Cheating Teachers, Not the Tests’ Fault

By now you have probably read the reports about rampant cheating in Atlanta public schools by the teachers and administrators. A special investigation of the Atlanta school system used erasure analysis and interviews to unearth cheating by 178 educators in 44 of the 56 Atlanta public schools examined. To make a long story short, the teachers were changing wrong answers to correct answers in order to boost their students test results.

Like most people, I was sickened when I read this story. Teachers are the one group we point to as proper role models for our children when we try to stop our kids from emulating Lady Gaga, Eminem, or LeBron James. But long gone are the days when we could expect teachers to instruct children morally, teaching them not to slouch, to stay off drugs, and to never tell a lie. Now it seems half the teachers are cheating on behalf of the students, and the other half are sleeping with them.

Unlike most people, I don’t blame the test, or Americas obsession with standardized testing. Even the authors of the report detailing the results of the investigation seemed to blame the system, stating that the schools put unreasonable pressure on teachers and principals to achieve targets. A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation spread throughout the district

But pressure to succeed is no justification for cheating. When corporations commit fraud, we don’t blame the fact that money is worth too much; when baseball players get caught using steroids, we don’t decry the fact that we have become obsessed with final scores. We never blamed the importance of test results or grades before, in the good-old-days when the students were the ones cheating. But now that the teachers and administrators also have something riding on the test results, suddenly No Child Left Behind is at fault for unethical behavior.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think students standardized test scores are a fair measure of a good teacher or should be used as the predominant criteria in job or salary decisions. There are all sorts of reasons why students may bomb the test, despite the fact that their teacher did a spectacular job. It is a separate discussion though. Regardless of the inequities of the system, cheating is unacceptable, and the offending teachers should be forced to write I am a disgrace 5,000 times on the blackboard before getting fired.

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