Cheating at many levels
State Education Secretary Ron Tomalis deserves great credit for a crackdown on cheating, by adults, that inflated some students' standardized test scores in some schools. The tests are meaningless, in terms of accountability by teachers, administrators and students, and in terms of prescribing corrective measures, if they are not honest.
Mr. Tomalis' assertion that the crackdown is primarily responsible for a statewide decline in reading and math test scores is, however, a stretch.
Based on previous test results, the department has investigated potential cheating in 48 districts and charter schools of the state's 500 districts and 173 public charter schools. (None in Bradford or Sullivan counties.) According to the Department of Education, 30 of those districts or charters have been cleared of wrongdoing, several others are in various stages of monitoring and nine, including Scranton and Hazleton areas, remain under investigation.
Quite appropriately, Mr. Tomalis plans to bring disciplinary action against about 100 administrators and teachers implicated in cheating, possibly including decertification.
The cheating investigation included tighter security measures statewide for the current round of tests, leading Mr. Tomalis to his assertion that the cheating crackdown produced the lower test results statewide.
Compared to the previous year, the 2011-2012 tests resulted in the number of advanced or proficient students declining by 1.4 percentage points in math and 1.6 percentage points in reading.
But, as noted by former Gov. Ed Rendell, the decline in test scores also coincided with about $1 billion in education funding cuts by the Corbett administration and the Legislature. Test scores steadily rose as the Rendell administration and the Legislature increased funding, largely because much of the money was targeted for tutoring, remedial programs and other initiatives that would contribute to higher test scores.
Mr. Tomalis should continue his important crackdown on cheating. But he, Gov. Tom Corbett and lawmakers should recognize that students are cheated, as well, when the state government deeply cuts aid aimed at getting them up to speed.