Best of intentions

The front page story in today’s SF Chronicle about teachers who distort the results of California’s standardized by helping students with answers or by changing answers to make them correct, highlights a problem that cuts across many areas of life today. Most educators agree that a single test gives very limited information about a student’s knowledge or skills. Only a long-term assessment can hope to gauge a student’s real education, but as a society we hate to wait for long term measurements, so we rely on a one-shot test. More than that, we count on the individual’s test score, added to the scores of other students in the school, to tell us how well the teachers are doing their jobs and how well the school as a whole is performing. Some of the “cheating” teachers were no doubt trying to change the answers to give a more realistic picture of how well the students are learning; others, no doubt, were more concerned with saving their jobs. We’ll never know the motives of each individual. Discovering the truth in the schools, the country, or the world is an ongoing and difficult job. Distorting test results to influence the actions of the department of education is not so different from distorting intelligence reports to influence the actions of the United Nations, or distorting battle reports to influence voters. Civic minded people have to keep a watchful eye on the actions of all influential groups. With the help of the media and our own skeptical minds, we have to look beyond the reports to see what is really going on. Who was it who said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”? It’s also the price of maintaining a livable community for ourselves and our children.

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