New York state caught 21 teachers cheating in its student-assessment program from 1998 through the middle of last year, a number some experts predict will rise along with the stakes of testing.
Teachers have taken actions such as illicitly reviewing tests in advance and tailoring their instruction to match specific questions; improperly giving students passing grades when they score tests for the state; and telling students to correct answers the teachers knew to be wrong.
After the state investigated the cases, districts were given the responsibility of disciplining the cheaters. Punishments have ranged from “simple admonishments” in the least severe cases to termination, according to Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the state education department.
Most of the incidents involved testing in elementary and middle schools, where the state uses test scores in report cards to chart school progress. Schools that make little or no headway are required to draw up school improvement plans and eventually could face state intervention. Cheating by teachers on the state’s high school Regents exams, which students must pass to graduate, was less common, according to Mr. Burman.
The Associated Press first reported last month the number of teachers caught cheating after obtaining documents from the state education department in a request filed under New York’s freedom-of- information law.
According to Mr. Burman, the amount of deception has not increased appreciably in recent years.
But critics of high-stakes testing say that teachers and students will inevitably try a variety of methods to raise student performance in a state that attaches punishments and rewards to its assessments.
Many teachers take permissible approaches of altering their instruction based on previous years’ tests to result in better test scores, and some will step over the line into cheating, according to Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of the Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, a Cambridge, Mass.-based group that opposes the concept of high-stakes testing.
“It’s the predictable fallout of turning up the screws on teachers and kids,” Mr. Schaeffer said. “There are some people who take the cheating option.”