Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"The Cheating Scandal!" Isn't Cheating a Choice?

The original post was written in July 2011. Here we are in 2013, faced  with another cheating scandal, and people are going to jail. Is there another way?
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" 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.

1 comment:

  1. Lisa, I couldn't agree more with you. I was just Tweeting a couple of days ago about the fact that these systemic cheating scandals aren't about high-stakes testing; they are about greed and people who at their core do not care about children. When you read this NYT story about Atlanta and the bonuses and accolades that were handed out, the motivations become clear: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/30/us/former-school-chief-in-atlanta-indicted-in-cheating-scandal.html?smid=pl-share

    Even if we have a professional disagreement with the high-stakes testing climate, even if we think it is unfair to children, CHEATING is not the way to fix it. Help your students be as successful as possible in the current system with honesty and integrity. Voice your concerns to politicians and policy makers and to anyone else who will listen if you are truly convicted that the testing paradigm needs to change.