Philadelphia English teacher explains why she helped students cheat

Liz Goodwin
The Lookout

The revelation that more than 80 Atlanta teachers admitted to cheating on state standardized tests--with one group of elementary teachers even holding a "party" after school to change their pupils' answers by hand--has rocked the education reform movement.

But one question has been left unanswered: Why would a teacher resort to cheating in the first place?

The Notebook blog has found a Philadelphia teacher willing to explain why she helped her 11th-grade English students cheat on the state's standardized tests. (The blog earlier broke the story that Pennsylvania officials suspected cheating may have occurred in 60 state schools.)

The teacher, who remains anonymous in the story, says she began to help her students cheat because she worried their self-esteem was crushed by taking tests they were in no way academically prepared for. If a student asked a question during one of the eight yearly testing periods, she would help him or her find the right answer, or occasionally just point to it on the exam.

"I never went to any student who didn't call me to help them cheat," said the teacher. "But if somebody asked me a question, I wasn't willing to say, 'Just do your best.' They were my students, and I wanted to be there for them."

The teacher said administrators bullied teachers about boosting test scores so that the school would make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), creating a constant state of performance anxiety in the classroom. Schools with low scores must improve by a certain amount each year to avoid federal sanctions set forth by the No Child Left Behind law. In some cases, the federal government shuts down schools that fail to boost scores year after year.

"The prevailing message was, 'We have to make AYP this year, or they're going to shut our school down and you're all going to lose your jobs.' At every professional development [session], that's what we discussed," the teacher said. She added that many teachers at her school engaged in cheating.

Read her whole story here.

The Atlanta scandal and a USA Today report of potential teacher-sanctioned cheating in 1,600 classrooms across six states has put pressure on the Obama administration for its focus on standardized testing. Teachers in some districts are being paid bonuses for their students' performance on state tests, and many others have their performance evaluation tied to those scores.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says that the emphasis on tests does not encourage cheating. In fact, he sees it as the only way to ensure schools are adequately teaching their students.