NYC: Cheating or sympathy?

“Scores on English Regents exams for high schoolers plummeted” when New York City barred teachers from grading tests given at their own school, reports the New York Daily News. Passing rates dropped at 373 out of 490 schools and the failure rate on English exams rose from 27 percent to 35 percent. That change was “not reflected in the other nine Regents subjects.”

At Harlem Renaissance High School 69% of students passed English in 2012. In 2013, only 37% passed. “Teachers helped us out a little bit. They gave us credit for trying,” said senior Morrell Christian, 19, recalling the good old days. “If you needed extra points they gave them to you. That changed when they couldn’t mark their own tests.

Evaluating essays is subjective, teachers told the Daily News. While “grade inflation was rampant,” it wasn’t cheating, they said.

“Teachers know their students. Sometimes a bad grade means the student giving you hell again next year, or him not getting a scholarship,” said one teacher at a Brooklyn school. “There’s a form of empathy coming out. Like, ‘Oh my God, there has to be another point in there! Let’s find it.’”

Many said teachers were “encouraged to grade the exams generously so more students would graduate.” That helped students, but raising graduation rates also could keep a school from closing and earn the principal a “fat bonus.”

Don’t blame measurements for cheating, writes Matt Yglesias on Vox. He’s responding to tweets by Chris Hayes, who “offers a take on the VA scandal that’s calculated to warm the hearts of America’s teachers unions,” writes Yglesias. Hayes writes:

Current VA story is a classic example how metrics ordered from above often just lead to books being cooked rather than better performance . . . See juking crime stats, Atlanta standardized test cheating scandal, etc…

Yglesias wonders if  “a person who cheats in response to an incentive program the kind of person who’s going to do amazing work in the absence of an incentive program . . . If a data-based framework is imperfect, is going to a data-free one any better?”

How to talk to kids about cheating

Cheating ramps up during middle school, where just over 60 percent of students reported cheating on exams and 90 percent admitted to copying another students’ homework,” writes Jessica Lahey. In high school, 75 percent of students admit to academic dishonesty. Parents should talk to their children about cheating.

Don’t assume your child understands the difference between collaborating and cheating, paraphrasing and plagiarism. Brush up on the definition of plagiarism and the reason we give others credit for their work. Discuss the realities of cheating: Academic dishonesty can destroy her reputation as an honorable person, not to mention her relationships with teachers.

Next, ask why she’s cheating and discuss your concerns with the teacher, Lahey advises. Most parents resort to denial when their child is accused of cheating.  Admitting it will “go a long way toward reinforcing the partnership between you and your child’s teacher.”

Don’t help too much with homework. One in five adults admits completing part of a child’s homework assignment.  “Let your child discover her own answers.”

Finally, if you catch your child cheating, don’t cover for her. Take this opportunity, while she is still young and the stakes are still low, to hold her accountable for the consequences of her actions.

Lisa Heffernan, writer of the parenting blog Grown and Flown, offers advice for parents: Convince your kids they’d rather face “my short-lived disappointment with a poor grade rather than my devastation, humiliation and sadness at my failures in parenting and their faulty moral compass.”

To get into college, fake it

Applying to College Shouldn’t Require Answering Life’s Great Questions, writes Julia Ryan in The Atlantic. Elite colleges’ admissions essay prompts pretty much demand that students “pretend to be something you are not,” she charges.

Brown University is asking applicants for the Class of 2017: French novelist Anatole France wrote: “An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t.” What don’t you know?

The University of Chicago would like high-school seniors to tell them: How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared? Possible answers involve, but are not limited to, statistics, chemistry, physics, linguistics, and philosophy.

Tufts would simply like to know: What makes you happy?

“Applying to college shouldn’t be the intellectual equivalent of dressing up in your mother’s clothes,” writes Ryan.

Many of her commenters liked the prompts. (They made me very glad that all this is behind me.)

Universities have automated admissions, writes a commenter who designs admissions software. An outside service will use “advanced OCR and ICR recognition software plus semantic analysis” to turn the transcript and extracurriculars into a single number. Essays are turn through plagiarism software. “If a university is particularly prestigious they *might* read the essay, but the counselor is reading about 15 to 20 an hour.” The essay reader is probably an untrained graduate student or unemployed graduate making $11 to $13 an hour, he writes.

Hacking the Common App has good advice on writing admissions essays. Here’s part 1 and part 2.

Bard’s new admissions option — submit four research papers instead of grades and scores — is begging to be gamed by the wealthy, writes Jordan Weissmann.

Rather than submit a full battery of grades, teacher recs, SAT scores, and personal essays, Bard applicants will be able to choose to hand in four 2,500 word research papers, which will be graded by faculty. Applicants who earn a B+ or better on their writing will be accepted . . .

“It’s kind of declaring war on the whole rigmarole of college admissions and the failure to foreground the curriculum and learning,” Leon Botstein, Bard’s president of 38 years, said in an interview.

Who’d choose this option? Someone who’s gone to a very good college-prep high school and learned to write a college-quality research paper, but hasn’t earned Bard-worthy grades or test scores. That’s a small group. Or, as Weissmann suggests, someone who can afford to pay a “college consultant” to write the papers.

Cheating is a valuable workplace skill

Homeschool your kids so they learn to cheat, writes Penelope Trunk on her homeschooling blog. What schools call cheating — getting the right answer from others — is “effective workplace behavior” and a valuable skill, she argues.

Some 85 percent of students admit to cheating, Trunk writes.

