Teachers Caught Cheating

High-stakes standardized testing has led to high-level cheating - by teachers trying to gain an advantage for their students.

From 1999 through the spring of 2002, New York education officials found 21 proven cases of teacher cheating from Buffalo to Long Island, according to records obtained under the state Freedom of Information Law. Teachers usually reported cheating but some said the practice is more common than records show.

Teachers have read off answers during a test, sent students back to correct wrong answers, photocopied secure tests for use in class, inflated scores, and peeked at questions then drilled those topics in class before the test, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

"Teachers care a lot, sometimes they care too much and try to provide too much help," said Dennis Tompkins, spokesman for New York State United Teachers, the state's largest teachers' union. "I don't think our members are Machiavellian. I think they are just trying to help the kids do better."

New York's teachers are not alone.

  • A Reston, Va., teacher was placed on paid leave in June 2000 and 18 eighth-graders were retested after they allegedly were prepped with questions that showed up on their state social studies exam.
  • Students at a Columbus, Ohio, school praised for its test scores by President Clinton said earlier in 2000 that adult tutors guided their pencils to the correct answers or calculated math problems while they took the mandatory state test.
  • In 1999, a report by the New York City School District found similar incidents of teacher cheating, including finishing sentences in essays.
  • A grand jury in Austin, Texas, indicted 18 school officials in April 2000 for altering student tests.

    In New York, Deputy Education Commissioner James Kadamus said the state started monitoring teachers because it believed they would have more incentive to cheat to meet the new standards.

    "We may be investigating more," he said. "But I wouldn't see any major change" in the number of teachers caught cheating.

    Cheating in some New York state schools changed scores so much that it invalidated the "school report cards" used by parents, taxpayers and the state to evaluate the performance of schools and educators.

    "If students have academic weaknesses, their teachers need to strive to fix it, not cover it up and refuse to acknowledge it exists," said Andrea Rogers of the Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability. She recommends revocation of a cheating teacher's license.

    Most of the teachers quit, were suspended or fired - or faced state discipline that could lead to dismissal.

    The records, which did not identify teachers by name, show:

  • A high school teacher reported all his students passed the December 2000 Regents chemistry exam. An investigation found 62 of 63 of the exams were scored higher than deserved and 16 students failed.
  • An elementary school teacher coached students in the May 2002 fourth grade math test, including telling them when they made an error. The teacher said she "does this all the time during tests and saw nothing wrong with it."

    "Teachers are under a lot of pressure to get good grades," she told administrators.

    A Harvard study published this year also found similar cases of cheating in Chicago schools fueled by teachers' need to improve standardized test scores.

    "We found cheating increased by 30 to 50 percent because of high-stakes testing," said Brian Jacobs of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and co-author of the report "Rotten Apples."

    By Michael Gormley