Cheating is not a big deal

The Atlanta cheating indictments — from the former superintendent down to principals and teachers — have brought calls to eliminate test-based accountability measures. If there’s no incentive to cheat, there’ll be no cheating, the argument goes.  Minimizing cheating shouldn’t be the top priority, argues Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.

Incentivizing any field increases the impetus to cheat.

. . . If Major League Baseball instituted tenure, and maybe used tee-ball rules where you can’t keep score and everybody gets a chance to hit, it could stamp out steroid use.

Students have been cheating on tests forever — massive, systematic cheating, you could say. Why? Because they have an incentive to do well. Give teachers and administrators an incentive for their students to do well, and more of them will cheat.

Standardized test scores “account for no more than half of the criteria” for evaluating teachers in any state, Chait writes. Classroom evaluations and other factors count for the rest.

 States use complex models to measure how much a class increased its performance from the beginning to the end of the school year, accounting for socioeconomic conditions and other factors.

“There’s a useful debate to be had over how to design the criteria for measuring effective teachers,” he writes, but minimizing cheating is not the top priority. “The top priority should be teaching students better.”

The Atlanta scandal wasn’t about teachers cheating to look better. It was about administrators pressuring teachers to make low-performing schools look better. That’s true in Philadelphia’s cheating scandal too.

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  1. cranberry says:

    Students cheat more when there are no consequences for being caught. If most of the students in a school cheat, the administration should enforce the rules in the school handbook. That doesn’t mean student cheating is ok, or always there, like the weather. It’s more accurate to say massive student cheating is a sign of lax administration.

    My older children attend schools which enact severe consequences for cheating. It cuts down on cheating considerably. I disagree with Mr. Chait. I think many high school students (ambitious ones) are cheating to fit in one more AP, one more EC, etc. (See Denise Clark Pope’s book, _Doing School_, for more details.) Not cracking down on cheating teaches kids to cheat–and it punishes the kids who don’t cheat.

    Some test providers are implementing computer-aided testing. Such systems would cut out the sort of mass cheating seen in certain school systems. Of course, there would arise the question of who’s sitting for the test.

    I think the SAT may head that way, as the College Board currently offers a free, complete online test–including essay. For the test-taker, that should be preferred, as there’s no danger of mis-bubbling. It also eliminates the problem of cheaters flipping back to previous sections after consultations in the bathroom with other test-takers, as alleged in news reports on cheating.

    • Having taking industry certification exams, it’s very hard to cheat on these types of exams (usually done at a testing center, and on a computer). In many cases, students used to be able to book study the material and pass, but these days, the exams have practical application of knowledge, so if you have never actually handled the equipment or done the work in actual simulation, you won’t pass.

      When I attended high school, the penalty for getting caught cheating on an examination was a zero for that exam (if it was a mid-term or a final exam, you pretty much could count on repeating the class next year, or if you needed it to actually graduate, you would be heading to summer school).

      We just had a cheating scandal involving fire academy students here, and while the results were invalidated, and the students not allowed to graduate, the city in question stated that the students would be allowed to re-apply, but with no guarantee of being accepted.

      IMO, if it was proven that the students (14 of them) engaged in a conspiracy to cheat on the final, why allow them to apply again at all (or at least have them wait 2-3 years before re-applying).

      If there is no (enforced) penalty for cheating, it will continue unabated.

  2. Patti W. says:

    The problem with cheating on standardized tests at schools is that it hurts children. I don’t know how many sob stories I’ve read out of Atlanta of children who did well on standardized tests, never got the help they desperately needed because everything seemed fine, and now they’re reading at a third-grade level in high school. Systematic cheating hurts real students.

    I agree that having consequences will cut down on cheating. They won’t eliminate cheating, but they will make people think twice. On second thought, some might decide not to go that route.

    Of course, people need to compare scores to grades to try figure out if things are OK at both ends. I have more than a handful of kids in my middle school math class this year who have never passed the state test ever, but have all As and Bs from their elementary math teachers. They can’t multiply or divide multi-digit numbers or work with fractions or decimals. Something there isn’t right.

    • What is not right is the fact that these students were
      cheated out of a proper education in what amounts to
      in my day, basic math facts. The simple fact that they
      cannot handle decimals (what we call floating point numbers in the comp. sci. industry) and fractions (think
      baking and cooking) is appalling indeed.

      When I listen to someone say “I hate math!”, the first thing that comes to mind is that they received bad instruction in math in grades 1 through 5 (even though they have grades of A or B, which doesn’t amount to a whole lot these days, when the skills of the students clearly doesn’t match their grades).

      I go to a deli counter, and the clerk doesn’t know what 3/4ths of a pound is, and can’t make the conversion due to the fact the scale is digital only makes me wonder what would happen if all of the technology stopped working tomorrow and people actually had to rely on the computer between their ears for math.