Atlanta teachers aren't the only ones cheating

Published: Friday, July 8 2011 9:00 a.m. MDT

This week, Georgia officials announced perhaps one of the biggest cheating scandals on standardized tests in history, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Investigators named 178 teachers and principals in more than half of the state's schools who likely participated in cheating for their students on Georgia's standardized tests — many of whom confessed to erasing and then changing test answers after students submitted them.

But Atlanta teachers aren't the only ones who have been investigated and accused of cheating for their students. In March, USA TODAY published a series that investigated this kind of cheating.

They found that a teacher assistant in Florida was suspected of snapping her fingers in code to help students with the correct answers. "At a California elementary school the phrase 'toilet paper' meant a student should subtract or 'wipe away' a number in a math problem. In other states, a teacher would cross her arms if a student marked the wrong answer."

ASU conducted a study and found more than 50 percent of teachers and other educators had cheated on the state tests, whether that was leaving out a multiplication table on the wall or changing a student's answers on a test, the paper found. And state documents from Michigan showed a fourth grade class went from 39 percent proficient one year in math to 100 percent proficient just two years later. The state confirmed cheating occurred, USA TODAY reported.

In May, D.C. school officials were investigating 18 classrooms where cheating on standardized testing was expected to have occurred, according to The Washington Examiner.

Utah has had a couple of cases over the last few years of teachers violating protocol when it comes to administering state tests, said John Jesse, state director of assessment and accountability, but he said most of these are handled at the local level if they do not involve licensure.

Jesse does suspect that as the stakes for tests become ever higher, with more students required to pass and more programs linking test scores to teacher and school performance and evaluations, there will be more violations.

In recent years, FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, says that the number of cheating cases has "exploded … with several now coming to light each week."

"Teachers are afraid of losing their jobs and teachers compel themselves to do whatever they need to do to make sure that they don't lose their jobs because their students meet or don't exceed on the CRCT," one Georgia teacher was quoted as saying by the Associated Press this week. "Everybody was in fear. It is not that the teachers are bad people and want to do it. It is that they are scared."

Georgia investigators came up with three main reasons as to why cheating occurred in so many schools in Atlanta:

1. The targets set by the district were often unrealistic, especially given their cumulative effect over the years. Additionally, the administration put unreasonable pressure on teachers and principals to achieve targets

2. A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation spread through the district

3. Dr. Hall (the district's superintendent) and her administration emphasized test results and public praise to the exclusion of integrity and ethics

"Virtually every teacher who confessed to cheating spoke of the inordinate stress the district placed on meeting targets and the dire consequences for failure," the report stated. "Dr. Hall articulated it as: 'No exceptions. No excuses.' If the principals did not meet targets within three years, she declared, they will be replaced and 'I will find someone who will meet targets.'"

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