Course – EDUC 5113: Laws, Ethics, and Professional Roles and Responsibilities
April 7, 2014
This paper is a reflection on and analysis into the Texas Board of Education’s Code of Ethics Standard 1.6, which states that teachers should not falsify grades nor direct or coerce others to do so. This clause defines part of teacher success as being an educator that is honest in their documentation and does not falsify documentation or participate in coercion to better themselves, their students, or their schools. The following court cases from Georgia and Texas were analyzed for their relation to how and why scores were altered to fit the betterment of an organization in national standing, the controversy surrounding benchmark testing, and the impact of changing data on the community: GI Forum v. Texas Education Agency, Atlanta Public School scandal, and Stephen Wilson v. Dallas Independent School District. In summary, one was able to deduce that the pressures put in place by No Child Left Behind and school reputations have caused some to stray from the ethical standard, and that the courts require much evidence and testimony to prosecute those involved.
The word ethics spans a wide range of meanings, especially within the realm of education. That is why there is no surprise that the Texas Administrative Code’s requirements for educators highlight a variety of areas classifying teacher etiquette. The standard I identify with most comes from the first section defining policies and practices. Standard 1.6 states “[t]he educator shall not falsify records, or direct or coerce others to do so” (State Board for Educator Certification, 2010). I feel as though this section of the Educator’s Code of Ethics is its most vital component due to the fact the success of the students and schools rest on their teachers’ integrity and ability to be proficient educators. As I said, this issue is something that affects the education system at a variety of levels.
In the most serious light, falsifying test scores or other academic data reflecting student progress and achievement causes school districts to become the center of scrutiny. Because of policies like the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind, schools have felt the pressure of meeting or exceeding federally set standards. The piece of legislature was optimistic in its outlook, and it was proposed to see betterment in education universally.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) was a piece of legislation with a clear vision. It imagined a world where every student in the United States—particularly those belonging to historically disadvantaged groups—met basic standards of literacy and numeracy. It imagined a path to that world that did not require spending significantly more money, but rather focusing on directing resources more efficiently toward this basic goal. In a foreshadowing of the era of “big data,” it introduced a national mandate for standardized testing, imagining test scores as the key to understanding and addressing the shortcomings of the American education system. (Ahn, 2013, p. 3)
As stated by Ahn and Vidgor in their evaluation of the effectiveness standardized testing for the National Research Association, a big focus was placed on assessments by the federal government as a means to track student progress. Though the government is monitoring and tracking the scores, the individual states were responsible for the tests being administered. Standardized testing was an issue for some states before the Bush Administration passed the legislature. In the state of Texas, the STAAR test, the current test given to students, was preceded by the TAKS and TAAS tests. The TAKS took affect directly before No Child Left Behind was passed, but the test before it, the TAAS, was the one surrounded with controversy. In 2000, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund fought the requirement of the test for graduation purposes in San Antonio, Texas in GI Forum, et al., v. Texas Education Agency, et al., CA No. SA-97-CA-1278EP. Plaintiffs claimed that the required testing infringed on “minority students’ equal protection and due process rights as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Educational Opportunity Act” (Saucedo, 2000). The controversy surrounding the test escalated after the scores produced a divide in the amount of students that were not being promoted to the next grade level. Testing showed that the students who identified as being Hispanic or African American dropped in graduation rate from 60% to 50%, while their Caucasian classmates also experienced a reduction in their success. Over a span of eight years, the minority groups had not regained the graduation rate they had experienced pre-testing, but their Caucasian counterparts had increased their successes to 70% after only a year. (The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, n.d.) Through looking at these statistics, there is an evident divide that occurs between the ethnicities. Though they are receiving the same instruction and opportunities, there was something occurring preventing equal or marginally equal success between the groups. Divides like this become associated with the test being an unfair gauge of student progress, which is why the MALDEF brought the case before the state. The affects of the lower test scores were also experienced at the national level.
The TAAS increases grade retention, drives up the dropout rate, and increasingly controls teaching and instruction, turning many schools into test coaching programs. […] In one report, Professor Walt Haney of Boston College demonstrated that the gap in the pass rates between white students and minority students is large enough to be defined as a “racially discriminatory impact” under federal civil rights law. (n.d.)
From the research into the case done by Professor Haney, one can observe the grounds that the party had to present the case. After deliberation by the courts, it was decided the defense entered the trial with a stronger case. The courts ruled in favor of the test calling it “valid and reliable” (Phillips, 2000, 343) and that it “met applicable professional standards, including notice and opportunity to learn” (Phillips, 2000). Ironically, the test became a podium for President George W. Bush to preach the effectiveness of his legislature, and Texas was pinpointed as “a ‘poster child’ for high-stakes testing” (n.d.). As stated earlier, the test has now evolved into the STAAR, but evaluation areas are still compliant under the federal standards required by the former president’s movement. However, these pressures and arguments have not been isolated to Texas.
