Lessons from Atlanta Public Schools

Posted by tricialauter on July 19, 2011

A few weeks ago, widespread cheating on standardized tests among school officials and staff in Atlanta public schools was reported. The breaking story brought outrage and frustration. Overall, disappoint in the learning environments that have been taken hostage by increased high-stakes testing legislation permeated the Web 2.0 world.

As witnessed in the APS story, standardized assessments (with the negative consequences of failure) have created an atmosphere of competition that can be lethal to a child’s education. Within this atmosphere, teachers, administrators, and students are pressured to show improvement in learning discrete facts that do not reflect the multimodal, multiliterate, complex, and diverse world of which they live. Mary Kalantzis, Bill Cope, and Andrew Harvey (2003) describe in their article, “Assessing Multiliteracies and the New Basics,” the continued inadequecy of standardized measurements of assessments.

“Traditional assessment techniques are inadequete to measure the kind of skills and sensibilities required in the new economy…new assessment techniques means redefining what is meant by terms such as competence, ability, capacity, and intelligence (p. 24).”

Kalantzis et. al (2003) would argue that what is being assessed is far from what is needed in the lives and workplaces of today’s students. A leading organization in advocating for 21st century skills within education, Partnership for 21st Century Skills, provides guidance in what new assessments should look like.

“We must move from primarily measuring discrete knowledge to measuring students’ ability to think critically, examine problems, gather information, and make informed reasoned decisions while using technology (P21 e-paper, 2007).”

Though educational experts have called for reform within school assessment policy, change has been slow. It bears the question: Who really is in charge of reform? Though educators and administrators may understand learning better than 50 years ago, assessments have changed very little. Though educators and administrators may see the benefit of multiliteracies within the classroom, there is still pressure to “make the grade.” Not only are dishonesty and lack of integrity being witnessed by students in the APS, but students are also witnessing how learning, knowledge, and education are really valued.


Kalantzis, M., Cope, B., & Harvey, A. (2003). Assessing multiliteracies and the new basics. Assessments in Education, 10, 1, p. 15-26.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2007). 21st century skills assessment: A Partnership for 21st century skills e-paper. Retrieved from:


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