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Atlanta Invests More Money into Performance-based Pay for Educators

Atlanta public schools remain under scrutiny even as the state vows to invest more money into student performance-based pay for teachers.

Faculty members in over fifty of Atlanta’s schools are suspected of tampering with the Criterion-Reference Competency Test (CRCT), one of Georgia’s common standardized tests. Tampering includes: correcting student tests by erasing wrong answers, giving students correct answers during the test, and bearing witness to this behavior. These allegations have persisted for nearly two years; according to a recent article, approximately 100 educators have been reported, though not formally charged. The state, led by Governor Sonny Perdue, has recently launched its own investigation into the cheating—according to the previously cited article, the governor felt that “the search [undertaken by local officials] had been deliberately narrowed” and therefore failed to encompass the gravity of the situation. Involvement by the state has spurned many to confess to the allegations. Those that confess or aid the investigation have been granted immunity.

Days ago, The Albany Herald published an article detailing the unfolding investigation in one of Georgia’s counties, Dougherty County. Schools in Dougherty have had to hand over financial documents to state investigators looking for a connection between financial incentives and cheating with regards to the CRCT. The reports show a correlation between financial incentives provided and inflated test scores. On an individual level, the incentives seem trivial—after all, it seems normal and appropriate for a teacher to spend some of his/her budget on a pizza party for students who successfully complete a dreaded exam—but when summed, the total for 2010 came to nearly $40,000, the spending of which is not entirely itemized.

So why, as this case drags on and Atlanta tries to untarnish its name, does Georgia want to pour more money into performance-based pay? And more importantly, is financial incentive reason enough for educators to cheat or is the motivation more complicated? It seems easy to blame teachers and money; surely upper level staff and administration should be held accountable for pressuring teachers into helping their students cheat on tests. Many educators have reported that they feared losing their jobs if they didn’t raise test scores by whatever means necessary. It is reasonable to conclude that this fear of punishment would lead educators to cheat and encourage their students to do so, creating a trickle-down fear effect that has no positivie consequence--except maybe an inflated test score and a little more funding. Also, of course, the cheating scandal in Atlanta (which has been so controversial that Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall has announced she is stepping down from her post) seems representative of a much larger issue: even upper level staff and administration are subject to pressure from their states to bring home federal funding, which is also very heavily based on standardized test scores.

Still, in light of the scandal in Georgia, it’s not difficult to assume that the “Race to the Top” grant recently awarded to Georgia—in the form of $400 million—may deepen the schools’ dependence of test-performance rather than improve education. The state will reportedly use the funds to “revolutionize” their educational template by basing 50 percent of a teacher’s pay on the performance of his/her students. If anything, “Race to the Top” seems to provide more attractive incentives for dishonesty.     

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