For those of us who support academic standards, testing and accountability as strategies to improve public education, the Atlanta cheating indictments are sobering. Here was a system where dozens of employees, over the course of almost a decade, racketeered to rig results (or so it is alleged).
And while one can hope that Atlanta was an outlier in terms of the scope and longevity of its cheating conspiracy, it’s hardly an isolated case, as examples from El Paso, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and other locales demonstrate.
As expected, test critics are having a field day, using Atlanta as evidence of why all this must go. They yearn to throw the accountability baby out with the testing bathwater. But they’re wrong. The better approach is to “mend it, not end it.”
Try this thought experiment: What would happen if U.S. schools ceased all standardized testing—and related consequences? No more annual assessments, no more grading schools based on the results, no more interventions in low-performing schools, no more teacher evaluations tied to test scores, no more “merit pay” for high performing teachers or job jeopardy for low performers.
The result: In our most affluent communities, little would change. Schools would continue to drive toward the real-world standard of college acceptance at elite universities, via Advanced Placement exams and high SAT scores.
At schools serving both rich and poor kids, we would probably see a return to the 1990s, when achievement gaps were overlooked, wealthy students were guided toward rigorous coursework and “college readiness,”...