In an excellent, descriptive article written in The New Yorker two weeks ago, the author describes how educators in a high-needs, struggling school in Atlanta (during the now infamous cheating scandal that surrounded Atlanta’s public schools in the late 2000’s) made a series of “shocking choice[s]” to artificially inflate and boost their students’ test scores to meet state/federal mandates (i.e., No Child Left Behind [NCLB]). Choices they justified so that they could pacify others,’ including said state/federal policymakers,’ “relentless focus” on data and data-driven accountability, mainly to keep their school in tact and what they believed to be safe in their community.
While this all occurred at the same time the “new and improved” value-added measures (VAMs) as we now know them were being introduced to the country, that is to (theoretically) support even better and more accurate data measurements and data-driven accountability policies, some pro-VAM folks still make explicit their beliefs that using VAMs will inherently (i.e., without research evidence) decrease incidences of cheating, artificial score inflation, system manipulation/distortion, and the like (as so poignantly described within this article).
It is important to note, and continuously recall should you read this article in full, that really nothing has changed since this or the other cheating scandals that arose post NCLB. Likewise, incidences such as these are still arguably widespread and still most common in schools like the school described herein. If anything, we are now even more “enthusiastic about judging teaching by what [now] appear[s] to be an [even more] objective metric” than the metric used before (i.e., Adequate Yearly Progress vs. VAMs in widespread use now); hence, there is absolutely no reason to believe (and again no research evidence to support) that such incidences (even with increased security measures) have whatsoever declined.
Accordingly, a bit of logic and a lot of Campbell’s Law (i.e., “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor) suggest that the unintended consequences that accompany what is now teacher-based accountability as based on VAMs are if anything more, not less, widespread as VAMs permit the attachment of even more serious consequences to students’ test scores.
Just because VAM use is new, and research has yet to bear “objective” evidence that similar gaming behaviors continue to occur (behaviors, again, like those described herein and elsewhere within and outside of Georgia before and since), this does not mean such behaviors are not still live and well throughout America’s, especially high-needs schools. This all still with thanks to American policymakers’ continuous fixation on and obsession with increased accountability measures and their “no exceptions and no excuses” approach to test-based school reform.