In the last Townhall on line mailing there appeared an essay by Walter Williams decrying a spat of cheating by teachers in Philadelphia public schools. The teachers were caught erasing and editing answers on students’ standardized tests. Williams focused on the harm done to the students by this unethical practice. He also sadly noted that the problem is not limited to Philadelphia’s schools. Even worse, similar sad events have occurred in Atlanta and other communities.
That cheaters are wrong is accepted nearly unanimously. After all, the teachers who were caught were dismissed, as were several local principals. And while Williams effectively argued limitations that these students bring to future careers because of their educational failures, the essay missed key points that may not be obvious to lay persons insufficiently familiar with practices and vocabulary of professional educators, a cadre to which this writer belongs.
Standardized tests are offered for numerous reasons. While they show the academic strengths and weaknesses of individuals, they are far better for measuring achievements of school communities. In a well run school exams verify the levels already observed by its professionals. Surprises are nearly non-existent. What the tests do is to ably and effectively quantify the abilities of the student body as a whole, as class groups, as gender divisions, and by age. This data is great for informing parents and community members of a school’s current status by subject, by learning skills, by thinking methods, and by numerous other standards.
Governments allocate funds on the basis of institutions’ needs, which are observed through study of test outcomes. Often schools are exemplars of best and worst practices that government officials seek to have replicated or avoided at all costs.
When cheating is practiced the results of exams are tainted, denying taxpayers the benefit of tools that are developed and implemented at a cost of millions of dollars. Without this needed metadata, how are areas for improvement identified?
Education is counted as among the most important of pursuits by politicians, businessmen, Jewish tradition and Americans all over our country. Torah teaches us to distance ourselves from falsehood. Schools that need lies to create a positive image deny students deserved learning. Their teachers make a mockery of education through their actions.
Government funding, public image, acceptance of graduates into universities are each contingent on the ability of a school to fulfill its mandate. When lies provide a semblance of this fulfillment, the cheaters not only destroy their own school’s good name, they denigrate society at large.
Cheating must end, but for reasons far broader than any Williams suggested.