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A Test of Ethics

In the past when news was related to cheating, the focus was usually aimed at students who take tests. Current trends are shifting that focus to those who give tests. Reports and studies related to the

teaching profession document actions that range from subtle coaching to blatant manipulation (Cizek, 2003). These practices are seen in every level of education including post secondary education. Since the enactment of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, teachers and administrators are under intense pressure to increase their schools’ test scores (Grow, 2004). With the stakes set so high, a minority of teachers are “reaching to the test” (Posner, 2004), manipulating testing procedures, and sending the wrong message to students.

The majority of educators plays by the book and teach with high moral standards. “teachers spend an incredible amount of time and energy focusing their curriculum on what is tested, and these pressures lead people to do some peculiar things” (Asimou, Wallack, 2007). At Actis Junior High in Bakersfield, California, seventh-grade teachers altered their lesson plans to cover narrative writing after the principal informed them it would be included on the 2005 writing test (Asimou, Wallack, 2007). In San Diego at Mar Vista High School, an unidentified algebra teacher admitted to tutoring an 11th- grader taking the state math exam (Asimou, Wallack, 2007).

“Teaching to the test” focuses on material that will be on standardized tests. This method of teaching usually results in better test taking skills. However, a rise in standardized test scores does not always reflect improvement in real academic performance. Teaching to the test also narrows curriculum, encouraging administrators, instructors, and students to focus on memorization of isolated facts. This takes away from the development of problem solving abilities, organizational skills, and communication abilities (Posner, 2004).

When the government decided to become involved in education, they had standardized tests made up to cover certain subjects. These tests would monitor the progress of students. However, the government also was interested in making sure that educators were teaching properly. Each state is interested in how well teachers are teaching and students are learning. A reward system is in place for teachers and school districts. It is a perceived notion that when students do well, teachers are teaching properly. Studies suggest when Standardized testing begins, usually third or fourth grade, “teachers stop teaching…really teaching” (Patrick, 2007). Teachers will do what they need to do to stay employed. They teach to the test. They avoid being reprimanded, making their school look bad, and loss of their job. Students leave school with a few basic facts and the ability to take a Standardized Test (Patrick, 2007).

In the past ten years, there has been a surge of teachers and administrators that cheat. Stacey Moskowitz, a Bronx, New York educator, was ordered by her principal “to make sure they passed” Standardized reading tests (Labi, 1999). Moskowitz was given cheat sheets to check her students’ answers before they filled in the answer sheets. Moskowitz went undercover to expose New York City’s public school system. At 32 elementary and middle schools, 50 teachers and two principals helped students cheat on Standardized tests. Some hinted at correct answers. Others used scratch paper to avoid multiple erasure marks. Some teachers even changed answers at the end of the day (Labi, 1999).

New York City is not the only city experiencing these trends. An Atlanta teacher was caught passing out copies of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills before the exam. Another Georgia teacher was reprimanded when seven of his special-education pupils scored a perfect score o the language section of the test. In Texas, 38 schools were investigated because of numerous erasures on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. An Austin school district was indicted on charges of tampering with the state test results (Labi, 1999).

More subtle ways of cheating occur when teachers fail to appropriately supervise students taking the tests. Other educators allow extra time to complete the tests. Some teachers even encourage low-achieving students to be absent of testing days (Cizek, 2003).

Cheating in schools is not solely isolated to elementary and high schools. It also occurs in post secondary schools as well. According to Katsilometes and Butterworth (1997) Sports Illustrated Magazine reported and accused the UNLV coach for helping one of their future basketball stars to alter his Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)scores. Sports Illustrated reported that the player took the SAT and passed the NCAA mandated minimum score, which he took nine times before and failed. The UNLV coach was also accused of altering the American College Test (ACT) scores for NBA All Star Lamar Odom. In high school, Lamar Odom was ranked 312th in his class of 334 and he carried a 71.2 average, barely passing, prior to taking the ACT. Lamar scored 22 on the ACT which ranked him in the top 42 percent of all senior high school students nationally.

Recently Florida State University was involved in an academic cheating scandal which resulted in two faculty members being terminated. An investigation by the school showed that 23 students were involved in cheating. A part time tutor and a full time athletic department employee were giving teat answers while students were taking the test. They were accused of filling in answers on quizzes and typing papers for students who were absent. Several universities such as Minnesota, Miami (Fla.), Marshall, Kentucky, Howard, Georgia, Fresno State, California, and Baylor had similar allegations in the last decade which resulted in severe penalties (USAToday, 2007 p. 10C).

There are several steps that can be taken to prevent cheating. The first and easiest step is to raise the issue of cheating. Make school teachers and administrators familiar and aware of testing guidelines. Encourage and implement ethics training so that the school personnel are aware of appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Second, revise test disclosure laws. Many states have laws that require the return of all testing material after the testing is done. Unethical teachers are known to keep copies of these tests and alter their curriculum. Economic costs increase for the states because each year new tests have to be developed. Thirdly, spelling out the supervision guidelines can reduce cheating. Test supervisors should be educated in professional codes of responsibility and be trained to recognize and react to cheating. Last, schools should investigate and punish cheaters. Currently most tests are given behind closed doors with little outside supervision. At many schools, investigating cheaters lie with the school principal or district leaders. Independent sources could more effectively undertake such steps as random sampling, overseeing testing procedures, protecting whistle blowers, and enforce stiffer penalties for those caught cheating (Cizek, 2003).

It is clearly evident that educators who cheat are sending the wrong message to students. Blaming standardized testing and the No Child Left Behind act seems misdirected. Teachers ignore their responsibility to their students when the cheat. Cheating distorts our ability to accurately gauge student progress and understand what is happening in our schools (Cizek, 2003).

Worse than the lessons lost, however, are the lessons learned. Many of the kids did not even know they were cheating. They were just following the teacher’s orders. “It’s important for them to do what the teacher wants; they need to think the teacher is looking out for their best interests,” says Moskowitz. “At that age, in the third grade, I don’t think they had any clue” (Labi, 1999).

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