Response to: Aviv, Rachel “Wrong Answer”. The New York Times
Cheating in schools is nothing new especially when it is perpetrated by students in an attempt to get passing grades; however, when cheating is orchestrated by teachers it becomes a major issue that is subjected to scrutiny and investigations. It is unbecoming of a teacher to encourage unethical practices such as cheating among the students. However, Rachel Aviv’s article, Wrong Answer presents a comprehensive case of teachers engaging in cheating with aim of increasing their student’s grades to ensure their pass in accordance with the “No Child Left Behind guidelines.
Teachers’ Involvement in Cheating
Damany Lewis, a teacher at Parks Middle School was found guilty of manipulating examinations with the aim of helping his students to pass the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test which is an examination that was issued to students with the aim of determining whether they met the federal standards of achievement. Evidently, a significant number of the students at parks Middle School were underprivileged; therefore, their academic performance in school was largely poor in contrast to students from other schools. The teachers employed cheating since they knew that most of the students would perform poorly and as such, the school would not be able to meet the set benchmarks that determined whether a school’s performance was satisfactory in view of the No Child Left behind guidelines (Aviv). The description of the incident and the reasons given for the teachers actions make it seem as if they were justified in stealing the tests and giving them to the students; hence, it was an act of civil disobedience.
The teacher’s actions can be construed as an attempt to fight against a system that placed underprivileged children at more risk of being taken advantage of further by giving them standardized tests that they were ill equipped to handle. It could be argued that the teachers’ actions of altering student’s answers in order to “nudge them past the pass mark by one or two points” were in effect an act of civil disobedience (Aviv). Essentially, the teachers refused to conform to examination guidelines that they considered as unfair and unjust to their students especially in view of their social and environmental challenges that made learning difficult.
It would seem that the author’s argument is that the use of standardized tests across the board without taking into consideration social, environmental and economic challenges that may impair the quality of education in a school is unfair. Aviv presents this Argument through the perspective of the experiences of people such as Damany Lewis and an examination of data derived from the various schools in Texas. The Author observes that “in 2007 parks had to score even higher to surpass its falsely achieved scores from the previous years’” (Aviv).
The article, Wrong Answer presents the teachers actions as justified especially since they appear to be looking out for their underprivileged students. Evidently, the teachers are concerned that if they did nothing, their students that had worked extremely hard would be unfairly failed by taking the standardization tests (Cooper and Jackson). Though some of the tests questions were from subjects that the teachers had covered in class, the language used in some of the question was too technical or complicated for the Parks Middle School students; therefore, the chances of failure were more than guaranteed if the teachers did nothing (Reese). Therefore, their actions of cheating in the standardized tests were in effectively acts of social disobedience against the system.
However, there were hidden personal reasons that motivated the teachers to help students in cheating the test. Evidently, the attainment of the benchmarks set by the No Child Left Behind Act attracted a financial incentive for the teachers as a bonus for every teacher (Aviv). The teachers especially Lewis sacrificed their moral and ethical sensibilities for the bonus money; as such, they continued to cheat. Lewis observes that “in 2008 he decided to resign but believing soon he would have the strength to tell the district that its targets could not continue to rise” (Aviv).
Though there was a selfish motivation for the teachers to aid in cheating, it is evident that there were significant improvements in student performance; however, the actual results of the standardized tests would have jeopardize the progress had already been made (Strauss). The author suggests that if there was no pressure to attain the benchmarks set out in the No Child Left Behind Act, and the incentives given to teachers was removed, then the students learning progress was at a steady rate and would have improved significantly in the long-run.
Considering the social and economic conditions that the students at Parks Middle School faced in their homes, the school effectively offered a safe haven where they could feel secure and without being challenged by the problems that they encountered outside the school (Popham 16). The teachers’ actions could be construed as geared towards ensuring that the school continued to operate. In the event that the students did not attain the set examination benchmarks provided by the No Child Left Behind Act, it would have been closed; hence, the students life that were already facing various challenges would have been hurled into disarray. The article attempts to appeal to the readers by suggesting that by helping the students attain a pass mark, the teachers were saving the children by taking into consideration the implications of the schools closure. The students were already living in poor conditions in their communities and could not afford to attend other schools in the well-to-do neighborhood. The author carefully whittles away at the reader’s ethics by focusing on the emotional aspect of human nature especially in view of the children’s future being in jeopardy had the teachers taken no action to improve their test results.
The article, Wrong Answer, presents a major issue in education systems where standardized tests are issued to students without taking into consideration the issues that affect their social and educational development. The teachers’ actions to alter the students’ answers or giving them the tests answers could be construed as an act of civil disobedience of system that refuses to take an equitable consideration of students prior to developing tests. It is evident that though teachers may not admit to aiding students to pass their exams for fear of being victimized, they do focus on developing methods of dealing with examinations or aid in the manipulation of test-outcomes. The impact of standardized tests is presented as the creation of a situation where students do not learn, but they find ways in which to pass the examination especially in schools that have meager educational resources and poor neighborhoods (Grabar). The teachers actions are in effect disobedience against an education systems that takes little notice of the challenges that inner city students face in their lives and which affect their education directly or indirectly.
Aviv, Rachel. Wrong Answer. The New York Times, 21 July 2014. Web. 27 March 2017. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/07/21/wrong-answer
Blinder, Alan. Atlanta Educators convicted in School cheating scandal. The New York Times, 1 April 2015. Web. 27 march 2017. <https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/02/us/verdict-reached-in-atlanta-school-testing-trial.html>.
Cooper, Erick and Philip Jackson. The Atlanta cheating scandal: students were the victims, but the school system suffers too. The Huffington Post, 19 May 2015. Web. 27 March 2017. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-cooper/the-atlanta-cheating-scan_b_7309084.html>.
Grabar, Mary. Standardized tests: Fair or unfair? CNSNEWS, 10 February 2009. Web. 27 March 2009.< http://www.cnsnews.com/blog/mary-grabar/standardized-tests-fair-or-unfair>.
Popham, James W. “Teaching to the test?” Educational Leadership 58.6(2001): 16-20.
Reese, Ronnie. Minority testing bias persists. The Huffington Post, 21 March 2013. Web. 27 March 2017. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ronnie-reese/test-bias-minorities_b_2734149.html>.
Strauss, Valerie. How and why convicted Atlanta teachers cheated on standardized tests. The Washington Post, 1 April 2015. Web. 27 March 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/01/how-and-why-convicted-atlanta-teachers-cheated-on-standardized-tests/