ABC Touts Teachers Blaming Standardized Tests for Atlanta Cheating Scandal

 As the broadcast network evening newscasts filed reports this week on the teacher cheating scandal in Atlanta, Georgia, ABC’s World News on its Wednesday show went furthest in seeming to sympathize with the teachers who cheated as correspondent Steve Osunami highlighted complaints about No Child Left Behind’s emphasis on standardized tests to judge teacher performance.

After recounting details of the cheating scandal, in which as many as 178 teachers and principals in Atlanta erased and changed some of the answers on student tests to improve test score statistics for their schools, Osunsami asserted that "everyone here is pointing the finger at No Child Left Behind," and undermined the complaints of parents angry about the scandal:

I'm personally friends with a good number of teachers in this community who tell me that they're under tremendous pressure. They say that the same parents who are angry about all the cheating would be even more furious if the schools started reporting lower test scores.

The CBS Evening News on Tuesday and the NBC Nightly News on Wednesday both briefly mentioned complaints about No Child Left Behind, but NBC correspondent Ron Mott immediately followed up the complaints with a soundbite of Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s defense of standardized tests:

RON MOTT: No Child Left Behind, the 2002 law tying academic performance to federal funding, has been blamed for an overemphasis on test scores. Today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said high standards aren't to blame.

ARNE DUNCAN, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: What you want to do is you want to make sure you're evaluating students each year, but the way to get good results is through good teaching. The vast majority of folks around the country do it the right way.

Below are transcripts of relevant portions of reports from the Tuesday, July 5, CBS Evening News and, from Wednesday, July 6, ABC’s World News and the NBC Nightly News :

#From the Wednesday, July 6, World News on ABC:

DIANE SAWYER: And now, a big story, a kind of lesson for everyone today about teachers, honesty and pressure. And not one teacher, at least 178 of them across 44 schools in Atlanta, where teachers were found cheating in staggering numbers, changing their students’ test scores. ABC’s Steve Osunsami on what they did and why.

STEVE OSUNSAMI: Across Atlanta today, families of the 50,000 students enrolled in public schools here were livid.

DAVID GARR, ATLANTA PARENT: It is an embarrassment to all teachers, all administrators.

OSUNSAMI: In a gigantic, 800-page report from the state, 178 teachers and administrators from 44 public schools were caught changing answers on standardized tests that are used to judge student performance and rank the schools. Eighty-two of the teachers flat-out confessed they'd been cheating for nearly a decade.

CHANDRA GALLASHAW, ATLANTA PARENT: To state that, okay, these teachers have cheated for them? That’s saying that our children are dumb.

REBECCA GARR, ATLANTA PUBLIC SCHOOLS STUDENT: I'm going to Georgia, University of Georgia in the fall, and it just really makes me think, you know, are my scores genuine?

OSUNSAMI: Teachers and principals were erasing the wrong answers and filling in the right ones. The faculty at this school even held weekend pizza parties correcting answer sheets before turning them in. In a single year, scores at the school jumped 45 percent.

SIDNYE FELLS, FORMER ATLANTA PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHER: We were told that we needed to get these scores by any means necessary, and we were told that our jobs were on the line.

OSUNSAMI: Everyone here is pointing the finger at No Child Left Behind, the federal policy that made test scores king, closing schools with low scores, and rewarding schools with high ones. This former superintendent is accused of encouraging the cheating. She received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses tied to improved test scores. I'm personally friends with a good number of teachers in this community who tell me that they’re under tremendous pressure. They say that the same parents who are angry about all the cheating would be even more furious if the schools started reporting lower test scores. The school district is now firing all implicated teachers and administrators.

ERROL DAVIS, ATLANTA PUBLIC SCHOOL INTERIM SUPERINTENDENT: These people are not going to be put in front of children again.

OSUNSAMI: School starts in a month, and they've now got plenty of work ahead. Steve Osunsami, ABC News, Atlanta.

#From the Tuesday, July 5, CBS Evening News :

MARK STRASSMANN: Atlanta’s scandal is the biggest in recent years, but other school systems in Baltimore, Houston, and Detroit have had isolated cheating issues on statewide standardized tests. Educator Diane Ravage blames it on a federal law that links funding with test performance.

DIANE RAVAGE, EDUCATOR: We have a terrible federal law, No Child Left Behind, that says that all schools have to have 100 percent of their students proficient in reading and math by the year 2014, or their schools will be closed down.

#From the Wednesday, July 6, NBC Nightly News :

RON MOTT: Testing scandals are nothing new, of course, though they seem to be growing in number and significance around the country, including one in the nation's capital recently that generated national attention. At least 10 states use test scores as the primary evaluator of teachers with large bonuses on the line for top performers whose students score well.

ROBERT SCHAEFFER, NATIONAL CENTER FOR FAIR AND OPEN TESTING: When test scores are the only thing that matters in education, teachers feel that they have to boost those scores by hook or by crook.

MOTT: No Child Left Behind, the 2002 law tying academic performance to federal funding, has been blamed for an overemphasis on test scores. Today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said high standards aren't to blame.

ARNE DUNCAN, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: What you want to do is you want to make sure you're evaluating students each year, but the way to get good results is through good teaching. The vast majority of folks around the country do it the right way.