Test cheating on state conference agenda

Fallout over the federal investigation of alleged cheating on standardized tests at Atlanta Public Schools will fuel discussion Friday at a state conference on accountability.

The Education Reform Conference, at Macon's Marriott City Center Hotel & Centreplex, will bring together state and national experts to debate the future of Georgia public schools. State School Superintendent-Elect John Barge is among scheduled speakers.

Officials will discuss the state's probe of standardized tests. A panel discussion, “K-12 Accountability: End it, Mend it or Stay the Course?” will seek to spark conversation on whether too much emphasis on testing tempts educators to cheat.

“There is more of a statewide problem than people think,’’ said Ben Scafidi, director of the Economics of Education Policy Center at Georgia College & State University. "I think the focus on Atlanta and Dougherty [public schools] is important, but I also think if you look at all of the evidence, we have an issue statewide.’’

The pending re-authorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, a federal mandate that pushes states to set accountability goals for student performance and meet those benchmarks, also will be addressed. Author Frederick M. Hess will be keynote speaker of the luncheon and will discuss his book, “The Same Thing Over and Over: How School Reformers Get Stuck in Yesterday’s Ideas.”

“He is going to put issues like testing amd mayoral control of schools into historical context,” Scafidi said. The conference, co-sponsored by Georgia College & State University and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, among others, will challenge educators to embrace new ideas to improve student success, he said. “There is a new governor; there is a new state schools superintendent. I believe the stars are aligned for potentially a big change in accountability.’’

The conference, which starts at 10 a.m., costs $35 and is open to the public. For more information, visit www.gachamber.com/Education-Reform-Conference.edreform.0.html.