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Confession of a cheating teacher

By Benjamin Herold on Jul 28, 2011 10:06 AM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook/NewsWorks


[UPDATED: 7/29, 1:10 PM]

Reporter Benjamin Herold will be discussing this story on WHYY Radio (90.9 FM) this evening between 6:00 and 6:30.  Tune in to NewsWorks Tonight to hear more.

She said she knows she's a good teacher.

But she still helped her students cheat.

"What I did was wrong, but I don’t feel guilty about it,” said a veteran Philadelphia English teacher who shared her story with the Notebook/NewsWorks.

During a series of recent interviews, the teacher said she regularly provided prohibited assistance on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) exams to 11th graders at a city neighborhood high school. At various times, she said, she gave the students definitions for unfamiliar words, discussed with students reading passages they didn’t understand, and commented on their writing samples.

On a few occasions, she said, she even pointed them to the correct answers on difficult questions.

“They’d have a hard time, and I’d break it down for them,” said the teacher matter-of-factly.

Such actions are possible grounds for termination. As a result, the Notebook/NewsWorks agreed to protect her identity.

The teacher came forward following the recent publication of a 2009 report that identified dozens of schools across Pennsylvania and Philadelphia that had statistically suspicious test results. Though her school was not among those flagged, she claims that adult cheating there was “rampant.”

The Notebook/NewsWorks is also withholding the name of her former school. because the details of her account have been only partially corroborated.

But her story seems worth telling.

During multiple conversations with the Notebook/NewsWorks, both on the phone and in person, the teacher provided a detailed, consistent account of her own actions to abet cheating. Her compelling personal testimonial highlighted frequently shared concerns about the conditions that high-stakes testing have created in urban public schools. The Notebook and NewsWorks believe that her confession sheds important light on the recent spate of cheating scandals across the country.

In the last two years alone, 22 states and the District of Columbia have had confirmed cases of cheating, according to Robert Schaeffer, Public Education Director of FairTest, a nonprofit critical of the “misuses and flaws” associated with standardized tests.

Almost always, says Schaeffer, those involved say they broke the rules because they felt pressured to generate unrealistic test score gains and avoid sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“That’s the background against which teachers and principals cross the line,” he said.

This teacher, a middle-aged White woman who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, told a story of tangled motivations and constant stress. At the end of it all, she said, she had trouble recognizing herself.

The intense pressure from administrators to raise scores at her former school did indeed contribute to her cheating, she claimed:

“It’s easy to lose your moral compass when you are constantly being bullied.”

But she was adamant that she did not care about boosting test scores. Instead, she described her cheating as an act of self-styled subversion, motivated by loyalty to her students.

“I wanted them to succeed, because I believe their continued failure on these terrible tests crushes their spirit,” she said.

Whatever the teacher's reasons, School District of Philadelphia officials say such actions are unacceptable.

“In the end, the children are the ones who suffer from an adult’s poor judgment, regardless of the motive,” said District spokesperson Elizabeth Childs. 

‘I wanted to be there for them’

At the beginning of PSSA testing each year, the teacher recalled, things weren’t so bad.

Administrators would convene pep rallies and distribute candy as incentives. Teachers would visit classrooms to check in on the students they taught. Some students would place a photo of their own children on their desk for inspiration.

“The first day, they would be really energetic,” she said. “But by the third day, kids would be putting their heads down, or just not coming.”

Pennsylvania’s annual testing regimen is a grind. Spread out over weeks, the tests involve six sections, which are scheduled to take approximately eight hours to complete.

The teacher found it painful to watch her students grow discouraged and disengaged as the tests dragged on.

“A lot of people understand how these tests deprive [students] of a real education,” she said. “But I also think that there’s a whole self-esteem side that people aren’t talking about.”

Almost all of her students were poor and African American. Most, she said, came into 11th grade reading far below grade level and dealing with challenging personal circumstances.

“It was absolutely amazing what was going on in their lives,” she said.

The teacher also felt that standardized tests like the PSSA, particularly the reading passages, were biased against her students.

One year, she recalls, most of the passages on the reading exam were about gardens.

“I was like, ‘What the [heck]?’” she said. “This is so unfair. It doesn’t have anything to do with my children’s lives.”

Regardless, the teacher said, administrators constantly pushed teachers to encourage students to buy into the importance of the tests.

She resisted.

Because her students were so unprepared and the tests so unfair, she believed the whole endeavor was a farce. Given that, she viewed encouraging her students to take the tests seriously as a betrayal of their trust.

That view, however, was met with charges of racism, according to her account.

She described a schism between some White teachers and the school’s largely African-American administration. The administrators, she said, mistook her stance that her students were being set up to fail for a belief that they were incapable of succeeding:

“They really believed we didn’t care about the kids, which is ridiculous.”

In retrospect, she wishes she had found a way to meaningfully address her students’ deep-seated academic deficiencies and the troubling school culture created by high-stakes testing.

Instead, she cheated.

As the testing sessions dragged on, she said, some students – those who hadn’t already given up, or grown “sullen,” or just started filling in random bubbles – would request help.

More often than not, she obliged.

“Kids would ask questions, and I would answer them,” she said.

For example, a student might ask what the word “amphibious” means.

Sometimes, she would give the student the definition. Other times, she would point to the place in the text where it was explained. On rare occasions, she would just direct the student to the correct response.

Part of her just wanted to keep her students engaged. Part of her wanted to transform the drudgery of test-taking into a learning opportunity – if nothing else, they might learn a new word. And part of her wanted to undermine the whole testing enterprise.

“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.”

‘A pattern of intimidation’

The teacher still works in the District, now an entire year removed from the neighborhood high school where she taught for over a decade.

But it doesn’t take much to bring back what she describes as the trauma of her final years there.

A big problem, she said, was a revolving door of principals and vice principals, each of whom seemed to be more of a “bully” than the last.

Invariably, she maintains, teachers were the target: “I felt under siege.”

She also disliked what she saw as the school’s penchant for embracing fads rather than sticking to a consistent educational plan. At one point, it was graphic organizers. More recently, it was computer-assisted test preparation programs.

During her last year at the school, she said, administrators started pulling students out of her English classes without warning to cram last-minute test-taking strategies.

“They think there’s a magic bullet," she said.

Underlying it all, the teacher believes, was a mandate to bring test scores up and meet the school’s federal Adequate Yearly Progress performance targets.

“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.”

In response, adult cheating was “widespread” and “constant," she claimed:

“Math teachers were sitting down in the seat next to the children, with a pencil, actually working out problems with them. I saw that many times.”

By her account, administrators regularly saw such incidents and said nothing.

More damningly, in her mind, the school’s testing coordinator would use test makeup days to round up children who had started taking the exams, but hadn’t finished. The students would be brought to a room and made to complete sections they had begun days earlier – a clear violation of testing protocol.

The Notebook/NewsWorks spoke with another current District employee two other current District employees who was were at the same school in 2009 and confirmed parts of her account, including the claim that multiple teachers provided prohibited help to students during the test.

Spokesperson Childs said that the District hopes it employees report any cheating in a timely manner to facilitate effective investigations.

“We entrust the care of our young people to our principals and teachers, and the overwhelming majority of them are hardworking professionals who take on that task with fidelity,” said Childs.

The teacher who spoke with the Notebook/NewsWorks believes that most of those who cheated at her school did so to boost scores and protect their jobs.

But she is adamant that this was not her own motivation.

