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Educator Cheating

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Cheaters are made, not born. So argues W. James Popham in this Education Week Commentary. And a large number of cheaters in American public schools aren't students, Popham writes, they're teachers and administrators motivated by pressure to show improvement on state tests under the No Child Left Behind Act.

While anti-cheating regulations and efforts to help schools improve test results have proven somewhat effective in minimizing cheating, Popham argues the real problem is the tests themselves. Instructionally insensitive tests, he claims, force educators to cheat in order to be successful.

What do you think? Do tests used to measure the accountability requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act effectively gauge instructional quality? Who's to blame for cheating—the teacher or the test?

16 Comments

No one or thing can ever be blamed for cheating except the individual who cheated. It is outrageous to try to justify dishonesty under any circumstances.

Cheating is evident in schools in many forms, beyond those related to just testing. Grade changing and inflating, as well as other actions taken to make the school system, teacher or student look better occur more often than most would want to believe. Unfortunately, extreme pressure from the public and school administrators (for students to do well on tests) can affect the frequency of the behavior. I would assert that without the tests, there would be less at stake, and therefore less pressure. The tests increase the chance of this type of cheating to occur. Poorly written or designed testing certainly exasperates the situation, further.

Popham states emphatically that, "No genetic marker will be discovered predestining a particular person to engage in wholesale hoodwinking." That's an interesting statement. Why is he so confident that the same 'scientists' who are so valiantly searching for a 'gay gene' won't someday turn their efforts toward searching for a 'cheating gene'? It's all a pathetic, vain attempt to try to explain away behavior that the vast majority of us know is abnormal and (let's be honest for a second) just plain "wrong".

Hey, I've got a great way to cut down on speeding - let's just abolish all the speed limits - they're unfair to motorists who don't like to allow enough time to get to their destinations! If the "source of the problem" of cheating on tests is "the tests themselves", as Popham states, then wouldn't speed limits be the "source of the problem" for speeders?

You can't mandate good behavior by establishing laws. That's because there will always be that certain group of people who think the laws don't apply to them. Have you ever noticed that? (the gal who runs the red light, the guy who takes 37 items to the 10-or-less checkout lane...) It's always true. Always! Ever wonder why that is? If you honestly don't know, check out a Bible from your public library (your school library probably doesn't have one...) and read the first chapter. You may not believe other things this old book has to say, but if you have a brain, you'll have to agree that it's right about one thing - the universality of a thing called 'sin'.

Popham states , "Most states’ tests are instructionally insensitive because they were created using a traditional psychometric strategy that, in the end, makes students’ socioeconomic status the most influential factor in determining which students get high or low scores." Can anyone quote any kind of unbiased facts that prove this bold assertion? Are we sure that 'socioeconomic status' is the deciding factor, and not 'parental involvement' or some other factor?

Popham offers a three-prong approach to assuring "instructionally sensitive tests", as if that, and that alone, will solve the problem. Has he ever witnessed students' tests? I have. (Check it out - parents who actually volunteer at their kids' schools get to be involved in stuff like this!) Disinterested, unmotivated, couldn't-care-less students just go through and scribble down whatever nonsense comes into their heads - if they even bother answering the test questions at all (and unless their attitude about life changes for the better, these are some of the people who will grow up to screw up other things for the rest of us, as alluded to above).

These students just plain don't care about these tests. Nothing that you can do to the tests will change that. Changing the students' socioeconomic status probably won't even change that. Rich kids can be just as apathetic, disinterested, indifferent, indolent and slothful as 'poor' kids. We've all seen it, haven't we? No amount of 'test modification' is going to change that. And no amount of rule changing is going to make an honest teacher or administrator out of a cheating one. It has to come from character - character of both the students and the educators. Instill a change in character, and you'll have the test results you dream of.

How? If you're up to it, try reading the rest of that library book I mentioned earlier...

The question "Who is to blame" leaves out a remarkably powerful third culprit and that is the unreasonable amount of pressure put on classroom teachers from administrators: the kind of pressure that suggests subtly and not so subtly that a teacher's job might be on the line if proficiency is not obtained by all the students in her/his classroom.

This is year 23 in public education for me. I have worked in rural schools, remote schools, and city schools as psychologist, teacher and trainer. I have worked for brilliant administrators and for very bad administrators. Never before however have I observed what I have observed this year(in a new state, district and school to me).

