Students at an ‘exemplary’ Texas school were taught only reading and mathematics for most of last year in order to boost its test scores. Grades for each student in social studies, science, music and other subjects were fabricated. It is yet another extreme example of what can happen under the pressure placed on schools to improve published test scores.
The Dallas Morning News reported last week that the principal at Field Elementary School in Dallas has been placed on administrative leave after Independent School District investigators found numerous cases of falsified grades during the 2010-11 school year. The school has earned the state’s highest school rating, “exemplary,” in part based on the results of the test.
According to the investigators’ report, the principal “directed and caused false school records to be created relating to teachers of record, grades of students for subjects not taught, and grades from teachers for students they did not teach.”
Parents were never told about the phony grades and that their children missed nearly a whole school year of learning in some subjects.
A music teacher told investigators that for most of the school year she taught third-graders in math instead of teaching them music. She said she gave students factual music grades the first six weeks of school. “After that, I gave them all 95 since I never got to see them in music again,” she said in an affidavit.
Another teacher, assigned to third-grade science and math, spent most of the year teaching just math. The principal denied his request to teach science for 10 minutes twice a week and to teach social studies for 10 minutes once a week, according to an e-mail in the report.
The principal told the teacher he “has to stick with math” and that students would pick up science skills through their lessons about creating graphs and interpreting graphs. The teacher eventually got to teach science after the standardised tests were over – about three weeks before the school year was over.
According to the investigation report, the principal also directed two third-grade teachers to delete social studies grades and gave the responsibility of entering the grades to two other teachers, though they hadn’t taught the subject. The teachers were told they could count the nonfiction portion of reading assignments for social studies grades, the report said.
Audrey Beardsley, an associate professor at Arizona State University who has conducted extensive research on educator-led cheating, said that what occurred at Field is a form of cheating. “This is kind of second-degree cheating,” she said, “a narrowing of the curriculum to marginalize subjects that don’t count.”
Valerie Strauss, education columnist for the Washington Post, summed it all up in her Answer Sheet blog:
“There isn’t any good excuse for any adult in any school building to cheat, but as long as high-stakes testing remains the focus of assessment for schools, students and teachers, expect more of it.”