WTHR Teacher Survey provides details on Indiana testing and cheating


Cheating on standardized tests like the ISTEP exam might be far more widespread than thought.

Just days after WTHR broke the story of a teacher cheating scandal at North Central High School, 13 Investigates now has results of a statewide teacher survey that shows teachers know a lot when it comes to cheating involving high-stakes tests.

Nearly 2,000 Indiana teachers participated in the WTHR survey, which was distributed on behalf of Eyewitness News by the Indiana State Teacher's Association.

The non-scientific survey was designed to gather information regarding teachers' observations and experiences involving state-mandated standardized tests, as well as their knowledge regarding any cheating on those tests.

Among the key findings:

  • 10% of teachers surveyed said they are aware of a student at their school who cheated on a standardized test.
  • 11% of teachers said they are aware of a teacher in their school district who cheated while administering or helping students prepare for a standardized test.
  • 81% of teachers said they feel pressure related to their students' achievement on standardized tests.
  • 80% of teachers said pressure related to standardized tests has a negative impact on the learning environment in their classroom.
  • 78% of teachers said pressure related to standardized tests has a negative impact on their ability to teach effectively.

The survey allowed teachers to provide additional perspectives beyond specific questions. Hundreds of teachers used that section to express concern over the increasing importance and frequency placed on standardized test results for students, teachers and schools. Asked what changes, if any, should be made to Indiana's standardized testing system to improve the quality of education, some of the teacher responses include:

"We are testing kids too much. They are stressed out about it. Teachers are spending so much time administering the tests that we have less and less time to actually teach our students. Some simply do not do well on tests, so tests do not show what our students are really capable of in those instances."

"Testing needs to be a part of the overall picture, not used as a bludgeon to suck the last bit of creativity and joy out of teaching with a teach to the test teach to the test philosophy that research shows DOES NOT WORK."

"There needs to be less of it. All we do to these poor children is test...test...test! We don't have time to teach because we are focused on the testing."

Some of the teachers provided details about how other teachers cheated on standardized tests.

They said they've seen or heard of colleagues in their school districts who gave hints and clues during testing, looked at questions before test day and created a study guide for students, and helped kids eliminate wrong answers while taking the test. Some teachers said they even know of colleagues who gave students correct answers during the exam, or erased and changed students' answers after their tests were completed.

Why would some teachers engage in such behavior?

The Indiana State Teachers Association believes teacher stress and anxiety may be to blame.

"I think when you push for competition in a school setting where we're all supposed to be heading towards the same goal, when you change that dynamic and you put so much pressure on schools and force them to compete -- literally compete against each other -- teachers feel tremendous pressure," said Theresa Meredith, an elementary school teacher and vice president of ISTA. "I do not condone cheating in any way, but there is tremendous pressure."

Some inside the Indiana Department of Education downplayed that pressure.

"Do you really think parents care if their kids' teachers are feeling pressure? I don't," said IDOE communications director Stephanie Sample. "I think most parents just want them to teach."

Asked about WTHR's survey, IDOE press secretary Alex Damron said department representatives have spent a lot of time in Indiana classrooms and, based on their visits, do not believe teachers are feeling high levels of stress.

"If you look at the results of our test scores in the past few years, you'll see we're moving in the right direction, so we're feeling a positive culture shift in the classrooms," Damron said.

But the man in charge of IDOE's standardized testing program admits test anxiety is very real – for both students and teachers.

"I don't doubt that there are some individuals that may feel pressure," said IDOE chief assessment officer Wes Bruce. "But if a teacher is teaching to the standards, students should do well on the exams."

Despite repeated requests by WTHR for an interview, State Superintendent of Schools Tony Bennett has declined to comment on the teacher cheating scandal exposed by 13 Investigates or on Eyewitness News' statewide teacher survey.

Teacher concerns regarding standardized tests should be addressed by IDOE, according to Butler University education professor Arthur Hochman.

"The survey shows teachers' have a negative perception about how [standardized tests] impact their teaching and learning, and so I think we have a choice of either acknowledging that and addressing it or carrying on as if that perception does not exist," Hochman said. "I think it's important to address that. As the stakes have gotten much higher because more emphasis is placed on the tests, I think that conversation is becoming more and more important."

Many teachers who took the survey told WTHR they are not opposed to standardized tests and they are not opposed to accountability. They simply think kids, teachers and school are being bombarded by too many state-mandated standardized tests that now dominate their school year.

"Tone it down! All we do all year long is test, test, test! My students are bored and frustrated with it," wrote one teacher, who completed WTHR's survey. "These are CHILDREN! They want to play and have fun and learn in an engaging environment. They aren't able to do that if all we do is test or teach to the test."

See full results of WTHR's statewide teacher survey here.