Punishments for Ohio teachers accused of cheating vary greatly

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COLUMBUS – Ohio teachers accused of cheating, changing grades or failing to follow proper testing procedures or school rules have faced a wide range of discipline, a 10 Investigates review of state records shows.

A review of more than 40 discipline cases from the Ohio Department of Education over the past five years revealed no consistent pattern of punishment for teachers accused of handing out answers, changing grades or ignoring testing guidelines for standardized tests.

For example, two teachers accused in 2012 of violating testing procedures for the Ohio Alternate Assessment faced vastly different punishments. One received a letter of admonishment.

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The other had her license revoked.

Another teacher accused of posting an answer to test on Facebook saw her license suspended for three months while another educator accused of providing answers to her students prior to an exam saw her license revoked.

10 Investigates also found teachers whose licenses were suspended only during summer months or other holidays when they wouldn’t be teaching students.

When asked if that was an effective deterrent for bad behavior, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education did not answer.

The Ohio Department of Education also did not respond to our request to provide someone for an on-camera interview.

But in an emailed statement, a spokeswoman pointed to the state’s Licensure Code of Professional Conduct for Ohio Educators, which provides the Ohio Department of Education and its professional conduct boards wide latitude when punishing teachers, and notes that “each circumstance” is “considered on a case-by-case basis to determine appropriate action.”

The spokeswoman also wrote that it would “inaccurate” to “group any set of educators together and imply similarities.”

10 Investigates took those same questions to other educators, including an Ohio State professor well-versed in the topic of cheating.

We asked Professor Eric Anderman about why students and teachers cheat and what it means when teachers caught up in professional misconduct or given lighter punishments like having their license suspended when they’re not in school or teaching.

“Of equal concern may be the message it sends to teachers. Because the message may be - nothing really happens. It's ok to do this.

I'm not saying there should be Draconian punishments but if you are really going to punish somebody for this, and it's going to mean something.

If you really want it to serve as a deterrent then it really has to be something that will deter people.” Anderman said.

Anderman told 10 Investigates that students often cheat for predictable reasons – most notably to get a good grade or avoid getting a bad one. Teachers, however, often engage in a variety of professional misconduct – like cheating – for a variety of reasons, Anderman said.

“The biggest reason from what I've seen, that's most consistent is these outside pressures,” Anderman said.

The outside pressures can include standardized assessments for students, those scores cannot only reflect well or poorly upon a school or district, but they can also have wider-ranging impacts into areas like real estate, Anderman said, because people often research the performance of schools when shopping for a new home.

“That pressure is very real. And those grades are usually based on standardized test scores. So there are temptations to do that,” Anderman said.

10 Investigates also talked about cheating with officials with the South-Western City School District, the state’s fourth-largest district and second largest in Franklin County behind Columbus City Schools – the state’s largest district.

“Given all of those stop gaps and the fact that teachers have to sign off on those stop gaps. It is surprising to me (that cheating occurs),” said Dr. Cheryl Spain Ph.D., who is the executive director of middle grades, gifted and testing at South-Western City Schools.

Spain said all incidents of cheating, while rare, still need to be thoroughly investigated by the district.

When asked if she agreed with Anderman’s assessment, that teachers may feel compelled to cheat based on outside pressures to perform, Spain disagreed saying she didn’t buy that excuse.

“The only thing I would add about feeling that pressure, is if they are feeling that pressure I'm not sure we are doing a good enough job as administrators,” she said.

10 Investigates reached out to more 40 educators who have been disciplined or accused of misconduct, but only two responded. One said she would get back to us but did not. Another admitted to posting a standardized test question to Facebook but said she did not want to relive it publicly and asked not to be identified.