Teaching to the Tests: Parents' Lessons From a Scandal That Left Children Behind

Given to children in the third to eighth grade, the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) were meant to gauge each student’s abilities in reading, mathematics, English/Language Arts, Social studies, and Science.

In the Atlanta Georgia School District, hours after the students handed in these tests, an alleged 140 teachers feverishly erased wrong answers and penciled in correct answers. An alleged thirty-eight principals were equally busy. Later, superintendants above them tried to muzzle the whistleblowers and rewarded the erasure users with rewards for improved effort.

In the decade leading into 2009 the Atlanta Public Schools students’ scores rose so dramatically that its Superintendent Beverly Hall was named the  “2009 Superintendent of the Year.” By June of 2009 Hall stepped down from her post, days before the release of a report documenting the systemic efforts by teachers and school administrators to boost student results.

It was the dramatic rise in test scores followed a precipitous drop of scores the following year that prompted Georgia to pursue a legal investigation of the CRCT results. The PDF summary of the reported CRCT investigation worded the raw result: “Thousands of children were harmed by the 2009 CRCT cheating by being denied remedial education because of their inflated CRCT scores.”

CRCT was said to be the benchmark of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Parents and educators claimed that the tasks demanded by such federal mandates forced teachers to teach to these tests. To limit education hours to the input of test answers, some say inhibits greater educational experiences for gifted students.

But can we say that mandates alone forced many educators to focus on the testing and some to manipulate false results? Many too quickly, too easily point fingers at others.  However, Providence pricks the individual conscience. For a society’s beneficial functioning the children–with the best of their abilities–should be nurtured by adults to read, to calculate, to communicate, to socially engage, and to reason.

We who are parents must give pause and consider our roles in this nurturing or education.

By DNA or adoption or fostering, we are to parent the children with us. Shouldn’t our lives with them fix in us an inner gauge of our children’s schooling? If we daily engage with our children’s lives–read with them, interact with them, oversee homework alongside of them–can we not glean whether or not our children need remedial intervention?

Finally, how will parents now engage with the educators and the system we leave our children with? It would behoove parents to spend less on the extracurricular frills suburbanites crave. It is time to refocus family time, PTA meetings, school board meetings, and get back to the basics.