Cheat sheet

When test scores matter, some educators cheat, reports the New York Times.

“Educators feel that their schools’ reputation, their livelihoods, their psychic meaning in life is at stake,” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, a nonprofit group critical of standardized testing. “That ends up pushing more and more of them over the line.”

Experts estimate one to three percent of teachers (and principals) give students an advance look at questions, give test takers the answers, change incorrect answers or otherwise cheat to make their schools look good or to earn performance bonuses.

The rise of performance pay could lead to a rise in cheating.

Update: The Times is making excuses for a small number of cheaters to attack testing, writes Richard Colvin on HechingerEd. “When students cheat, we don’t say that testing is to blame.”

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  1. It won’t lead to cheating if they don’t let teachers and principals administer the test. Which is so obvious it boggles the mind that people are seriously claiming that this cheating is a problem of standardized tests. Unreal.

  2. It’ll always lead to cheating.

    Where there’s something of value to be gotten there’ll always be people who can’t resist the temptation to get it dishonestly.

    The fact that there hasn’t been much if any cheating till now isn’t a testament to the splendiferous honesty of teachers and principals but to the fact that the tests didn’t matter.

  3. The real point of the story was that tests are like entrapment–they make good people do bad things. More on this theme at:

  4. don’t think of it as cheating … think of it as a character test and employment decision.

  5. Cardinal Fang says:

    Over at College Confidential on this thread:
    we have a teacher (paying3tuitions) calmly defend their cheating:

    “Additionally, we saw the tests the day before and anyone who wished to could do a last-minute lesson in new, unfamiliar vocabulary if they wanted to enhance the class’s ability to do better on a reading comprehension test. If you knew the question had the word “elevator” in it and you were looking out at 6-year-olds who all lived in wooden houses in upstate New York, guess what — you taught them all what an “elevator” was before the test because you knew that downstate First Graders from NYC all knew that term.”

  6. The real point of the story was that tests are like entrapment–they make good people do bad things.

    Har! Thanks for providing an example of the sort of dishonesty that motivates bad people to do bad things.

    Think maybe we should shut down the banking system because all that money in one place entraps good people into robbing banks?

  7. cardinal,

    you bring up an interesting thought: if teachers teach test-specific vocabulary, is it cheating?

    i guess in that case it was definitely b/c the teacher had looked at the test and pulled the vocab right from it.

    i would like to point out, though, that the word elevator was probably not a word that students were being asked to define. it was probably part of a story or problem set up and the students would not be able to fully comprehend the story or set up without knowing what an elevator is. so. . .she was giving them context. prior knowledge. which i can relate to, as a teacher. my first year teaching, i was reading the open ended math question as my 6th graders were taking the state test. it was a question about multiples. unfortunately, it was asking about multiples of bushels of ears of corn. my students are city kids and had never encountered the word “bushel” or term “ear of corn.” i watched some of them panic and freak out and most leave the question blank. this wasn’t because they didn’t understand multiples, though that’s what their scores would show. it was because they didn’t understand that context the question was offered in. i’ve seen it happen year after year.

    you better believe that if i knew my students would need to know what a bushel was, or know what an ear of corn was before the test, i would have taught it. of course, without looking, there’s no way for me to know what random things they’ll need to know. and looking would be cheating.

    this is were some of testing breaks down, in my opinion. they couch the questions in language or set up that is foreign to students, and so it doesn’t disprove the student’s understanding of a concept. it proves their lack of broad background knowledge.

  8. that last bit was an unrelated rant.

    i was really getting at whether teaching to the test is cheating? we teach other vocabulary that we know will be on the test, especially if it’s words that aren’t normally used. however, we start this in september before we ever could see that year’s test. we’re just guessing that they’ll still use the word “analyze” or “synthesize.” we don’t know for sure. is it cheating?

  9. Do we really need the New York Times to tell us high-stakes tests will lead to cheating? What’s next? The world would be better if people were nicer?

  10. No, you need the NY Times to tell you that the culture of professionalism has not permeated throughout the faculty in the schools. This is both a teacher development* issue and a student development issue** here.

    * professional development

    ** education and learning


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