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Randi Weingarten, Teachers Union Head, Sounds Off On Atlanta Cheating Scandal

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Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in a March 25, 2009, file photo.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in a March 25, 2009, file photo.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, blamed "test-crazed" education policies in sharp comments released Tuesday regarding a massive standardized-test cheating scandal in Atlanta.

A 65-count indictment, announced by prosecutors Friday, alleges that more than 35 educators were involved in a conspiracy to inflate students' test scores within Atlanta Public Schools.

In a joint statement Tuesday, Weingarten and Verdaillia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, declared, "Standardized tests have a role in accountability, but today they dominate everything else and too often don’t even correlate to what students need to know to succeed." They added that school districts in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere have put "enormous pressure" on teachers to improve scores.

As the first of the indicted educators surrendered Tuesday, critics of standardized-testing policies are describing the alleged misdeeds in Atlanta as a natural reaction to this pressure.

In a blog post published Monday, David Callahan, editor of Cheatingculture.com, blamed an excessive focus on quantitative performance measures and called the scandal the human answer to the question, "What happens when you change incentives so that low test numbers translate into pain and high test numbers translate into awards?"

The Associated Press reports that a 21-month-long investigation -- including hundreds of interviews with school administrators, students, parents and teachers -- brought out stories of teachers artificially inflating test scores for their own purposes.

In one case, a third-grader failed a benchmark exam but passed another standardized test "with flying colors" in the same year. Now in the ninth grade, the student reads at a fifth-grade level.

"I have a 15-year-old now who is behind in achieving her goal of becoming what she wants to be when she graduates. It's been hard trying to help her catch up," Justina Collins, the girl's mother, said at a news conference, according to AP.

In her comments, Weingarten, who has vocally opposed standardized testing in the past, stopped short of excusing the teachers but asked whether schools are spending too much time preparing students for the tests.

Read the full release below.

We do not condone cheating under any circumstances. Academic achievement can never be separated from academic integrity, which is why the Georgia Federation of Teachers was the first whistle-blower to expose Atlanta testing irregularities.

Tragically, the Atlanta cheating scandal harmed our children and it crystallizes the unintended consequences of our test-crazed policies. Standardized tests have a role in accountability, but today they dominate everything else and too often don't even correlate to what students need to know to succeed.

No amount of testing will replace what works to improve teaching and learning: giving teachers the resources and tools they need to be great teachers and providing students with a rich and well-rounded curriculum. Covering up kids' academic deficiencies cheats students out of the targeted help they deserve.

It is outrageous that schools in some states are spending up to 100 days a year doing test-prep or actual testing. We have to re-order our priorities and move our schools from a test-based culture to one that is deeply rooted in instruction and learning, so that our kids can become engaged participants in the knowledge economy and our democracy.

School districts in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere placed enormous pressure on teachers to show improved scores, but the hard truth is that cheating on high-stakes testing doesn't fix public schools or help kids. And even with this intense pressure, the vast majority of teachers do everything they can to help kids and never succumb to cheating. They know there are no shortcuts to success. Moving the needle requires a balanced approach that focuses on high-quality instruction; a rich curriculum; appropriate and useful assessments; and additional help and other resources like tutoring, after-school activities and social services to enable teachers and students to be successful.

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