How Teacher Cheating Scandals, Cheats Students
Every year in America, we see another teacher cheating scandal receiving national attention. The most famous scandal of the last decade occurred in Atlanta. In 2008, an AJC (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) investigation found evidence that five elementary schools, including one in Atlanta, cheated on the state Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.
In many of these cases, student’s test scores went from among the bottom to among the best over one year. The odds of students making such a leap were less than 1 in a billion. Because of the jump in test scores, Beverly Hall was named the National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators, which applauded her for the districts rising test scores and graduation rates. The group called Atlanta “a model of urban school reform.” However, as we would later find out, this was the result of widespread cheating in the district.
Why do teachers cheat in the first place?
So why do teachers decide to help students cheat on standardized tests? For one, our testing culture pressures teachers to perform or else. If their students do not show growth, they might be the next person on the chopping block and consequently out of a job. Also, many districts have a system of merit-based pay, where teachers can earn bonuses if their students perform well on state tests. In some systems, bonuses are based on overall student growth in individual schools, which entices widespread corruption and cheating. Also, without explicitly saying so, many principals and superintendents empower and reward dishonesty. Teachers who show a supposed ability to help students grow academically are tapped for principalships. Principals whose schools meet adequate yearly progress are next in line for assistant superintendent positions or cushy jobs at consulting firms or the state department of education.
What happens to teachers that report cheating?
Most teachers in American K-12 schools are hardworking, noble professionals that don’t condone cheating. If they find out that their colleagues are doing something unethical like cheating on standardized tests, they are the first to blow the whistle. Just like in the Atlanta cheating scandal, teachers and administrators who report fraud or other improprieties are subject to retaliation, threats, and intimidation. Even if their district investigates their claims, it is in the district’s best interest to suppress any supporting evidence that they find. Because of this, many teachers are deciding to keep their mouth shut, out of fear of retaliation and possibly being fired.
When teachers cheat, students lose
I spent 7 years in the K-12 system, and I can tell you that decisions are usually based on how they will affect adults, not children. Teachers who cheat on standardized exams are not concerned about student growth, they are only worried about their financial and career growth. When student’s test scores reveal that they are proficient, it signals to their parents that their child is doing well academically, which gives the student and their parents a false sense of security. When they find out that their child’s scores were falsified, frustration, and anger ensue. Also, when they move to a new teacher and grade level, their test scores paint a false picture of what they can do academically, which can have negative consequences for their intellectual development. At the end of the day, students lose and will never see their academic potential realized during their K-12 career.
35 educators implicated in the Atlanta teacher scandal were indicted, and 21 of them took plea deals. This left 13 educators to stand trial (one defendant, Beverly Hall, passed away while awaiting trial). The jury returned guilty verdicts for conspiracy and other felony charges for 11 of the defendants. Only former teacher Dessa Curb walked away without being convicted of any wrongdoing.
Hopefully, their fate will be a deterrent for teachers who are considering helping students cheat on standardized exams. We need teachers in the classroom, not in prison.