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Teacher Cheating Fails Students

Jessica Cuthbertson

My teaching mantra goes something like this: I want students to leave my classroom better people than they were the first day of school.

Of course, I want them to love and excel at reading, writing, speaking and listening. I want them to know and understand literary concepts and connect with a wide variety of texts on deep, analytical levels. But at the end of the day, what I really want is for them to understand how being literate makes us more human.

I want them to be kinder critical thinkers, more empathetic listeners and passionate learners. I want them to remember their time in our literacy classroom as an exploration of character, as much as content knowledge.

I've written before about the pressures and public responsibilities of being a teacher leader. There is nothing easy about teaching or school leadership. Teachers have a tremendous responsibility to not only support students as scholars, but as human beings who are figuring out the difference between right, wrong, and various shades of gray.

We make mistakes. We falter, fail, pick ourselves up, and try to do better the next day. But we cannot make excuses. We cannot put our jobs, our needs, or our issues, before our students' right to learn.

This is why news of the Atlanta cheating scandal simultaneously saddened and angered me.

Yes, the pressures in high-stakes, high-needs schools are real. Yes, as a nation we see standardized test results as superior to daily learning and classroom-based formative assessment. Yes, the tests steal precious instructional time and attempt to standardize the impossible: human learning and development. Yes, teachers and school leaders are mandated to administer tests whether they feel the assessments are developmentally appropriate, philosophically or pedagogically aligned or useful tools to support instruction.

Yes, we should be re-thinking our systems and the culture of constant assessment that is rampant in so many of our schools.

But as a practicing teacher, I cannot condone or make excuses for the events in Atlanta and elsewhere. I cannot say that such acts serve a greater good.

So, what can we do?

Advocate: We can take a cue from teachers like Lindsey Durant, and share our concerns about standardized testing with parents and other stakeholders.

Opt out: We can join other teachers who are finding ethical ways to stand up and take action, by boycotting assessment practices that do not serve students' instructional interests and needs.

Lead at the local level: We can be leading learners and savvy implementers of the Common Core State Standards, and take opportunities to provide input about the assessments we use.

What we cannot do—no matter how high the stakes, how great the pressure, how preposterous the mandate—is cheat. Our students are learning about content and character from us. We must not disappoint them.

Jessica Cuthbertson, a Colorado educator with 10 years' experience, teaches middle school literacy and has served as a literacy instructional coach for Aurora Public Schools.

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