"I never believed for a minute that we would make AYP, no matter what I did," she said flatly.

So why compromise her integrity and risk so much?

“When you’re in a place where there’s a pattern of intimidation, you lose sight of what is important,” the teacher concluded. “I was someone I didn’t recognize by the end of my time there.”

Cheating hard to prove

Finally, the teacher believes, the realities of life in struggling inner city schools are starting to be made public.

"The fact that there is cheating on these tests is really just another layer of deception,” she said, citing underreporting of student truancy and school violence.

But over the past five years, allegations of cheating in the District have proven difficult to substantiate.

According to internal documents first obtained by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the District investigated more than 30 claims of cheating between 2006 and 2010. Many involved allegations of similar testing infractions to those described by the teacher who spoke with the Notebook/NewsWorks – adults alerting students to questions they had answered incorrectly, allowing students to return to sections of the exam they had not previously completed, and the like.

Often, the investigators found partial evidence of infractions, or evidence of testing violations they attributed to ignorance of proper test administration protocols. In only a handful of instances did investigators find substantial evidence of intentional cheating.

District officials said discipline in such instances varied, depending on the situation. They have consistently described their test security protocols as "robust."

Currently, the District is investigating 28 schools flagged for suspicious results in the 2009 report that first motivated this teacher to come forward. Results of those investigations are supposed to be provided to the Pennsylvania Department of Education sometime in August.

The teacher who shared her story cautions that it can be difficult to understand the decisions made by people – teachers, administrators, students – in “failing” inner city schools in the NCLB era without having first walked in their shoes.

“I thought I was really strong-willed and sure of what was right and wrong,” she said. “My only defense would be that I lost track of what was right because it was so stressful to be there.”

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Comments (740)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 5:29 pm

Actually, the contents of the tests is often the *only* thing taught in a school all year. But all children don't progress at the same pace. So testing them all the same way will create varied results. The administrations in charge of evaluating the results don't want varied results...they want good results from ALL the students. Anything less is viewed as a failure on the part of the teacher.

So what it amounts to is this...the teachers have to teach *exactly* what is on the students with a variety of learning styles and progess levels. Then, the students then have to perform well on the tests (regardless of any testing anxiety, personal issues, or distractions). Then, and only then, will a student be seen as "passing" and a teacher be seen as "effective".

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 6:09 pm

The test should be written to assess the curriculum - not the other way around. Unless there is something wrong with the curriculum, it's the test which should be rewritten. As a teacher, I give standardized tests, the test writers will write reading comprehension or grammar sections about grits. Grits? Very few of my students know what that is. An adult might be able to read around something they don't know, especially in terms of grammar mistakes. Who cares if you know what they're talking about, as long as you know if it's a run-on or not. However, students don't see it that way. They completely freak out when they don't know understand something on the exam, causing test anxiety.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 7:32 pm

I really and truly believe that things are purposely set up that way to point blame at public school teachers and fulfill the political agendas of others agendas and line the pockets of their friends or companies with monies who are making up these tests. You never know how much kickbacks are being offered. Tests! Tests! And more tests! Rigor! Rigor! And more rigor!! That is all I ever hear about. And they don't care. So sad.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 8:41 pm

The curriculum doesn't prepare students for tests because these decisions are made by politicians rather than teachers. People who left the classroom for a cushy state job dream up a curriculum to generate a diploma (and not prepare a student for college). Teachers aren't allowed to see the tests. The state depts of education put out the test to callibrate it before providing curriculum instruction or training for teachers. By the time the training comes along, the state changes the game completely, old test out, new test in. Buzzwords and trends dominate these changes. Meanwhile, the teachers are the scapegoats, and the kids suffer. There is a total disconnect between the test and any appropriate goal-setting for a student attempting to prepare for academic subject matter. The teacher is caught in the crossfire.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 10:47 pm

Actually, many teachers are on these committees.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 11:06 pm

In many states, these are non-teachers or teachers who left the classroom early to obtain a state job. Once federal money, like the Race to the Top funds Tennessee won, or Lottery money, is involved, the decisions are made by politicans haggling over legislation and there is little to no teacher involvement at all. There is certainly no teacher involvement in creating the standardized tests. These come ready-made out of companies like Pearson and ACT for starters. If teachers made the curriculum, we would have curriculum first and tests second. Now, it's the other way around.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 12:08 am

Actually, there are several teachers on the committees. The new core standards, that most states are adopting, were written by a committee with several teachers.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 8:56 am

In some states, curriculum is written by teachers with state supervision. I am saying that this problem we're discussing is a nationwide problem, and that many states dip into federal and state dollars, especially RTTT and lottery funds. When that happens, the state goes behind closed doors and it's no teachers aloud. Plus, you don't address the disconnect here. Teachers can write curriculum all day in Pennsylvania or Ohio, but they do not author the tests. The battle is lost before the kids take the field.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 12:28 am

The federal government has had no role in the development of the common core state standards and will not have a role in their implementation.

Read the website above.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 4:25 pm

To say that is to completely misunderstand education law. NCLB is federal. Federal dollars pay for implementation of special ed programs and Race to the Top funding comes from Washington, D.C. Standardized testing under NCLB "accountability" is driven by Washington bureaucrats. The tests are created by national companies who do not busy themselves with worrying whether state curriculum committees know how to support the act of children "bubbling in" the "right" answers. All schools accept federal funds except for a few religious schools and a very few number of private schools. Outside of Pennsylvania, states are competing for millions of dollars. Once they do this, the state makes the curriculum which is tied to NCLB and there is no more teacher involvement. Look at the states that won the Federal bucks and you'll see.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 12:58 am

The standards are, in fact, written by teachers.

Submitted by Rebecca R. (not verified) on July 30, 2011 9:08 pm

The thing is though, then the curriculam becomes about the test and scoring better. As a student, I end up learning nothing except how to be a great test taker.

Submitted by Chandler Caraway (not verified) on July 30, 2011 10:56 pm

AMEN!! I could not have said it better. Students should have beem taught through the years the proper school curriculum that would prepare them for this sort of rigorous exam.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 11:51 pm

But you don't understand - the content of the curriculum does match the testing. The students can't do the curriculum either. They come in 2 or 3 years below grade level - at least.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 12:37 am

If they are coming in 3 years below grade level, there should be an intervention plan in place to help them. That is what NCLB is designed to do, to step in and try and catch them up, that is the reason for it. If they continue to fail, they have to take remedial classes in the post years.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 12:13 am

Basically, you are saying, "Why don't the teachers just teach the test." My reply to that is...what is the point? I have taught for over 30 years, and I absolutely hate high stakes testing! To me, there has to be other ways of assessing whether students are learning than this. I don't have the answer, but I do know that I do not agree with the idea of simply teaching the test.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 1:57 am

