Does pressure make principals cheat?

An article by Heather Vogell looked at the pressure placed on principals to improve students’ test scores and their school’s standing with regard to federal testing goals.

The story focused on principals at two of the four schools accused of cheating on last summer’s fifth-grade math CRCT retest.

Those of you who work in schools know how the reward/penalty game works.

If your school does well, the superintendent or others will come and visit. The principal gets on a fast-track for more lucrative positions and the accolades come pouring in every which way.

If the school does poorly, the principal and teachers can be placed on an improvement plan. Principals are warned they could be demoted or switched to a different school.

There’s no denying that principals face a ton of pressure from school officials, parents and community members.

The vast majority of them handle it well without cheating or turning a blind eye to when it occurs. A few do not.

What pushes some principals to cheat?

72 comments Add your comment

Cere

July 20th, 2009
9:22 am

The only thing that “makes” a person cheat, is low moral character and fear of losing a very high-paying job.

Jeff

July 20th, 2009
9:59 am

Not to change the subject but what were the demographics of the schools involved in the cheating scandal?

Reality 2

July 20th, 2009
10:02 am

Every principals, teachers and school board members should be required to read Dr. Seuss’ “Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!” If you haven’t, then you should read it, too.

Fulton Teacher

July 20th, 2009
10:28 am

Jeff, why is it important to know the demographics? Cheating occurs everywhere! Not in certain neighborhoods or with certain ethnicities. Gimme a break! Are you foolish enough to think that just because these schools got “caught” that others aren’t cheating?

Cere, you’re dead on. I’ve seen so much when it comes to cheating. Even before AYP was implemented teachers were cheating. I’ve always felt that if you teach the content, the kids will learn.

Principals are under a tremendous amount of pressure to ensure students pass a test. NBLB needs a serious overhaul. I am all for accountability, but it must be realistic. Schools are stuck with teaching whatever walks through the door.

Fulton Teacher

July 20th, 2009
10:29 am

Ooops…that should’ve been NCLB!

Jeff

July 20th, 2009
10:39 am

“Jeff, why is it important to know the demographics?”

Once again why does everyone ignore the 2000 pound elephant in the livingroom?

Fulton Teacher

July 20th, 2009
10:49 am

How much do you really know about education? How many schools have you taught in? Before you can proclaim that there is a 2000 lb elephant in the room, you need to have experience working with students on all socio-economic levels. I have worked with upper middle class students in private schools, impoverished students in APS and middle class students in Fulton. Do the middle class schools cheat…yes! It’s easier than you think NOT to make AYP. Even with schools with high test scores. So yeah, they fudge on this and that to ensure they make it. Your assumption is incorrect. But if that’s what you want to believe, go right ahead. I believe that everytime we’ve mentioned something negative regarding education you’ve brought up the 2000 lb elephant.

Reality 2

July 20th, 2009
10:58 am

If principals don’t like the pressure, they can always go back to classrooms. Or, can’t they??? Maybe that’s the big problem…

Shannon

July 20th, 2009
11:04 am

As a former teacher in the Atlanta Public Schools, I am NOT suprised by the findings of the state department of education. This is not even the tip of the ice-berg. I wish the state would send someone in from the outside to test all schools, and the real truth would come out…. B. Hall will be exposed for the fraud she really is. That is why teachers in Georgia need unions.

Jeff

July 20th, 2009
11:07 am

“I believe that everytime we’ve mentioned something negative regarding education you’ve brought up the 2000 lb elephant.”

BINGO!

Cere

July 20th, 2009
11:21 am

If you are honest, Jeff has a point. There is no denying that low-income students with uneducated parents do not do very well in school. The mantra that “it’s up to the parents” – while true, does nothing to help the issue. These parents usually can’t or won’t do what is necessary to help educate their children. Therefore – in my opinion, instead of laying the blame (even if rightfully so) on poor parenting or a bad home life, we as a society need to put in the extra effort it takes to ensure these children are educated. It’s for the good of everyone – pay now – or pay later – through jails, welfare, crime, etc.