The unbelievable, absurd pressure placed upon teachers to "produce" has taken seasoned and excellent teachers and rendered them less compassionate and less creative. Young, new teachers are being mentored by teachers who are angry, frustrated, and afraid to try new methods or techniques for fear that they will be perceived as not "test (put in any state's test name here) relevant." Students are learning to judge their entire success and worth as a student by whether or not they obtained a Proficient score; and as Popham indicates, teachers are being judged by the same.

I could write my own article about what I have observed this year, but I'll refrain. I will only say this: I have had experience with teacher-cheating before; however,I have observed more cheating by more teachers in more ways than I have EVER seen, and not one of these educators would consider themselves unethical or fraudulent people.

When there is a sanction from above to do whatever it takes to go from good to great, I believe people lose perspective. They do things they think "might" be okay, and they do things they probably know are not okay but are unlikely to be caught. Good people do bad things in extraordinary situations, and what I have observed is extraordinary beyond comprehension. As is evidenced by the nationwide epidemic of teacher cheating, this school is not an island onto itself. It is what is becomming the norm.

Yes, instructionally sensitive tests would help immensely. However, we could design tests which meet Poham's three criteria but unless there are administrators at the helm who can encourage and empower teachers instead of control, dominate and threat, it probably won't matter if the tests are more sensitive. Teachers will still find ways to cheat if administrators cannot put into perspective the place ANY one test should hold in terms of measuring a student's OR a teacher's worth and accomplishments.

The old adage "...runs downhill" has never been more true; and at this point I, for one, am opting out of a career in public education that I have loved for more than 20 years. It simply is not worth it. I will find another way, another place, to teach.

The question "Who is to blame" leaves out a remarkably powerful third culprit and that is the unreasonable amount of pressure put on classroom teachers from administrators: the kind of pressure that suggests subtly and not so subtly that a teacher's job might be on the line if proficiency is not obtained by all the students in her/his classroom.

This is year 23 in public education for me. I have worked in rural schools, remote schools, and city schools as psychologist, teacher and trainer. I have worked for brilliant administrators and for very bad administrators. Never before however have I observed what I have observed this year(in a new state, district and school to me).

The unbelievable, absurd pressure placed upon teachers to "produce" has taken seasoned and excellent teachers and rendered them less compassionate and less creative. Young, new teachers are being mentored by teachers who are angry, frustrated, and afraid to try new methods or techniques for fear that they will be perceived as not "test (put in any state's test name here) relevant." Students are learning to judge their entire success and worth as a student by whether or not they obtained a Proficient score; and as Popham indicates, teachers are being judged by the same.

I could write my own article about what I have observed this year, but I'll refrain. I will only say this: I have had experience with teacher-cheating before; however,I have observed more cheating by more teachers in more ways than I have EVER seen, and not one of these educators would consider themselves unethical or fraudulent people.

When there is a sanction from above to do whatever it takes to go from good to great, I believe people lose perspective. They do things they think "might" be okay, and they do things they probably know are not okay but are unlikely to be caught. Good people do bad things in extraordinary situations, and what I have observed is extraordinary beyond comprehension. And as is evidenced by the nationwide epidemic of teacher cheating, this school is not an island onto itself. It is what is becomming the norm.

Yes, instructionally sensitive tests would help immensely. However, we could design tests which meet Poham's three criteria but unless there are administrators at the helm who can encourage and empower teachers instead of control, dominate and threat, it probably won't matter if the tests are more sensitive. Teachers will still find ways to cheat if administrators cannot put into perspective the place ANY one test should hold in terms of measuring a student's OR a teacher's worth and accomplishments.

I agree with Elaine Emerson that dishonesty can never be justified, but people are human and subject to threat and extreme stress. And we all know that people often make poor choices when under those conditions. I am apalled by what I have observed this year, but unless a fourth criteria is added to Popham's three, I do not believe we will see much change for the better.

The question "Who is to blame" leaves out a remarkably powerful third culprit and that is the unreasonable amount of pressure put on classroom teachers from administrators: the kind of pressure that suggests subtly and not so subtly that a teacher's job might be on the line if proficiency is not obtained by all the students in her/his classroom.

