"Cheating and test tampering should never be condoned. Those found guilty will have to face the consequences of their actions. But the tiny minority of educators who have engaged in it, or turned a blind eye to it, should not obscure the fact that the vast majority of teachers work hard to do right by children. Sadly, what we face is a system problem rather than a teacher problem, and it must be fixed."
WASHINGTON—With today's pressure-cooker environment in which so much rides on standardized test scores, and with cheating and test-tampering incidents—unacceptable for any reason—recently in the news, the American Federation of Teachers recommended today a comprehensive fix involving better testing training for teachers and administrators, stronger whistleblower protections and less emphasis on test scores to measure teaching and learning.
"Cheating and test tampering should never be condoned. Those found guilty will have to face the consequences of their actions. But the tiny minority of educators who have engaged in it, or turned a blind eye to it, should not obscure the fact that the vast majority of teachers work hard to do right by children," Weingarten said. "Sadly, what we face is a system problem rather than a teacher problem, and it must be fixed."
The resolution, unanimously approved by the AFT executive council, states: "An over-reliance on standardized test scores has created a lose-lose environment where teachers, principals and administrators at all levels of the system are feeling immense pressure to perform well on a single measure, instead of focusing on what matters most: what children are learning as indicated by a system of multiple measures and individualized instruction."
The policy proposes short-term and long-term system changes. For immediate action, the policy document calls for proper training of everyone involved in administering tests, due process for teachers accused of cheating or test tampering, and adequate protection for those who blow the whistle on alleged cheaters—teachers sometimes are threatened or pressured into cheating by administrators. "We need a system of checks and balances so that teachers are the eyes and ears of the testing environment," Weingarten said.
Over the long-term, the resolution urges states to strengthen accountability by using multiple measures of both student and teacher performance and to reduce reliance on standardized test scores—to determine student progress and teacher effectiveness.
The resolution's recommendations include:
- Every state should re-examine its testing security, test administration and reporting procedures to ensure they can withstand the additional weight being placed on them by current accountability and test-based decision-making policies.
- Every state should develop a transparent procedure communicated to everyone involved with test administration, including teachers, to annually identify statistically irregular patterns of test answers using several statistical techniques that could reveal cheating.
- States should draft procedures for conducting state and school district investigations into cheating to ensure that sanctions and corrective actions are fair, expeditious, equitable and consistently uniform across the state.
- States should investigate all tampering incidents detected through statistical analysis—or complaints about cheating and security plan violations—brought directly to state or municipal authorities by parents, teachers or other educators.
- All educators should receive training to have a clear understanding of testing protocols for each test they administer and should know what supports or modifications students may need.
- Teachers, administrators and school staff involved with administering tests should be regularly trained about what constitutes cheating or test tampering, and what to do if cheating occurs.
- All teachers, regardless of status (probationary or tenured) should have whistleblower protection in state law for reporting suspected test tampering.
- Any educator accused of altering test results is entitled to due process, and any teacher found innocent of the charges should have his or her record expunged of the allegation.
- Those found guilty should face the consequences of their actions, although an intimidating environment should be a mitigating factor.
- States should reduce the weight for student achievement growth in current and prospective teacher evaluation policies, and replace such policies with measures that are less susceptible to cheating and more relevant to the spectrum of student learning.
Most states have adopted Common Core standards for math and English, and the next generation of assessments will follow. The AFT called on test developers and states to ensure that performance-based assessments and standardized tests, when used, more accurately reflect student learning by providing multiple measures of progress and success. "Such measures will not only be less subject to tampering and improve accountability for the education system but, most importantly, will support the deeper learning that teachers and the public want for our children," the resolution says.