Schools Cheating on Tests?

My online chat a couple of weeks ago (transcript here) was dominated by people asking questions about schools and test scores.  I’ve said over and over again that parents should avoid putting too much weight on a schools standardized test scores.  Go back and read those posts for details, but to summarize, I believe that schools shouldn’t teach to the test and that test scores have been demonstrated to be a better measure of income level than school quality.

Now there is yet another reason to ignore test scores when making your school choice.  In many cases they might be fabricated.  Back in May, the Inquirer questioned whether a school was cheating.  The school district rejected those claims.  Then a 2009 report surfaced suggesting that dozens of public and charter schools cheated on the PSSAs, the state standardized test.  And now it looks like the state is launching an investigation and maybe even setting up a whistle blower hotline.  If you want to hear more on this scandal, check out coverage from The Notebook.

The stakes are high in the test score game, which is a big motive for cheating.  I am pretty sure that some cheating is going on, I’m just not sure how widespread it is.  I’ll let politicians and school administrators sort that out.  My recommendation now, as it always has been, is to file away test score information in your mind, but when you evaluate schools, do your own research.  Make sure that you don’t limit yourself to looking at just the hot and trendy schools.  It is amazing how much you are able to tell by visiting a school, talking to parents, talking to teachers and school officials.  At the very least, when evaluating test scores, PLEASE–compare schools with similar demographic makeups to one another.  There are even tools to help you do that kind of evaluation.

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