This is year 23 in public education for me. I have worked in rural schools, remote schools, and city schools as psychologist, teacher and trainer. I have worked for brilliant administrators and for very bad administrators. Never before however have I observed what I have observed this year(in a new state, district and school to me).

The unbelievable, absurd pressure placed upon teachers to "produce" has taken seasoned and excellent teachers and rendered them less compassionate and less creative. Young, new teachers are being mentored by teachers who are angry, frustrated, and afraid to try new methods or techniques for fear that they will be perceived as not "test (put in any state's test name here) relevant." Students are learning to judge their entire success and worth as a student by whether or not they obtained a Proficient score; and as Popham indicates, teachers are being judged by the same.

I could write my own article about what I have observed this year, but I'll refrain. I will only say this: I have had experience with teacher-cheating before; however,I have observed more cheating by more teachers in more ways than I have EVER seen, and not one of these educators would consider themselves unethical or fraudulent people.

When there is a sanction from above to do whatever it takes to go from good to great, I believe people lose perspective. They do things they think "might" be okay, and they do things they probably know are not okay but are unlikely to be caught. Good people do bad things in extraordinary situations, and what I have observed is extraordinary beyond comprehension. And as is evidenced by the nationwide epidemic of teacher cheating, this school is not an island onto itself. It is what is becomming the norm.

Yes, instructionally sensitive tests would help immensely. However, we could design tests which meet Poham's three criteria but unless there are administrators at the helm who can encourage and empower teachers instead of control, dominate and threat, it probably won't matter if the tests are more sensitive. Teachers will still find ways to cheat if administrators cannot put into perspective the place ANY one test should hold in terms of measuring a student's OR a teacher's worth and accomplishments.

I agree with Elaine Emerson that dishonesty can never be justified, but people are human and subject to threat and extreme stress. And we all know that people often make poor choices when under those conditions. I am apalled by what I have observed this year, but unless a fourth criteria is added to Popham's three, I do not believe we will see much change for the better.

This is a remarkable argument given that we have never blamed teachers for student cheating on classroom tests or assignments. And let's face it, whatever holes there may be in the testing industry, there's a whole lot more expertise goes into producing each question on any standardized test than any teacher produced assessment of classroom learning.

As a parent, I am not eager to go back to the days when the district selected whatever normed tests they wanted and provided me only with my own child's scores (surrounded in gibberish)--maybe. There was no way to compare what one school was accomplishing with what another was accomplishing--or district to district. As a taxpayer there was no way to know if it was worth paying more or trying to get by on the cheap.

To those teachers who feel they must cheat in order to win, I would respond in the same way I would to a student. Did you do your homework? Did you study? Did you ask for help? Did other kids (especially those who did those things) pass the test?

While I totally agree with the assertion that the only one responsible for cheating is the cheater, we all feel the consequences of those who cheat and get away with it. This is especially true with high stakes state testing and NCLB. We, who follow the rules, are penalized while the cheaters slip through the system. We, who care enough about our students to want true data so we can improve learning, lose funding and esteem while the cheaters allow their students to suffer the consequences of a system that is not fair to begin with. In our efforts to assure that no child is left behind, we are creating systems that encourages dishonesty. There must be a better way!

Personally, as a teacher, I'm offended. Pragmatically, I believe he may be right. However, I caution anyone to be careful how widely you splat your 'paintbrush' around regarding the comment.

I also agree with Elaine, there is not excuse for cheating. How you handle difficult situations, is what builds your character, makes you who you are. The difficult situation is guarantee-ing the gain of a pre-determined number of points on an annual basis from a given test. Who wouldn't delight in that task.......I am saying that with great sarcasm.

The government, state & federal, have decided that children will improve by x number of points every year, thereby Not Leaving any Child Behind. But wait.....children can only gain so much each year, according to research........they must be ready to gain the info, again according to research.......their parents must make those variables under their control, perfect, to maximize the gain. So what's the problem? Oh yeah, the teachers, administrators and school district are punished for all those kids not making that gain. And most of the variables in the student's life are out of the educators control. But the government will punish the educator's via public listings, political shunning, monetary interuptus, and general 'bullying', until those students do gain those x number of points. And I, the teacher, am supposed to stop whinning. They, the government, feel justified in this treatment of me, and my employer, and garnishing wages or funding because after all, they are the government, and when they 'speak' or dictate something---irregardless of what research says is normal nor what each kids is capable of,---the government thinks it is going to happen, just as if by magic.

