Cheating on the Rise as Testing Takes on Weight Principals, Faculty Hang on Scores

Article excerpt

Fifth-grade teacher Barbara McCarroll was already puzzled and a little upset about her students' low test scores when her boss at Eastgate Elementary in Columbus, Ohio, approached her.

How was it, the principal snapped, that the same children had done so much better on standardized exams the year before?

After eight years of teaching, McCarroll knew it paid to be frank with children, so she put the question to them. She was not prepared for the answer: "Well, Ms. McCarroll, that's because they gave us the answers and you didn't."

Five months later, McCarroll sits at home, on disability leave since developing sleeping and eating problems. She says she was forced out of the school because she complained about coaching by teachers who administered last year's state proficiency test. She, her principal and her school join dozens of others across the country caught up in a rash of alleged cheating incidents seemingly brought on by a political movement to raise student achievement.

PRESSURE TO SCORE

The latest incident arose Wednesday at Montgomery County's Potomac Elementary School in Maryland, where Principal Karen Karch resigned after angry parents alleged that students were pointed to the correct answers and helped in rewriting answers to essay questions.

"We're all shocked and flabbergasted. What the school feels is disbelief," said Krysti Stein, Potomac Elementary's incoming PTA president.

At a time when superintendents are under pressure to increase test scores and hold principals and teachers accountable for student achievement, talk of cheating dominates the conversation in education circles.

"What we are seeing is what comes from the pressures of these high-stakes tests," said Vincent Ferrandino, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, who saw a similar scandal in Fairfield, Conn., while he was state education commissioner. "There needs to be some discussion of the validity of this kind of assessment."

Teachers don't defend breaking testing rules but say they understand how colleagues might behave irrationally to ensure good results on tests that could dictate whether and where they will teach.

Few of the accused cheaters have spoken out in their own defense, although Bob Adams, a Woodland, Calif., teacher who allegedly broke the rules by using an old test to prepare his students, insisted that his case be made public and had his attorney speak of the pressures educators face.

"They put incredible pressure on teachers to get these scores up, but they don't give them adequate training or preparation materials," attorney Margaret Geddes said. Geddes said her client didn't know the questions he used in class were from an old test. …