• Did Standardized Tests Drive A Principal To Suicide?

    The mysterious suicide of a principal at a New York elementary school has taken an unusual twist, as the woman’s death appears to be tied up with the debate over Common Core.

    Until April, Jeanene Worrell-Breeden was the principal of Teachers College Community School, a K-3 elementary school in West Harlem with a lengthy waiting list. On April 17, she abruptly jumped in front of a subway train just one day after her students had finished taking New York’s new Common Core-aligned English test for the first time.

    Now, officials have revealed the connection was likely more than coincidental, the New York Post reported Sunday. The day Worrell-Breeden chose to commit suicide was also the day a colleague reported her to city Department of Education officials, saying Worrell-Breeden was having the school cheat on new state standardized tests.

    Those accusations apparently had some merit to them. In June, the Department of Education said red flags with the school’s English tests had caused the scores to be invalidated, and Friday they said blame was being placed with the school’s dead principal.

    “Principal Worrell-Breeden was the subject of allegations of testing improprieties,” department spokeswoman Devora Kaye told the Post. “An investigation substantiated these allegations, and we closed the investigation following her tragic passing.”

    It currently remains unknown exactly how Worrell-Breeden tampered with the tests. Past cheating scandals involving standardized tests have shown no shortage of ways instructors can corrupt the results, ranging from giving students extra time to giving prohibited “hints” to simply changing students’ answers after they’ve turned in their testing sheets.

    Worrell-Breeden’s death is a morbid episode in the debate over whether the stakes of standardized testing have become too high, and whether Common Core is making things worse.

    In New York the debate has been particularly fierce, because New York’s Common Core tests are among the hardest in the country. In 2014, only 29.4 percent of students who took the state’s new English test passed, while just 34.5 percent passed the new math exam. Standardized tests in New York already influence student grade advancement (and whether they are allowed into certain selective public schools), teacher evaluations, and even whether certain schools are allowed to remain open. The stakes could rise even higher, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for 50 percent of teacher evaluations to be tied directly to student test scores.

    Some say the pressure is leading to cheating, and worse.

    “Sadly, the scores on the Common Core exam seem to be more important than life itself,” education policy analyst and Common Core opponent Diane Ravitch wrote on her blog in reaction to Worrell-Breeden’s death.

    Desperation over test scores has led to wrongdoing outside New York as well. Earlier this year, several teachers in Atlanta were convicted on racketeering charges for the role they played in systematically changing students’ test scores. Some of them were given multi-year prison sentences. (RELATED: Brutal Sentences For Convicted Atlanta Teachers)

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