As recently as May 24, 2010, the principal, assistant principal and three teachers from an elementary school in Texas resigned. These five educators were part of a test-tampering scandal that shocked the district and caused a large-scale investigation of test practices and invalidation of student scores. And why? Because teachers were being offered bonuses of almost $3,000 for high achievement on state exams.
In education, standardized testing has always raised some of the biggest questions: do tests accurately measure the knowledge students have gained? Does “teaching to the test” rob students of other, more creative learning opportunities? Does testing widen the gap between high- and low-performing students? And now, it seems we have another question to consider: how does all of this affect the teachers?
Since most educational achievement, and therefore also funding and job placement, is determined by testing, teachers are under an enormous amount of pressure from themselves, administrators, and the community to ensure the success of their students. This is compounded by the fact that there are often monetary awards–raises or bonuses–offered to teachers with high-performing and improving students. This has resulted in a surprising number of cases of cheating by educators. The Texas teachers stole a copy of their test in order to include the questions in their study guides; a group of Massachusetts teachers pointed out wrong answers over students’ shoulders; a Virginia school pressured its teachers to display test answers on an overhead projection; and, by far the most scandalous, administrators in a Georgia school, frightened of not meeting the “Adequate Yearly Progress” level, actually erased and corrected student answers on state tests after they were collected.
Many teachers and administrators continue to wrestle with the issues surrounding effective evaluation of students and teachers. Many agree there is no easy single instrument–such as standardized tests–for measuring student progress and teacher effectiveness. Many also agree that fair evaluation should come from a combination of measures, some objective and some subjective. We can only hope the proper mix can be found so evaluation of teaching and learning becomes effective and efficient, and not a reason for cheating.