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School Cheating Rises Along With Standardized Tests

Education: As high- stakes exams put performance pressure on teachers and principals, some have been going too far in helping students get the answers right.

July 30, 2000|JAY MATHEWS and AMY ARGETSINGER | WASHINGTON POST

Still unemployed and with his wife about to give birth, Gayot blames the politics of New York and the testing movement for his plight. "Right now they have dumped on my whole life," he said. A New York City schools spokeswoman said she could not immediately confirm the details of Gayot's case.

Some say a culture of cheating has blossomed amid teachers' skepticism or dislike of the tests. Gerald W. Bracey, an educational psychologist based in Fairfax, Va., said: "It may be easier for teachers to justify cheating on these tests because they don't like these tests and don't agree they're valid measures of what teaching is about."

Teachers know some students already consider shortcuts to success a part of the game. A nationwide poll of 20,000 students released in 1998 by the Josephson Institute of Ethics in Marina del Rey said seven of 10 high-schoolers admit cheating on a test.

Barbara McCarroll, the teacher in Columbus, said that when she asked other teachers about the cheating her students had described, they shrugged it off as old news. Her principal denied it had occurred, and an investigator for the district concluded that the claims were unsubstantiated, despite three boys' insistence that an unidentified teacher's aide had guided them to some right answers.

McCarroll said the principal took away her classroom piano, unaccountably locked her room and took other actions that led her to take a disability leave. The principal did not return a call seeking comment.

McCarroll said other teachers and many parents are convinced that the coaching occurred, in part because principals who show improvement get cash rewards of as much as $1,000.

"They should stop offering so much if the grades go up," McCarroll said. "That tends to make people do things they shouldn't."

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