The fact is that we have many children who basically need a replacement “home life”. If we are not willing to provide schooling that gives at-risk students small (8-10 students) classes, with teachers who stay with them for 2-3 years, with support, tutoring, life skills, after school care, (Boys & Girls Clubs are a great example) etc, etc, we will never break the cycle. Are we willing to do this? I would guess “no”… So it will continue.

Parent

July 20th, 2009
11:25 am

Same thing that makes our educational leaders, way above teachers, find loopholes in the AYP policies to avoid sanctions. Adult egos, power, and money.

Dr. John Trotter

July 20th, 2009
11:30 am

At MACE, we have been stating for a long time (even in pickets and articles) that there is systematic cheating taking place. If you are a man or woman of integrity, it is very difficult for you to be an administrator these days. This reality has been emerging stronger and stronger through the years, especially after the passage of the Quality Basic Education Act (QBE) in Georgia in the mid-1980s and the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in the Federal Congress. Test scores were raised as the almighty gods which determine how “good” or “bad” a school is or a school system is. Quite frankly, the superintendents want “booger-eaters” as principals because they can be scared into doing anything just to keep their jobs. They know that their jobs are dependent on the test scores. Hence, fudging and out-right cheating takes place. If you do not go along with the program, then, as a teacher or an assistant principal, you are targeted. Educators who are good leaders with great people skills are not wanted anymore. For years, I have personally been telling people who have integrity to stay out of administration. There’s no telling how many times that I have said, “All they want as principals these days are a bunch of weasels/booger-eaters.” This is the state of the public schooling process not only in Georgia, but pretty much nationwide. Test scores drive and determine the curricula and everything else in public education, including jobs and promotions. It is this National Testing Complex which is bohemoth in size and drenched with money. The Testing Lobby now controls public education. It needs to be broken. (c) MACE.

HS Teacher, Too

July 20th, 2009
11:43 am

Cere’s 9:22 comment is dead-on. But I’ll add to it: the low moral character also means that instead of using their positions of influence to tell the “powers that be” that the system is broken, which a GOOD principal would do, they cheat. It’s doubly shameful.

Shannon

July 20th, 2009
11:46 am

Cheating is wrong! Good principals don’t cheat! Weak minded people do!

Way Down South

July 20th, 2009
11:55 am

“I am all for accountability, but it must be realistic. Schools are stuck with teaching whatever walks through the door.”

You hit that one on the head. My high school is in NI5+ and with our population(agricultural, poor,less than adequate parental support,horrible work ethic on the part of students)we may never get the prize.
We continue to create more hoops to jump through but I don’t think
anyone there will resort to cheating…….yet.

Seen it all

July 20th, 2009
11:56 am

Pressure doesn’t make principals and teachers cheat. It’s about saving face. It’s about the thought of being exposed and embarassed that makes people cheat. It’s the thought of being publicly labeled as a failure that makes people consider cheating.

For the record, there are some unethical people working in public education. You have liars, cheats, thieves, and even a few sociopaths working in our schools. But the VAST majority are relatively decent people who just want to eke out a living doing pretty much the only thing they can do earning that kind of money.

As I have said before, it takes REAL compassion, concern, and interest from educators (principals and teachers alike) + strong instruction and high expectations before you will see real change in student achievement. You can have LEGITMATE high test scores from almost any school. But it takes REAL, SUSTAINED effort on the part of educators for that to happen. For most people that’s not the case. They simply want to go to work, put in there eight hours and go home. There are exceptations (those who work with highly motivated students or some Ron Clark “superteacher”), but those are few and far in between.

So as long as you have the local newspapers, who are eager to slam schools anytime they can, publishing test scores and AYP, you will have people who will cheat. They will just cheat quietly.

David S

July 20th, 2009
11:59 am

Lack of financial accountability in a free market of products and services is what ENABLES government schools to cheat and get away with it. In a free market, parents would already be pulling their children out of these schools, taking their money with them, and causing the closure of these contemptible places. But that won’t happen because nobody can leave, nobody can take their money, and likely these cheaters will just get more money to compensate for a “lack” of something or other that “caused” this problem in the first place.

Welcome to government run everything.

