To cheat or not to cheat? A teacher’s perspective


Photo credit: LA Progressive

Steven D. Levitt (2006) says that just about anyone cheats if they got their interest in it. Cannot argue with that. Some might deny and say I don’t cheat no matter what the stakes are. But, then they might recall moments when they at least attempted cheating, let’s say in a board game or when they looked up an answer in Google to solve a crossword puzzle. Levitt (2006) gives a simple definition for this feature of human nature: “getting more for less” (p.21). Again it is not only the financial directors, bankers, politicians or sportsmen who cheat.

It is a high-school graduate, worried about not passing the standardized test (for example, UNT) or not getting a state grant, who finds a sophisticated way to cheat during the exam. Well, it is a thing about schoolchildren, right? They start to think about the most effective way to cheat once they hear a word “test” because they want a good grade. However, one more actor has an incentive to cheat as well. A teacher. A teacher who is worried about a class or school ratings and possible positive or negative consequences depending on the results of testing.

The introduction of high-stakes testing, where the stakes are high not only because tests measure students’ progress, but because schools are accountable for their performance, created a reason to cheat for teachers in the USA. There, if the whole school would score low on the testing then it would be at risk of shutting down with its staff dismissed or reassigned. Individual teachers whose students perform poorly could be fired. However, there is also a positive side where successful educators get promotion or bonuses from the state government.  Thus, it is not surprising that some teachers would somehow try to adulterate the scores and be reinforced by another incentive: people do not consider that teachers could possibly cheat.

A more recent example happened in 2015: 11 Atlanta public school teachers were sentenced for “essentially making copies, erasing pencil marks on paper, and filling in different bubbles” (“Atlanta teacher”, 2015). This is an instance of outrageous and brazen cheating. But there are much more occurrences of teachers’ cheating that might have less severe consequences than falsification of the results. To name a few: giving extra time for completing a test, teaching strategies to pass the test, teaching specifically for the test topics, giving students answers in advance or simply “ignoring” students’ cheating.

All of these happens because of the education system that is focused on the test scores, rather than on the education itself. Teachers are victims of the “testocracy” and the system does not leave much choice. Yet, maybe some teachers need to focus on a good teaching, not a good cheating.


Levitt, S. D., & Dubner, S. J. (2006). Freakonomics: A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything.

Singer. (2015, April 3). Atlanta Teacher RICO Conviction Is Blood Sacrifice to the Testocracy. Retrieved from


6 thoughts on “To cheat or not to cheat? A teacher’s perspective

  1. Dear Dana, this article gave me completely new vision on education as a whole and teachers’ cheating in particular. Having read your inserted article written by Steven Singer I found the potential 20-year jail sentence, for essentially making copies, erasing pencil marks on paper, and filling in different bubbles, for teachers too harsh. I wondered if there were any similar to this cases in Kazakhstan? And if you had a chance to decide a penalty for cheater-teachers in Kazakhstan what would be your punishment?


    1. Dear, Dumankhan (yasawi859), thank you for your interest and kind response. I myself have never considered the issue of cheating from the teacher’s perspective until I came across the articles. Moreover, the issue of academic sincerity and honesty have become extremely important recently and is paving its way in Kazakhstan, which is good. And I think that imprisoning people for 20 years for copying students answers is unnecessary and not fair (if we will compare it with more serious crimes like homicide or stealing). However, in this situation we need to consider the consequences of those actions: it is the students and their knowledge what is important. Falsification of results may lead to a generation of not well-educated students who later thanks to false grades might get a chance to enter a university. This is when they might struggle from a lack of knowledge.
      As for Kazakhstan, unfortunately, I do not own such kind of information. But, if there were such occurrences of cheating as a Minister of Education I would penealize teachers and schools with huge fines and deny their licence for teaching forever :).


  2. Thank you for the post Dana. It provoked some deep thoughts for me. Your conclusion, in particular, made me ponder whether by moving the focus from scores to education itself could eliminate cheating. Yet, the thing is that scores enable us to assess the results of educational process and, thus, cannot be ignored. If the solution then is to pay less attention to these markers of result, how could this be achieved? Does it mean that less should depend on the scores?

    And one other thing on the topic of cheating. My Korean teacher says that young people in Kazakhstan tend to cheat much more frequently than students in Korea. I think he referred mainly to copying from neighbor’s paper. I was wondering whether some of you who have experienced studying abroad have noticed any differences in the attitudes to cheating in other countries and cultures. What do you think could be some reasons for that?


    1. Dear, Alexandra thank you very much for your comment. Yes, when we look at the contemporary system of education it seems as it is a vicious circle: learning to get high test scores, getting high tests scores for continuing your education. However, I think that the problem lies in the approach that is taken to check and assess students’ academic performance. A test is not the only way to check students progress, there are ways as an essay, critical responses, oral testing, and projects. As I believe that if the teacher is able to explain and teach the material efficiently it will stay with the students for the rest of their lives, so the test would be a piece of cake and no other means to try to increase scores would not be needed.

      Unfortunately, I have not studied abroad, but from my local experience, I would agree that students in Kazakhstan cheat on a regular basis. There could be many reasons for that: from simple unpreparedness to collectivistic mindset. As we live in a society where the notions of mutual help and fellowship are valued sometimes it becomes a habit to rely on your friend or classmate during the test.


  3. Thank you, @danasan1, for bringing up the issue of cheating and testing in schools. I think this is a result of the highly pernicious neo-liberal agenda that penetrated all areas of life in the western countries, including, alas, education. Knowledge is now a commodity, education is an industry, and school is a production line. This paradigm inevitably leads to bureaucratising, standardisation, and turning everything and everyone into an indicator to be measured, optimised, or written off. And if there is money associated with these indicators, corruption and fraud are only expected here. What is really horrible in this story, procedure becomes more important than human life: hence the 20-year sentence for manipulating test results in a state where you can get 5 years for killing someone.

    I am not alone in thinking that the “No child left behind” policy has driven American education into a dead end. And Kazakhstan has been on the same route for quite a few years now. It is unfortunate that in the attempt to distance ourselves from the Soviet regime, we “threw away the baby with the bath water” and got rid of all the good things that the Soviet education had, including oral and open-question written examinations. I believe that schools should not be capitalist service providers where children get tested on a quality-control conveyer belt. They should be places of learning, growth, and enlightenment.


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