I can see people who are in an impossible situation, not of their own making, reverting to behavior none of us want to see. Behaviors none of us approve of. I can see it happening........but there is not excuse for cheating. There is also no excuse for political stupidity.

Of course they're cheating. Let's face it. The majority of teachers and school administrators, regardless of what they TALK in public, believe in their heart or heartss, that most minority children, with the exception of Asian/Indians, cannot succeed or compete academically. I hear it every day in schools. They can't do it. Don't give them false hopes. Don't expect too much from them. What's the realistic outcome? Approximately 50% or more of minority children continually under-perform or perofrm to those expectations, and drop out of school. Most Americans seem to be incapable of looking at a problem or approaching a problem in a way that goes against their deeply held beliefs, and that's why the problem of poor education in this country cannot be solved. Do you really expect a system of education, controlled by mostly white females, to truly educate minority kids to the extent that they will compete with and take away their husband's and children's jobs? Don't cheat. Tell the truth.

I do appreciate everything voiced up to this point by teachers, parents, and others. There is truth in everything stated.
Having taught in the northern part of the U.S. AND right on the southern border, I have had opportunity to see different views about education and responsibilities to our students. In the northern part of the U.S., more parents realize how important their part is in a student's education. Is this true in every single city and town? No, of course not. But there is a comparatively large percentage who do realize their role and importance when held against parents' view on the border. Parents on the border take a very indifferent view toward the education of their children. Is this true in every single case? No. There are a few fantastic parents who keep a very close eye on their children's progress. They are FEW and FAR BETWEEN unfortunately. They stand out like cactus in snow!!

Teachers do need less pressure from adminstrators who are unsupportive to start with. If the administrators had respect and appreciation for the job the teachers are doing every day and demonstrated that in ways which genuinely make teachers feel like continuing with all the blood, sweat, and tears, maybe the pressure coming down on the administrators and passed on to the teachers would be a little more endurable.

Something I have also noticed on the southern border of this nation is a large number of teachers who are only at their job for a paycheck. I have worked side by side with them and noticed what they did not do in certain situations that other teachers up north would have done to either improve or change a student's behavior. There is a true apathy for students and education on the U.S./Mexico border. Part of this stems from so many of the problems Mexico has that flows over into this nation. This is not a racial item, but rather a political item. People on the border have many of the same problems as their neighbors across the border and have few options if any for change. Nobody cares about much of anything except themselves and the other people who will scratch their back. What do you think happens to the precious children? They of course develop apathy and the same attitude towards education as their parents.

I should also mention there are many factors which affect the attitudes on the border that I have not begun to list, such as the fact that in Mexico, few people graduate from high school, let alone college. Few people make a decent wage. Politics are full of more crimminals than the rest of the populace. Education is too expensive. Children are a source of income, so they should go out and get a job as soon as possible to help the family just have something to eat. That money is not for luxury items, but for lack of pain in the belly--a great motivator. Mothers have a hard time supporting the family all by themselves when many of the fathers either abandon or have several other women on the side. All of that carries over into the U.S., affecting the Hispanic children here. The lack of education the parents have had profoundly affects the children here. Research has show that the mother's educational achievement is one of the greatest predictors of success in eduation for a child.

I hope this made a few people think a little. What with all the immigration issue upheaval/disaggreement, folks need to take a long look at our border. It may seem to not be an important issue in education, but trust me folks, it WILL be in all of our faces sooner than you think. All uneducated folks become problematic for a society, regardless of the nation.

Assistance in cheating on tests by teachers? That sounds like what folks do when there is lack of character and lack of hope.

Hey folks, when I tried to describe the reasons that educators, thankfully not all that many, sometimes engaged in cheating on NCLB tests, I was not condoning such acts. Cheating is wrong--flat our wrong--in any setting. However, I continue to belive that if we eliminate a substantial cause of such educator-cheating, namely, instructionally insensitive NCLB tests, we'll see far less of this sort of reprehensible conduct. Teachers want to do a good job with their students, and to be seen by the world as doing a good job. We need to supply educators with accountability test that accurately portray a teacher's prowess.

