11/08/2011 11:49 am ET Updated Jan 08, 2012

Standardized Testing Focus May Be Pushing California Teachers To Cheat

From Georgia's southern charm to California's golden beaches, the east and west coasts boast cultures of their own. But one particular culture -- one in the nation's public schools -- has proven to infiltrate school districts spanning Connecticut, Pennsylvania, California and more.

The uncovering of a cheating scandal that plagued Atlanta Public Schools this year unveiled a widespread and deeply embedded culture of cheating, fear, intimidation and retaliation among the district's educators. The teachers were afraid, reports showed, to be held accountable for students who performed poorly on standardized tests and subsequently be evaluated poorly, miss out on bonuses or contribute to their school and district's inability to receive funding for meeting or exceeding federal benchmarks.

But this culture of fear and the constant pressure on teachers to produce high-scoring students isn't unique to Atlanta -- it's driven educators across the country, including those in California, to take measures that falsely inflate standardized test scores.

"One teacher has personally confided in me that if her job was on the line, she indeed would cheat to get the higher test scores," a Los Angeles-area instructor told the Los Angeles Times. "The testing procedures haven't been secure over the past 10-plus years. Some of the 'most effective' teachers could be simply the 'most cunning.'"

School districts across the state are taking closer looks into allegations of dishonest testing practices among teachers, including prompting students during tests and later changing students' wrong answers to correct ones. In Atlanta, nearly 80 percent of the district's schools were named in the cheating scandal. In California, those accused come from 23 schools and 21 districts across the state, the LA Times reports, but the number of teachers who allegedly cheated is still small in relation to the state's 300,000 educators.

In Los Angeles, a science teacher at one of the country's top charter schools is accused of correcting answers on 148 of 604 student exams. Two other Los Angeles-area schools did not receive Academic Performance Index Scores this year because three teachers were accused of correcting answers or instructing students toward correct answers.

Educators in the state, and elsewhere, argue that while teachers face systemic pressure to produce students who do well on standardized tests, the same system doesn't provide or support them with resources that can help boost those scores.

And while school officials look to crack down on instances of cheating to diminish the culture that has permeated districts across the country, California faces a resource shortage of its own. Monitoring test score data and analyzing erasures on answer sheets is a costly operation. The California Department of Education would regularly monitor both -- until the forensic team lost $105,000 in funding in 2009, according to a California Watch report.

Now, the state relies on local districts to voluntarily report instances of cheating, which isn't enough to expose a systemic issue like that in Atlanta. And parents are worried.

According to the LA Times, area parent James Zucker said at a school district meeting, "There is a risk right now that we are going to lose everything."