School Cheating Scandals Cheat Students

We shouldn’t be shocked that 35 Atlanta educators, the former superintendent among them, were indicted for cheating on students’ tests. My cynical side says they’re just the unlucky ones who got caught.  As a former classroom teacher, I understand the pressure on teachers to get kids to pass these high stake tests that determine bonus pay and school budget funding.

Perhaps this latest exposure will lead to a re-examination of the testing epidemic that has spread like a virus throughout the nation’s schools.

April is  National Poetry Month. Yet how many schools can teach poem reading and writing when they’re forced to prepare for the tests that begin in May?  In New Jersey, April showers bring tests; not flowers.  And the state is about to add more testing, increasing the exam hours, which means teachers will need to spend more class time prepping students. They’ll cut into more of the regular curriculum to address test-taking techniques earlier and earlier in the school year.

I remember addressing parents on Back to School Night, when I taught 8th grade Language Arts, and telling them that yes, it would be irresponsible not to prepare students for tests, but that I did so gradually, throughout the year, emphasizing reading and writing, creating life-long learners. After all, taking a test requires skills; many professions require some sort of examinations.  But teaching to the test and test preparation has become an addiction: schools feel they can’t get enough.

Hence, the cheating.  Administrators feel they need to show improvement to garner federal education funding. Teachers, their salaries now tied to test results, need students to pass. So in places like Atlanta, teachers and administrators, while not quite taking the test for students, erased incorrect answers and filled in the correct ones.

My sister Madeline, an ESOL teacher in Maryland, bemoans how her 3rd– 5th grade students, ranging from the children of gardeners to ambassadors, are forced to take the state tests, no matter their English ability. I remember students moving to my district within a couple days of test week, who were also made to endure the long test hours, often without any preparation.

We teach about the dangers of cheating from early on. Don’t look at another’s paper; don’t copy homework and lab reports. Don’t plagiarize.  Do your own work.

These students, enabled to pass by administrators, were the ones cheated. Instead of dealing honestly with their abilities, they were convinced they’d succeeded. Like social promotion, they’re passed along for another teacher or school to address. Or in some cases, they’re the ones who will really be left behind.


About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. ( I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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12 Responses to School Cheating Scandals Cheat Students

  1. Totally agree Lisa, there is no room for any creativity in a classroom drilling for tests. And the cheating, it is endemic. Back in my son’s middle school days, I required that he actually DO the homework, and later found out kids (friends?) were just copying his work…in the hallways , cafeteria.


  2. Patti Winker says:

    So agree. My SIL is a teacher here in Florida. {{sigh}} These tests, standards, and grading are all crap. If the kids learn at all, they learn how to take a test. It’s just sad. I understand the CONCEPT of rewarding schools/teachers for good results, but can’t they come up with something more effective? You would think educators could find a better way. Where is the bottleneck? Oh, wait… politics. Got it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lisa.


    • Thanks, Patti. I don’t think teachers should receive merit pay based on test results. A classroom is a mixture of all types of learners– some can’t take tests no matter how much prep! Yet a good teacher can reach these students and they learn, which sadly is being lost in the teach to the test mania.

      On Mon, Apr 1, 2013 at 8:58 PM, cyclingrandma


  3. Allegra Hoots says:

    You are absolutely right!!


  4. The testing system was supposedly put into place because of poor results of the educational system. So what, in your opinion, is a better system?


    • Reading, writing, real assessments like creating portfolios that follow a student each year, engagement in real learning experiences not just kill and drill and rote memorization.

      On Thu, Apr 4, 2013 at 5:29 PM, cyclingrandma


  5. tchistorygal says:

    Testing definitely narrows the curriculum, yet we know that we have to test, and there needs to be accountability. It’s a real dilemma. In our organization we know that history-social studies is marginalized, and if it isn’t tested, it won’t be taught, yet we also hate the multiple choice tests as a measure of a student’s knowledge. We are hoping that the Common Core Standards will move us closer to exposing students to more learning using primary sources and biographies – non-fiction. We also hope they will be doing more project-based type of assessments, including writing. What I hope is that it doesn’t become a worse situation for testing. I don’t think that is the original objective of the Common Core movement, but reading an article today in Ed. Week about the tension in NY, I’m not so sure. I’m with you on portfolio work. In fact, I have 8 high school portfolios to read for portfolio interviews on Friday. Have a great week, Lisa! 🙂


  6. What would happen if every student was allotted the same amount of money per school year, no matter where they live? And if information was taught by integrating the creative arts, like music and other arts, with math, language, history, social sciences and science? And what if kids were grouped not by age, but by ability? I am so against tying teachers salaries to student performance as well. My son tries and tries, but there are a lot of things that his brain just doesn’t get- especially the way most kid are taught. I think teachers should be paid at least as much as doctors and lawyers and other professionals who traditionally make several times a teachers’ salary. I wonder what it will take before the system changes.


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