Teachers Pressured to Cheat?

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The dreaded standardized test: many good students fail them, and many teachers say these tests take up valuable class time. Statewide aptitude tests are known for prompting instructors to “teach the test,” educating students only on material and strategies for the exam and nothing that could actually help them in the long run. Standardized tests increasingly tie student performance to school funding and teacher pay, or are seen as a yardstick for the controversial new silver bullet of education: the charter school. These are just some of the reasons that have lead schools in Atlanta, Chicago, Washington D.C. and elsewhere to take drastic, even illegal measures, all in the name of higher test scores.

Teacher cheating can mean different things. It can mean opening sealed tests so students can practice with actual test questions, which recently happened in L.A.; it can mean teachers use leading questions or inflections to steer students to correct answers, which happened in Atlanta schools this year; or it can even mean that someone  has erased answers after the tests have been turned in and filled in correct answers in large batches. USA Today found that 2009 tests at one Washington D.C. school had so many erasures the odds of winning the Powerball grand prize were more likely than having that many erasures by chance.

The pressures for this kind of cheating must be unimaginable. Whether someone is cheating for pay incentives, better funding, to help students advance to the next grade level or all of the above, the circumstances are complicated to say the least.

Still, it goes without saying that this is the exception, not the rule. Most teachers and administrators are not cheating for their students for any reason, but with several high-profile cases in the past few years, it can be a cause for concern.

Do you think these kinds of tests put undue pressure on teachers? Are tests like these creating a growing problem across the country? Or is the problem blown out of proportion? Please share your thoughts about standardized testing, teacher incentives, or anything else you find relevant to this topic. For more on cheating scandals, visit ProPublica.

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