Atlanta test scores: When teachers cheat

  • Article by: Los Angeles Times Editorial 
  • Updated: April 4, 2013 - 9:43 PM

If students cheat on an important test, such as a midterm, they are punished, and rightly so. Their teachers don’t merely brush aside the offense and blame it on all the stressful and unnecessary high-stakes tests that today’s unfortunate students are required to take.

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swmnguyApr. 4, 13 7:07 PM

This editorial compares apples and...briefcases. Yes, it's dishonesty when teachers cheat, as when students cheat. But the cheating is completely different. The testing mania, pushed by for-profit corporations that are completely dependent on taxpayer money, let's not forget; makes all the difference.

Students have cheated since antiquity; at least, the dishonest ones have. Why? Because their futures, opportunities and outcomes depended on it. That's why we punish student cheaters harshly by tradition. We all think about whether or not we would want to be operated on by the doctor who cheated on his tests.

But teachers weren't cheating. They were the ones catching the students' cheating.

Why are the teachers cheating for the students now, when they didn't used to? Because now the students' results, which used to be the students' responsibility, are used to grade teachers; to affect their futures, opportunities and outcomes. We've decided we can't tell whether or not teachers are doing a good job; we've decided it certainly can't be OUR little angel's fault she didn't get into Harvard; so we'd better punish the teachers. Not to mention Americans have never liked educated people that well; teaching has traditionally been a female profession, so having teachers be paid well and treated like professionals rubs against the grain; and we don't like paying taxes, so the less we have to pay people, the better.

For a student, the answer to doing well on a test is either to study hard, or to cheat. Once a teacher is done doing the teaching, the student is in control of whether or not they do well on the tests. That's why we used to use tests to sort, classify, reward or punish students. Using the tests to sort, classify, reward or punish teachers puts the accountability on the teacher, without the ability to influence the outcome. Unless they cheat.

It absolutely is a natural reaction to career pressure, and to deny it is "dishonesty, plain and simple." Do the Editors of the Los Angeles Times pay no attention to what has been happening on Wall Street this past decade?

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hermajestyApr. 4, 1310:42 PM

swmnguy is right. A further point to note is that the School Reform Industry trumpeted the bogus "rise" in Atlanta test scores as proof that the "drill, drill, drill" and "teach to the test" methods were working.

The tests were designed not only to punish the teachers for the students' failures but also to cause all schools to "fail" eventually, because no matter how high a school's average is, they're expected to do better the following year. Eventually, further improvement is impossible, so even a good school can "fail" according to these standards.

Furthermore, conservatives like to point to the fact that Ted Kennedy was one of the principal advocates of No Child Left Behind. I'm sure he meant well, but like George W. Bush, he never attended a public school in his life, nor, I assume, did any of his children, nieces, or nephews.

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uptownbred63Apr. 4, 1311:14 PM

Another point - teachers get fired, reassigned, or are put on probation when their student's scores are considered failing. The way they use test scores is criminal as well. This author had a bone to pick with teachers. The Atlanta mess was awful and there should be some considerable punishment, but this is just the beginning of this problem if we continue this testing at all costs mantra. We're already losing good teachers because teaching is becoming way more work than it is worth. And we have to face a public that is sadly misinformed by their leaders

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Mark27Apr. 4, 1311:15 PM

The editorial is so eager to take yet another cheap shot at the teachers' union that it refuses to even acknowledge the argument they're making which happens to be the conversation the nation needs to be having about the way we educate our kids. There is no good reason to scorn the AFT for, first acknowledging that the teachers were wrong to cheat, and then explaining how modern testing policies produce a perverse incentive curve that leaves more educators open to subterfuges that went on in Atlanta. In its zeal to scold the teachers union, the LA Times is declaring off-limits public discussion about "teaching to the test" education policy that has become the new normal in American education. Got news for you, LA Times. If teachers' income and job security continues to depend upon consistently raising student test scores, we're gonna see a lot of what happened in Atlanta. If this cheating scandal isn't a sufficient catalyst to analyze the ineffectiveness of the status quo, then what would be?

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johndontApr. 5, 1312:33 AM

Are there any Minnesota teachers out there reading this article that would like to post a comment? I for one would like to hear your thoughts.

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phatcatpatApr. 5, 13 6:44 AM

"It absolutely is a natural reaction to career pressure" You must be a teacher. Most of us are in stressed filled jobs and don't cheat. Slackers cheat.

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phatcatpatApr. 5, 13 6:48 AM

"teachers get fired, reassigned, or are put on probation when their student's scores are considered failing" We are talking about the USA, not other countries. We have the most expensive health care system in the world and produce the worst outcomes in the industrialized world. You demanded health care reform for the same reason and yet you think throwing more money at the failing schools is the answer here.

Of course, we have a more diverse student population which causes these poor outcomes. We also have a more diverse population which causes the health care outcomes. You can't have it both way. Reform now!

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pumiceApr. 5, 13 7:09 AM

Re: "The Atlanta mess was awful and there should be some considerable punishment..." Atlanta is not an isolated instance. So far punishment has been meted out only to those who did not cheat--particularly to those who protested and/or blew the whistle. The cheaters got bonuses; the higher up the cheating chain, the bigger the bonus. (See DC.) The "innovators" got new gigs and a national stage. (See Michelle Rhee) Cheating is wrong. Rewarding people for cheating is wrong. Punish the wrong-doers. Reward the right-doers.

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jackpine091Apr. 5, 13 7:11 AM

I am a teacher, and I am appalled that anyone who calls themselves a teacher would cheat. Luckily, I am at the stage in my career that I would resign instead of cheat, but my own children are grown up, out of college and on their own. However, suppose I had a young family, and I needed that job to support my family. What would I do? In Atlanta, these teachers were told that either they have to meet testing benchmarks or they would be fired. That's what a weak union and a right to work state will do for education. Take away job protection, and too many people will not be able to stand up and do the right thing. Our union has it's warts and problems, but the strength of my union allows me to stand up to my bosses, so I can do the right and moral thing. Ask yourself: If my boss told me had to lie and cheat, or I would be fired... what would I do?

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pumiceApr. 5, 13 7:28 AM

Re: "Our union has its warts and problems, but the strength of my union allows me to stand up to my bosses, so I can do the right and moral thing." Bravo, jackpine091. Bravo!

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