Mr. Popham refers to the "great" tests in Wyoming while he fails to mention that he is a paid consultant to the state for the assessment system and that the system has yet to produce any data to positively impact any teaching or learning.

I prefer not to use the word "cheating" because I believe that most teachers are honest people. However, I haven't the slightest doubt that the test scores in most states are totally invalid because teachers and administrators do not understand how to properly administer a standardized test. For example, one very intelligent teacher thought it was OK to teach the specific vocabulary on the STAR test (California). Her explanation was "Well, why should the children be tested on words they have not been taught?" She didn't understand the concept of a sample item. Other teachers insist that the principal "said it was OK to teach to the test." Still others are unable to resist telling students to "look at that one again."

Of course, there is outright cheating as well. Many years ago I taught next door to a teacher whose students always had much better test scores than my students did. I couldn't understand what I was doing wrong. At the end of one year the teacher was promoted to principal so she gave me a big box of all her materials. When I went through the box I found a xeroxed copy of the standardized test!!!

Kudos to Professor Popham for exposing this national disgrace. A great deal of harm is presently being done to American education because we are making critical decisions based on totally invalid test scores.

I guess Ken Lay cheated because he felt overwhelming pressure from shareholders and the Board of directors to drive up the price of Enron stock! We should do away with quarterly earnings reports to eliminate corporate scandal. How can we expect every company to perform well?

Al Gore ran a reinvent goverment program that resulted in a great reduction in goverment workers - the majority from DOD. Why are educators so dead set against reinventing education? Washington DC public schools has been fighting KIPP schools because they draw kids away from the public schools - the school board should embrace programs that work, regardless of where they come from. Who cares what kind of schools kids attend as long as they're getting a good education.
When that happens the tests will criticized for being too easy!

THE APOLOGISTS ARE COMING!!!!!!!!
THE APOLOGISTS ARE COMING!!!!!!!!
THE APOLOGISTS ARE COMING!!!!!!!!
THE APOLOGISTS ARE COMING!!!!!!!!

I hope all of my brethren read the Education Week newspaper, because in your April 19th issue Mr. W. James Popham writes a Commentary where it is the TEST’s fault, not the teacher/educators fault that they – the teacher/educator is helping their students cheat on NCLB required state proficiency testing (AIMS here in AZ).

I am so tired of always hearing the blob “blaming the test”; blaming the accountability component of their job; not taking responsibility for their students’ actual achievement, especially the lack there of. Of course there is always the “lack of funding” (teacher salary) excuses; or better yet their parents are either too rich or too poor; but never stepping up to the plate and taking personal responsibility for their students’ performance. And we wonder why we continue to slide down the list of the “developed nations” in the academic performance of our children!

Every educator has to make the commitment to ensure your students’ success or get out of education; go find that other 9-5 job where you will be appreciated for your lack of commitment! Somewhere you don’t have to take your job home with you. Oh, by the way those only exist in the service industry, or maybe as a phone solicitor. Oops, my error; that approach isn’t even consistent with the requirements in the kitchen at McDonalds anymore.

Every professional position: engineer, architect, accountant, business managers, marketing executive, administrators – you’ll notice I didn’t include doctors & lawyers – they all take their jobs home with them; work whatever hours are necessary to accomplish their projects & goals.

We as educators have projects and goals: they are to teach kids, and set examples; unlike Charles Barkley we are role models! We don’t cheat or let our students cheat on their tests, homework, projects, AIMS, or cheat themselves.

The world has changed and the U.S. education system is letting every student down that has an unchallenged, uninspired, classroom babysitter that models dishonesty; laziness, or lack of interest in front of our nation’s children, and then BLAMES the test!! It is too important to our collective future to tolerate this level of performance. If we don’t want to continue the slide into a 3rd or even a 4th world country of illiterate and immoral people, we cannot continue to Blame the test and forsake the personal responsibility we have for our children’s future.

Do not tolerate the Apologist! Your children’s success, our nations’ future depends on your commitment to them both. I just had to get that off my chest. I just can’t believe any responsible adult, let alone an educator, can blame the test for their lack of personal integrity!!


Greg Miller
Principal & CEO
Challenge Charter School
Glendale, AZ 85308

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