation. More fundamentally, it has greatly distorted teaching and undermined authentic learning. While test tampering is a serious problem, we need to re-conceptualize what we mean by cheating. Every day, test-driven, bureaucratically controlled institutions are cheating tens of millions of students out of a genuine education. That is the real scandal.

Editors’ Note

From time to time, Critical Education will publish time sensitive and topical field reports that analyze issues challenging the existing state of affairs in society, schools, and informal education. Our first field report is Lawrence C. Stedman’s analysis of student achievement in Atlanta Public Schools subsequent to the investigation that revealed widespread cheating on state tests. In spite of the findings of the investigation that cheating was widespread, then school superintendent Beverly Hall claimed schools had made significant real progress in student achievement. Stedman’s field report investigates this claim.

Cheating scandals in schools have become almost commonplace. Campbell’s Law is often invoked as the explanation: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” No Child Left Behind has led American schools down a path seeking ever higher test scores, aspirations that are unreasonable and, based on the best judgment of measurement experts, unattainable. In spite of the unreasonableness and unattainability of the goals set by distant policy makers and capitalist corporate interests, educational professionals are pulled down this path and do what they can or what they are told to do to demonstrate improvement in learning. Anyone paying attention to the ever increasing importance of standardized testing as the main means of evaluating students, schools, teachers, and principals will understand how cheating could be come widespread. Indeed, the investigation of the cheating scandal in Atlanta revealed a culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation, which created a conspiracy of silence among educational professionals fostering deniability with respect to cheating. That teachers and administrators cheat should come as little surprise when educational policy creates unreasonable demands and then holds those educators to account through threats and intimidation. Cheating of this kind is not about trying to hoodwink any one; it is entirely about seeking to avoid the wrath of a system that will assuredly blame teachers and administrators for perceived failure to perform. It is about gaming the system, not about harming children. We should be left wondering why we have an educational system that backs educators into a corner that leaves them with little choice but to engage in actions even they find unethical.

The public is outraged by cheating, especially in its obvious forms, like in Atlanta where teachers and school administrators altered student test results by changing wrong to correct answers. Most people would agree that changing answer sheets is cheating, even if there are good explanations for why it might be done. But there are softer, maybe even acceptable forms of cheating, ones that reasonable people would argue may or may not actually be cheating. Is it cheating when schools and districts manipulate the pool of test takers by excluding groups of students? Is it cheating when teachers are exhorted to focus on students who are on the cusp of moving to ‘proficient’ at the expense of time spent with other students, either those who are failing miserably or obviously succeeding? Is it cheating when instructional time becomes intensive test preparation? Is it cheating when the subjects that are tested push out subjects that are not tested?

What counts as cheating is contextual and necessarily dependent on our perception of who or what is being cheated. When teachers and administrators change answers it isn’t students who are cheated, it is the system. (Stedman’s analysis clearly demonstrates that whether the students’ answer sheets were changed or not, NAEP results show a school system in which children are not doing very well.) The response to this sort of cheating is ever increasing surveillance and policing of test administration and scoring. Increased monitoring is less likely to prevent cheating and more likely to alienate teachers, principals, and students. Whether answers are changed or not, students are cheated by the much larger context of test driven teaching that limits what they know and can do. It is the test driven educational reforms and simplistic notions of what a good school is that cheat students out of a quality education.

Results don’t matter in Obama’s “Race to the Top”

The New York Times reports today on Montgomery County (MD) Schools’ highly regarded teacher evaluation system. The district’s Peer Assistance and Review program is not acceptable under Obama’s “Race to the Top” plan, because it does not make student test scores the key factor in teacher evaluation.

The program uses several hundred senior teachers to mentor both newcomers and struggling veterans. If the mentoring doesn’t work, the PAR panel — made up of eight teachers and eight principals — can vote to fire the teacher. And PAR has resulted in 500 teachers leaving their jobs over the past 11 years.

Despite a successful professional development approach to teacher evaluation as well as evidence of student learning success in the district, the program will be ditched for a new statewide scheme, which is not yet developed, but meets the Obama’s demand that all aspects of schools be marketized.

Unfortunately, federal dollars from the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program are not going where Dr. Weast [Montgomery County Superintendent] and the PAR program need to go. Montgomery County schools were entitled to $12 million from Race to the Top, but Dr. Weast said he would not take the money because the grant required districts to include students’ state test results as a measure of teacher quality. “We don’t believe the tests are reliable,” he said. “You don’t want to turn your system into a test factory.”

Race to the Top aims to spur student growth by improving teacher quality, which is exactly what Montgomery County is doing. Sad to say, the district is getting the right results the wrong way [i.e., not the neoliberal way, linking test scores to teacher evaluation to federal bribes].

It does not seem to matter that 84 percent of Montgomery County students go on to college and that 63 percent earn degrees there — the very variables that President Obama has said should be the true measure of academic success. It does not seem to matter that 2.5 percent of all black children in America who pass an Advanced Placement test live in Montgomery County, more than five times its share of the nation’s black population.