In 2009, it came to light that elementary and middle schools in Atlanta, Georgia altered their 2007, 2008, and 2009 standardized test scores to meet or exceed national standards. The scandal included the superintendent and 180 educators (Proctor, 2013), many of who testified as being “pressured and harassed” (Niesse, 2014) into falsifying scores by their school principals. The trial, which began in 2012, has been monumental in stature with over two million documents having been submitted as evidence to review and over 2,500 witnessed testifying their experiences with the conspiracy. (2013) From this ongoing set of trials, the necessity of the Texas Education bodies to include this clause it’s Code of Ethics is apparent. As observed earlier, state tests in Texas, including the TAAS, have been problematic in the state’s past and have caused gaps that reflect negatively in the federal eye. The teachers are the ones in the room leading instruction and setting the example for student character. When they misstep, as they did in Atlanta, the reflection of teacher’s ethics extends to the schools and districts they are a part of. In this particular situation, teachers realized their role in the scandal not only affected their own careers, but their ability to be effective teachers to those in their communities.
“As a teacher, I know I hurt the people who trusted me the most: students and their parents,” Oden told Baxter. “… My actions did not help my students learn.”
Broadwater, who also admitted to test cheating, said he regretted he could not be a positive role model for his students. “I have failed both students and their families,” Broadwater told Baxter. “I have no excuse for my dishonest and unethical behavior.”
In his letter, Broadwater told his former students and their families, “I sincerely apologize for my actions for disappointing you. I only hope that one day you will forgive me.” (2014)
The remorse the educators expressed shows the level of accountability teachers place upon themselves as pillars of morality for those they surround. Though this mindset may be present in some teachers, the world is imperfect, and it functions with the help of rules and regulations that serve as reminders. Through including the value of honesty in Standard 1.6, the Texas Code of Ethics for Educators has shown that even in failures that feel beyond hope, we are still to uphold the standard of integrity we expect of our students when they perform their work.
As touched upon earlier, testing is the most extreme and influential real world application of the Texas ethics clause speaking to coercion. In other less dramatic cases, score adjustment to benefit the student has been identified as a spark causing legal action. An example of this occurred in Dallas, Texas in 2012 in the court hearing Stephen Wilson v. Dallas Independent School District, No. 05-11-00468-CV. In this preceding, the plaintiff countered the school district where he taught because his principal caused him to violate the Ethical Code Standard 1.6. The standard states one should not falsify records, and Wilson argued that his assistant principal required him to change a student’s failing grade into a passing one. The student, a football player, had not been attending his classes regularly and was failing the class. After meeting with the student, his parents, his coaches, and other teachers and administrators from the school, the teacher agreed to pass the student for the first six-weeks under the condition that the behavior and work ethic would improve over the remainder of the school year. At the end of the grading period, after the passing grade was posted, the student was withdrawn from Wilson’s engineering class and placed in an environmental science class. This caused the teacher to contest his earlier posted passing grade and in its place post the failing grade he felt the student deserved. This then caused the student to become ineligible to participate in school-related activities, including football. This was shared with the student’s parents during a parent-teacher conference, and his mother, who was upset, had a “heated exchange” (Wilson v. Dallas Independent School District, 2012) with Wilson, who would not change the failing grade to passing. She then took the matter to the principal who had the assistant principal force Wilson to change the grade. Wilson reported the action to school board member Dr. Lew Blackburn, superintendent Leslie Williams, and the Dallas ISD Office of Professional Responsibility. Following these actions, his contract was not renewed for the next school year. In terms of this case, the court said there was insufficient evidence proving the school forced the plaintiff to change the grade, so the ruling was made in favor of the school district. Though justice was not served in accordance with the ethics code, the details of the Wilson appeal demonstrate that the falsification of scoring and pressure for success does not exist only in the federal standards. Schools have their own, independent unit of pride that, when in jeopardy, the temptation exists for extreme, unethical measures to be taken.
Through the court cases, one can gather that pressures placed on the schools and teachers were the cause of the standard not being met. Because the federal government needs to see student improvement based upon data gathered from benchmark tests, the Atlanta Public School District felt as though it needed to falsify its students’ scores to become exceptional. The tests are considered unfair gauges of student progress, as the San Antonio case sought to prove, because performance and growth cannot be summed up by one cumulative review. School spirit, an offshoot of the pride that allowed administrators to succumb to the changing of results, also serves as a motivator for poor decisions. The same pressure that the Atlanta schools faced to be outstanding on their scores was seen by the Dallas school wanting their football player to maintain eligibility to help win games. By putting pride aside and realizing the guidelines are set in place to help better our students, both in intellect and motivation, a school can begin to more effectively uphold the standard. The government wanted to create a utopia where education is free, fair to all, and success is something that is the norm. Through setting the academic requirements for participation in school activities, schools tell the students that the expectations they have as athletes and representatives of the campus at events they enjoy is mirrored in their classrooms. They have to demonstrate the same level of commitment to their academics to be viewed as responsible enough to be a symbol of the school in their extracurricular involvement. If schools understand that the betterment of the students is the reason why the guidelines exist, they may be less likely to participate in the acts of coercion when presented with them. Successful educators embody empathy while in the field, and relating to students and their achievements is second nature. By depriving students of that ability to reach those levels of accomplishment, they are losing a piece of why they got into the field. Awareness of policies and one’s own actions will be the first step in removing the possibility for legalities. From here, schools and teams of teachers can prevent not meeting the standard by providing data to the faculty regularly. Statistics are something you can track, and problems can be identified before they fester. Actions can be taken to help prevent the last-minute fixes, such as falsifying records, through this transparency. By putting in place intervention steps when the problems occur, you are able to support the expectations set forth by Standard 1.6. Teachers are able to implement steps like revisiting lessons that were not as well received and changing the pacing or style of instruction to help student retention. Outside of the classroom, tutoring times could be set up and parents could be made aware of the actions not being taken by their child. Both of these would benefit the student and their success. Teachers setting the standard will be the only way that the clause will effectively be practiced.