Though I myself never went to school in this State I can saftely say that a student who's curriculum is soley based on what is on a stadardized test will probably have a lower IQ. Schools are no longer allowed to teach what they are supposed to in the name of tests. Let us be honest not everyone is truly college bound. It is not that I am saying they are bad students, but some people just don't have the capacity for college and what it now represents as a money making system. I myself was good at history simply becuase I was privliged enough as a child growing up to travle to historical sites across the country. When I would take my state mandated test however I felt my own IQ dropping. The questions made no sense what so ever to the passages you had to read or to define the word that was given. Granted that I did manage to pass all my tests hands down it was not something worth doing. Science tests had nothing to do with the science of my grade level or previous ones. I was in biology which is a freshman level class where i come from and the test would ask about physics or chemstry. Granted during previous years of education there was exposure to these subjects there is no balancing equations in biology. I took auto shop, an elective something that I could both use in the real world both in personal life to know how to fix my own vhiechle and to possibly get a job, my teacher would be constrained and forced to set aside time in class to review State test like questions instead of teach what he knew. Criminal Justice another class offered at my school, same principle it can be used to start emersing yourself into a possible career in law enforcement, would have to due reading passages about some boy who grew up with his brother and whos grandmother made a quilt. The test don't do anything but inhibit teachers and students.
I had several friends who were smarter than I fail the test simply because of the way they were worded.
The tests also never give a person results as to what they did wrong on, instead of being like a test a teacher gives covering a math chapter where sin cosin and tang. The teacher can evaluate based on a students score their comprehension of each one of the math problems to decided where to help the student improve. State mandated test could give the same 3 topics and the student not to good and finding the tang of the equation but due to no results the student is just bad at math in general in the tests and adminstrators eyes.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 8:04 am

I am an urban high school math teacher. There's a particularly good point made in this post. Not all students are going to college, and of the ones who are, not all are going to be engineers. But the PSSA test is completely out of sync with this reality. I always like to ask this questions of people, "If you are not an engineering-type of person, in your whole professional career, have you ever had to solve a quadratic equation, or even graph a quadratic equation, outside of the classroom?" Yet the math PSSA has an unbelievable number of questions on graphing quadratic equations, transforming quadratic equations, and solving quadratic equations. Are the PSSA's testing students for high school graduation or for college entrance? We already have SAT's.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 2:36 am

That is what is known as "teaching to the test" and it is done. We try to tailor our classes to the tests and the types of questions that will be asked. However, teachers are not allowed to see the tests beforehand, so we do not know exactly what will be on them. This is, of course, ridiculous. In my own classroom, I cannot give a test if I do not know what is on it and cannot teach my kids effectively if I do not know what I am going to test them on. Plus, the whole idea of teaching to one specific test is horrible. It is causing whole programs to be tailored to try to fit one test's needs. And the test makers are not teachers who are good at making test questions. There's no link to reality (like she said, questions about gardening make no sense to a kid who has never even seen a garden).

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 10:37 am

As a teacher, I strongly agree with you.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 11:31 am

The content is designed to be aligned with what is taught. However, in the urban schools in low income neighborhoods the reality is that students enter the classroom three or four grade levels behind in their literacy and math skills. The point being that it presents an incredible task to the teacher to remediate the drastically deficient skills and teach the content test. Pair that with home environments that are far from supportive or conducive to learning, and it becomes clear why the students are chronically deficient in these skills.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 1:46 pm

NCLB was designed to use interventions when a child has been flagged at 3 and 4 years behind. We use them at our school, we have to. I have seen much progress because of these. I have not heard any mention of these interventions on this post, are other schools out there implementing them?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 11:22 am

Because if the curriculum is set just to teach what's on the test, then there isn't any real learning going on. My school had this approach and all we did from January to April was take practice tests, read little passages of text about the most boring and dull subjects in the world, learn how to properly fill in a bubble. I don't remember a single thing I learned from those years of school except how to properly take a standardized test.

Don't forget that you also have to take district assessments as well, along with regular tests. All that there is is just test test test test.

When I finally got to a school that didn't focus on taking tests and fitting the curriculum just for the standardized tests, thats when I finally learned. Anyone who isn't in school RIGHT NOW and has had to go through all of the changed from No Child Left Behind act has no idea what it's like.

Submitted by John O (not verified) on July 31, 2011 12:21 pm

No, preparation for the test is done as well as possible. Teachers aren't privy to the material on the test beforehand, so it's a surprise for us also. We can do everything possible under the sun, and the questions are confidential until the seal on the booklet is broken, or, the software is downloaded to the computer.

For the latter, 90% of the way through the test the computer network crashes (if you are in a school with sufficient technology) and the frustrated student(s) have to do the test over on another day. Happens all the time. I didn't see this mentioned in the article though.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 2:40 pm

Part of the problem is that teachers teach from the test. Students therefore are not prepared to advance academicly.All the students have done is memorize answers or solution steps to take the test. Teachers put aside their well developed curriculum that they have been teaching and (hopefully) updateing for years for students to pass these tests. Part of learning is learning how to learn. that is the primary role of the teacher. Students need to also learn how they learn i.e. visual, hands on, auditory etc.and teachers need to accomodate and "cater" to the student's learning style. Yes, sounds like alot of work. and it is. Teachers do not get paid nearly enough to effectively do this. This is the beginiing of a very broken system. A system where politics have become more important than the original goal, preparing our youth to function and represent society with high levels of achievment and integrity.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 3:59 pm

Most schools' curriculum is aligned with state tests but when the test supposedly covers up to 30 standards that include several substandards, teachers can only cover so much in the seven months prior to testing. We might get a chance to actually cover 20 to 25 of the standards and then during testing, half the test might be over the 5 standards that weren't covered. Pile on the fact that struggling schools usually have students that are way below grade level so teaching them advanced topics is like trying to teach Calculus to a child that can't even add and subtract integers. For you non teachers I can tell you for a fact that there are a lot of seniors in high school that can't add and subtract fractions and decimals. We can be outraged but I have yet to see any real progress at catching these students in their early years when it's really needed. Kids continue to be socially promoted and teachers are still overwhelmed with the apathy in regards to these children.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 3:19 pm

It is not the curriculum...the tests are designed for "at grade-level" students. Some students (a lot in my district) that come in (in kindergarten have never seen or heard of a letter or number) lower then their peers, it takes a lot of intervention to "catch-up" these students. The test does not take any particulars into account..special education...any impairment the student may have..everyone takes the same test no matter what and it is all scored the same way...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 9:11 pm

This is simply not true, IEP students can have the math section read to them and ESL can use headphones to listen to the questions.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 10:11 pm

What about students that have difficulty reading at grade level..they cannot fully read or comprehend the text..(and as a teacher we teach guided reading at the students' level..not grade level..then we expect the students to take a test that is at grade level) oh yeah...and most of the state (I'm in Illinois) can not read at grade level...there has to be a better way..instead of ALL kids having to maintain the same standards..why don't we grade on IMPROVEMENT..i.e. last year I got a 53% this year a 60% Wow!! Improvement..however 60% would not cut it on the test..therefore you did not "do your job" and teach this student...It's not just about IEP kids!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 15, 2011 4:28 pm

You don't know what the reality is. I can't believe so many people are defending the pssa. Ridiculous.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 4:39 pm

I was thinking the exact same thing while I was reading. I mean, if you rin a Algebra class and you're given a test, it's a test on information that you was taught, to see if you listened and did the homework for it. It doesn't make sense to me. I don't know, maybe it's to much like right.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 4:44 pm

I completely agree, there is a disconnect between the organization making the tests and the organization responsible for the curriculum. Being a teacher myself, I understand the frustration that this teacher feels. Unfortunately everything is about "the test" and the results. Teachers can't just be teachers anymore, we have to be parents, counselors, cheerleaders, etc. I don't mind playing any of those roles, but when I get "bullied," reprimanded, or fearful that I will lose my job because my students don't make the state scores, it's upsetting. State testing is a way for teachers to be evaluated, but evaluating teacher effectiveness based on the responses of a bunch of kids who may not know where they will get their next meal or if they have been kept up all night mommy and daddy fighting is ineffective.

