I worked at a school that cheated
July 8, 2011
When I worked in NYC, in one of those small academies created in the old Chancellor's district, I worked at a school which cheated in many different ways to improve our test scores.
- Our principal would trade away his worst performing students to his friends' schools in other parts of Brooklyn, thus improving his odds of raising his, I mean our school's, test scores. I don't know exactly what his friends got in return, but our principal got his $15,000 bonus three years in a row for raising test scores, and then he retired (in NYC, at the time, a Principal's retirement income was based on his final 3 years of service).
- We didn't choose students based on test scores, that would be too obvious. Instead, our principal relied on average attendance and word-of-mouth about good programs from which to choose students. Our ninth grade class in my second year of teaching was the strongest class academically ever to attend my old school in NYC as a result. As soon as our principal retired, we got an influx of students from the poorer performing neighbourhood schools, along with a string of awful principals — one after the other.
- When we needed three out of our four weakest students to pass the state Regent's in math in order to avoid being classified as a failing school, each of whom was classified as a "Special Education" student, they all got readers for the exam (one of them also got a scribe). "Are you sure you want to pick B?"
- We regularly "scrubbed" our test scores and any of them that were close to passing we reread until we had found creative ways to award them points so that they passed. No one got an almost passing score: not one single child. I thought it was common practice; I had no idea this was even frowned upon. When one of our students had forgotten to draw a line in her diagram, we all left the room and when we came back — mysteriously — we realized she hadn't actually forgotten to draw the line — how lucky!
- Every single question I was supposed to share with the students had to look like a Regent's exam question. I was instructed to quiz the students using past exam paper questions, give them homework assignments involving past paper exam questions, and all of my exams were supposed to look like Regent's exams in format. In the final two months before the exams, our students would see nothing but Regent's style exam questions.
- Our students never seemed to get suspended in September or October, but after whatever that magical date was in November when we got our allotment of Title I funds based on our average attendance, all of a sudden our worst performing students would get suspended in droves. Out of 34 kids in remedial math, six of them remained to take the Regents exam at the end of the year. The rest had dropped out of school. Not surprisingly, I had three out of six of my students pass, which is an amazing 50% pass rate!
- Two years after I left the school, our newest principal (who started during my last year at the school) was fired (or asked to resign) after it was discovered she had modified test scores for students.
I feel bad about what happened at my school, but I was an rookie teacher in a foreign education system that made no sense to me. I did not have enough control in that school other than to do my best to provide my students with an enriching and relevant math curriculum.
The point is, when the stakes are high enough, people cheat. The recent problems that have been discovered in Atlanta are just the tip of the iceberg. There are a thousand other ways schools are cheating: they just haven't been caught yet.
David is a mathematics teacher and a learning specialist for technology at Stratford Hall in Vancouver, BC. He has been teaching since 2002, and has worked in Brooklyn, London, and Bangkok before moving back to Canada. He has his Masters degree in Educational Technology from UBC, and is the co-author of a mathematics textbook. He has been published in ISTE's Leading and Learning, Educational Technology Solutions, The Software Developers Journal, The Bangkok Post and Edutopia. He blogs with the Cooperative Catalyst, and is the Assessment group facilitator for Edutopia. He has also helped organize the first Edcamp in Canada, and TEDxKIDS@BC.