Teachers Go Back to School in Trouble for STAAR Test Cheating

Teachers Go Back to School in Trouble for STAAR Test Cheating

DALLAS, Texas — There is a history of cheating on the annual standardized tests in Texas and it’s not the students. It’s the teachers, and these classroom scandals have rocked the state. These days, that test is the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) and recent incidences of teacher cheating are already bubbling up at the start of the 2014-15 school year.

While Dallas ISD has been lauding its progress on high school graduation rates, its superintendent, Mike Miles, has been warning teachers not to cheat on this year’s STAAR. Miles issued a stern warning to teachers in an open letter that followed their recent high-stakes testing scandal. Cheaters are being told they will be caught, according to the Dallas Morning News.

An internal district investigative examination of previous school TAKS scores that netted below average results, unfortunately indicative of demographics and associated achievement gaps, was followed by stellar first year STAAR results in 2012-13. Then came the nose dive of 2013-14. The peculiar inconsistencies raised suspicions at Umphrey Lee Elementary School. It all ended in teacher resignations and testing violations. Three additional schools and three teachers were implicated with in separate testing irregularities in May. Two of those teachers are no longer with Dallas ISD.

In his letter, Miles reminded faculty about the decade old monitoring system that the district uses to detect inconsistencies that may signal test cheating.

“While it causes great concern anytime a district employee intentionally acts in a way that is incongruent with the standards of a professional educator, we also know that such behavior is far from the norm and does not reflect the high degree of integrity with which the vast majority of you conduct yourselves,” he said in the letter obtained by the Dallas Morning News.

Meanwhile in Houston ISD, four of five teachers accused in a STAAR cheating scandal between Jefferson and Atherton Elementary schools agreed to resign in a deal that was struck involving a year’s salary, the Houston Chronicle reported.

District spokeswoman Sheleah Reed told the Chronicle that the fifth of these teachers resigned to take another job and wasn’t getting a severance package. However, in the past year, these five were from a total of 20 teachers who were removed from their classrooms across the two campuses in the cheating probe. The 15 who were reassigned were not found guilty.

The whole firestorm was sparked by student statements and questionable test scores. Education Week reported that the youngsters “suggested the teachers provided improper assistance to them” on their STAAR tests, although the teachers countered that the students were confused getting help on the STAAR practice.

Reed also said, “Testing helps us measure the degree to which students are learning, and HISD will remain vigilant in its efforts to ensure that the integrity of the state’s testing process is not compromised.”

Testing is the benchmark, although not everyone is a fan of it anymore as witnessed by the increasing “opting-out” of this kind of intense or “high-stakes” testing.  It has been spurned on by a growing resentment that too much emphasis  and worth is placed on the tests for student accountability and teacher evaluations. The tests also take away from classroom learning time.

Proponents believe the tests are a viable snapshot to justify taxpayer dollars that fund the public schools as they show a measure of successes, failures and areas for improvement. Opponents feel that this kind of testing breeds a pressure cooker style of learning, fostering a “teach to the test” environment where no one learns anything other than how to take a test. Furthermore, educators are saddled under the scrutiny of delivering high test scores that are tied to their job performance indices.

In Texas STAAR is mandatory. KXAN, the Austin NBC News affiliate, reported that the TEA said it was illegal for a parent to opt out their child from taking the test. They stressed there was no clear consequence if a parent did this, although there was a threat of holding the student back from the next grade.

The STAAR, though, only accounts for 15 percent of the grade under new accountability guidelinesBreitbart Texas asked Texas Education Agency (TEA) Director of Media Relations Debbie Ratcliffe if she thought that the reduced emphasis on the STAAR would curtail the intense pressure felt by teachers and the unfortunate choice to cheat.

She said, “It’s hard to predict but we would hope to see a reduction. The teachers put their careers at risk when they cheat on the tests and they cause some struggling students to miss out on extra tutoring or other support services if they haven’t been accurately accessed.”

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.