As a teacher, I plan on upholding this clause of the Code of Ethics in my classroom by requiring the same discipline and integrity out of myself that I place on my students. I will also challenge my teachers around me to meet this standard. In doing this, the campus will be honest with itself about its shortcomings. If students are not succeeding on assessments and in class, there is a disconnect occurring somewhere in our school or their home environments that is causing a roadblock that is impossible to pass. Through being honest self-evaluators, we can diagnose a problem and seek out a plan to remedy it before it becomes a state or federal issue. By creating a pillar of character for the community to mirror, educators do not put themselves at as much risk for the scrutiny of their policies. This is because of the transparency touched upon earlier. As a teacher, I can implement this in my classroom by starting small and aligning the expectations of my students the first day of school with a syllabus. In this, I can place expectations of behavior, a personal definition of cheating, and the ramifications of failing to meet the expectations I have in place. Because of the heaviness that comes with a syllabus, I will stress that the reasons these expectations and sanctions have been put into place is to allow for student success. Success is not getting perfect grades on every assignment, but rather, it is a mark of progress in a student’s learning from day one to the last day of school. This mirrors the policies put in place by No Child Left Behind. Though certain scores are given as goals on the benchmark tests the students are required to take, the federal government defines success for the school and student as improvement on their scores from the ones from prior years. By letting my students know progress not perfection defines success in my classroom, I feel as though they will be more motivated to push themselves and approach me with issues rather than depend on their classmates as the solution to their problems. I also plan on providing a rubric for each assignment given. By outlining the academic expectations for a student the same way the legislature breaks down the measures of student success for teachers, I am making them aware of what tools they need in order to improve themselves.
One can argue that it is hard to abide to one’s sense of honesty and integrity when much pressure is placed upon you. It takes strength of emotion and intellect not to take the easy way out and falsify information, or force another to, as a way to save the reputation you have built. Because of these human temptations, it only makes sense that the state would put in place a code for those who are working with children to follow to ensure they are being proper mentors and guides. It is for this reason that I see Standard 1.6 as being the most important guidepost for teachers in Texas Code of Ethics for Educators. Teachers set the example for students to be successful, and in changing the information relevant to them, they are cheating both themselves and their students. As seen above, these transgressions are not taken lightly when they are exposed in the court system. Through the rulings, it becomes apparent that there is no legal nor easy solution to a shortcoming. It takes the strength of good character, and Standard 1.6 sets the bar for said character by requiring the virtue of honesty.
Ahn, T. & Vigdor, J. (2013, May) Were All Those Periodical Tests for Nothing?: The Lessons of No Child Left Behind. Retrieved from http://www.aei.org/files/2013/05/17/-vigdor-and-ahn-nclb-sanctions-paper_15005080098.pdf
The National Center for Fair and Open Testing. (n.d.) The Case Against TAAS. Retrieved from http://www.fairtest.org/case-against-taas
Niesse, M. & Rankin, B. (2014, January 6). Six enter guilty pleas in APS test-cheating case. The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Retrieved from http://www.ajc.com/news/news/more-guilty-pleas-today-in-aps-test-cheating-case/ncdL9/
Phillips, S. E. (2000). GI Forum v. Texas Education Agency: Psychometric Evidence. Applied Measurement in Education, 13(4), 343-385. Retrieved from http://marces.org/mdarch/pdf/1000024.pdf
Proctor, Aungelique. (2013, June 10). Motion hearings begin for Atlanta cheating scandal. Fox 5 Atlanta. Retrieved from http://www.myfoxatlanta.com/story/22550269/motion-hearings-begin-for-aps-cheating-scandal#axzz2yDdFtNEv
Saucedo, L. M. (2000, November). The Legal Issues Surrounding the TAAS Case. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 22(4), 411-422. doi: 10.1177/0739986300224003 or http://hjb.sagepub.com/content/22/4/411.abstract
State Board for Educator Certification. (2010, December 26). Code of Ethics and Standard Practices for Texas Educators. In Texas Administrative Code (Educator’s Code of Ethics). Retrieved from http://info.sos.state.tx.us/pls/pub/readtac$ext.TacPage?sl=R&app=9&p_dir=&p_rloc=&p_tloc=&p_ploc=&pg=1&ti=19&ch=247&rl=2
Wilson v. Dallas Independent School District. 376 S.W.3d 319. (2012). Retrieved from