Furthermore, since so many states are forcing individualized education plans for all students, the test makers should be forced to individualize state tests to fit specific demographics for that region/school district. For example, on a middle school state practice test, there was a passage about the "Cultures in Yogurt." I know as an adult I could care less about that topic, so I can only imagine what the kids feel like having to answer questions about it.

Submitted by Tracey R. (not verified) on August 1, 2011 2:58 pm

We don't want to teach the test. We want to teach the skills and strategies needed to tackle any academic encounter, whether it is the PSSA, SAT, or a course assignment. The core curriculum is standards based and is about teaching those skills and strategies.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 2:20 pm

Yes, that is why when people say the testing is based on memorization, they have clearly not seen the tests. These tests evaluate skills and stategies such as summarizing, main idea, sequencing, using context clues, process of elimination, critical thinking, etc. These are crutial skills, they teach children to comprehend and utilize their reading, rather than simply scanning text.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 2:50 pm

Yes, that is why when people say the testing is based on memorization, they have clearly not seen the tests. These tests evaluate skills and stategies such as summarizing, main idea, sequencing, using context clues, process of elimination, critical thinking, etc. These are crutial skills, they teach children to comprehend and utilize their reading, rather than simply scanning text.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on August 1, 2011 2:21 pm

The core curriculum of the Philadelphia School District is a one size fits all, scripted, timelined, teach the test curriculum that is imposed upon teachers and prevents them from teaching in the manner that best develops the cognitive ability of individual children.

I would have to write a book to explain all of the reasons it is so destructive of what teachers need to do for children to educate all students well both cognitively and affectively. Which by the way, is the mission of teaching.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 3:17 pm

You should write a book then and include research, otherwise, everything you just said is hypothetical and based on conjecture. It is not destructive unless a teacher is unaware of their own ability to handle stress. It is evaluative, offers consistency across our nation, holds teachers accountable, and allots responsibility so we are not teaching concepts over and over or leaving holes, it also shows areas of strengths and weakness to help with student placement. If you can offer an an alternative plan that helps both teachers and students in these areas, I believe your argument will have more merit

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on August 1, 2011 3:30 pm

I am working on such a book. I am presently writng an article on explaining what the term "reading level" means and does not mean. It will be entitled: "On an Understanding of the Concept of Reading Level."

Perhaps you have read my first book on the law and best practices of school governance and leadership: Whose School Is It? the Democratic Imperative for Our Schools.

It cites the resarch and law on the best practices in leadership and school governance. It was thoroughly researched.

Also, I am a trained reading diagnostician and led a team of reading specialists who collaboratively created and wrote our own curriculum and pedagogical design for a high school reading program at UCHS. My team and I taught reading in just about every way possible and assessed the results both formally and informally.

I taught reading authenitcally and assessed our students' progress authenitcally. We also used a credible pre and post test (MAT6) that was administered in a low pressure climate.

I assure you our student centered instruction was more effective in developing authentic growth in our students than what is being done now in Philadelphia.

Instead of preaching differentiated instruction and placing teachers in situations where it is impossible for them to do that adequately, you should be leading a collaborative effort to develop several differentiated curricula and settings to meet the diverse needs of our actual students. We need to end the "schools as test taking factories" that we now have.

That is, if we are doing things for the best interests of students.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 4:50 pm

Sounds very commendable, and I mean that sincerly. My question for you, however, is how do we accomplish all of the missions I mentioned above? And if we are creating good readers, shouldn't they be able to pass the standardized tests since these tests are testing the skills of a good reader?

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on August 1, 2011 4:06 pm

Absolutely yes. If students can read at the level of any test selection, they should be able to score adequately on a standardized test. That is authentic.The problem is that we teach kids how to score higher on the PSSA's who do not read nearly on grade level and we are not focusing on their disabilities.

We are now exacting test gains that are "artificial" becuase we do so much teaching to the test, teaching the test, and stretching the boundaries of ethics. We do not know how well our students are doing. That is the real shame of high stakes testing.

The problem is how to get valid, realiable and credible assessment scores that measure authentic reading.

There are also facotrs relating to background of experience and interest that affects reading comprehension and test scores. Some students have a fear of testing. Some students discombobulate when they take tests, and some students are dyslexic -- apporximately 3% to 10% of our population.

Our high achevers Ace tests easily. I beleive we all need to study the development of reading ability and the problems with assessment. A one size fits all test is as bad as a one size fits all curriculum."

Also, the way to fulfill our "common mission" is to create a sense of a "collective vision" and a commitment to task of the whole community. The only way to foster that is through democratic leadership that embraces collegiality, collaboration and creation of an "open climate" for discussion and debate of what really are the "best practices."

We all should read up on the Save Our Schools movement. It is gaining synergy rapidly.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 4:04 pm

I thank you for your reply. I am going to look into the "Save Our Schools" movement. I also appreciate that your feedback is non-aggressive, a sign of a great team worker and leader, I truly appreciate it.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on August 1, 2011 4:43 pm

Thanks, it is about the TEAM.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 3:28 pm

I think you mean effectively, teachers need to teach effectively. Keep that is check when you write your book.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on August 1, 2011 4:04 pm

No! I meant "affectively!" Do not tell me that you do not know what ""affective education" is. If you don't, you need to go back to graduate school.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 4:10 pm

I think affective teaching comes from the individual teacher. I think it is irrelevent when we are talking about testing. How can a test have affect? Our teaching styles certainly can but I am not sure that any tool we create to evalute can.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on August 1, 2011 4:57 pm

That is why we have informal assessment done by the individual teacher. It is authentic and more accurate. There are limitations of standardized tests.

I have actaully used many different types of tests. I have seen none without flaws. Also, I could not imagine anyone creating a standardized test without flaws. The nature of reading is just too complex a phenomenon considering all of the variables and differences of our students.

But if you want to be an effective teacher, you should teach toward the interests, abilities and needs of each of your individual students.

Back in the day we used standardized tests as "red flags" for us to look at each student more closely. We never used it to judge people.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 4:24 pm

Ok, I can understand much of this, however, there will come a time in all readers' lives, where understanding the passages will be between the reader and the text. There will be no helper around, no one to assist. This is much like leaving the student in front of a computer during standardized testing. This to me is truly a test of the reading ability, when it is just the reader and the reading material.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on August 1, 2011 5:10 pm

You are a Great teacher! I can tell. That is the goal -- to make students independent readers and thinkers. With a whole big background of experience!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 5:09 pm

Will you run for president please? ;)

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on August 1, 2011 5:24 pm

Maybe. How about if I just start a new school that is collaboratively led by teachers? Thanks for the compliment.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 4:40 pm

I don't think people "judge" students when they test. I don't think we deem, this is now a bad person. If teachers are doing that, or anyone for that matter, they are missing the point of NCLB. It was put in place to "help" students with low scores so they would not go undetected and slip under the radar. This business of judging confuses me, who is judging these students who need help? Perhaps it is not the tests that are wrong here, but rather what we are doing with the information.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 4:23 pm

Also, why can't a teacher be both affective and teach the reading strategies that are require on the standards tests? I just don't see the connection there, the logical "if this then this" correlation is not at all clear to me.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on August 1, 2011 4:27 pm

You can. If you teach students how to read well, they will already have the ability to do well on the tests. But if you focus on test taking skills, you will rob the students of authentic instruction and it will take you away from providing instruction that will develop true higher level reading and analytical ability.

