CONYERS — After nearly 200 educators in Atlanta Public Schools were accused of cheating on the state's Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, parents from all over Georgia are concerned that it could happen in their local school systems.
"Atlanta schools have been under the gun for a long time," said J.J. Hayden, who was an assistant professor of instructional technology at Georgia College and State University and has studied assessment and evaluation while earning doctorate and master's degrees in instructional technology.
The Atlanta public school system serves a diverse population, "but there are ways of (achieving high standards) without going to cheating," he said.
Hayden said teachers are being pressured, especially when they are faced with losing their job or not earning extra compensation because of low student test scores, and schools are being held to unfair standards.
Eventually, schools will be required to have 100 percent of their students pass tests like the CRCT under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which Hayden says is impossible.
"It doesn't take into account student ability," he said. "Everybody cannot be above average."
This can lead to teaching toward a test, and already tests are filled with shallow-level questions that can be graded by a machine and not in line with higher education, which evaluates students, not assesses them, Hayden said.
He said he wouldn't be surprised to see some form of cheating in any school system. In fact, Christopher Waller, who was principal at Parks Middle School in Atlanta Public Schools and is part of the cheating scandal, worked as an assistant principal at Cousins Middle School in Covington from 2001 to 2004 before heading to Atlanta. However, his personnel file for the Newton County School System shows no disciplinary issues.
Local school systems said they have many protocols and security measures in place to prevent cheating on such standardized tests.
"Of all the sins one could commit in an educational setting, cheating is by far the worst in my view," said Gary Mathews, superintendent of the NCSS. "Once proved, dismissal from the organization is a given as far as I am concerned. However, what happened in Atlanta, I believe, is not the norm among educators. Most want a true picture of student learning, not a false one."
Carl Skinner, director of Testing, Research and Evaluation at the NCSS, said each school year starts off with a general training session to discuss testing protocols and security issues; administrators and teachers also go through training and testing meetings.
Skinner, who undergoes state training, said he trains test administrators from each school to discuss all aspects of security and procedures, test material security, monitoring and preparing the testing environment, irregularities, administrator responsibilities and access to results.
School administrators then hold similar training for their test examiners and proctors and anyone else working with the test. Anyone involved in testing is required to sign a code of ethics.
Each school also must have a security testing storage room with very limited access and a school testing plan.
"We try to be proactive by going above what is required by the state," said Skinner. "We do have so many mechanisms in place as we strive to meet our goal of ensuring a safe, secure and trustworthy testing environment."
Similarly in Rockdale County Public Schools, teachers and administrators undergo mandatory training on how to proctor and administer tests. Only certified staff may proctor tests, according to Cindy Ball, director of Community Relations at RCPS.
"(High-stakes testing) is a summative assessment or indication of how our children did in the curriculum we taught," Ball said.
She said proctors must sign out tests with testing coordinators that are counted and signed back in upon completion.
"Classes do not change until all tests are inventoried with the test coordinator," Ball said. "Test coordinators bring the completed tests to the county office, where they are inventoried again."
RCPS also holds annual ethics training for all staff.
"We hold all of our employees to the highest ethics and accountability standards," said Dr. Samuel King, superintendent of RCPS.
Both Skinner and Laura Grimwade, director of assessment at RCPS, are members of the Atlanta Area of Testing Directors, which meet monthly to keep up-to-date on topics related to standardized testing.
In Rockdale County, its department of research, assessment and accountability deals with topics that come up regarding testing and update as necessary.
"Routinely, we implement our standard procedures for testing, which consists of specific training, inventory and security measures to minimize potential irregularities," King said. "Based on our erasure analysis reports from the Department of Education, we have a strong process in place. However, we will continue to assess ways to improve."