A bedtime story for our grandchildren: One time there was this silly law that turned educators into cheaters

We hope that in our grandchildren’s lifetime we can tell them a bedtime story about that one time when those people in Texas started this silly law about education testing… which then became the silly law of the land when that Texas guy became President and took Texas people with him to Washington, and about how it caused educators to become cheaters for something called AYP, how some of them who cheated went to prison, how some big companies made a lot of money from this silly law, how the people in Washington finally got the message from educators and researchers and parents that the emperor had no clothes, and how, finally, teachers were allowed to be teachers again. 

We don’t condone cheating. Never. But don’t think for one second that those educators in Atlanta are the only people in this nation cheating on High Stakes Tests. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing says that 37 states have incidents of cheating and that in 12 of those states it is systemic.

Shoot, even the darling of high stakes testing and the poster girl for the results it obtains–Michelle Rhee–has allegations of cheating under her watch.  A PBS education reporter released a confidential memo allegedly sent to Rhee in 2009 warning her of cheating in 70 of her Washington D.C. schools. Rhee adamantly denies there was any cheating under her watch.

We just read an article that said those students in Atlanta were cheated out of an education.  Maybe–but that assumes that high stakes testing has value. That assumes that the education they did receive was inadequate. That assumes that those tests were designed to measure real growth in target areas that mean something.

Campbell’s Law

In their 2007 book Collateral Damage:  How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools authors Nichols and Berliner warned us this would happen — that Campbell’s Law predicts that corruption will occur.  We had never heard of Campbell’s Law before reading this book.

It’s pretty simple:  The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it was intended to monitor.

The authors provide example after example – this is back in 2007- of cheating by educators on high stakes testing.  The unfairness of the test itself led to decisions by educators that were most definitely cheating, but they justified their own actions because they believed they had the moral high ground: their student needed to pass the test to get a diploma to keep their job; their special needs student didn’t need to hear they are a failure one more time; and on and on.

Is this the equivalent to Gandhi’s march to the sea to make salt?  Is this civil disobedience by educators? Or was it simple greed? Unknown.  But what we do know is the price for passing these tests and the price for making “Adequate Yearly Progress” are at the root of cheating.  The corruption of the system itself is inevitable.

Reauthorization of ESEA

Congress is currently debating the reauthorization of ESEA (No Child Left Behind, known only on the porch as “that silly law”.)

Congress and Mr. President:

Could we please get rid of high stakes testing?

Could we please return control of education of kiddos to professional educators who are in the trenches, not up in some ivory tower?

Could we please recognize that perhaps there are forces outside of a student’s school life that just might contribute to their performance on “TST” (those silly tests?)

Could we please recognize that students with a disability should not be treated the same as other students when we are deciding who needs to take TST and which tests should be used for those students?

Could we please recognize that a team of educators and parents know the individual student better than someone in Washington or the Oklahoma Capitol?

Could we please recognize that parents are opting their children out of TST because they get it – they understand the silliness of that silly law and how it is corrupting their child’s education?

Could we please recognize that not all students fit in the standardized test bubble?

Could we please recognize that the United States should not pattern itself after China or Japan and that we are squelching the intellectual curiosity and artistic ability of students who may be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Kristin Chenoweth or Kyle Dillingham?

Could we please quit using TST to make public schools look like they are failing so we can promote “school choice” as the only viable option to fix public schools?

And while we are on TST — can we get rid of Oklahoma’s SillyTest — that 3rd grade reading retention law – and put educational decisions on retention back in the hands of educators and parents where it belongs?


The porch can’t stand to watch children suffer through another silly testing season.