EDITORIAL: What’s to Blame — Grade-Tampering Teachers or Reliance on Test Scores?

Public school districts in D.C. and Prince George’s County remain under fire, being scrutinized with laser-like precision and recently being called on the carpet for allegedly “cooking the books.” Teachers, principals and even school board members and superintendents appear to have altered test scores, grades and attendance numbers in order to achieve required levels of performance.

Certainly, we do not condone such behavior if these and other allegations turn out to be irrefutably true. Of course, we do not believe that students should be allowed to move to the next grade level or graduate when they haven’t earned the right.

But we’re also concerned with trends in today’s educational system that place more emphasis on test scores on generic examinations than the work that’s done daily in the classroom. Those old enough to remember, may recall a time when test days were few in number, while field trips and motivational, guest speakers from the community were far more numerous and deemed of greater benefit in their overall learning experience.

Many teachers complain that they find it almost impossible to do what brings them the most joy and feeds their innermost passion — that is, to “teach,” due in part to the intense pressure they face to prepare their students so that they “demonstrate success” on standardized tests. Educators lament over the lesson plans they must prepare and carry out in order to get their pupils ready for a never-ending number of tests that have become the rule of thumb, often to the detriment of more imaginative classroom activities that allow for more flexibility for teachers.

While it may seem easy to point fingers, castigate educators and demand immediate change, not to mention calling for the dismissals of those who have erred and fallen short of their contractual duties, perhaps we should also consider what we really want our children to have learned by the time they receive their high school diplomas.

Maybe, just maybe, we should let teachers be the primary assessors of students’ ability to comprehend subject matter and whether they’re ready to move on. Perhaps we should go back to the olden days when we placed more emphasis on the relationships forged between parents and teachers instead of looking to statistical blips gleaned after tests were completed by students and posted for comparison with benchmarks set by those who say they know what our children need to succeed in school.

Change can be great. And adopting new techniques for student assessment and achievement can be a good thing too. But sometimes it’s our children who stand to lose the most — and their teachers who yield to pressure instead of feeling more comfortable with simply doing what they themselves have been educated to do: teach.

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