Why Teachers Are Helping Their Students Cheat

teachers helping students cheatThe cheating epidemic is spreading.

Of course, such a statement might be expected to prompt discussion about our performance-based educational system. The constant competition that moves students to cheat might also be called into question. But this time, it's the teachers who are doing the conning.

According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, roughly three dozen teachers in California have been accused this past year of cheating, or of lesser misconduct or mistakes on the administering of standardized achievement tests. They represent 23 schools from 21 districts. And according to California's newspaper of record, the figure is "unprecedented."

There's little mystery surrounding the surge.

"One teacher has personally confided in me that if her job was on the line, she indeed would cheat to get the higher test scores," one Los Angeles-area instructor told the Times. "The testing procedures haven't been secure over the past 10-plus years. Some of the 'most effective' teachers could be simply the 'most cunning.' " (All the teachers spoke to the Times anonymously.)

The combination of a teacher evaluation system based on student test performance and lax regulation threatens to taint California's education system. But the virus is not confined to the Golden State. Teacher-backed cheating scandals have also emerged in Atlanta, New York City, and Philadelphia, among other locales.

The tactics for boosting overall scores run the gamut, but usually center on a strategy of aiding students as they sit for exams. One at Virgil Middle School, in Los Angeles' Angelino Heights, has even been accused of handing out copies of standardized exams ahead of time.

The phenomenon of cheating teachers is spreading just as as one of the largest student cheating scandals in recent memory has prompted a giant of the educational system to reassess its own security system. In New York, the cheating centered on seven Long Island teenagers who were arrested in September for organizing a cheating ring for the SATs. By having fake identities, the students were able to organize ringers to take the SATs.

"The losers in this are the honest, hard-working students who play by the rules: They prepare for this like the Super Bowl," New York State Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle told TheNew York Times. "This is something that will determine the course of their lives."

Indeed, the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SATs, has brought in a figure no less than Bill Clinton's FBI Director Louis Freeh to figure out ways to improve security measures for the testing day.

That cheating has risen to the faculty lounge and required the attention of a former FBI director has done little to stem the momentum of testing in America. Judging schools based on student testing performance was at the heart of George W. Bush's landmark No Child Left Behind Act, which created a framework for how schools are rewarded, penalized or even closed, and has animated Barack Obama's Race to the Top program.

The Obama plan, which awards grants on the basis of testing performance, allows states to craft their own testing model, but requires participation to be eligible to apply for the grants. And now the program is being phased in for kindergarten testing. So far, according to a column on Slate.com, some 35 states have sent in applications for their kindergarten grants, and for the most part have modeled their programs on plans created by either Maryland or Ohio. Whereas the former calls for instructors to take a measure of the young students' behavior as well as performance over an extended period of time, the Ohio model facilitates for a one-day literacy assessment on the first day of the school year.

In her Slate essay, "Kindergarteners put down your pencil," Dana Goldstein concedes that the Maryland model makes for a complex ratings system, but also notes, "Of course, schools must teach children to read, write, and measure, but we also want to develop kind, empathetic, responsible young adults, people who get along with their peers, serve their communities, and ultimately become good citizens, not just effective students or workers."

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