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Standardized Test Cheating in Edgefield, can it happen here?
posted July 8, 2011
I used to be the NJROTC instructor at STHS several years ago.
During that time, I had two senior students who had expressed interest
in an officer commissioning program (ROTC scholarship). To
qualify, an applicant had to take either the SAT or ACT exam.
That score (plus many other qualifications) would be factored in as to
whether the student would qualify and receive a scholarship to attend a
4 year college and receive an officer's commission.
Although, the students were not in the "college prep" tract, regarding
their previous 4 years of studies, I encouraged them to take the exam
because it would give them a good assessment of their knowledge and
identify areas of weakness which they could still work on. I know
it to be a good technique because when I was a HS student I had to take
ACT 4 times before I got the score I needed to qualify for a
scholarship. Little did I know that I when I made this
recommendation to my two senior students, I had just walked into an
Within minutes of my "counseling" these young men, and their going to
the front office to meet with the assistant principal to sign up to
take the exam, I found myself standing before her getting chastised
that "I was not qualified to make these recommendations to
students." (As an aside note, as a young officer one of my
collateral duties was as an education officer, counseling over 1000
Marines and Sailors on their educational opportunities, to include
taking the ACT/SAT.)
In my response to the Asst Principal, I insisted that I was qualified
and reminded her that these young men and women who enlisted into the
military often did so after our education system failed them, and the
military often has far better results.
Needless to say, I was dumbfounded by the Asst Principal's strong and
shortsighted statement to me; that was until I learned later that the
ACT/SAT exam was a key element in a school's report card. Then I
understood that I had upset her apple cart and my "counseling" these
two young men to take a college entrance exam was going to upset a
carefully manipulated school score. Thus my eyes began to open as to
the systematic corruption of our education system.
I now read about the widespread cheating on standardized tests within
the Atlanta School system. What is shocking is how well known and
widespread the cheating has been. I then decided to "Google" and see if
it has been as prevalent throughout the country. In the past I
had periodically heard about similar instances, but had little noted
it, probably I had written them off as isolated
occurrences. After making a Google search, I was shocked and
dismayed to learn how rampant this has become. I've (found) links
to 4 incidents since 1999, but there are MANY more.
When I was a commander, I knew that a conscientious leader must never
be complacent. I would "actively" listen and search out
opportunities to not only better myself and my unit, but I would
aggressively seek out opportunities to "learn from others mishaps or
mistakes." As one of my old leaders once counseled me, "the
moment you think it won't happen to you or on your watch, is the moment
you'll be unpleasantly surprised. Because there are those that
'have' and those that 'will.'"
Leaders, and those in positions of authority, need to actively remain
on guard for unethical behavior. While I know there are good
teachers and administrators in our County Schools, there are also some
who are not.
Then I think about my personal experience as I just related as to how
one administrator manipulated the system, and other teacher(s) knew
which students they could refer for the ACT/SAT and those whom they
could not; and I now know in my heart of hearts, this too
can happen in our school district, because I saw it with my own eyes to
a lesser degree.
As a taxpayer and the parent of a student in ECSD, I am asking a
reasonable question of the school board who represents ME, "What
questions and policies do you have in place to ensure this standardized
cheating does not occur in our school district?", because the
same motivators exist in Edgefield as they did in Atlanta.
Are there non district school employees proctoring these standardized
exams? (e.g no conflict of interest). When significant gains are
made in particular subject/grade areas, is the school board asking
critical questions such as how were the gains made and are they
Remember, critical inquiries is the mark of a true professional and
builds trust and integrity into the system. Or is the school
board so pleased with the results that they maintain the facade of
"willful ignorance" because the performance looks good?
I challenge the school board to periodically query teachers on these
tests, get out and personally verify and arrange for audits (nothing
fancy just take time to time look for significant and unexplainable
gains). Additionally, are there procedures in place whereby
conscientious teachers and students can bring to light instances of
unethical behavior without fear of retribution?
I would submit, could many of these unfortunate cheating scandals have
been avoided if responsible and inquisitive board members had taken
this commonsensical approach? Should Edgefield County schools
learn from this experience also? Some may say, this will cost too
much....I say, B.S. It's part of the job description of a leader,
supervisor and elected official (translation...principal,
superintendent, school board member). Like President Reagan used
to say, "trust but verify."
Mark S. Jebens
Lt Col USMC (Ret.)
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