The saddest thing I have witnessed in the last ten years is when a student with a serious reading disability is just given test preparation instruction.

The greatest gift a teacher can give her or his students is a love of reading and learning. And that comes from the affective domain as well as the cognitvie domain.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 4:21 pm

I agree with you 100%! But I do believe a great teacher can do both. :)

Submitted by Mindset wakeup!!!! (not verified) on July 30, 2011 4:37 pm

The teachers cheated because they approached it from a fixed mindset. The results would have been threatening to their image or students morale to look good. it would have revealed weaknesses that should be embraced to improve. Education is trying to make students better. Why give them false sense of praise(good scores) which will not prepare them to handle real setbacks when they are in the real world.
failures needs to be embraced as a challenge that can be overcome. 1 test doesn't measure potential or future success NOR does it measure good or bad teaching. does it measure ineffective teaching, maybe. if so, why not use the date as good info to address change.. its a snapshot of what the talent level of the test taker at that time. BUT it can be improved.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 7:28 pm

this here is obvious proof that standardized tests need to be either reformed or removed. whole curriculums and classes are based around standardized tests, that in the end have nothing to do with the material taught nor the individual student's intellectual aptitude. it is grilled into children's minds that they are all individuals with special attributes yet they are all subjected to the same standardized, monotonous tests that are not an accurate portrayal of any students intelligence or a school's ability to educate.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 12:47 pm

Amerikun Icy Garbage. Hell with Skhit

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 2, 2011 5:25 pm

The biggest problem with standardized tests is that students are not standardized. The idea of homogenizing a group of people or even worse, assimilation is where the conundrum lies. Schools in lower socioeconomic areas are not the same as the school in a affluent area, nor are the students whose only role models are maids, janitors, or pimps and drug dealers; the result is education does not mean anything; it is not a road out of the ghetto. Beyond the falling prey to the stereotyping, there is the "Fourth Grade Slump" (Meichenbaum & Biemiller, 1998;
Sweet & Snow, 2003), where students in lower socioeconomic areas may have the reading strategies, but due to limited access to vocabulary usage (that the sons and daughters of college graduates - bachelors and beyond have) limits their domain knowledge. Then there is the context of the information.
If the subject matter does not have any relation to the student, whether it is math, science or English, then the student is less likely to engage. As a composition instructor in a community college, I always begin class with, "there is no such thing as proper English"! There is only proper discourse based on who the audience is. If the discourse - including word choice, diction, etc. - is not appropriate to the intended audience, then the message is less likely to have impact. For example, if your doctor used "doctor" words, you may not understand what he or she is trying to convey. When we are teaching to a test, then we are not improving a student's learning skills. Rote activities work best when the information is static, such as 2 + 2 = 4; memorizing this equation is sufficient in most cases. However, knowing the definition of doctor: A person, especially a physician, dentist, or veterinarian, trained in the healing arts and licensed to practice. 2.a. A person who has earned the highest academic degree awarded by a college or university in a specified discipline. b. A person awarded an honorary degree by a college or university. doesn't necessarily mean one will understand every use of the word. Consider the phrase, "doctor the books"; this is an accounting term that someone from an environment that does not know anything about business terminology may not understand. As the person wrote in the article, one of the reading assignments was about gardening, what does a child who grows up in an urban setting know about gardening? How is this relevant?
We need to evaluate our educational ideas as a community. Is it about teaching students how to learn through introduction to disciplines with respect to real life activities, i.e., balancing a check book, healthy lifestyle, engaging in politics, etc. Education should be inclusive, not about culling! Teaching and learning are not static activities, both need to be evaluated constantly in the effort to keep practices, information, and technological application relevant. Imposing reach these goals or lose funding or have your institution closed does not address the problems educators face.
Shutting schools down or cutting funding does not "improve" the students' lives. It only leads to drastic measures justified as putting the student first, and pushing good teachers to compromise their integrity. Failing students who are under prepared because the system is flawed only leads to the future generations buying into labeling - being poor means being stupid. The world is not a black and white arena! Right or wrong is not the issue. When the conditions are not favorable (as the have been constructed), then the participants will resort to questionable responses.

This in no way condones cheating. I am guilty of helping under prepared student-athletes write papers and with test questions. IT WAS and IS WRONG. But the pressure to 1) keep them eligible and 2) make sure they graduate so the team does not lose scholarships is similar to the pressure the teacher feels. I can justify it as looking at the bigger picture, as in at least the students who may look up to this "graduating" athlete don't know how it happened, and maybe they will make it to the graduation platform on their own merits. Though there is a level of truth to this, it is only a band aid that does not have the impact that working on the conditions that underlie the problem would have. Helping students cheat is wrong! Whether it is to protect their self esteem or to provide the illusion that the incoming students are capable of making it through school. They are, but the best way to help them it to improve the services we provide so that these disenfranchised students can enjoy the success and gratitude one gains from overcoming obstacles and succeeding where others may have argued you couldn't.

We need to invest the money, research, and time to improve the lower socioeconomic students' chances - academic camps, etc. and teach them and all students the importance of knowledge in the real world. Education has become too much of a business, and because the immediate profits are minimal, the investments are dwindling. We need to look at the long term outcome of developing a system that is inclusive; that is equally distributed among all students, no matter skin color, origin, or financial station. One that helps to develop engaged world citizens, who are committed to sharing their unique abilities developed in the classroom with all others because it's the right thing to do!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 6, 2011 2:06 pm

The schooling system is doing exactly what it's expected to do: keep young people out of the workforce, while preparing them for the lowest possible rung thereof -- if they're stellar.

How many of these tests explain how a mortgage works? Or why your parents can't afford a lawyer?

If you don't like testing, you must not like ranking students from winner to loser, and if you don't like that, what are you doing in a school, which is only valued by the larger society for its ability to stamp "winner" and "loser" on students?

Were there no AYP, no pressure, and these teachers proudly had their "winners" passing and their "losers" failing, they'd be perfectly happy to carry on. Schooling and testing harm the children as a matter of course.... but when bad test scores have an impact on the teacher's life and livelihood, the way they do on the students', now we find out what a dumb idea teachers think tests are.

These tests aren't making schools worse. They're showing everybody what schools are: terrible asylums of punishment and fear that need to escaped from, not improved upon.

Submitted by Dr. J Dallas (not verified) on October 27, 2011 11:22 am

I'd be willing to bet this stuff goes on a lot more than people currently realize.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 28, 2011 3:43 pm

I think this kind of thing is more wide spread than we want to admit. I know the tests are meaningless on a personal level for the students. Sometimes they just give up. The first time I gave the test to a group of 5th graders, there was a story about a parasol. Nowhere in the text was it defined as an umbrella. The students were supposed to figure it out. The were stuck on that one word. I told the class what a parasol was. I felt bad, but it seemed ridiculous to give the students that story. Days and days of testing makes the students feel stupid and demoralized. We are encouraged to tell them that the score goes on their report cards or determines if they go to the next grade. The students now know that is a lie. Why should they care and put any effort into the PSSA?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 28, 2011 3:40 pm

I didn't know what a parasol was. Thanks for telling me too.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 10:53 pm

Part of the point of a test is vocabulary. Parasol is high school vocabulary, maybe. But a teacher??? Parasol isn't that big a word.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 10:26 pm

I 've never seen parasol on the Sports Page so I don't know nor care about it. Go Phils !!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 1:55 am

Absolutely hilarious. I appreciate your use of humor to deflect an insult!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 8:19 am

Thank You--I appreciate your taking it as given. My feeble attempt at humor.

