The social scientist Donald T. Campbell offered an insightful analysis of American education in his 1976 paper, "Assessing the Impact of Planned Social Change." One quote in particular stands out—a finding known as "Campbell's Law" that has been used to explain the impact that high-stakes testing is having on the nation's schools:
The more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.
Wednesday's conviction of 11 former educators in Atlanta on charges related to their involvement in a conspiracy to alter student test scores is an example of Campbell's Law in action. And this wasn't an isolated scandal.
Perhaps these things happen because of negligence. Maybe the teacher is just a rogue offender—an educator attempting to boost test scores for self-serving reasons. Or it could be the result of intimidation from top-down management. Regardless, the growing prevalence in recent years of dishonest practices such as these suggests that something is amiss within America's schools. This new era of School Accountability 2.0 is contingent on the data gleaned from incessant standardized testing like the new Common Core exams—a recipe that doesn't bode well for classroom ethics. School districts are increasingly tying teacher pay to performance, and there's no consensus on the best way to measure student proficiency, so high test scores are starting to look a lot like money. What emerges is bad news: a carrot-and-stick approach to a sector of the workforce that many consider to be underpaid.
For many, justice was served when the educators were convicted on charges of racketeering for their role in the high-profile conspiracy, dating back to 2005, to inflate the scores on their students' standardized tests. The group was presumably motivated by ever-increasing pressure from policymakers to fulfill federal and local performance expectations, which determined not only their eligibility for perks such as bonuses even their employment status.