Marc Lamont Hill: SCHOOLS COVER ILLS WITH CHEAT SHEET

Marc Lamont Hill: Cheating is widespread by educators and there are several factors for it.
Marc Lamont Hill: Cheating is widespread by educators and there are several factors for it.
Posted: March 07, 2012

THE SCHOOL Reform Commission yesterday appointed former Temple University President David Adamany to be its "testing integrity adviser."

With a rise in allegations of cheating on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) exam, the SRC has asked Adamany to "review and monitor the district's current and proposed practices and procedures for testing security and the administration of the PSSA exam."

While I understand and appreciate the gesture, the district's response is, as always, a day late and a dollar short.

Without question, there is a need for testing security. As someone who spends time in Philly schools, I have witnessed firsthand the stunning levels of test dishonesty.

From teachers who encourage students to change their answers to the principals who take the school's test answers home and wear out their erasers, the culture of cheating is part and parcel of the current educational climate.

As a high-school teacher in Philly, I as well as my colleagues would snicker when certain principals would get lauded, applauded and promoted for raising test scores, knowing that they'd cooked the books worse than Bernie Madoff. Oh, yes, there's definitely a widespread culture of cheating in the city.

Still, it would be a mistake to focus purely on the cheating and ignore the factors that make cheating such an attractive option.

Over the past decade, there has been an increased focus on testing in our city's (and nation's) schools. Due largely to No Child Left Behind Act - one of the most clearly flawed pieces of public policy in the nation - our country has become obsessed with "standards" and "accountability."

Unfortunately, "standards" has come to mean nothing other than rigid standardization, and "accountability" has come to mean nothing but nonstop testing.

Even worse, schools that fail to perform well on tests - and as a result don't make "adequate yearly progress" - have resources taken away.

No, that wasn't a typo. Schools that perform poorly on the tests actually lose money and staff. As a result, the results of tests determine not only who gets a computer lab, but who gets to keep his job. Within this context, it's no surprise that the spike in cheating scandals mirrors the nation's increased focus on testing.

The current policy world has essentially placed a gun to the heads of teachers and administrators, demanding test scores at any and all cost. This approach, combined with a struggling economy, creates the culture of cutthroat competition, desperation and dishonesty that we see in so many city schools.

And the testing craze doesn't cause just cheating. It has also caused desperate district teachers and administrators to spend all their time doing test prep rather than actually teaching critical and independent thinking.

Countless schools around the country have eliminated art, music, social studies and other essential parts of the school curriculum to create more room for subjects that will appear on the state exam. In our efforts to prepare students to succeed on the test, we've lost our commitment to offering them an education.

Of course, there's ultimately no excuse for cheating. As educators, we must behave in ways that are ethical and responsible at all times. But it is equally important that we fight to create a new policy environment, one that will allow us to authentically measure what our children know, that will not compromise rich education for the sake of high-stakes tests and that will not strip resources away from those who need them the most.

If we work diligently to create this type of environment, I suspect that we'll find the culture of cheating quickly die away.


Daily News editor-at-large Marc Lamont Hill is an associate professor of education at Columbia University and host of "Our World With Black Enterprise," which airs at 6 a.m. Sundays on TV-One. Contact him at MLH@marclamonthill.com.

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