Last week, the Mississippi Department of Education requested $1 million from the state legislature to combat cheating on statewide examinations. The request comes on the heels of alleged cheating systems The Clarion-Ledger wrote about at Clarksdale’s Heidelberg Elementary School earlier this year. Thereafter the state’s education department spent $300,000 to hire Utah-based consultant Caveon Test Security to investigate the Heidelberg case.

The case comes amid a spate of cheating incidents and follows the more high profile scandals in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta.

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Should the legislature give the department $1 million to hire a consultant to detect cheating? In order to pay Paul, the legislature will have to steal from Peter. Therefore, taxpayers of Mississippi should weigh in on the matter. Instead of a costly official referendum, the public can take this poll, also known as the Perry Cheater Achievement Test:

*Allocating state resources for the purposes of identifying systemic cheating in public schools is like:

  1. A high interest savings account.
  2. Killing a pig for bacon.
  3. Throwing wood on a fire.
  4. Putting a bandage on a bullet wound.
  5. All of the above.

If you answered A. a high interest savings account, then you believe the Mississippi legislature should give the Department of Education the resources because it would be a relatively safe and worthwhile investment. You generally believe that culprits should be disciplined to the full extent of the law, and the punishments of getting caught for cheating can be effective deterrents for leaders and teachers in other districts.

You’re also strident in the belief that states should connect their testing programs for student academic performance to an accountability system. In other words, you argue that testing and accountability gives states the ability to detect cheating. You believe the reckless social promotion prior to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was just another form of school sanctioned cheating.

If you answered B. killing a pig for bacon, then you see having cheater police as a necessary evil. You don’t believe that it will deter cheaters, but you do feel educational swindlers need to be found and punished. You feel that cheaters exist in a high stakes testing world as much as they do in one without rigid accountability systems. There’s simply no reliable test for character, so states’ need some form of monitoring. So you’re s not compelled by the notion that we can’t expect teachers to behave nobly when they’re faced with the possibility of job loss. Cheaters will cheat.

Some of you answered C. throwing wood on a fire. If you use words or phrases like neoliberal, market driven or money is the root of all evil with some regularity, then C is your answer. You think consultants, testing companies and rigid accountability drive out educational leaders with a modicum of integrity. Since NCLB, you haven’t seen distinctions between those who rob school systems of valuable resources and those who are hustling at a classroom level. You see cheating, testing and profit as peas in a hyper-capitalistic pod. Many people win because of cheating – just not the students.

You believe the testing industrial complex spurred opportunistic companies that have nothing to do with education except when it comes to taking money that could be used for authentic teaching and learning. The choice between job security and “cheating” on a spurious state exam is an easy one to make.

People who answer D. putting a bandage on a bullet wound found C. compelling but overly simplistic or conspiratorial. You want to have accountability for cheaters, but you may find greater utility in testing than those who see its use only leading to the testing industrial complex and corruption. Therefore, you’re not opposed to hiring a consultant because schools won’t tell on themselves. However, you still think hiring a consultant and the consultant himself will miss the big picture.

Folks who answer D. probably know the difficulty in pairing academic performance with accountability. However, to test your knowledge in this particular area, let’s take another question, aka the subtest:

What do test scores measure after they have been connected to teachers’ pay or job status?

  1. Teacher quality
  2. School quality
  3. Students’ readiness for the next grade
  4. Teachers’ desire for survival (aka excellence)
  5. None of the above.

If you’re having difficulty with this question, don’t worry; I’ll provide you with answers, aka testing prompts.

Standardized tests are used well beyond what they were designed to do, which is measure a few areas of academic achievement. Achievement tests were not designed for the purposes of promoting or grading students, evaluating teachers, or evaluating schools. In fact, connecting these social and political functions to achievement test data corrupts what the tests are measuring. In statistics this is called Campbell’s Law. What we are experiencing in education is colloquially called teaching to the test, hiring to the test, and getting paid to the test.

So if you answered D. putting a bandage on a bullet wound on the original question of the poll, you probably want to test for student achievement but only for diagnostic purposes. Consequently, you want a monitoring system but believe hiring consultants or even developing a monitoring system won’t address the root problem – rigid, unreliable accountability procedures.

Finally, if you answered E. None of the above, then you see an element of truth to all the other responses. You’re probably a nitpicky academic or a fence rider.

Nevertheless, Mississippi needs your voice. There are some answers that only public discourse can find.

Andre Perry, founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich., is the author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City (2011).

*Tweet your responses to the Perry Cheater Achievement Test to: @andreperryedu @hechingerreport #cheatersneverwin?

[Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

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Andre Perry is the founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich. and the author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City (2011).