Weingarten Blames Testing Culture for Atlanta Cheating Scandal

President of the American Federation of Teacher Randi Weingarten has weighed in on the massive cheating scandal in Atlanta by blaming it on the atmosphere of excessive testing. She was responding to the 65-count indictment made public by prosecutors late last week that covers more than 35 teachers accused of inflating students test scores by dishonest means — including formerly-lauded Superintendent Beverly Hall.

Weingarten released a joint statement with the president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, Verdaillia Turner, making a case that the growth of standardized testing used for tracking student achievement as well as teacher performance was to blame in part for the increasing number of cheating scandals nationwide. The statement added that using standardized testing for the purposes of assessment was wrong-headed and the exams themselves frequently differed greatly from the material taught in the classroom.

Weingarten isn't the only one to blame excessive testing for recent spate of cheating scandals in Atlanta, Washington D.C. and elsewhere. In a post published earlier this week on Cheatingculture.com, David Callahan wrote that cheating was inevitable in circumstances when teachers, schools and districts received relied on good student test scores for career advancement and funding.

Callahan said that the entire system was poorly incentivized and the cheating was an inevitable consequence of that.

As the first of the indicted educators surrendered Tuesday, critics of standardized-testing policies are describing the alleged misdeeds in Atlanta as a natural reaction to this pressure.

The Associated Press reports that a 21-month-long investigation — including hundreds of interviews with school administrators, students, parents and teachers — brought out stories of teachers artificially inflating test scores for their own purposes.

In one case, a third-grader failed a benchmark exam but passed another standardized test "with flying colors" in the same year. Now in the ninth grade, the student reads at a fifth-grade level.

Although Weingarten and other critics have not gone so far as to absolve teachers and district administrators from blame entirely, she did, as she has in the past, call on schools and lawmakers to reconsider their reliance on standardized tests, warning that without reform, scandals like the one in Atlanta were likely to become increasingly common.

We do not condone cheating under any circumstances. Academic achievement can never be separated from academic integrity, which is why the Georgia Federation of Teachers was the first whistle-blower to expose Atlanta testing irregularities.

Tragically, the Atlanta cheating scandal harmed our children and it crystallizes the unintended consequences of our test-crazed policies. Standardized tests have a role in accountability, but today they dominate everything else and too often don't even correlate to what students need to know to succeed.

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