According to a report released today, three schools in Washington, D.C. cheated on 2011 standardized tests, while 20 others were found to have some degree of testing violations. These test results were intended to be used for teacher evaluation and hiring, further raising their significance.
This is not the first case of cheating on standardized tests, and it won’t be the last. Indeed, when employees in any industry are expected to meet certain goals, there is a pressure to act deceptively or flat out break the rules (just ask Enron shareholders). When these incidents happen they should be dealt with firmly, harshly, and consistently.
What puzzles me about cheating scandals, though, is that there is a tendency to shift the blame from the perpetrators to the test. As a 2003 Harvard University study claims, high stakes testing actually leads to cheating. From that assertion it is not far to make the next leap: we shouldn’t have these tests.
As an educator, I find that argument deeply offensive. The implicit claim is that teachers will cast all legal, moral, and pedagogical obligations aside when there is pressure to perform. As opposed to blaming the institution, we should blame the cheaters. Any teacher or administrator who willingly contributes to cheating on a standardized test is disrespecting themselves, their profession, their community, and (most importantly) their students. The potential pressure of bonuses, promotions, and contracts is no excuse. Though I teach at a school where teachers are held accountable for student performance on tests, I have no sense of empathy or solidarity with the accused teachers in D.C. Their actions prove that they should not be in the classroom–nothing more. The teachers I work with have more pride in their work and their students to be so blatantly dishonest. We should do what we can to improve monitoring on tests to prevent this from happening, and of course swiftly remove guilty teachers from the classroom. But let’s not frame this as a problem with testing. Teachers deserve more credit than that.