Mary D

July 20th, 2009
12:02 pm

Why is it that when you write about the 200 lb elephant, in the school system, it is always in the minority schools. How do you think the minority schools learned how to be a 200 lb elephant, from the majority. The majority schools and the private schools even boast about cheating and how easy it is,(and never get caught) because when you have the money you can do anything, even cheat and it it alright. The double standard is always in existence, no matter what it is cheating on test or committing crimes. It is always the majority verses the minority and the minority looses all the time. As we can see only the minority goes to jail.

Jeff

July 20th, 2009
12:15 pm

Its the 2000 pound elephant not 200. Not to be patronizing but you were the one who made the correlation to minority schools. The facts are what they are and no amount of wishful thinking or white washing will change that..

Beach High Teacher

July 20th, 2009
12:47 pm

My school is on NI-5…at the end of the day, AYP is all about students putting correct answers on paper and graduation. Teachers, principals, parents and communities seek an effective way to moivate the kids to achieve, but it’s the kids who are taking the testa. The big question written on the 2000 lb elephant is “How do I motivate this child to want to acheive highly and consistently?” That’s the hardest thing to figure out….once you do (and I havent) the rest takes care of itself. The students will care more about their performance than teachers and administrators have to.

A great site for school info…… http://www.greatschools.net

Cere

July 20th, 2009
12:57 pm

Isn’t it supposed to be an 800# gorilla? Or just the “elephant in the room” – with no weight attached…?
We need to get our idioms straight…

Old School

July 20th, 2009
1:02 pm

Elephant or not, every time we get to the point where we are actually making the cure du jour work, the rug is snatched from under us and we’re slapped with yet another “researched based” cure that is expected to be instantly mastered and implemented. It doesn’t seem to matter that rural South Georgia and urban Atlanta have issues unique to themselves, school improvement must be one size fits all or else.

Some problems are basic like 10th graders reading on a 4th grade level. Yet teachers are not encouraged or even allowed to be innovative in trying techniques that just might raise those reading levels because it isn’t the lockstep method handed down from above. Never mind that the mandated method isn’t a good fit for either teacher or student. If it’s research based, it must be the best.

Will trusting teachers to cover required material stop cheating? Nope. Will trusting principals and teachers to identify problems and work together to improve their schools stop cheating. Nope, but has NCLB? Has all this pathway/GPS stuff from the DOE stopped cheating? I don’t think so. I actually loved teaching under the old QCCs. It was a clear set of objectives and I was free- even encouraged- to present them in whatever manner best suited my students’ learning styles. Those were the good old days.

Numbers and statistics can be manipulated to suit most anyone’s agenda and you don’t always have to cheat to do that.

Cere

July 20th, 2009
1:02 pm

Beach High – I’m not certain learning is as much related to motivation as it is to comprehension. I really think that students without language skills and deep vocabularies (which are often picked up at home) eventually fall of in their learning simply due to basic lack of comprehension. This is where the motivation drops. As students are required to read more material on their own – and understand what they read – we see test scores diverge – among those who have the vocabulary and reading skills to comprehend the material and those who don’t. Direct instruction in reading out loud and explaining content for comprehension in a child’s early years would go a long way toward helping them help themselves as they gain learning independence.

jim d

July 20th, 2009
1:09 pm

KA-CHING!!

$$ IT IS ALL ABOUT THE $$ —————-WELL THAT AND THE POWER

jim d

July 20th, 2009
1:15 pm

Until such time as WE eliminate the monopolistic system of education WE shall continue to see unethical practices running rampant through-out eduaction.

As my son would say “this isn’t rocket surgery”

Jeff. The elephant just can’t fit thru the out door. We need to get behind and give a little push. The real elephant is the politicos that we entrust our childrens education to.

jim d

July 20th, 2009
1:16 pm

BTW Jeff,

good to have ya back

where is jim d at?

July 20th, 2009
1:28 pm

“Until such time as WE eliminate the monopolistic system of education…”

What would happen to poor rural systems with a couple of schools and no real choice? Do you think that entrepreneurs would show up and provide educational services? Yeah right.

