The 7 Most Shocking Teacher Cheating Scandals In U.S. History

school test

Atlanta’s public school students returned from summer vacation this month to learn that 178 of their teachers and administrators had been implicated in the largest teacher cheating scandal in the country’s history.

While huge scandal in Atlanta is the most widespread case of teacher cheating that we know of, the practice didn’t begin there. As a recent ProPublica story noted, teachers have been secretly helping their students achieve better scores on standardized tests for decades, both with and without the consent of their pupils.

Los Angeles, 1985-87

State investigators uncovered evidence of teacher cheating at 40 Los Angeles public schools, including 18 elementary schools, on the 1985-86 California Assessment Program tests.

The state Education Department determined that there were an 'unusually high' number of erasures on student tests -- a classic sign of teacher tampering -- on the 1986-87 tests as well, prompting a broader investigation that ensnared six additional schools.

The state ultimately closed the investigation without determining who was responsible for the cheating.

Source: ProPublica

Chicago, 1993-2000

In 2002, Freakonomics author Steven Levitt and another economist, Brian Jacob, developed a method of analysing standardized test scores for signs of cheating, which they then applied to several years worth of data from Chicago's schools.

The two determined that cheating occurred in at least four to five per cent of classrooms every year. They also discovered a significant spike in cheating when Chicago introduced new tests in 1996, and that cheating was more likely in low-performing classrooms.

Source: ProPublica

New York City, 1999-2001

An internal investigation in New York City uncovered what was believed at the time to be one of the largest instances ever of teacher cheating. 30-two schools and 52 teachers and administrators were implicated in a lengthy investigation.

In the most shocking case, one teacher was accused of leaving an answer sheet near a pencil sharpener, and then encouraging his students to sharpen their pencils. A subsequent New York Times investigation questioned the extent of the cheating, though it did not dispute that the practice was widespread throughout the school system.

Source: ProPublica

Birmingham, 2002

A private investigation claimed that administrators at one high school had asked about 500 students, or five per cent of the student body, to leave the school immediately before students were scheduled to take a standardized test. School officials denied that they had asked the students to drop out.

Source: ProPublica

Texas, 2004-2010

A 2004 Dallas Morning News investigation found evidence of cheating at dozens of Texas schools, and found suspicious test scores in hundreds more.

The state eventually conducted its own investigation into suspicion of cheating at more than 700 schools in 2006, though they later declared that most of those schools were innocent -- in part because the investigation consisted of a survey simply asking schools if they had cheated.

Still, allegations of cheating have persisted, including one incident last year at a Houston elementary school that resulted in the resignation of the principal, assistant principal and three teachers.

Source: ProPublica

Los Angeles, 2010

In a particularly brazen episode of teacher cheating, the director of a Los Angeles charter school system, John Allen, ordered the principals of six schools to open state tests so they could use actual test questions to help their students prepare for the exams.

Allen was originally demoted from his post after teachers complained about his order to cheat, but was eventually forced out entirely after parents raised an uproar.

Source: ProPublica

Atlanta, 2011

Nearly 200 teachers and administrators in Atlanta's public schools have been implicated in a the largest known case of teacher cheating in U.S. history. All told, 178 educators were cited in a state-led investigation into cheating on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT).

Additionally, investigators determined that cheating had gone on at 44 of the 56 schools they examined.

Cheating was so widespread that, according to the state's report, teachers gathered at so-called 'erasure parties' on weekends to alter tests together.

Source: ProPublica

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