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Creating a Culture of Cheating: How NCLB, AYP and Standardized Testing Brought a School District to its Knees.

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I work in a school district that has been rocked by a high-stakes test cheating scandal. Our former superintendent is now in Federal prison, and many of the leaders of the district have either left under a cloud of suspicion or are not having their contracts renewed because of the scandal. The local newspaper, on almost a daily basis, relishes in and rehashes the shortcomings of the district, and takes every opportunity to call the district leaders and school board incompetent. Indeed, almost any article in the paper contains multiple paragraphs that have simply been copy and pasted from previous stories about the downfall of the superintendent.  Local non-school board politicians, like great whites sensing blood in the water, regularly proclaim that the district “broken” and demand the state or federal government take over the daily workings. The scandal has spread so far in fact, that the state Commissioner of Education has appointed a Board of Managers to oversee the district and to essentially neuter the current elected members of the board.  The federal government is also looking at the district. External auditors have been brought in to find irregularities.  To say things are bad is an understatement. 

This ex-superintendent, when hired five or six years ago, was given a mandate to “improve the test scores at any cost.” At that time the district had many campuses that were in various stages of deficit in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) rankings called the Annual Yearly Progress or AYP. Indeed, nearly half of the district’s schools were in some troubled AYP rank, either from the first stage to a chronically troubled high school that was in danger of being “reconstituted” or even closed because of poor test scores. That high school, sitting a literal stone’s throw across the Rio Grande river from Juarez Mexico, along with it’s feeder schools, has traditionally had a very high immigrant and first generation American student population. First generation Americans, migrant and immigrant children and other with very low English-skills are required, like all other students to to take the standardized tests in English, where the much of the school’s ranking is based.  The pressure to raise the scores, especially at the schools where the AYP rankings had been low for multiple years, was great. The stage was being set. 

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