Jeff

July 20th, 2009
1:30 pm

AP Teacher

July 20th, 2009
1:39 pm

Another elephant in the room is the fact that Jeff is an ex-teacher who couldn’t hack the job. This was due partly to the fact that he suffers from Aspbergers (sp?) Syndrome and has some definite issues of his own. He keeps obsessing about the demographics of a school because that is one of the hallmarks of those who are on the autism spectrum – fixating on one topic.

Anyway – I teach at a high school that is split pretty much 50-50, in terms of Black and White students. The same percentage of kids cheat! Typically, the Black kids cheat to pass, and the White kids cheat to get a better grade. That is just my experience.

Cere

July 20th, 2009
1:44 pm

Can’t help it, Jeff – I’m a Virgo —

Here’s my lost post (hopefully it won’t show up twice) —

Beach High – I’m not certain learning is as much related to motivation as it is to comprehension. I really think that students without language skills and deep vocabularies (which are often picked up at home) eventually fall of in their learning simply due to basic lack of comprehension. This is where the motivation drops. As students are required to read more material on their own – and understand what they read – we see test scores diverge – among those who have the vocabulary and reading skills to comprehend the material and those who don’t. Direct instruction in reading out loud and explaining content for comprehension in a child’s early years would go a long way toward helping them help themselves as they gain learning independence.

Pressure at the AJC?

July 20th, 2009
1:49 pm

I see once again Maureen Downey has chosen to ignore the cheating scandal at APS, and APS’s and the governor’s responses, and instead bore us with an article about her child’s dislike for southern music.

Is Downey feeling some pressure to cheat the readers by ignoring this vital issue? Just who is Downey trying to protect?

Chris Broe

July 20th, 2009
2:06 pm

I caught a nefariously jealous and insidiously evil teacher erasing my IQ score and putting in a lower score once………..once.

That was the year I won the spelling bee, from which some teacher disqualified me for counting vowels. (the dirty rat.)

Teacher 4902

July 20th, 2009
2:07 pm

I believe principals should be held responsible for the success of their school. My principal comes to school at 1:30 daily. I no longer look at her as the principal but as the afternoon news announcer. The only time you will see her is during teacher evaluations, which are being done at the last minute and rushed. I have even had another teacher attempt to evaluate me. She does not have a clue as to how to operate the school or support her teachers needs. I mean who monitors them? Their evaluation is based on the success of the schools test scores. I could understand how some teachers feel as if they want to cheat, but after reflecting you can only come to the realization that you are harming the students. As educators our job is to ensure a quality education for all of our students but it sounds easier than practiced. As stated in another post, if outside sources were allowed to administer the examinations, many schools would not reflect the high scores that they have now. It is not only a low socioeconomic thing but can be found in even your wealthiest schools. It’s all about getting the grade.

Enhancing the profession

July 20th, 2009
2:14 pm

Did the AJC really give space for someone to claim that in order to make the teaching profession more enhancing, we just have to take away the fair dismissal rights of teachers?

With that logic, we just need to make teaching really, really, enhancing and take away teachers’ constitutional rights as well.

Seen it all

July 20th, 2009
2:18 pm

For the record,

There are a lot of people who can’t handle the job of teaching. To be honest, it is DIFFICULT if you don’t have the right mindset and mental framework for the position. You have to be able to identify with and understand your students and their families. That can be difficult to do if you are different from your students. This includes not only race, but religion, socioeconomic status, etc.

Some teachers like to read books like Ruby Payne’s “A Framework for Understanding Poverty.” They read these books to seek answers and explanations as to why non-white, lower class students cannot be successful in their classrooms or meet their expectations. I give the people credit for at least identifying the fact that they do see a difference between themselves and their students and are seeking answers to justify their conclusions and beliefs. But the question is– “where do you go from there?” There are rigid, bureaucratic educational systems all over the world. But the teachers overcome it and students are successful.

However, sometimes differences can be too hard to overcome.

Legend of Len Barker

July 20th, 2009
2:25 pm

It’s incredibly unfair that a principal or school shoulders 100% of the blame for low test scores.

The state does not measure the intangibles, just the test scores.

