PORTLAND, Ore. – Following a report that teachers have been caught cheating on tests, it turns out Oregon and Washington are far from alone.
Cheating cases have been documented in 37 states over the last four years, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. Currently, a school official in Atlanta could face jail for encouraging teachers to improve test scores in not-so-honest ways.
We spoke with an Oregon teacher – who agreed to talk on a condition of anonymity – to better understand how and why it happens.
The teacher said the real travesty in education is how much standardized test scores matter. One of five Oregon teachers disciplined in the last five years for cheating, the educator explained what led to his job suspension.
“When the kids were taking a test, I had some of my Hispanic-speaking kids raise their hands. I came over to them. They’re like, ‘What does this word mean?’” the teacher said. “What I did – and this is my fault – I would look at the word (and) I would make sure it wasn’t in the subset of answers or in the questions they were on in that particular case. Then I would say this means this and then I would sit down.”
Another cheating investigation revealed a teacher would tell a student if an answer was wrong or shake her head and ask, “Are you sure that’s the right answer?”
The president of the Oregon Education Association said she doesn’t condone teacher cheating , but also believes the emphasis on test scores has gone too far.
“It’s like taking a tree…You plant it and pull it and check the roots…every week,” President Hanna Vandeering said. “That’s not helpful for students…We need assessments that guide our instruction.”
This month, the U.S. Department of Education announced that Oregon and Washington are at high risk of losing a federal waiver that could force a return to strict No Child Left Behind standards.
There’s a sticking point for Oregon: A reluctance to prioritize standardized test scores in teacher evaluations – even as the pressure on them to boost test scores intensifies.
“Obviously, I learned a lesson. But at the same time, as an educator, I feel it is a disservice to my students if I don’t teach them,” the teacher we interviewed said. “Because really what are they getting out of it other than how to take a test?”
Among the conversations underway in schools in Oregon and Washington: There should be other ways to evaluate teachers besides standardized test scores, including measuring how much growth their students experience in math, reading or writing. These could entail looking at whether students are penning better essays or improving in-class test scores.