Cheating: How Test Score Bonuses Ruin Education for Everyone

Throughout the last several years, our nation’s educators have experienced increased scrutiny for illegally advancing scores on standardized tests, with case after case of accusation and scandal. Most recently, former Superintendent Beverly Hall of Atlanta was charged after receiving an accumulated $580,000 in bonuses for falsified scores.

A March report from FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, found cases of cheating in 37 states and Washington, D.C., over the last four years. In response to the report, FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer said, “Across the U.S., strategies that boost scores without improving learning—including outright cheating, narrow teaching to the test and pushing out low-scoring students—are widespread. These corrupt practices are inevitable consequences of the politically mandated overuse and misuse of high-stakes exams.”

While many of these cases unfortunately are founded in truth, the heightened focus on test scores leaves many innocent educators with marred reputations and blame for standardized test scores, whether they are too low or too high.

In June 2011, Dr. Andrés Alonso, Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) CEO, publicly accused two AFSA members, Marcy Isaac and Dr. Angela Faltz, of cheating to improve their students’ scores in the BCPS testing program during the 2008–2009 school year. AFSA and Jimmy Gittings, president of the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association (PSASA), Local 25, stood behind both women throughout the course of the allegations, calling the investigations flawed.

Despite the findings that Alonso’s accusations were unfounded, the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners chose to ignore the hearing officers’ recommendation for reinstatement. Dr. Faltz since has been reinstated and will return to work in September 2013. For Isaac, Gittings says, “We are still going to fight for her and will probably take the case to the state board of education.”

Jimmy Gittings, president of Local 25, joins fellow union members on Sept. 11, 2012, to protest the school board’s decision to fire one principal and not reinstate another until late in 2013.  Photo by Fern Shen for www.baltimorebrew.com.

Jimmy Gittings, president of Local 25, joins fellow union members on Sept. 11, 2012, to protest the school board’s decision to fire one principal and not reinstate another until late in 2013.
Photo by Fern Shen for www.baltimorebrew.com.

Alonzo has placed a total of 16 Baltimore principals under investigation for cheating allegations, and has taken further actions to place four of the principals back into teaching positions. These principals have been publicly shamed, despite the fact that “No cheating has been proven up to this point,” says Gittings. “Our test scores go up, our principals are asked why—they’re chastised and punished. Our test scores go down, our principals are asked why, and chastised and punished. There’s a disconnection, a lack of communication.”

Meanwhile, Alonso accepted $29,000 in annual bonuses as a reward for the raised test scores throughout his career, including the scores he claims were falsified in 2008 and 2009.

In an April interview with The Baltimore Sun, Gittings said, “Dr. Alonso was the only one who saw financial gains when test scores increased in his first two years. Now he’s trying to prove that cheating took place in his first two years. So he should give back the money he received for those scores. That would be the ethical thing to do.”

On May 6, Alonso stated his plans to step down as CEO of BCPS on June 30. Alonso will be replaced by Tisha Edwards, who Gittings says “has the integrity and forthrightness to discuss concerns” and “is willing to work with all of the unions.”

Using standardized tests as a basis for doling out rewards does nothing more than debilitate the potential capacity of our classrooms. When we turn the very root of our problem into a potential opportunity for monetary gain, we add insult to injury, paving the way to an ineffective system that leaves our educators panicked and our students unfulfilled.

As of June 22, 2012, AFSA has endorsed the National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing. Read the full resolution at http://timeoutfromtesting.org/nationalresolution/.