It doesn’t matter if little Johnny spent every day of his school year in another district at XYZ schools. All that counts is how little Johnny does on the test at ABC school.

It doesn’t matter if the state gives the rural school so little money that it can’t improve its materials. Similarly, the state doesn’t care what the kids are doing at home. The only culture the vast majority of the local kids have seen is the fungus growing in the bathroom.

To the state, we are all equal. We are all on grade level at the beginning of the year. We all learn at the same rate. We have all experienced the same things.

The principal cannot be 100% clairvoyant. Suppose he or she is needing a teacher and finds one with a good-looking resume. Suppose they hire this person and the new teacher turns out to be a total flop. You can get rid of the teacher at the end of the year, but you can’t change what took place.

Also, if a principal moves into a new school and wants to get rid of the long time teacher Mrs. Do-Nothing, it’s difficult. Tenure.

You’re a bit off about the rewards for a principal. If said principal is in rural school district #80, that principal might not be rewarded other than a round of applause at the board of education meeting. Rural school district #80 has very few opportunities for someone to move up.

(Not to mention that the best and the brightest don’t always inhabit the central office. Teaching is sometimes a position where skill gets you nothing, but ineptitude gets you a non-classroom job.)

Cheating is not the right thing to do, but when the state allows for no shades of gray, I can see why some of them do.

Open Records Request

July 20th, 2009
2:40 pm

The administrators in question are like the Lynndie Englands of the case. As in the England case, the real truth lies in how high the actions were condoned.

As long as the AJC is doing Open Records Requests on the CRCT cheating story, why not file for open records requests on the communications between the superintendents and the administrators accused of cheating?

Doesn’t the public deserve to know what did the superintendents know, when did they know it, and how did they respond to it? Are the AJC reporters up to taking this step, or will they be stopped by higher ups, as has been reported in the past?

Observer

July 20th, 2009
3:33 pm

I believe cheating would’ve gotten worse if it hadn’t been discovered. The school’s performance (and teacher’s) should have some effect on the annual evaluation. I agree that incentives should be in place to assist with non-performing schools but not to the extent that the schools that consistently meet the testing standards would be left out.

Paulding County Teacher

July 20th, 2009
3:33 pm

Look, everyone places too much emphasis on the CRCT. This “measure” of age/grade appropriate knowledge does nothing more than measure how well a student can take a test. Students are absolutely HAMMERED with CRCT prep activities and references throughout the year. Not only is it an annoyance and activity in futility, but it also takes away from time that should be spent building a strong foundation in critical thinking skills. The standards ( and the CRCT for that matter) do not place any importance on building, testing, and reinforcing critical thinking skills, and the results are evident at the college level. One major university in particular has seen such a problem with the inability of the incoming freshman to think critically, it has instituted a required critical thinking class beginning this fall. The education system does not support the skills necessary for future success. Until the current standards are abolished (along with lazy, ineffective testing mechanisms such as the CRCT), our educational system will continue to fail, and further jeapordize the future success of this country.

ScienceTeacher671

July 20th, 2009
3:36 pm

We’re still ignoring the cheating at the highest level, by the GaDOE….

You know, that cheating where students who get less than half of the answers correct on the state tests are told that they “passed” those tests…

And the cheating where students who are working up to 4 years below grade level on the CRCT are told that they are “proficient” in reading in math…

And the cheating where students who are just barely at grade level on the CRCT, and just barely passed the EOCTs are told that they “exceeded standards”…

When my class is testing, I follow the rules, and I’m a bit insulted by the insinuations that “everyone cheats”. On the other hand, maybe we’re all complicit in cheating when we play along with the charade that students who pass the CRCT or EOCT or GHSGT have actually accomplished something, because the standards are set so low as to be meaningless, and we all know it.

AP Teacher

July 20th, 2009
3:55 pm

ScienceTeacher671 – Amen!

Is the AJC cheating its readers?

July 20th, 2009
4:02 pm

I’m sure many think the AJC is doing a good job of investigating cheating. But are they? Or are they just focusing on a few selected incidents with local administrators while giving political cover to higher ups?

