On cheating

As cheating is in the news, I thought it might be appropriate to share an excerpt from my book on cheating. Everyone seems to be shocked concerning the profundity of the cheating scandal, but the truth is that many inner-city school systems cheat–just not in the traditional sense.

From my book, Education Exposed:

When discussing standardized tests, I would be remiss in my duties of exposing the world of education if I didn’t talk about cheating. When the stakes are high, there will always be cheaters. In education, it is easy for teachers to justify cheating because they feel so passionately about the unfairness of the very existence of the tests in the first place.

When people think of cheating, they think of getting the answers from someone else. That is, after all, the kind of cheating that many students participated in at one point in their education career. For me, I was always the one whose paper was being copied in school, and I was equally guilty by allowing the cheating to occur. But whether or not you were the copier or the source—you probably had an experience of at least glancing at another’s page to confirm an answer you’d put. Cheating happens.

The kind of cheating that schools are doing, however, varies. The cheating that makes it onto the news is the aforementioned cheating—teachers giving students the answers. There have been several national-news cases involving teachers who were filling in blank answers with correct answers or even erasing answers to replace those answers with correct ones. This kind of cheating is not as widespread because the perpetrators get caught.

The kind of cheating that pervades the system is much more clever and sneakier. Of the two schools in which I taught, one was a failing school and one was not (though it would later become one). The failing school had similar demographics but was way worse off when it came to impoverished students. The greatest similarity between the schools was the number of English Learners (EL’s) the schools had. The failing school did everything by the book. The passing school was passing because they gamed the system.

In high school, there are different types of tests. Most tests are course-specific. For example, only those enrolled in Biology take the Biology standardized test. Then other tests, like the writing assessments, are grade-level-specific. In our case, all juniors took the writing assessment. Both of these schools were failing in the English/reading measurements which included both the writing assessment and course-specific tests. These tests were particularly hard for EL’s because they struggled with reading endurance and the subtle nuances of language involved in the tests.

The passing school gamed the system by exempting less-competent students from the tests. One way the school exempted students was by booting them out of the school for behavior issues. When the student was booted, even if he or she returned later in the year, the student’s enrollment status voided their test scores.

Another way the school avoided testing EL’s is by selective enrollment. English learners only have to take two English courses to graduate. The progression should be English I then English II. English II is a tested course. English IV, however, is not a tested course. Consequently, EL’s would be scheduled to go right from English I into English IV.

The other issue was the writing assessment, which is grade-level specific to ensure that everyone takes it. They found a way around that as well. A couple of weeks before the test, the counselors would go through and count the credits of their junior-level EL students. If the number of credits was closer to sophomore level, the student would be bumped down to sophomore level. If the student’s credits were closer to senior level, the student would be bumped up to senior level. That way, the students did not take the junior-level test and still weren’t counted against the 95% attendance required for the test. After the test was over, the students’ credits would be returned to their previous state, and they would be juniors once again.

When I found out what the school was doing, I was disgusted. The administrators and teachers at the school often compared themselves to my previous school and made incredibly disparaging remarks about my previous school. In my loyalty, I wanted everyone to know what was going on. Whenever I found myself in a conversation about test scores, which happened quite often, I would bring up what I’d learned. Most teachers were disgusted like I was. One time, however, I received an unexpected response.

The teacher was a lead teacher in English. When I told her, she was angrily defensive and said, “Good! That means they’re doing their jobs. Any administrator who doesn’t do that should be fired. They’d have to be pretty stupid not to.” These behaviors undermine the tests and invalidate them. On paper, my previous school was a failing school by two students because the administrators did everything by the book; my new school was a passing school on paper but in actuality should have been a failing school by dozens of students. Which was the better school? The measurements used sure aren’t going to tell you.

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