Grade-changing scandals continue to plague k-12 education

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In what seems to be a recurring theme among many educational institutions across the U.S. in the past few years, another case of institutionalized cheating is making headlines again. While the methods have varied from school to school, it remains largely a concern of district-wide grade changing.

In Montgomery, Ala. six public school educators are accused of “participating in a district-wide grade changing scheme.” In December, the former assistant superintendent of the district, two principals, an assistant principal and two teachers will appear before an administrative law judge. At stake are the educators’ teaching certificates and a tarnished reputation for the school district.

Another indictment in March from Georgia named many top administrators, including former Superintendent Beverly Hall from the Atlanta Public School System, and charged them with 65 counts including: “false statements and writings, false swearing and influencing witnesses.”

This is hardly an uncommon occurrence. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) compiled a report earlier this year that found 36 states, plus the District of Columbia, engaged in documented institutionalized cheating over the past four academic school years. Additionally, FairTest compiled “50+ Ways Schools “Cheat” on Testing: Manipulating High-Stakes Exam Scores for Political Gain.”

Numerous states on the list had “multiple reports or apparent systematic patterns,” including California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Many people place the blame on the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation signed in 2002. The law increased the stakes of standardized tests and tied teacher performance to student outcomes. Additionally, monetary incentives and rewards are given to educators and administrators for exemplary performance.

It remains to be seen if there is a definitive link between NCLB and the institutionalized cheating running rampant across the United States. However, when evaluating the correlation, it will be important to study how President Obama’s own similar legislation known as “Race to the Top” will also affect public school systems in the U.S. The legislation, signed into law in 2009, is a $4.35 billion contest created by the U.S. Department of Education designed to spur innovation and reforms and is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.