Why has the AJC editorial board, other than a throwaway line by Wooten, been silent on the issue? Why has the Maureen Downey been silent on the issue? Is there an agenda being served by their silence on the issue?

Why have the reporters efforts been concentrated on a select few individuals, rather than make a concerted effort to find out how high up did the knowledge go, and what efforts may or may not have been made to minimize, or even cover it up?

Last but not least, why aren’t readers asking these questions? Because ultimately if the readers don’t make them dig deep for the truth, can we blame them for not doing so?

Tony

July 20th, 2009
5:07 pm

The first post hit the nail on the head when it comes to cheating. Low moral character.

Now I’m not so sure that all of us principals have a “very high paying job.”

Elizabeth

July 20th, 2009
9:21 pm

I teach in a school that does not cheat and our principal is awesome. Yet we failed to make AYP this year because of one special education student who did not pass math. This might be a valid reason eccept that… he and two othe students who were tested under the name of our school NEVER SET FOOT IN THE BUILDING ALL YEAR. They spent the year at the alternative school but were sent back to us for testing since the alternative school is not required to give the CRCT. None of our staff or our principl ever saw them– yet we failed to meet AYP because we had one too many stuents in that subgroup fail math. How is this fair? We don’t cheat but nonsense like this is what drives some schools to desperate measures to make AYP. It is not ethical, but as long as the system is the way it is, cheating will happen. People need jobs and they will do their best to see that they keep them. In the final analysis, I cannot MAKE my students learn. I can only TRY to engage them and try to help them improve. Too many students have no desire to learn or succeed in school. I do my best, but I am not a miracle worker. Effort has to come from both sides — the student as well as the teacher.

Lee

July 20th, 2009
9:43 pm

“This isn’t rocket surgery.”

I see the Jr Jim D inherited his father’s wit. LOL

Principals changing test scores, cheating if you will, is fraud. Pure and simple. Everyone has the propensity to commit fraud – if given enough motivation. Telling a principal that they may lose their job over the results of a test that many feel is flawed is pretty good motivation for some.

Of course, if your principal is short on principles to start with, then it becomes all the more easier…

SE GA Teacher

July 20th, 2009
10:11 pm

My Glynn County principal would not cheat, but she makes certain during the year that we are constantly teaching the standards. Numerous unannounced visits, as well as benchmark tests in ELA and math, help to verify what is being taught. My school had many students who were there because we were a school of choice. Out of 105 5th graders, only two failed reading on the CRCT, and only six failed math. I honestly do not think these students would have passed if they were at their home school. I am just thankful each day for my administration and students.

Sam

July 20th, 2009
10:35 pm

Does pressure make principals cheat?

Pressure makes no one cheat. Fear does.

Deming: “Where there is fear, you will get cheating and faking.”

When will we learn this lesson for the benefit of the children?

Look at the big picture

July 20th, 2009
10:47 pm

Why does this blog stop at whether or not the pressure makes principals cheat? Why won’t the AJC look into just how high up the cheating goes? If they can make Open Records Requests of an administrator’s file, why won’t the AJC make Open Records Requests of all correspondence between the local administrators and the central office to see just how ingrained the cheating really is?

It’s really disappointing that practically no one responding on these blogs is willing to raise those questions. If the public doesn’t use forums such as blogs to bring these issues to light, how does the public think there is any chance things will change?

Change Everything

July 20th, 2009
11:47 pm

1) Public schools must take all students that come through the door.
2) How is it accurate to test the spectrum of children and draw conclusions about the quality of education they’ve received?
3) For example, what if the most educated and charismatic literature teacher works at a school that is populated by a mostly “English as a second language” students? Would the CRCT results for this school/class reflect her knowledge and capabilities to teach?
4) Does “student achievement” on a test that has been normailized “down” offer us credible information about the education in any particular school?
5) Would it not be better to test teachers so parents and communities can best value the education that is being produced by any given teacher?
6) Why not test teachers and have independent observations of their classroom skill and management?
7) Wouldn’t knowing the quality of the educators at any school provide a better data set than the CRCT test?
8) If we’re going to test the teachers, let’s pay them 6-figure salaries and cut all the bloat at the district offices and get the best teachers.