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Darrell Huckaby - 06/14/09

Cheating has been a problem since the inception of education. I am pretty sure that some sniveling little weasel made sure that he got a prime seat, right next to Plato, when Socrates was lecturing on philosophy and irony and I know dang well Aristotle didn't come up with all of his ideas all by himself.

Of course his mama probably insisted that he did. In my 36 years as a classroom teacher I have only run across two or three mamas who were willing to accept the fact that little Johnny might have copied from Sally's paper - or that the Pulitzer-worthy essay Miss Goodytwoshoes turned in might have been plagiarized. Several times I have been accused of "trapping" students into cheating by having the audacity to give out different forms of the same test.

Back when I was in school our teachers went to great lengths to make sure we didn't copy one another's papers. We had to spread our desks far, far apart when we were taking a test and use a "cover" sheet to keep our answers hidden from nosy classmates. Some students would simply lie down on top of their paper and surround the edges with both arms - you know the ones - in order to keep their neighbors from sneaking a peak at their paper. Of course this method provided the extra benefit of enabling the coverer to better see the paper of the person in the next seat because who would ever expect a person of cheating who would go to so much trouble to keep from being cheated from.

Or something like that.

The modern student has taken cheating to a whole new level. They can use camera phones to take pictures of tests and answer documents. They can text answers to their classmates on the other side of the room - or school - and they can download essays directly from the Internet. I know teachers who have completely stopped giving homework assignments because their students just copy one another's work. "What's the use?" I've heard over and over.

But now it appears that the students aren't the only ones who have been caught with their grimy little hands in the proverbial cookie jar of academic dishonesty. At least four schools in Georgia have been accused of cheating on the CRTs - one of a multitude of tests that are currently used to evaluate schools' "adequate yearly progress," which is the cornerstone of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, an exercise in educational futility that has caused some schools and school systems to become very adept at playing the bureaucratic red tape game and teaching the test, but has done very little, in my opinion, to advance real academic achievement.

In fact, I am convinced that it has stifled the creativity and lowered the bar for the high achievers in our nations' schools because the brightest of the bright are forced to take the same tests as the dullest of the dull. So much time is stolen from these students' instruction to take menial - to them - standardized tests, that the truly gifted students don't have the opportunity to reach their full academic potential. But that's a philosophical debate for another day.

Today we are talking about the schools that are under so much pressure to reach certain state standards that someone in the schools - and it wasn't the kids - actually changed the answers on multiple CRCT (Criterion-referenced Competency Tests) retests in an effort to ensure positive results for multiple students, and thus for the school.

Schools have long been criticized for "teaching the tests" at the expense of offering authentic real-life skills-based education and critical thinking. In some schools - none that any of us are associated with, of course - students are treated like little animatrons and teachers are all programmed to provide the same rote instruction at the same hour of the same day, lest some test norm go unmastered, causing schools to get failing AYP grades and causing the heads of administrators to roll.

Apparently in at least four Georgia schools the administrations found that forcing their teachers to teach the test all year wasn't enough. Too many of their students failed to mark enough answers correctly during their second go-round at the annual CRCTs. These administrators - or someone in the school - simply erased lots and lots of answers, helping virtually all of their left-behind children leap to the head of the class.

Uh, oh. Bells, whistles, sirens and warning lights went off and red flags began to wave throughout the Ivory Towers of test analysis. The cheaters made their students look way too good. Way too much improvement was indicated in far too many students. The answer documents were analyzed and far too many erasures were found and ...

Well, you know the rest. You read the papers. Some administrators have already resigned and more are sure to follow. The rest of us, of course, will roll merrily along, trying to play the game, trying to teach the tests and trying to convince the state and federal governments that we really are teaching and that the students really are learning.

Meanwhile, I have a suggestion for the Department of Education. Forget about the Bald Eagle. Use an ostrich as your symbol - one with its head buried deeply in the sand - at least until this standardized testing nonsense gives way to a more legitimate means of assessing educational progress. That way we can all pretend that things are just peachy.

Darrell Huckaby