When does a teacher cross the line from teaching to cheating?

A teacher, Carla Hammersley, in Michigan resigned recently for allegedly “violating administrative procedures” during this year’s administration of the MEAP (Michigan Education Assessment Program). She denies any wrong doing, but felt that resignation was her only real option. One option offered by the superintendent was three days suspension without pay and a letter of misconduct being placed on file. It appears that the State of Michigan is still investigating the incident.


The situation has the appearance of being the result of ambiguous administrative procedures for the MEAP and a teacher who is doing her best to encourage the students to do their best work on the test. Four specific administrative violations are listed in the article:

  1. Providing information to students during the test that “may have aided in answering a total of five questions.”
  2. Encouraging students “during testing sessions, including writing, to include details, follow previously taught formats, and correct grammatical mistakes.”
  3. “Returning assessment materials to … students after … they had completed the test, and giving the students the opportunity to edit and revise their work.”
  4. Reviewing “a persuasive essay format immediately before administering the … writing tests.”

The teacher says that she didn’t cheat. The school board elected to accept her resignation and pay out this year’s contract ($49,517.60 for the remainder of the year). We don’t have a lot of details, but the decisions appear to be the result of not being able to state definitively that test security was breached.

There should be no ambiguity concerning what cheating is and what cheating is not. All involved in testing need to understand the rules. That is the only way in which tests can be administered fairly and with integrity.

For me, answers to the following questions give practical, no-nonsense guidance for determining whether the teacher’s conduct was inappropriate:

  1. Did students gain an unfair advantage as a result of this teacher’s conduct?
  2. Would a trained proctor from another district (who had no vested interest in the school or the students) have acted the same way?

When the testing session begins the teacher must set aside the role of educator and assume the role of test administrator. If this cannot be done, there is danger in “crossing the line” and breaching exam security.

Dennis Maynes

Chief Scientist, Caveon Test Security

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