Atlanta schools: K-score 9

I think it would be helpful to have some sort of rating that measures the degree of FUBAR-ity created by idiotic incentives. I’ll call it the K-score for now in the absence of a more original idea (in honor of Kerr).

On a best to worst scale of 1 to 10, I think we’d have to give the mad rush to measuring all teacher outcomes by high-stakes test scores a 7.5 nationwide, with higher scores for particular failings like the ones in Atlanta described in yesterday’s NY Times:

ATLANTA — A state investigation released Tuesday showed rampant, systematic cheating on test scores in this city’s long-troubled public schools, ending two years of increasing skepticism over remarkable improvements touted by school leaders.The results of the investigation, made public by Gov. Nathan Deal, showed that the cheating occurred at 44 schools and involved at least 178 teachers and principals, almost half of whom have confessed, the governor said.

And in a suspicious echo of Michelle Rhee, the revelations of cheating seem to trace back to a highly lauded Superintendent who rose to national fame in large part because of rising test scores.

At the center of the cheating scandal is former Superintendent Beverly L. Hall, who was named the 2009 National Superintendent of the Year and has been considered one of the nation’s best at running large, urban districts.

Dr. Hall, who announced in November that she would be leaving the job at the end of June, left Tuesday for a Hawaiian vacation.

Dr. Hall is a veteran administrator of the New York and Newark public schools. She took over the Atlanta district in 1999 and enjoyed broad support. Under her administration, Atlanta schools had shown marked improvement in several areas.

And this is where the K-score comes in – the marriage of poor incentives and stupendously bad management created a disaster.

Still, the investigation shows that cheating on the state-mandated Criterion-Referenced Competency Test began as early as 2001, and that “clear and significant” warnings were raised as early as December 2005. Dr. Hall’s administration punished whistle-blowers, hid or manipulated information and illegally altered documents related to the tests, the investigation found. The superintendent and her administration “emphasized test results and public praise to the exclusion of integrity and ethics,” the investigators wrote.

*

Just how badly students were affected by the altered scores is difficult to determine; however, some 12,000 students whose tests might have been tampered with have attended remedial classes after school and on weekends.

I think this former teacher hits the nail on the head:

“It becomes a question of what it means to be educated,” said Maria Pease, a former teacher who is the parent of a high school student. “Does it mean the highest test score? I would argue it does not. This is part and parcel of a general dysfunction that isn’t particular to Atlanta public schools.”

This earlier post has more background on the testing fiasco.

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