Editorial: Use Glen Cove scandal to improve school testing
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Parents across Long Island are about to get the results of standardized tests their schoolchildren took in the spring, so this a good time to ask: What will happen to those teachers and administrators accused of helping kids cheat on tests in the Glen Cove school district? And how widespread, in that district and elsewhere, is the practice?
These are vital questions in the era of tests on the Common Core curriculum, which began last year. The results, in general, are expected to be awful, lending credence to those who slam the tests. And now teacher evaluations will be partially based on these scores. The situation is ripe for exploitation.
The allegations in Glen Cove surfaced last October when parents of a sixth-grade special-needs student told school officials her test results seemed out of line with her abilities. Soon, teachers were reporting that the classroom performance of some sixth-graders was noticeably below what their test results would predict, and they required extra help. The students had attended fifth grade and taken their state-mandated tests at Connolly and Landing elementary schools. Investigations of both schools were launched by the state Education Department, the Nassau County district attorney and a law firm hired by the district.
A report obtained by Newsday from the district probe, completed in March, alleged a serious cheating problem, with 22 teachers providing inappropriate help during spring 2012 testing. About 85 percent of children questioned "received inappropriate staff-directed assistance" on tests in English or math, the firm's report said. Students said teachers told them to change answers, pointed out wrong responses and physically filled in tests. The 22 teachers denied all of it, but the word of the kids, as well as eight teachers from another school who acted as proctors, blows gaping holes in the educators' denials.
District Attorney Kathleen Rice won't press charges if she's satisfied with the discipline the state and district mete out. Without charges, the results of Rice's investigation won't be made public. That's unfortunate: a comprehensive report detailing what went wrong, with recommendations for change, would be of great benefit. Meanwhile, the state is waiting for the district to act; it can pursue revocation of teaching certifications. How much of the state's findings will be made public is unclear. Glen Cove is conducting hearings and coming to agreements with some teachers, the school board president says.
The punishments handed down have to be severe enough to deter cheating. The system that allowed it needs an overhaul. What's most troublesome, though, is the sense that the matter could be brought to a close without the most important questions answered.
How widespread was the behavior? Is another scandal over alleged cheating on Regents exams at Glen Cove High School evidence of a sick culture in that district? Is bringing in outside proctors to ensure honest testing a useless joke? Are problems isolated to Glen Cove?
Every district has to be on the lookout for these failings. In Glen Cove, both the criminal and administrative investigations need to impose the necessary penalties and provide answers, as well as improve how are tests are given. We're educating kids based on these results, and judging teachers. The stakes are too high to take a chance that the results can't be trusted.