Many of you have probably heard about the scandal at Beach Court Elementary. If not, I’ll summarize: A Denver school that was lauded for years for their high test scores was recently investigated for changing test answers. Their principal, Frank Roti, has been dismissed and asked to pay back the more than $32,000 in bonuses he received for these erroneously high test scores.
Many people are outraged that Roti would do such a thing. As an educator, isn’t he supposed to uphold the truth, to care more about his students’ learning than about their test scores?
The answer, in this educational climate, is unfortunately a resounding “no”.
As a third grade teacher for 3 years, I dreaded the CSAP. I would walk around my students’ desks, looking over their shoulders and groaning internally when I saw wrong answers. No matter what type of class I was given at the beginning of the year – whether they were mostly on grade level, or more typically, most far below, my worth as an educator was determined not by the amount of growth they’d made, not by the joy of learning I imparted, but rather, by a test, given one day a year. I strove to be creative, to help my kids love learning, and I knew that my value in their eyes rested on my ability to see them and help them grow. However, the people in control of my paycheck didn’t care about the joy in my classroom. All they cared about was the bottom line – the tests.
As a moral human being, I never even considered changing test scores. Besides, I really cared about seeing my students’ actual scores on the test. But I can see why a principal – removed from the daily learning in the classroom – would make the choice to do so. I am not saying that Roti was right – his actions were morally reprehensible and did a great disservice to his staff, his students, and their parents – not to mention all of the low-income DPS schools that were compared unfavorably to Beach Court year after year. But this isn’t the first – or the last – time educators have cheated on these tests. Isn’t it time to call the whole system into question, and to develop a new, more authentic way of judging whether schools and teachers are succeeding?
If testing wasn’t so valued, if our worth as educators wasn’t tied to it, if the painful intensity surrounding high-stakes testing was removed, this principal wouldn’t have thought he needed to spend so much time fudging results. The fact that Beach Court’s “success” could be so easily fabricated indicates that the “success” shown by testing is a flimsy one. Despite that flimsiness, it’s all we currently have to rate schools. What if teachers and principals were celebrated not only for test scores, but for helping their kids become joyful, lifelong learners? What if teachers weren’t encouraged to teach to the test but rather, to teach to their students as unique individuals?
What can we learn from Beach Court Elementary? Teachers can learn to continue valuing students’ daily growth in class, their heightened love of learning, and their unique strengths and struggles, more than a once a year test score. Parents can learn to spend more time talking to their kids about school to get a sense of what they are truly learning, instead of relying on report cards or test scores. And, hopefully, one day, politicians will learn that the current emphasis on high-stakes testing isn’t doing anyone any favors, and move to a more holistic, student-focused way of evaluating schools.