Writing my way through the school year!

I read an article by Jay Matthews of  The Washington Post the other day, “Easing Test Pressure Won’t Save Kids”, and it went along with something I had been thinking about ever since “The Cheating Scandals” (in a whisper) broke. I don’t agree with everything he had to say in his article, but there was one element that struck me. Is cheating acceptable because of the enormous pressure put on teachers, principals, and superintendents?  Is it alright to excuse, justify, or rationalize cheating, because of the intense pressure put on schools due to standardized testing?

Just as we all handle grief differently, I am sure we can apply that same thinking to pressure. I would not cheat, and I have not cheated on any of these inane tests I am forced to give my students.  I can say, with confidence, that if I was told to cheat, I would not. And yes, maybe the principal would try to “get me” or “put me on their list”, but I still wouldn’t budge on what I believe in.

In the Huffington Post article, “Atlanta Cheating Scandal Unveiled By Reporter”, the reporter stated, “The report paints a vivid picture of a culture where teachers were publicly humiliated or fired for underperformance,… For example, a group of teachers at … held a weekend “changing party” at a teacher’s home, where they systematically altered test answers to boost results.  A post by Maureen Downey on her blog,  “Get Schooled” provides another example, ” … the principal forced a teacher to crawl under a table in a faculty meeting because that teacher’s students’ test scores were low.

Maybe I am naive, but how does this happen?  How does my supervisor coerce me into doing something I do not believe in, knowing that I will probably be the scapegoat when it blows up!  In situations like these,  no matter how much you try to hide it, it is going to blow up! Who could make me crawl under a table?  Were these untenured  teachers who feared for their jobs, and felt that the ends justified the means? Were they teachers who believed in “by any means necessary?”

All teachers did not choose to participate, they chose not to cheat.  As  a matter of fact, a lot of those teachers stood up to their supervisors and reported them.  A lot of them were ignored, and many lost their jobs, this was the choice they made.

I look at it this way. Let’s say I catch one of my students cheating. I say to them, “Why were you cheating?” , and their response is, “If I fail this test, I can’t play football.” Do I say, “I understand the pressure you’re under, so I will excuse you.” No, it would never happen!  I have read so many tweets from educators who blame the system for creating these high pressure situations, and then ending with a “Well, what did you expect to happen?” kind of ideology. But should we look at it that way, that all who participated were somehow “forced” into it, and all other options were closed for them?

In the end, I feel sorry for those teachers, all over the country,who have lost their jobs because of the choice they made, for whatever reason. My heart goes out to those kids who were made to cheat, what lesson did they learn? Standardized testing is the worst way to assess our kids and hold teachers, schools, and districts accountable.  But until they change it, I don’t think cheating is the solution we are looking for.


Comments on: "“The Cheating Scandal!” Isn’t Cheating a Choice?" (2)

  1. Richard Cottingham said:

    In answer to your opening question, “Is cheating acceptable because of the enormous pressure put on teachers, principals, and superintendents? Is it alright to excuse, justify, or rationalize cheating, because of the intense pressure put on schools due to standardized testing?” my answer is No. Cheating is not all right. It might not be all wrong either.

    If the cheating solely to make the teacher look good then it is definitely not right. If the cheating is just to give the students some undeserved advantage it is not right. If the cheating is only for the benefit of the individual school or for the benefit of the school division it is wrong. So when is it not all wrong?

    Cheating by any means whether it is telling kids the answers while they test, teaching the answers to the test, changing answers on answer sheets or more subtle methods might not be all wrong if it is done as a form of civil disobedience. If cheating is done for the purpose invalidating the test results in order to expose the misuse, stupidity and bias of the tests then it might not be all wrong.

    During the last year before I retired I taught in a school division that required “Benchmark Tests” evey 9 weeks ostensibly as preparation for the annual “Standards of Learning” test that was given in the fourth quarter. We were told that data from the Benchmarks would be used to help “tweak” the curriculum and instruction so it would better align with the SOL tests and thereby improve the school’s scores.(The school had never achieved accreditation through scoring high enough on the SOL tests)

    In reality, the scores of the Benchmark Tests” were used as threats to try to scare students into doing better work, pressure parents to be more supportive of the school, and intimidate teachers into following instructions. Usually classes did pretty well overall on each Benchmark Test,given when memory of what had been taught was fresh, and poorly on the Spring SOL tests after they had forgotten much of what they had been exposed to as much as 8 months earlier.

    Knowing I was going to retire, I decided that I would refuse to be intimidated. I printed my advance copy of the tests and taught it openly to the children in my classes. The lowest score of any of my students was 91%. I was immediately called into the principal’s office where I admitted what I had done. I got a letter of reprimand in my file. The children were retested with a hastily constructed test and they all scored at 80% or above. Someone else administered the benchmark Tests to my students the remainder of the school year.

    All of my colleagues were made aware of what I had done. I told them. Most were at least sympathetic. A few said they wished they had done it. A few others confided that they helped their kids on the Benchmarks and the SOL tests. Somwhat less than a majority voiced fairly strong opinions in opposition to what I did.

    The tests have not improved education. I can find no documentation that today’s graduates who have been tested unmercifully throughout their school lives are as well prepared as those who graduated 25 years ago. I truly believe that the professional thing for teachers to do is to perform acts of civil disobedience to bring some semblance of sanity back to public schooling. Perhaps cheating is the way to go.

  2. […] “The Cheating Scandal!” Isn’t Cheating a Choice? (oldschoolteach.wordpress.com) […]

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