The Atlanta-Journal Constitution ran a story this past weekend on test-score tampering across the nation. This morning there’s a video chat with the AJC reporters on Facebook. The issue of test tampering is serious in many ways. It sends a message to students that cheating is permissible and even warranted in some situations. It gives parents and teachers an inaccurate picture of how their students are actually performing. It brings into question public policy on testing.
From my standpoint, as a performance psychologist, test tampering speaks directly to the issue of test stress. We are loading so much emphasis on test scores– from school budgets to teacher salaries to school closings– that the stress on teachers, administrators, and politicians keeps building with no end in sight.
A known, scientific fact is that when stress builds performance suffers. This was first studied in the early 1900’s and is as true today as it was then. Testing is not going to go away and for many reasons it is necessary. Public policy makers– state legislators, national representatives, departments of education at every level — must pay attention to the escalating stress that testing is causing to all parties concerned. This has negative effects on local school officials, on teachers, parents and ultimately on students. No one functions well with this level of stress. If the tampering scandals tell us one thing it’s this: when stress is so high, it hurts.