ATLANTA -- It was the year of the test cheating scandal.
From Atlanta to Philadelphia and Washington to Los Angeles, officials have accused hundreds of educators of changing answers on tests or giving answers to students. Just last week, state investigators revealed that dozens of educators in 11 schools in Georgia's Dougherty County either cheated or failed to prevent cheating on 2009 standardized tests.
In July, those same investigators accused nearly 180 educators in almost half of Atlanta's 100 schools of cheating dating back to 2001 -- which experts have called the largest cheating scandal in U.S. history. And at least 20 students have been charged on Long Island with cheating on SAT and ACT college-entrance exams by paying someone to take the test for them.
"It's a year in which cheating became a national scandal, a scandal of national proportions," said Bob Schaeffer, a spokesman for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which advocates against high-stakes testing. "The Atlanta case forced policymakers and journalists in other jurisdictions to look to see if there's anything similar going on in their backyards."
Experts say some educators have bowed to the mounting pressure under the federal No Child Left Behind law as schools' benchmarks increase each year toward the ultimate goal of having all children reading and doing math at their grade level by 2014. Teachers in Atlanta reported that administrators created a culture of "fear, intimidation and retaliation" where testing goals had to be met no matter what, according to investigators.
"This problem existed before No Child Left Behind, but NCLB has exacerbated the problem, clearly," said Walter Haney, a retired Boston College education professor and expert on cheating. "I think testing is really important, but the problem has been the misuse of test results without looking behind the test scores to see who and who is not tested."