To the Editor:
Physicians who murder, police officers who steal, and educators who cheat—these are all heinous crimes. There are no excuses. Period. But why has teacher cheating erupted only in this last decade (“It’s Not the Test That Made Them Cheat,” April 17, 2013)?
Consider a parallel profession: a hypothetical hospital where competent doctors and nurses treat unique patients with unique problems. They make their own professional decisions. One surgeon is particularly good and is given the most severe cases—and has the lowest survival rates.
However, a governing body imposes “accountability” and demands that all patients will survive. New “outcome based” criteria narrow to just a few tests: a normal temperature and “happiness.” Failure will result in firing staff and closing the hospital.
For many schools, this is not a hypothetical. A superb teacher in a high-poverty district will have lower student scores. The best of doctors lose patients, and the best of teachers lose students, and for much the same reasons: The patient doesn’t take his medicine, and the student doesn’t do his homework.
External testing narrows and distorts the curriculum. Student cooperation to raise scores is coerced. And students learn a bigger lesson: The end justifies any means.
So how is a teacher—who wants to preserve some small fragment of academic integrity, who wants to teach the whole student about more than test-taking, who wants to remain a professional—able to survive this test tyranny?
Not by cheating—that maintains the legitimacy of external testing.
The answer is outright resistance. The Seattle teachers who would not give the Measures of Academic Progress test. Teachers and administrators who refuse to reduce their profession to raising test scores. Universities that refuse to train teachers in test prep. Legislators who understand that they cannot dictate professionalism.
If teachers who changed students’ test scores are the villains, then educators who refuse to substitute external examinations for an education are the heroes.
John Richard Schrock
Professor of Biology
Director of Biology Education
Emporia State University
A version of this article appeared in the May 08, 2013 edition of Education Week as Cheaters Are Villains, But There Are Heroes, Too