Cheating Teachers? Incentives Drive the Bus

Teachers Cheating? What happened to leading by example? In fairness, examples of exemplary behavior are in short supply these days. Banks are making loans to people that can't afford them. People who can afford to pay are walking away. And teachers, the foundation of our educational system, are now cheating. If behavior is a bus, incentives are the navigation system.

John Fremer, a specialist in data forensics  who was hired by an independent panel to dig deeper into the Atlanta schools, and who investigated earlier scandals in Texas and elsewhere, said educator cheating was rising. “Every time you increase the stakes associated with any testing program, you get more cheating,” he said.


For seven years, their school, Atherton Elementary in suburban Atlanta, had met the standards known in federal law as Adequate Yearly Progress — A.Y.P. in educators' jargon — by demonstrating that a rising share of students performed at grade level.


Then, in 2008, the bar went up again and Atherton stumbled. In June, the school's assistant principal for instruction, reviewing student answer sheets from the state tests, told her principal, “We cannot make A.Y.P.,” according to an affidavit the principal signed.


“We didn't discuss it any further,” the principal, James L. Berry, told school district investigators. “We both understood what we meant.”


Pulling a pencil from a cup on the desk of Doretha Alexander, the assistant principal, Dr. Berry said to her, “I want you to call the answers to me,” according to an account Ms. Alexander gave to investigators.


The principal erased bubbles on the multiple-choice answer sheets and filled in the right answers.


Any celebrations over the results were short-lived. Suspicions were raised in December 2008 by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which noted that improvements on state tests at Atherton and a handful of other Georgia schools were so spectacular that they approached a statistical impossibility….

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