The Austin Chronicle

You're Only Cheating Yourself

By Rachel Proctor May, January 14, 2005, News

You shouldn't have to say this to a bunch of teachers, but here it is: no cheating!

That's what Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley said Monday as she announced the agency will hire an outside testing expert to review security procedures designed to prevent teachers from altering students' scores on high-stakes TAKS tests. "Texas educators understand that cheating on the test can be a career-ending move," said Neeley.

Neeley's announcement was sparked by a Dallas Morning News investigation that found suspicious increases in test scores at hundreds of Texas schools. Possible cheaters include dozens of schools in Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston, plus three Houston charter schools that had garnered national attention for their seemingly miraculous performance.

Neeley urged people to remember that allegations of cheating affect only about 200 of the state's 7,500 schools. But while teacher groups said they welcomed any moves to ensure confidence in the integrity of Texas' school system, they worried that focusing on a few bad apples obscures larger problems with a testing system that itself, they say, is a bit rotten.

"We have to make sure that the public has confidence in the accountability system and the test scores," said Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association. "I think where we disagree is whether or not a single standardized test should be as important as it is in Texas."

Eric Allen of the Association of Texas Professional Educators said it would both remove incentives to cheat, and be a better teaching tool, to replace the current system in which schools must meet passing rates on year-end tests no matter how poorly prepared their students were at the beginning of the year, with one that measures individual students' progress over the course of a year.

"Usually when people cheat, it's because they don't have the resources to get the end goal without cheating," he said. Allen is also concerned that the scandal will cast aspersions over public education – no small concern at the beginning of a legislative session where the role of vouchers and charters will figure prominently.

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