Submitted by TR (not verified) on August 1, 2011 6:10 am

You don't know what parasol means???? It isn't a high school word- I'd put it at 3rd grade. This is sad.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 8:10 am

I'm a teacher, how smart could I be !!!!!!!!!! Did you mean parachute??

Submitted by p.h. (not verified) on August 1, 2011 8:03 am

No, I wrote parasol because I meant parasol. The word is used, not to confuse, but to exercise the ability to think. If I asked an 8 or 9 year old to figure it out using a sentence with a context clue, I'm sure they would.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 9:41 am

If you asked an 8 or 9 year old, he or she would answer, NOT THEY. Sounds as if you need some sleep or have far too much time on your hands. In any case, please go from me.

Submitted by TR (not verified) on August 1, 2011 11:15 am

You cannot come up with an original, thought-based comment. I am commenting about the test content and the cheating problem. You, on the other hand, are editing people's comments. You are the one with too much time on your hands.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 11:35 am

TR--Do the words, Anal Retentive mean anything to you? Go from me.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 11:37 am

Not this troll still! Get a life.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 12:27 pm

ha ha, I agree... "Go from me??" What are we dealing with Smeagol from Lord of the Rings or what? ha ha.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 11:46 am

please go from us, anonymous!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 12:53 pm

ha ha, anonymous is several people on here sweetpants, we are all starting to haunt you.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 3:59 pm

Obvious troll is obvious. Please, don't feed.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 3:32 pm


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 1, 2011 3:24 pm

It's a rather antiquated word these days. From the days when umbrellas were more of a decoration for ladies to keep the sun off their heads than the thing we use to deflect rain from ours nowadays. If kids don't see it in the books they read even context clues might not help. It depends on whether the writer knows this and gives enough text clues.

Submitted by Inspired_Apple on July 28, 2011 11:09 pm

We had "rumors" that our school was going to be turned into a charter...the collective group didn't want that. I tried to make them see the light. I said, "Look. It doesn't show up on a report card and you're one year away from graduation. But guess what? [hand out print outs] Here are every one of your scores from 8th grade. I can see them online. Who am I? Some internet hacker? The Secretary of Education? I'm just a teacher. And if I can pull up what I want on you, maybe someone else later on can see these scores. 2 years from now you'll be out and the effort you put in now won't matter. But you can slack off or show them what you're made of. As a group, let's beat last year's class."

...I wouldn't have the slightest idea how to reason with a 9 year old -- but the 16/17s? They were pretty capable to have a 'team' mentality to "take down" the year before them. Our scores didn't go up 50% overnight, so you know. We "failed" -- whatever THAT means.

Submitted by Sanity N. Reason (not verified) on July 29, 2011 1:47 pm

You think? Of course this is more widespread. I myself witnessed rampant cheating just like this teacher. However, I must say that I was never tempted to break just one little rule. There is something to be said for integrity. This story of this whistle blower somehow tries to justify illegal acts. Let's say we were speaking of a working for a store and instead of cheating we are talking about giving money to the poor sorrowful workers out of the safe. A little at first then a lot. Illegal? - YES!!! And so my dear teachers is even the slightest assistance.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 9:57 am

I agree completely!! And talking about how she only did it so the students would have higher self esteem? You think it'll make them feel better to have inflated test scores, but not really know any of the stuff? How's that going to work out in real life for them? No one's going to cheat for them at their job. They have to do the work.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 5:30 pm

If the PSSA had any relevance to life, employment, knowledge, or critical thinking, then you are right: helping them would be a disservice.

It's mindless paperwork that goes on for days, weeks, ostensibly over a month. People who have jobs doing mindless paperwork spend most of their time trying to figure out how to plow through it faster, easier, and "cheat" on it. That's why it is mostly done by computers now.

And what this teacher describes is EXACTLY what we do for students the rest of the year. We help them understand what's in front of them. We know what we're assessing, so if they get stuck on a word that isn't all that related to the skill we are assessing, we help them.

The employees and successful members of society we want our students to become do not exist in a PSSA bubble. Asking for help is encouraged in reality. Admitting that you don't quite get this one thing is a good way to get to the next step. If anything, this "figure it out yourself, and if you can't, then just fail" attitude we (are supposed to) have during PSSAs is the opposite of helpful and has little to do with anything they will ever experience after school.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 29, 2011 7:53 pm

The problem is that bad PSSA scores mean they can't get into good high schools. To get into Masterman, they look at 3rd grade test scores. I'm a teacher in North Philly and I know exactly what you mean. None of the test is relevant to them (I had a story about a Kayak....really are you serious?) but they need to do well if they are to succeed and that's just not fair.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 29, 2011 8:45 pm

As a former ESL teacher, I can tell you that two important reading skills are being able to guess at the meaning of an unknown word, and being able to make sense of a passage without knowing the meaning of one or more words. Apparently it's not part of your curriculum, but there are exercises aimed at developing the skill of guessing the meaning of new or unknown words. In ESL, cloze exercises are also used to help students develop the ability to work out the general meaning of a passage even if they don't know what some of the words mean.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 7:12 am

Apparently, the English teacher in this article has never heard of much less taught root words and stems. If students have a good foundation of those, they can figure out most of the words they will read anywhere in conjunction with the piece's content and context clues.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 9:51 am

Hell, I don't even know the definition to parasol and I'm 29 and graduated college with a 3.44 gpa.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 2:14 pm

I see nothing illogical or immoral in clarifying the definition of a seldom used word. At what point did "testing" become so far removed from "teaching"? If this is against the rules, the rules need to be reexamined.

Submitted by Brian S. (not verified) on July 28, 2011 3:43 pm

This is a "must read" piece as it details not only a problem with the American Education System, but a deep seeded problem with America period. It took a lot of courage for this teach to come forward with this story, but I'm glad she chose to as it shows us the direction that America is real heading...a Corporate Controlled State. Read between the lines and it is clearly spelled out for you within this article. Great piece and keep up the astounding work.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 29, 2011 10:35 am

That would be a "deep seated" problem.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 29, 2011 4:24 pm

No, i think seeded is the correct term here... like when you plant a seed deep in the ground. What would deep "seated" mean?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 29, 2011 5:16 pm

The term is definitely deep-seated.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 29, 2011 6:54 pm

No, it is deep seated. Meaning long standing, in place, not easily changed.
Although I like your explanation of deep "seeded". But it is not the commonly used expression.

Submitted by p.h. (not verified) on July 30, 2011 9:45 am

Thank you for putting the smart alec above in their seed, I mean, seat. Sorry, but comments are supposed to be about the content- what is up with all these editors?

