Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Too Lax on TAKS: Education Agency Must Weed Out Cheaters

Dallas Morning News

Today's lesson, children, is that your teacher can help you cheat on the
TAKS test, and other grownups will look the other way.

As long as none of your classmates tattles, there's virtually no chance that
anyone will get caught, because the Texas Education Agency ignores
statistical evidence of cheating no matter how outrageous the facts. Your
entire class can bomb on the TAKS one year and get perfect scores the next,
and nobody in authority will so much as raise an eyebrow.

Consequences: Your teachers and principal boost their careers while hiding
the fact that you're getting a crummy education. Oh, yes, and you
internalize the lesson that cheating is OK.

Dallas Morning News reporters Joshua Benton and Holly K. Hacker uncovered
dramatic statistical anomalies in the 2004 TAKS scores at more than 200
public schools across the state. Houston and Dallas each had more than 20
schools with suspect scores. The TEA is now investigating both districts,
but TEA officials said their general policy is to launch investigations only
if someone comes forward with firsthand knowledge of cheating.

Unless the guilty teacher suffers a sudden attack of remorse, that
"someone," by definition, would almost have to be a student. Those taking
the test should complain – they're ultimately the ones getting cheated. But
how many students are likely to voluntarily confess?

The TEA actually analyzes the number of erasures on each TAKS test but
doesn't investigate even when the number is exceptionally high. One of the
agency's excuses is that circumstantial evidence – such as lots of erasures
or wild swings in test scores from grade to grade or year to year – isn't
enough to make a case.

Exactly. That's why the TEA needs to follow up such evidence with
on-the-ground investigations. Students won't spontaneously confess, but some
of them will tell the truth if they are questioned. If the TEA's
investigative staff of just three people is too small (another excuse) then
it should hire more investigators.

Because at this point, the correct answer to the question "What four-letter
word describes the TEA's stance on cheating?" is "joke."
Online at: here


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