. . . Stuyvesant, a New York City magnet school that’s harder to get into than Harvard, had an incredibly organized cheating system that rivals best practices for productivity types in Fortune 500 organizations.

. . . What made Stuyvesant’s cheating system so effective was that everybody had a certain topic that they would be expert on, and everyone else knew how to get the answers from that person.

That’s a great workplace skill, and you do kids a disservice by training them to think that it’s improper behavior.

Compared to their elders, Generation Y is “incredibly productive because they’re great collaborators.”

In the age of information, sharing information rules the day, and there’s no longer a place for a Lone Ranger at the office who works independently of everyone else. Today’s business world is too complicated and too networked for people to work so independently as to not be getting information from other people.

Teachers have been pushing collaborative work on projects and peer tutoring for many years now. Collaborative work on tests is another matter.

Does Trunk have a point?

Cheating is not a big deal

The Atlanta cheating indictments — from the former superintendent down to principals and teachers — have brought calls to eliminate test-based accountability measures. If there’s no incentive to cheat, there’ll be no cheating, the argument goes.  Minimizing cheating shouldn’t be the top priority, argues Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.

Incentivizing any field increases the impetus to cheat.

. . . If Major League Baseball instituted tenure, and maybe used tee-ball rules where you can’t keep score and everybody gets a chance to hit, it could stamp out steroid use.

Students have been cheating on tests forever — massive, systematic cheating, you could say. Why? Because they have an incentive to do well. Give teachers and administrators an incentive for their students to do well, and more of them will cheat.

Standardized test scores “account for no more than half of the criteria” for evaluating teachers in any state, Chait writes. Classroom evaluations and other factors count for the rest.

 States use complex models to measure how much a class increased its performance from the beginning to the end of the school year, accounting for socioeconomic conditions and other factors.

“There’s a useful debate to be had over how to design the criteria for measuring effective teachers,” he writes, but minimizing cheating is not the top priority. “The top priority should be teaching students better.”

The Atlanta scandal wasn’t about teachers cheating to look better. It was about administrators pressuring teachers to make low-performing schools look better. That’s true in Philadelphia’s cheating scandal too.

Philly sanctions two principals for cheating

After a nearly two-year-old investigation into cheating on state  tests at 53 Philadelphia public schools, two principals have surrendered their administrative credentials.

Barbara McCreery, who oversaw astronomical test score gains in 2010 at Communications Technology High in Southwest Philadelphia, was alleged to have “violated the integrity and security of the PSSA by erasing and changing student answers, creating an answer key and manipulating student data.”

Lola Marie O’Rourke, former principal of Locke Elementary in West Philadelphia, faced similar allegations, including that she directly provided answers to students.

McCreery was fired as principal of Bok Tech. O’Rourke left the district to work as an administrator in Trenton, New Jersey. Both will retain their teaching certificates but won’t be able to teach in the Philadelphia School District. Neither will be eligible to work as a principal in Pennsylvania.

The cheating investigation is continuing. Will there be indictments, as in Atlanta? Retiring a few years early or taking an out-of-state job isn’t much of a punishment.

If reform fails . . .

If education reform fails, what will happen? Two Washington Post op-eds preview the future, writes Eduwonk.

Michael Gerson lauds the spread of choice and increasing chances that it could happen at scale.  On the same page Eugene Robinson announces that Atlanta shows the folly of incentives linked to testing.

Both show what’s likely if reform efforts collapse, writes Eduwonk.  ”

It’s not a return to the old days of benign neglect where the money flowed pretty freely and consequences were scarce.”

 Instead, he predicts more choice, less accountability and limited funding.

Choice without accountability is not

the “formula for widespread improvement,” he writes.

Ex-superintendent indicted for Atlanta cheating

Former Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall and 34 others were indicted Friday on charges they conspired to cheat on standardized tests from at least 2005 to 2010, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which conducted the investigation that revealed widespread cheating.

Further, the grand jury charged, Hall, several top aides, principals and teachers engaged in the scheme for their own financial gain. And with investigators closing in, the jury said, Hall and others lied to cover up their crimes.

. . . Pressuring subordinates to produce targeted scores, the indictment said, “created an environment where achieving the desired end result was more important than the students’ education.”

“This is nothing but pervasive and rank thuggery,” said Richard Hyde, one of the special investigators.

The indictment served as a resounding refutation of Hall’s assertions that Atlanta had found the secret formula that had long eluded educators elsewhere: how to get strong performances from poor, mostly minority students in decaying urban schools. For her efforts, Hall was named the national superintendent of the year in 2009.

Hall collected more than $225,000 in bonuses in 2007 to 2009 by certifying test scores “which she knew were false,” the grand jury found. Her base salary exceeded $300,000 by 2009.

A little help from my friends

On Assorted Stuff, Tim wants to flip the anti-cheating statement: “I have neither given nor received help on this assignment.” He proposes:

College cheaters become adult cheaters

Students who cheat and lie in college are likely to behave dishonestly in the workforce, according to a University of Minnesota study, which relied on self reporting.

Among the types of cheating examined were increasing the margins or typeface to make a paper seem longer, telling an instructor a false reason for missing a class or exam, obtaining questions to an exam from an unauthorized person before a test, writing a paper for someone else and preparing cheat sheets.

Those types of unethical actions in college were found to carry over into the workplace in the forms of taking long lunches, telling an employer a fake reason for missing work, writing a report for a co-worker, filling out a false expense report and presenting the ideas of co-workers as their own.

Dishonesty “tends to carry over” from college to adult life, Nathan Kuncel, the study’s co-author, told BusinessNewsDaily.