In a variety show that aired on NBC in the early 1970s, comedian Flip Wilson would step into a woman’s dress and bonnet and into the spirited and cheeky fictional character of Geraldine Jones, who invoked this popular comeback whenever caught in a tall tale or in a compromising situation: “The devil made me do it.”
Fast forward to July 2011, and it’s almost the exact same line being used by principals and teachers in metro Atlanta’s public schools who have been snagged in the biggest test cheating scandal ever to surface in the state.
The devil made them do it, or so they would have the governor and others believe.
Excuses for changing answers on standardized tests taken by students range from “I feared for my safety” to “little else can be expected when there’s so much pressure on teachers that every child pass.” Some even claim they were victims of the moment – that they had to falsify results and promote children not ready for the next grade level just to keep up with the Joneses, the other cheaters.
The scandal, as far as the state can tell right now, extends as far back as 10 years ago and encompasses public school systems in DeKalb, Fulton and Douglas counties. Some 38 principals and 178 educators are named in an investigative report released this week by Gov. Nathan Deal. Many of them have admitted that they changed answers. Others continue to deny it.
State leaders are still trying to decide what to do next. They want to punish administrators and educators who are involved, vowing that public school students will never be exposed to them again. There’s even talk of filing criminal charges.
Don’t hold your breath. Eventually, the state will likely buy into the defense that the devil made them do it and propose light action against them. This is how the nation deals with major issues in the 21st century.
It won’t matter that the educators who changed the answers of young children on the tests doomed many of them to a life of wobbly self-confidence or feelings of inadequacy. Students who advanced to the next grade who should have been retained will simply be watched closely.
State legislators need to fashion a law that effectively deals with adult cheaters. It should call for more than a reprimand.
It should involve prison time. Educators who cheat by changing answers on tests are doing more than just embarrassing their communities, school systems and the state. They are callously setting children on a path to failure, and they’re doing it for selfish reasons – to make themselves look good.