Minnesota teachers accused of rigging test

There were 91 reports of suspected blunders on this year's MCAs.

There were 91 reports of suspected blunders on this year's MCAs.

Students aren't graded on performance on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments. The spring standardized tests don't weigh on their ability to graduate. Yet 17 students got caught using cell phones, some to text or post questions to social media, others just to listen to music. At least one was busted Googling for answers.

So the Pioneer Press asked the Department of Education for all reports of suspected cheating during this year's test. Reporter Josh Verges discovered that in addition to these cell phone fouls, two Minnesota teachers were also netted.  

At Linwood Monroe Arts Plus in St. Paul, a K-8 school, the district reported that a teacher gave a class of 21 seventh graders “direct prompting and direction on test items” in the middle of the math exam. The teacher's been temporarily suspended, the results trashed.

At Cannon Falls Elementary, two teachers were accused of cheating. Fifth grade students told investigators that one scribbled down some equations for several kids on scratch paper, defining math terms and hinting to students what type of problems were being asked of them. The second teacher admitted only to discussing questions with students after they'd completed and submitted their tests.

Overall, 26 scores were invalidated, and the 16-year veteran teacher who confessed to giving students answers resigned.

Josh Collins, Minnesota Department of Education spokesman, considers two reports of cheating teachers across the state, where more than a million tests are administered every spring, to be no cause for alarm. These cases are extraordinarily rare in Minnesota, he says, since the department tries to impart on districts that the true purpose is to help teachers gauge how students are responding. 

However, how well students fare does factor into teachers' performance evaluations. How much depends on their union contracts, but typically it makes up about 35 percent, Collins says.

"Certain testing is something that does create pressure and can create both anxiety and stress for both students and teachers. We've actually worked really hard to try and make sure no student, teacher, or school should be completely judged on the basis of how they perform on one day. Nevertheless, districts do make decisions, and the state does collect the data and report data." 

Education Minnesota union's Denise Specht declined to comment on the specific allegations, but asked folks to consider teachers' overall frustration with the technical glitches that delayed the MCAs twice this spring and America's overall "obsession with testing."

“The high-stakes nature of the MCAs already fuels anxiety and pressure amongst students and educators. Imagine their frustration when the system crashes during the middle of the test," she says. "It's important to note that educators want to assist students and help them learn. That's why they are in the profession. But the conditions high-stakes testing generates for students and educators are toxic. Educators know they are going to be judged based on a deeply flawed accountability system, putting them under tremendous pressure."

Send news tips to Susan Du.