Are Teachers Cheating to Boost School Rankings?

Written by Patricia Hawke for

Manipulating Test Scores to Boost School Rankings 
The debate over the No Child Left Behind Act and its repercussions on school rankings continues ad infinitum, with proponents and opponents of the bill utilizing deafening amounts of lung power either criticizing the bill or extolling its virtues.  In the midst of all this uproar, a quiet and disturbing phenomenon has crept into the school system.  School staff members have been caught manipulating test scores in an effort to boost their school rankings.  Instances have been reported from New Jersey and Westminster; and although one hopes these are just isolated manifestations of teacher’s attempts to keep their schools from closure due to failing school rankings, you can’t help but get a sneaky suspicion that this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  In New Jersey efforts are already underway to flag schools that suddenly record a rise in school rankings based on standardized test scores and New York is considering similar measures. 
How School Rankings can be Manipulated 
There are several methods that can be used to boost flagging school rankings, and the media has done its bit to highlight some of them.  In Camden, for instance, The Philadelphia Enquirer found that one school that had been languishing at the bottom in math test scores for fourth graders suddenly found itself at the top of the school rankings for 2005.  The official version attributed to this seemingly miraculous boost in school rankings was “adult interference.”  In other word a friendly nudge from school staff.  In another instance, a closer look at hundreds of math test papers at one Long Island school revealed that an entire column of wrong answers had been substituted with the right ones in each paper. 
This phenomenon of tinkering with test papers to reflect higher performances on standardized tests that are the backbone of the school ranking system is nothing new.  Authorities have known for years that something like this is not just possible but easy to do and have suspected that many teachers might indulge in underhanded tactics in an effort to plump up their school rankings.  It’s only now however that school boards are waking up to the potential enormity of the problem and working on ways to check the system for flaws. 
Some analysts say these increasing occurrences of manipulations of test scores are a direct result of a flawed education system in which the teacher and the schools are made to held liable for a school’s flagging rankings.  Lowered school rankings and the resulting reassignments that teachers face are like a sword hanging over their heads. And because the people who stand to lose so much through low school rankings are also the ones in control of testing, there’s enough reason to worry that these instances of cheating are not isolated cases, but symptoms of a deeper rooted cancer in the system.