(This commentary first appeared in TOP-Ed.)
I’ve read with horror – as many of us have – story after story about the cheating mess on tests in Atlanta, focusing on 2009 state tests, and in other cities and states.
But then I wonder, what is “cheating”? What does that word mean? As I see it, it’s a way of pretending that a reported test score is valid and that the score actually tells us how the student performed and what that student actually knows on that test. Apparently, these cheating scandals show that scores had been tampered with in various ways and were not valid. Reported scores were too high – and did not actually show what students know and can do. Tragic.
And to this mess, I would add my concerns about state and federal testing policies that allow students, especially students with disabilities and English language learners, to take tests that may not be valid from the get go. These invalid tests include those that have been modified in significant ways and no longer measure what they purport to measure: providing a calculator for a student on a math computation test; having an instructor read a reading test to a student; giving extended time on a test that measures results under time pressure. Yet, score reports on these modified tests are issued and claim to show valid results. In these situations, we can’t blame teachers or students or any of the players on the ground. These are policies set at the top – by companies or states or other test makers. Examples?
How about the fact that the SAT and ACT now allow extended time on those critical tests for some students, without letting anyone know that the tests were modified?
How about reading a reading test to a student who can’t read or giving a calculator to a student who can’t add and subtract – and then reporting the tests as if they are valid. See, for example, Massachusetts policy.
How about the current California situation, where the use of the California Modified Assessment (CMA) has inflated the state’s accountability measures (API). The facts are: the CMA is easier than the regular test, more students with disabilities are using it, and their scores are added to the state measure. These issues have been discussed in prior TOP-Ed blogs.
Isn’t this, too, a form of “cheating”? Certainly it cheats students out of knowing what they can and cannot do. Also it cheats schools, taxpayers, and parents from getting a valid measure of student achievement.What do we actually mean by “cheating”? Who is cheating whom?
Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, author of Fixing Special Education, is an attorney, writer, consultant, and authority on special education. She is of counsel to Stoneman, Chandler & Miller LLP in Boston. She divides her year between Boston and Palo Alto, where she is a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution. For more information and her blog, visit www.schoollawpro.com.
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