“By Any Means Necessary”: A Teacher’s Reflection on the APS Scandal

   So, if you are a resident in the state of Georgia, and certainly a resident in the Metro Atlanta area, you have no doubt heard the news about how 178 teachers, and administrators in a number of Elementary and Middle Schools in Atlanta Public Schools changed the answers on the Georgia CRCT, the state test used to measure student academic progress and teacher accountability.  The Governor, the GBI, and other organizations have since gotten involved to determine what actions should be taken against the teachers involved, and how to evaluate what damage has been done to the students. Now, as a teacher myself, the news of this story saddens and angers me a great deal, but before we as a society villify these teachers for what they did, let’s take a moment to consider the following things.

1. “No Child Left Behind”: The federal mandate that governs schools in the area of certification, curriculum and accountability. Schools that make the mark are applauded, while those who are not are branded as “ineffective” and threatened with “restructuring”, which simply means “we’ll get rid of you and bring in someone else”.  You love teaching, but you know that despite the effort you put in day in and day out with your students, they didn’t come to you on grade level, and they won’t meet the mark on the tests. Your school is at risk of a state takeover, and you have a family to take care of. Desperate times and desperate people do desperate things.

2. The Superintendent : Beverly Hall was named National Superintndent of the Year in 2009 for the school system’s “impressive gains” under her watch (you know, the kind that are just a little too good to be true) and since Atlanta is a Merit Pay/Race to the Top system, she receives a financial incentive when the school system makes AYP. She knows her schools and her students, and what is possible to achieve in a school year. But told her staff to get the scores up “by any means necessary”.  And as the superintendent, she has clout to remove people who don’t comply. Again, backed into  a corner, what do you do?

3. “Snitches get stitches”, just with grown ups: In the schools that were flagged for cheating many of the teachers not involved were told to keep their mouths shut, and those who stepped forward were fired, and blackballed in the system. This is one of the things that angers me more than anything, is that teachers who stepped up and did the right thing were punished while those who didn’t got protection. Is it any surprise then when our children are reluctant to report wrongdoing. They see the “good guys” getting punished and the bad guys not getting into trouble.

4. Other systems are noted for doing other things to manipulate data (attendance, discipline, demographics), APS just got caught.

 Now, while these few points are things I want you to consider, I am IN NO WAY condoning the behavior of the administrators and teachers for what they did, I’m just trying to paint a picture as to what led to it. The fact is, there will be fallout from their decision,

1. They have ruined their careers: Even if no criminal charges are brought against them, the Professional standards commission will no doubt revoke the certificates of all teachers involved, and they’ll never be able to work again in education.

2. The stigma they have placed on their school system and colleagues:  Given all the media attention this has received (the story has now gone national), people will forget that for every teacher flagged for cheating, there will be 10-15 who didn’t, and that Atlanta has some excellent hard-working teachers in their school system. Sadly, they will be scrutinized should they try to find work in another system, and gains made in student achievement will be constantly questioned for their validity. And not only them, fellow teachers will be under the same microscope for a very long time.

3. The true victims: the Children: In the midst of all of this, there are hundreds of children whose education was greatly compromised and were given a great disservice because of this. Children who could have been serviced with Special Education never got the services they needed because based on tests-they didn’t qualify, or placing them in special ed would increase the exceptional student population, putting AYP at risk, or these kids end up in high school barely literate and unable to succeed. So, feeling helpless and frustrated, they quit school, and some end up in the legal system.  That, to me is the biggest tragedy in this.

   I know the new superintendent and school board members are working to fix this mess, and I hope that it happens soon, because the good teachers in Atlanta, and the children they service deserve more.



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