Submitted by SocialStudies Teach (not verified) on July 28, 2011 3:21 pm

Bullying is a good word for it.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 28, 2011 3:48 pm

This is so important to expose. Thank you Notebook for this story and thanks to the teacher who was brave enough to be honest!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 28, 2011 3:32 pm

You did NOTHING wrong nor did any or most of the other folks who cheated. The repercussions for not making AYP are so bizarre an stunning that almost everybody would do as you did. You are guilty of trying to protect your job in this environment of mass testing hysteria with consequences right out of the Nazi handbook. The truth is 80%---90% of the kids we teach would have serious IEPs in almost all suburban School Districts--You know it, I know it and The American People know it to quote Lincoln. I am NOT blaming the kids nor even their parents. Racism is alive and has many appendages. These kids struggle with basics that most white children don't and it not their fault but it is what it is. Time will slowly heal this problem nothing else. The playing field is far from even and demanding that the inner city kids perform as their suburban peers do, is silly and delusional at best and programmed to fail at worst. Blaming teachers is ridiculous and destructive. "Cheating" is the natural extension that should be expected especially when the consequences are so enormous. Hopefully, this cheating scandal will encourage clear thinking people to focus on the truth and stop playing this nonsensical game.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 28, 2011 4:33 pm

I agree with your entire comment except for the first sentence. Let's get this out of the way....she DID cheat......and every teacher who cheats end up subverting the teachers who do not cheat. No matter what pressures we are all under, to give in and cheat is disgraceful.

I have been waiting for years for the cheating scandal to explode and it looks like it is finally happening in Philly. The scores at many schools have been to good to be true for too long. Hopefully at some point we can alter/get rid of NCLB and this ridiculous AYP business. High stakes testing is destroying education. Of course cheating will continue in this country until we get rid of this current testing/accountability mantra.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on July 28, 2011 5:46 pm

I agree with you. There are so many things to say about this article, I scarcely know where to begin. I am glad this person discussed her situation and motivations. While I agree the culture of bullying and testing can be very demoralizing, I do not believe it is right or justifiable to cheat. It is always wrong to make students complicit in cheating, and it is wrong to give them and their parents a false idea of their skills. It also continues the pressure on everyone by making the scores of the non-cheaters seem low by comparison. We need to really discuss the perils of testing (this article is an honest, good start) and think of another way to track skills and make us all accountable (portfolios, maybe?).

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 28, 2011 5:17 pm

So what do you realistically think the answer is?????? I am not a teacher who gives the PSSA but if I were, in this environment, I would find a way to skate around the cheating issue while trying to protect myself too. The morons who think this teacher is evil are going to be in the unemployment line soon All kidding aside, this is a complex issue. Having said that, I have my doubts that this article is real and not manufactured.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on July 28, 2011 7:25 pm

Part of the answer is to allow us to teach the way we know how and test kids on their PROGRESS from year to year--not on a 'one-size-fits-all' standard. Combining portfolios with testing would make the outcomes better for everyone. It is an extremely complex issue, and it does start with making sure all kids are fed, clothed, taken care of etc.... I do believe the article is real--despair leads people to do things they would not ordinarily do. That being said, I do believe there are ways to prepare kids for PSSAs that help them do well without cheating. Constant drill and kill is not the way, but some guided practice helps take the anxiety away. This is a difficult situation and there really are no simple answers.

Submitted by Lynne (not verified) on July 28, 2011 7:05 pm

I like the portfolios idea. Tests offer a narrow snapshot. I think they're important, but shouldn't be the only thing.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 28, 2011 7:04 pm

The PSSA is notoriously culturally insensitive so I'm not surprised you'd think them important.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 29, 2011 6:13 pm

You must not be a teacher, seriously, you think a teacher can construct, collect, maintain and organize "portfolios" for 30 or more students, along with teaching them reading, math, science, social studies, art, health, and basic character and morals? And we need to make sure they are fed and clothed? Do parents have any responsibility?

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on July 29, 2011 6:57 pm

I am a teacher, and I think portfolios can be done. I am not saying it is easy, it takes work and organization--the students must be on board and responsible as well. There are many books and articles out there that discuss portfolio systems and how to manage them. Along with some standardized testing (not the craziness we have now) this can give a much better picture of a student's learning than one yearly test can. Yes, of course parents should and do have responsibility--but we need to do the best for our students in our classroom.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 11:40 pm

I'm a student of a high school. Every week, we go in and have a "meeting" with our "advisers" who don't actually advise, just tell us every week we need 22.5 credits at the high school at least to graduate, and to do this that and that other thing that we may not need to do next week.

So yes, a single teacher can help set up portfolios for twenty-thirty students, I agree. Of course my high school's just a little nuts with the constant changing of the requirements.

As for state-standardized tests, teachers can and do teach to them. Example, my state's English test is reading and analyzing, then write a persuasive essay, and then an expository. We spend ten moths writing the same styles over and over again. I've actually by chance got an assignment, and then six months later, the exact same thing was on the State Test. By. Chance. That's how predictable they are and how teachers can "teach" to them.

The math ones however, over half the students at my high school class fail due to teaching to the "bottom third" of the class.

I do blame the teacher a bit, but I also don't. I have classmates who hate to read anything higher of a reading level than the "I Can Read" level books in the children's section of the local library. These classmates of mine fail the English portion of the State Tests every year, but keep going on to the higher grades.

Example of my classmates: Talking about Napoleon, one girl seriously asked what kind of cars they drove.Yes. Cars. In Napoleon's era. And no, she was not joking.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 11:09 pm

I think they had VW Bugs back then. Also, you need 23.5 credits, not 22.5.

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on July 31, 2011 2:20 pm

Thanks for sharing your opinion on this issue. It's refreshing to hear from a student who clearly picked up the necessary skills in this system and cares enough about his/her education to contribute to the discussion.

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on July 30, 2011 7:56 pm

I do that every year! We're required to maintain and organize portfolios. How is it you think that's impossible?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 9:17 pm

Ain't me babe.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 28, 2011 7:03 pm

My point exactly. There is no way to expect kids who have a culture of total despair, replete with violence and poverty at every level, to be able to handle tests like their suburban peers. Stop this madness and get REAL.

Submitted by Christina (not verified) on July 29, 2011 12:22 pm

This kind of talk is, frankly, scary. These tests are a detriment to every child, whether urban or suburban. Saying that students in Philadelphia live in despair, etc. and so therefore can not handle the test freaks me out and you should question where you got that s$%^ from. Bottom line, the test is bad for everyone. I hope you were saying all that satirically or sardonically or whatever, but if you weren't, check yourself before you wreck yourself yo.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 29, 2011 12:08 pm

OK, yo. Yes, the test is nonsense for everyone. Does that make you feel better?? BUT, the kids from inner cities experience life at a whole different level, replete with survival issues that their peers in suburbia only see on TV shows. Traditional education is not a top priority, nor second or third. If you don't understand any of this, I can't help you.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 29, 2011 5:33 pm

I went to "suburbia" school. One of the top high schools in my state. Yet no one knew what was going on at home.....Made some days of testing impossible. The fact is you cannot judge suburban students either. It's not all sunshine here.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 29, 2011 5:03 pm

EXCEPTIONS, EXCEPTIONS, EXCEPTIONS !!!!!!!!!!! I have 2 students in an AP Class who have horrible living situations and always have-----------------EXCEPTIONS !!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 11:45 pm

Funny, I know a lot of people who live in big cities and have great grades. And do well on tests. So city people totally have all the troubles of the world.

Meanwhile, suburbian people have meth houses and the like and a high drug using population BECAUSE THERE IS NOTHING ELSE TO DO. Except have sex.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 11:25 pm

I think you mean SUBURBAN, Toto. I like sex, at least as far as I can recall.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 11:44 pm

awwww, shucks, I thought I was Toto, hit and miss nappy pants.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 8:01 am

You all dat ho.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 9:19 pm

I know this, but thank-you.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 31, 2011 10:27 pm

Right on, Yo !!

