More than 175 teachers and principals in the Atlanta Public Schools were involved in falsifying mandated standardized tests taken by elementary and middle school students in 2009, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday when he released the findings of an investigation of irregularities in the system. The report is damaging on several levels.
The educators, investigators said, either helped students or changed their answers on the exams, which are used to determine if schools have made adequate yearly progress under the Federal No Child Left Behind Act. The educators' goal: To make the schools and the teachers in them seem to be performing at a high level. Never mind that the false scores harmed the students whose scores were involved.
Many subsequently were denied the remedial help they were entitled to had their true scores been reported. Others, according to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who called the report a "dark day" for the city's schools, were "promoted to the next grade without meeting basic academic standards." That's a recipe for future academic failure.
The educators involved likely will pay a price for their actions - and should.
Gov. Deal did not release the full text of the report because he is forwarding the results of the investigation to prosecutors and to the state Professional Standards Commission. The former will determine if the educators violated any laws and are subject to prosecution. The latter, which licenses teachers in the state, will determine if the teachers and principals involved should have their licenses suspended or revoked. That's the first step in addressing the cheating scandal.
The next is to address the mindset that prompted the action. Investigators said that the cheating was prompted by pressure to meet goals set by the No Child Left Behind Act. Under that law, poorly performing schools are subject to sanctions that allow parents to transfer children to better-performing schools. The same law allows the dismissal of teachers and administrators at schools that fail to meet testing targets. While the pressure to meet those standards is great, it should not prompt cheating. Indeed, most educators would not resort to the actions taken by those in Atlanta.
The Atlanta situation, though, strongly suggests that the idea of simply mandating achievement results is not necessarily the best answer to improving schools. Tests are important, but only if they take into account the diverse nature of the nation's students and schools and the resources that are required actually sto elevate achievement levels.
It takes time, training and, yes, adequate funding, to attract and retain top-flight teachers and to build curricula and other programs to reach all students in every educational environment. It can be done, but only when communities and educators plan and act together to do the hard work it takes to educate students over the long term.
There are no short cuts in education. The unfortunate situation in Atlanta proves that.