Cheating schemes designed to make embattled school systems look better than they are aren't exactly new.

But the scandal that engulfed Atlanta's public schools last week with the indictment of former Superintendent Beverly Hall and 34 others, including teachers, principals and assistant principals, represents something the nation hasn't seen before.

The charges portray an educational establishment engaged in a criminal enterprise to conceal a widespread failure to educate city children. They raise the tragic specter of schoolchildren fooled by cynical adults into believing they have actually received a competent education.

The solution?

Some think a reduction in standardized testing is the way to go. Teachers around the state are worried about the effects of standardized testing on their evaluations.

New York State United Teachers, meanwhile, have launched an advertising campaign against standardized tests because, they claim, the tests contain material that students haven't been taught. "Stop the obsession with standardized testing," says the NYSUT website.

Some educators go even further -- calling the Atlanta scandal a direct result of the nation's "fixation" on raising test scores instead of ensuring that students are learning.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

But why is standardized testing under siege?

Progress -- and failure -- must be measured. Without testing, who knows where any system stands? Without testing, who knows how any system can improve?

Fairness is important. But school systems do not exist solely to provide teachers and staff with job security. They exist to provide children with educations -- children who often are economically disadvantaged, children who have few other ladders to success at their disposal.

Failed school systems should make all of us feel terrible -- taxpayers, teachers, parents, students, administrators. We should never stop looking for ways to make students sharper and schools better. But how does this happen if we can't measure progress? The facts -- no matter how tough -- are essential. The cheating is unconscionable.