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Teacher Cheating and Standardized Testing

Students have long been the group most associated with cheating, but there have been changes in the funding and monitoring of schools. The importance of standardized testing has increased, which has resulted in a strange turn of events. Teachers and school administrators have had increasing incentives and opportunities to cheat.

In recent years, cheating in standardized tests has become a hot topic. It's not just about students who cheat, but sometimes even teachers and school officials. This issue affects public schools across the country, from New York to Texas to Georgia. Cheating undermines the education system and impacts student achievement.

This article provides a brief overview of teacher cheating during standardized testing.

Standardized Testing

Standardized tests play a big role in American schools. These tests help schools measure how well students are doing in subjects like math, science, and reading. Often, student test scores decide how much money a school gets or if a teacher keeps their job. This is what experts call “high-stakes testing," and it's part of why cheating has become a problem.

Laws such as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 have set standards. These laws introduced more testing to ensure that students follow a certain curriculum. These laws were passed to ensure students received an education that met national standards. The purpose was that if schools failed to meet certain performance benchmarks, they could lose funding. In certain cases, they were forced to close entirely.

As a result, the result of schools and the job security of teachers and administrators were on the line. Their stability was conditioned on the performance of their students. This created a compelling incentive for teachers to cheat. This is especially true for underperforming classrooms and scores where teachers/administrators wanted to raise the scores to ensure the schools still received federal funding.

How Schools Cheat

Cheating can happen in many ways. In Atlanta Public Schools (APS), a large cheating scandal unfolded, spanning across school districts. Teachers and higher-ups in the school system were found to be guilty of changing wrong answers to right answers on student answer sheets.  

Some teachers were reported to guide students away from incorrect answers to the right answers, verbally. Teachers also may have fabricated or inflated test scores, or have provided answers in advance of a test. Schools further may turn a blind eye to suspicious gains in test scores. They could suppress or deny the existence of reports on cheating and could otherwise obstruct attempts to uncover either individual or systemic cheating.

Teachers who made misrepresentations to get financial benefits could be charged with fraud. In April 2015, jurors found 11 former educators guilty of racketeering. The laws about racketeering are often applied against crime syndicates like the Mafia. According to the court, the organized efforts by the teachers to cheat met the legal definition. It also included institutional attempts to conceal cheating.

There was evidence that school administration conditioned bonuses on reaching educational targets. There were also big bonuses for the superintendent of the school. They could receive these bonuses if system-wide benchmarks were met. The administration said there was no excuse for failing to meet the benchmarks. Teachers who failed to meet the goals faced suspension or termination, as did those caught cheating. Those who reported the cheating of fellow teachers faced termination, too.

This conviction led to an investigation by the Georgia Governor's office. This office found more than 178 teachers and administrators in the state had changed answers on standardized tests. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution provides a timeline of the Atlanta school test cheating scandal. In this case, Beverly Hall was the former superintendent of APS. Hall was among the Atlanta educators who faced legal troubles. Her focus on test results and accountability systems played a big role in the cheating that went on.

Investigations in other states indicate that the problem isn't isolated. The same kinds of things have happened in other states like Texas and New York.

Reducing Teacher Cheating

Attempts have been made to introduce related legislation. These laws would create additional oversight of schools and testing and hopefully avoid this cheating. Some groups have called for more nuanced approaches. They argue for some score variation that takes into account how many students have disabilities. It may also consider how many students speak English as a second language and account for students who come from minority communities.

These people argued that these subgroups may have lower scores for a number of reasons that are not presently quantified. Others requested new processes for evaluating teachers and schools or advocated for focusing on improving achievement rather than punishing for low scores.

Stopping teacher cheating is not easy, but it's crucial for maintaining a fair school system. The U.S. Department of Education and the State Board of Education are responsible for implementing ways to catch and stop cheating. This could mean better monitoring during tests or using technology to check for unusual patterns, such as too many erasures.

The Consequences of Institutional Cheating

When teachers cheat, it's not just about numbers and percentages going up. This action harms students. Students might think they're doing better than they really are, and that can be a problem for students in high school or even college. Cheating can also lead to schools losing money or facing sanctions, which means fewer resources for kids.

Apart from criminal prosecutions, those who are discovered cheating may be terminated, and schools with systemic cheating may lose funding or be ordered to close. Children's test scores are called into question. In some cases, years of scores generated by suspect schools have been rendered invalid. By unfairly claiming higher grades for their students, many feel that cheating teachers create an environment of lowered expectations that impact their student's abilities to achieve.

Getting Legal Help With Teacher Cheating

Cheating in standardized tests is a big problem that needs solving. Whether it's in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, or New York City, cheating messes up the school system and hurts students the most. Everyone needs to work together to make sure education is fair and honest for all kids, free from widespread cheating.

If anyone knows or suspects a teacher cheating, they should report it to the right people. In serious cases, getting legal help might be necessary. There are laws in place to protect the integrity of public education, from elementary school to middle school to high school and beyond.

If you are a teacher who's facing accusations of cheating, it's in your best interests to speak with an experienced education attorney.

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