The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

A Culture of Deception

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Faithful reader(s)– here’s how it should have been earlier this week. It took some digging, but I found a copy of the post the way it should have appeared to you. A special shout-out to my man Herb, who recovered the post in his email and sent it back to me. You remember Herb, right? If not, check out his take on Michael Jackson’s death last summer.
— Jeff

Warren Township High School got caught cheating on last spring’s Prairie State Assessment Exams. Warren is my local school district; so local, in fact, that from where I’m sitting right now I could practically hit the junior/senior building with a rock. An article was published in the local paper last week that detailed what happened.

For years before tighter regulation (NCLB), a lot of districts played fast and loose with testing requirements. A popular ploy used by many high-scoring districts was to keep their lowest-scoring students out of the building during the testing. Sometimes it was a field trip, sometimes they were told to stay home. For some, I’m certain, it was suspension because of issues not related to the tests. So, when you’re most at-risk students weren’t there to drag down overall test scores, then the overall test scores looked pretty good. The message sent to the public, then, was that everything was fine and look how good our students do. Just not all the students. NCLB counteracted a lot of those ploys with legislation, but that wasn’t enough to keep my local school board from inventing new ways to cheat.

Federal law states that all high school juniors must take the PSAE. Across the state of Illinios, for the most part, a junior is a student who has earned 11 credits. School districts cling tightly to that determination, so even if a student has attended high school for 3 or more years, he most likely won’t take the tests unless he has earned 11 credits. Warren’s school board tweaked the 11 credits requirement to include 2 full years of English, Science, and Math. They can’t do that.

The article points out some interesting statistics as far as who was excluded: a quarter of the black students at the junior level, and about a third of Hispanics, low-income, and special education students. Guess who traditionally scores the lowest nationally on standardized tests? Minorities, students from low-income families, and, of course, students with learning disabilities. What would Warren’s scores look like if they hadn’t cheated? It’s hard to say exactly, but the recalculated scores show that Warren failed.

So who cares? Lots of people, especially residents in neighboring districts who have lower (and even declining) property values. Property value is determined by the standardized test scores of the local school districts, so I’d say those people have good cause to care about who is cheating. Three of Warren’s surrounding districts not only have lower property value, but have significant numbers of minorities and low-income families.

It’s hard for me to say, however, that the people in Gurnee care. They seem oblivious to what is happening in the local schools, so long as the test scores keep climbing. That implies tacit consent for achievement at all costs, even if that means cheating. The cheating issue is but one serious problem my local district has had recently. A short list includes a gun in school earlier this year, a teacher-student sex scandal a few years ago, and an issue with a principal that used district funds to pay for personal items such as ties and phone sex.

It’s interesting to note that when I researched and fact-checked the phone sex issue, the name of a whistle-blower came up; it was the same person who blew the whistle on the standardized test deception– a retired teacher from the district who appears to know things from the inside. I have to admire his ongoing commitment to keeping things on the up and up at his old job. I also have to smile, knowing that the district can’t touch him.If you read the article, scroll down to the online comments posted by readers. One reader advised the whistleblower to mind his own business, and even inquired as to who among the excluded students asked the whistleblower to speak for them. This to me points to the great disparity among races and socio-economic classes in Gurnee, and a prevailing intolerance for minorities and the poor. That reader was probably one of the people who is in favor of splitting Warren so that each building is 9-12 (the current set-up has frosh/soph on the east side of town; juniors and seniors on the west). The problem is that the east side of Gurnee, where it borders Waukegan, is where the poor and minorities mostly live. People who favor the split would have no problem creating a ghetto school, so long as their children don’t have to deal with different skin colors and smaller wallet sizes as they pursue their education. It’s easy for me to think that from there, the elitists would push for two entirely different districts altogether, so that westside money isn’t wasted on trying to educate eastside savages.

I’m glad Warren got caught. I was happy when I read the article. It puts more pressure on the community to pay attention to what is really happening on campus, and hopefully to push for reform. That reform needs to start with the school board members who approved such a short-sighted policy, obviously with the intention to cover the shortcomings of the school and to lure more money into the district from taxpayers and the state. As a teacher who works in a neighboring district that Gurnee residents generally feel pales in comparison to Warren, I feel an ounce of vindication. At least we don’t cheat.


Written by seeker70

December 31, 2009 at 8:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] which itself is unusual.  Two in a row?  Unheard of.  These are for Warren, my local district, which I’ve written about before herein.  In fact, the subject of school boards is one of the first I ever wrote about in The Seeker, and […]

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