Submitted by Lynne (not verified) on July 29, 2011 4:58 pm

I want to point out that the achievement gap isn't just among the poor and also, not every minority student is poor. Nor are poor kids, by virtue of being poor, living lives replete with violence and poverty at every level.

Middle class African American and Latino students are caught in the achievement gap as the College Board has reported. What's that about?

There is an achievement gap in suburban schools as well. Also, what about the preparation gap? Why do students emerge from high school needing so remedial work in college, as studies have pointed out. Indeed, I've heard that the reason undergrad degrees take more than four years these days is not cost as much as it is students spending the first year or two doing remedial work.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 29, 2011 4:01 pm

Yes, I have thoughts, You, not so much. I have attempted to explain this to you, Lynne, but to no avail. In short, GENERALLY speaking, minorities live a different life than their white counterparts.

Submitted by Lynne (not verified) on July 29, 2011 4:25 pm

I am African American and my life isn't much different from my white counterparts.

Please don't stereotype. That's a concern for me in teaching, that the adults are so busy thinking minorities live such different and awful lives - that we're all from the hood, that they see every black boy as Jay Z and every Latina student as J-Lo.

But it is education and socioeconomic status that dictates the lives we will lead, NOT race. You should be as concerned about the white boy from Bensonhurst as you are about the supposedly poverty-stricken black kid from Flatbush. Both face obstacles.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 29, 2011 4:02 pm

Genius--You must speak in generalities because there are always going to be exceptions. If you don't understand that concept, I can't help you. I was not stereotyping.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 29, 2011 4:10 pm

Lynne--Unless you are one of the Cosby Kids, you must see differences, GENERALLY speaking. Sorry, I can't respond further to you if this concept is beyond you.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 9:05 am

Jeez, dude, calm down! Why don't you stop implying that people are stupid and actually argue your point? Statistically speaking, you're actually hindering your own argument by acting like a jerk.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 12:30 pm

Dude--Sorry but some people give freedom of speech a bad name.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 3:43 pm

Thank you Lynne!! It is the "oh, these poor black and mexican kids"mentalities that are keeping kids down. In my opinion that kind of thinking is racist. Why define or make presumptions about the students by their color. A child is a child not a statistic and they should all be held to the same accountability as the next child. Teachers shouldn't be handing out answers because a student has kids at home or their parents are in jail. The message the teacher is giving is its don't have to work or strive for the good grade like your neighboring counterpart because you have problems. A hand out is a hand out no matter which way you look at it and its teaching our youth that hand outs are alright and if they don't feel like working for something when they can get it for free its fine... gee makes you think why our economy is so screwed doesn't it??

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 9:40 pm

Do the words, David Duke make you smile?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 4:46 pm

It is not a race thing it is a class thing.

Submitted by TeachYourChildrenWell (not verified) on July 30, 2011 4:04 pm

Yes, I agree. In fact studies have shown that when schools integrate according to socio-economoc status, poorer children's grades increase at an impressive rate.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 9:22 pm

Wrong again--don't you ever get tired of that?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 9:49 pm

Explain yourself. You are the wrong one. It is absolutely a socio-economic problem. Not all black kids are poor and not all white kids are well off.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 9:47 pm

GENERALLY SPEAKING is the context I was using, Sparky. Get some sleep.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 10:03 pm

This person is not wrong, we saw the same study in our district. When expectations are high and low students are acclimated with higher achieving students, they tend to pick up on these skills. It is the same principle when you group them.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 28, 2011 9:46 pm

I tend to agree that the article looks a bit hokey. "I wanted to be there for them," is not language we commonly hear in this district. I worked at a school where the principal was caught cheating THREE times and got nothing but a handslap. After that the school's test scored plummeted, and not a soul was surprised.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 28, 2011 9:58 pm

As I said, this is a complex matter. Anytime, you're under several flags, it ain't easy.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 12:18 am

I would not be at all surprised to hear "I wanted to be there for them" at my school. It didn't sound hokey to me at all.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 12:45 am

I am a teacher who gives the standardized state assessments, and I wish I could find a way to skate around the cheating issue while still protecting myself. I choose not to cheat, despite incredible pressure, but I doubt I'll have a job much longer.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 7:09 am

I agree.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 10:49 am

Before NCLB, Minnesota had a set of standards that evaluated individual students performance using portfolios. It was a concrete way for students to see their own progress as well as an opportunity for teachers to share student progress with parents and administrators.

Unfortunately, this was same the time when our own Michelle Bachman came into our political world and bullied that program out of existence in an effort to homogenize public education.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 12:48 pm

Between Backmann and Palin, one could make a case for retroactive abortion.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 28, 2011 5:56 pm

Thomas Aquinas once said that we are under no obligation to follow an illegal.immoral law. Cheating to protect yourself from incredibly unfair repercussions is not wrong. In any case, this teacher didn't subvert anything as EVERYBODY knows the truth about the inner city kids in the first place. It's like the big secret that everybody is in on. NOBODY has really believed those scores including Ackerman and the State Beancounters. When I say nobody, I mean it literally, generally speaking. Should this woman have refused to cheat and forfeited her job in this testing hysteria environment?? I don't think so. Hopefully, this scandal will shine a light on the real problem--NCLB and AYP. If truth be told, 80% of all the educators in this country "cheated" on these mindless tests. Should they all be fired or should the environment be changed, replete with realistic expectations for ALL the kids?

Submitted by Lynne (not verified) on July 28, 2011 6:44 pm

Cheating, like stealing, is NEVER acceptable. Otherwise, why shouldn't your kids cheat to make up for a teacher they think gives them tough assignments.

Rather than continuing to look at this issue through the narrow prisms of teachers, why not think about its impact on students. Does cheating help them or contribute to the already high rates of undereducated children, particulary in low-income and minority communities? When a teacher cheats, who benefits? Certainly not the student who sooner or later will pay for weak academic skills unacceptable in an increasingly competitive economy.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 28, 2011 6:12 pm

You make this sound so simple but, of course, it's not. Being under several flags is ALWAYS a bad position. You sound like someone who knows nothing about such complex situations. Why??

Submitted by Lynne (not verified) on July 28, 2011 7:52 pm

Seems like I listed several complexities, include the impact of cheating and social promotion on students and on already undereducated, underserved communities. Your response touched on none of these.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 28, 2011 7:47 pm

It does but you're not sensitive enough to understand them. The world isn't so black and white as you wished it were.

Submitted by Rstands (not verified) on July 29, 2011 10:47 pm


ONE TEST (or set of test in different subject areas) determines whether a child repeats a grade level or is promoted to the next grade. One test (SAT/ACT) determines whether a person is elligible for post secondary education, the type of institution, and in some cases the profession or vocation that individual will enter.

Why are the test more important than the student's overall performance during the school term? There are students that test well and perform poorly during the school year, just as there are students that test poorly and perform well during the school year.

Maybe we should examine these test closer. When in life does one need to answer so many questions in a specified time other than these test? When in life does one need to calculate rows and columns of numbers rapidly other than these test?

Test merely measure ones performance that day on that test.

The "cheating" part of the article is an understandable response to the "bullying". In her specific case I do not think that she was cheating. It is the test that are cheating the students. It is the system that is cheating the students by imposing these test upon them. She was giving them an edge in a cheating society.

Besides this is the USA where cheating is part and pacel of the culture. The examples in history and current events are many from the Declaration of Independence to the present.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 7:30 am

You sound even angrier than I and I resent that.

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