Traditionally, students have been the group most associated with cheating. However, changes in the funding and monitoring of schools, as well as the growing importance of standardized testing, have resulted in a strange turn of events. Increasingly it is teachers and other school administrators that have some of the strongest incentives and best opportunities to cheat, rather than the students.
Laws such as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 have set standards and introduced additional testing to attempt to ensure that students follow a common curriculum and receive an education that meets national standards. Schools that fail to meet certain performance benchmarks under this and similar state programs may lose funding or be forced to close entirely. The survival of schools, and the job security of teachers and administrators, are now conditioned on the performance of their students. This has created a compelling incentive, especially in under-performing classrooms and schools, to raise scores.
How Schools Cheat
Cheating, in this context, may take many forms. Teachers may fabricate or inflate test scores, change incorrect answers on student test forms, or even provide answers in advance of a test. Schools may turn a blind eye to suspicious gains in test scores, suppress or deny the existence of reports on cheating, and otherwise obstruct attempts to uncover either individual or systemic cheating.
Teachers and administrators who made misrepresentations in order to obtain financial benefits could be charged with fraud, and in April of 2015 jurors found 11 former educators guilty of racketeering and other charges. Although the laws regarding racketeering are often applied against crime syndicates like the Mafia, the organized efforts by teachers to cheat and the institutional attempts to conceal cheating met the legal definition, according to the court.
The court heard evidence that the school's administration conditioned the payment of bonuses to their teachers on the attainment of educational targets and a significant bonus for the superintendant of the school if system-wide benchmarks were met. The administration indicated that no excuse for failing to meet benchmarks would be tolerated. Teachers who failed to meet goals were terminated. Those who were caught cheating were suspended, while those who reported the cheating of fellow teachers were terminated.
Rather than being an isolated incident, this conviction is the result of an investigation by the Georgia Governors office that found more than 178 teachers and administrators in the state had changed answers on standardized tests. Investigations in other states indicate that the problem isn't isolated.
Reducing Teacher Cheating
Investigation and criminal prosecution is likely to continue as states attempt to preserve the integrity of standardized test scores. In addition, attempts have been made to introduce legislation that creates additional oversight of schools and testing. Some groups have called for a more nuanced approach that allows for some score variation that takes into account how many students have disabilities, speak English as a second language, or come from minority communities that may have lower scores for a number of reasons that are not presently quantified. Others request new processes for evaluating teachers and schools focused on improving achievement rather than punishing for low scores.
The Consequences of Institutional Cheating
Apart from the criminal prosecutions, those discovered cheating may be terminated and schools with systemic cheating may lose funding or be ordered to close. Children's test scores are called into question, and in some cases years of scores generated by suspect schools have been rendered invalid. By unfairly claiming higher grades for their students many feel that cheating teachers create an environment of lowered expectations that impact their student's abilities to achieve.
If you are a teacher who's facing accusations of cheating, it's in your best interests to speak with an experienced education attorney.
Contact a qualified education attorney to help you navigate education rights and laws.