Teachers Tamper With Tests

An article appeared in the New York Times, (6/11/2010) identifying a growing problem.  The growing pressure of  schools to succeed with student’s testing has led to cheating among teachers and school administrators. In a number of schools, this has been caused by teachers receiving extra pay for increased school test scores.  Some inflated scores have been reported by principals and superintendents in order for them to hold on to their positions.

In the  Galena Park Independent School District, outside of Houston, Texas,  the principal, assistant principal and three teachers resigned May 24 in a scandal over test tampering.  The district said the educators had distributed a detailed study guide after stealing a look at the state science test. The district invalidated students’ scores.

Investigations in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, Virginia and elsewhere this year have pointed to cheating by educators. Experts say the phenomenon is increasing as the stakes over standardized testing ratchet higher — including, most recently, taking student progress on tests into consideration in teachers’ performance reviews.

Colorado passed a sweeping law last month making teachers’ tenure dependent on test results, and nearly a dozen other states have introduced plans to evaluate teachers partly on scores. Many school districts already link teachers’ bonuses to student improvement on state assessments. Houston decided this year to use the data to identify experienced teachers for dismissal, and New York City will use it to make tenure decisions on novice teachers.

The federal No Child Left Behind law is a further source of pressure. Like a high jump bar set intentionally low in the beginning, the law — which mandates that public schools bring all students up to grade level in reading and math by 2014 — was easy to satisfy early on. But the bar is notched higher annually, and the penalties for schools that fail to get over it also rise: teachers and administrators can lose jobs and see their school taken over.

While there isn’t any national data is collected on educator cheating. Experts who consult with school systems estimated that 1 percent to 3 percent of teachers — thousands annually — cross the line between accepted ways of boosting scores, like using old tests to prep students, and actual cheating.

I am not going to excuse teacher or administrator cheating on test results.  Obviously as educators, we do not excuse it when it is done by students.  But  high stakes testing is not the only way, and in my opinion, the best way of measuring student performance.  When you add in performance pay, promotions, tenure and rehiring and AYP to the list, there is enormous pressure.