Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version



Published in Social Semiotics, 2016, 23pp.; doi: 10.1080/10350330.2016.1145386


Copyright © 2016 Taylor & Francis. Used by permission.


On April 1, 2015, 11 Atlanta teachers accused of changing answers on their students’ standardized tests were convicted of racketeering and sentenced to 5–20 years in prison. Despite ample news coverage, few sources investigated teachers’ motivations for altering students’ responses or explored what the consequences would have been if student scores had not been changed to passing. Moreover, the fact that the teachers’ actions resulted from systemic problems associated with working within a high-stakes testing environment is glossed over and all but lost in the reporting of the “Cheating Scandal” events. The authors conduct a critical multimodal analysis of how semiotic resources were used to represent teachers in the Atlanta “Cheating Scandal” and show how the media’s framing of teachers both reflects and conceals specific interests of the powerful educational reform movement and the corporations that benefit from it, such as Pearson, Inc. Data sources included four online news sources from April 2015 that covered the teachers’ sentencing, and the authors analyzed the visual and verbal transformations that occurred during the process of recontextualization. Analysis revealed the construction of a moral narrative that depicted the teachers as selfish and incompetent, reinforcing the dominant paradigm driving school reform in the USA. The authors conclude by calling for more counter-narratives that expose how dominant representations reify negative public perceptions of teachers.