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Remove the splinter, change the climate
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A front page article in Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution discussed the fate of former Atlanta School Superintendent Beverly Hall and her impending trial.

First, let me say, I am sorry that anyone must face the suffering of cancer and her own mortality. But does illness justify not having Hall face a trial?

Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young thinks so. He feels a trial will hurt, not heal, Atlanta and stated, “The school system has repaired itself. The state has done everything it could to wreck a very good school system.”

I see his point. Our mothers always told us not to pick at scabs and to leave them alone to heal. But I am not so sure that this scab will heal. If you have a splinter underneath your scab, it will never heal until the splinter is pulled out. And I am afraid Hall could be that splinter. I also wonder at the appellation of “a very good school system.” If the Atlanta School System had been a good system, there would have been no need for cheating on standardized tests.

The article quoted a mother of three children in the Atlanta School System as saying Hall needed to be held accountable. Community activist Christi Jackson agrees with that mother. She is quoted as wondering, “Who plans to go to court for the young black men who fail to finish high school? Who in the world, in this country, will have mercy on them?”

There can be no doubt that the children of Atlanta were shortchanged in their education. If I were a parent, I would be very angry. And if not now, sometime in the future those children will be bitter about the way they were treated.

Teachers and principals lost their jobs and teaching certificates. Some have been tried and convicted and will pay for their changing test answers. They have suffered. The children have suffered. So why should illness preclude Hall from suffering the consequences?

But those teachers and principals were not the only ones who were involved in the cheating. Even teachers who never illegally touched a test were guilty of the sin of silence.

No teacher can have a child in a classroom for the better part of the school year and not be able to predict with a good degree of accuracy what that child will score on a standardized test. There had to be plenty of teachers who knew something was wrong when they saw their students’ test results.

The fact that they never questioned the test results is telling.

The climate of the whole school community was infected with the desire for results over all else. It didn’t matter what the children learned. It didn’t matter how good a school or teacher was. What only mattered were test results. The faked results were proof enough that the students were learning and that the schools were doing their jobs well.

And to a much smaller extent what happened in Atlanta happens in all the other school systems in Georgia. The frantic rush to prove the worth of the school by test results.

Two to three weeks of school (those right before the administering of the CRCT) is devoted to teaching the test. Students spend hours in class and in homework taking sample tests and comparing the answers to the correct answers. In effect the school year is over as far as curriculum is concerned.

But these tests are a one-shot affair taking place in one day. What if a child is feeling ill or has had something distracting happen in his life? These events may skew the test results. And how can one test be a better predictor of success in the next grade than the year-long observation of a teacher?

If students do not pass the test in certain grades, they may not go to the next higher grade, no matter what their class grades are. The pressure is intense, not only for the student, but for the teacher. And now teacher evaluations will be tied to student scores.

How did we get to this impasse in education?

I don’t know. And I don’t know about Beverly Hall. I am inclined to believe that the system will never heal until she is held accountable.

Paula Travis is a retired teacher from the Newton County School System. She can be contacted at