Oops! I’m not sure how these got here. I seem to have three reading passages from the AIMSWEB test, neatly ensconced in plastic sleeves. This benchmark test involves one-on-one reading to a teacher/listener who tracks time and fluency. Students read the same three passages three separate times throughout the year. Progress is recorded. In my case, I put results into a spreadsheet so that coaches and administrators could assess individual reading improvement. Most teachers in my building were tasked with entering this data into spreadsheets. Yes, I taught math and science, but all core teachers had to administer these tests. We spent hour after hour giving these tests, losing instructional time as we did so.
I am not writing an “oh-the-time-loss!” post, though. I am writing an “oh-the-potential-for-cheating!” post. I did not cheat. I don’t even know how these neat, sleeved papers about Josh, the mountain and a tiny town in Pennsylvania got here. I do know that a less-scrupulous instructor could certainly have used these sheets to prepare for this particular benchmark test. (Incidentally, we all had these sheets for some time. We could easily have snapped pictures of them with our phones.)
How would I have cheated if I had done so? I would have taken all the problematic vocabulary specific to my three tests and made sure to teach that vocabulary to the exclusion of other content. I might have rewritten the tests, with minor adaptations to make my rewrite less obvious, and specifically taught those tests, maybe sending them home as extra-credit homework shortly before the actual test. I am sure some teachers would have simply taught the actual test. It’s been done before by desperate educators.
I am about to recycle these sheets, but I knew I had a blog post in my hands when I stumbled on these Pearson materials while cleaning out my cupboard. Somehow, I managed to leave school with those papers, probably in a pile of homework, maybe in the pile of AIMSWEB test results that I had to put into the spreadsheet. I likely did not bother to return the passages because I was done testing or, worse, forgot and borrowed someone else’s passages. Maybe I copied the relevant sheets from a neighbor. My memory of these testing events is blissfully fading and I have no idea what happened.
Why would I choose to cheat? Absent moral considerations, teachers’ evaluations and reputations are being partially determined by benchmark and standardized test score improvements. Retention may even be affected by incremental increases or decreases in these numbers. The incentive to do whatever it takes to push the numbers up keeps rising. A google search on “school district cheating” returned about 5,010,000 results (0.29 seconds), leading with a CNN story on the jail sentences meted out to Atlanta educators for cheating on their state standardized test.
I am not sure how to end this post. Should I call for more supervision of test materials? Or less connection between test results and employment potential — especially for new or nearly new teachers? Should I seek recognition of the challenges posed by different subgroups in the population? It’s worth noting here that the original plan for No Child Left Behind had all special education students up to academic grade level by 2014, regardless of the nature of their disabilities — including even traumatic brain injuries and profound cognitive delays from other sources. The fact is that students in different classrooms can vary greatly in their ability to march up the academic ladder, a fact educational administrators and government leaders often ignore.
The testing monster has been running amok for some time. As its power grows, we test the moral fiber of teachers and administrators. Maybe we need to take a step back and realize that the benefits from all this testing are not coming close to covering the costs.