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DESE, Jackson release details on MAP 'testing irregularity'

Friday, April 6, 2012

For one North Elementary parent, a study guide sent home by their child's teacher last spring threw up a red flag.

"I was a little shocked that there would be a study guide for a standardized test," the parent wrote in an email sent to principal Shauna Criddle in April 2011. In the parent's eyes, the purpose of the test was to measure how students do individually and how the school does as a whole.

Results of an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation in 2011 and numerous follow-up reporting by that newspaper and others have turned national attention to cheating on standardized tests. In March, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on the state's failure to check for cheating and named Jackson among districts that had claims confirmed by school investigators.

Details on the single "testing irregularity" reported in the district in 2011 were recently provided by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The claim led to an investigation and later to science scores for one fifth-grade class at North Elementary being invalidated by the department.

According to DESE, assistant superintendent and district testing coordinator Dr. Rita Fisher reported in May that a study guide produced by a teacher at an elementary school included questions on the review sheet that mirrored a session of one of the grade-level Missouri Assessment Program tests.

The teacher resigned but taught the class for the remainder of the year when her contract expired, district officials say. Another teacher in possession of the study guide who was found not to have shared it with students is also no longer employed by the district. Fisher confirmed Thursday that the teacher had put in a resignation with an intent to leave the district at the end of spring term earlier in the year.

"In this case, some of the people are not here, but we don't know that's why they aren't here. They didn't indicate that in their resignations," superintendent Dr. Ron Anderson said.

Teachers are not supposed to know or share the exact questions on any standardized tests, but they do receive a list of related released items that apply to MAP tests throughout the year, Fisher said.

Documents that fall under the Missouri Sunshine Law's provisions relating to the cheating claim were provided by the school district at the request of the Southeast Missourian.

The teacher who resigned following the investigation admitted to using the study guide and sending it home with students but said she was unaware of its origin, according to the documents. The other teacher said she had typed the study guide from some notes she found in her file, did not use it with her students and was also unaware of its origin. Names of former and current personnel are exempt from disclosure.

The parent's email to Criddle said items on the study guide stated facts the students needed to learn or memorize and that it felt like cheating.

Anderson and Fisher say district staff follow all guidelines on safekeeping of MAP tests as set by DESE and could not determine during the investigation how teachers could have obtained the material necessary to create the study guide. Security measures for testing booklets include storing upcoming and completed copies in locked cabinets, only allowing access to the booklets to certain staff members and conducting training for counselors in each building, who also act as building test coordinators.

"We take it very seriously," Anderson said. "That's the way we do business."

Parents notified

Students had already finished MAP tests at the end of April by the time the district became aware of the incident, Fisher said.

Parents of the North Elementary students with scores later thrown out by DESE were not notified by the district that the scores were invalidated. The district is not obligated to provide that notification, according to Fisher. The parents did receive their student's individual score.

Communications from DESE stated the district did "exactly what is expected" when a testing irregularity comes to light by self-reporting the violation.

According to DESE, "self-reporting by districts ensures the system is held to high standards of accountability and integrity, and close monitoring makes certain that the testing is handled appropriately."

Documents show Criddle forwarded the parent's email to Fisher within hours of receiving it, and Fisher in turn notified DESE.

Anderson said he has never had to deal with a situation where teachers mishandled testing materials and that discipline for staff, including termination, would depend on the way one interprets various district policies.

"We do an investigation and have a discussion so we can try to get as much information as possible for DESE, and it basically goes from there," he said.

According to the district's policy on test security, test booklets will remain untouched until they are distributed for administration; only the test coordinator and other designated individuals will have access to test materials; and no teacher shall have access to tests or be told what is in them before the test is distributed except special education teachers in accordance with a student's individualized education program.

Unfair practices under the policy include copying test booklets, removing booklets from a secure storage area except during administration and directly teaching any test item on a standardized test. Also according to the policy, if allegations of a staff member participating in unfair practices are proved, appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.

Anderson and Fisher both said neither teacher was asked to resign. The school board was also told of the incident, Anderson said, but nothing related to it was discussed by the board in open session.

"We always make them aware of anything of a serious nature," he said.

According to district policy, resignations become effective at the end of the school year in which they are submitted unless the district is notified otherwise. In most cases, teachers under contract can only be released under the board's authority.

Isolated incident

Fisher said no other testing irregularities have been found or reported in Jackson schools in the district's history of administering MAP tests.

Both administrators say the district's security policies and procedures for testing work well and that they consider the incident to be isolated.

DESE said the district has ensured that it will enhance annual training with all school test coordinators, annually review the district's test security and make clear that teachers are not to review the assessments.

Public school students are tested in science through the Missouri Assessment Program using annual spring tests or end-of-course exams in fifth, eighth and 11th grades. The tests are designed to see if students are meeting knowledge and performance standards set by the state.



Pertinent address:

614 E. Adams St., Jackson, MO

10730 State Hwy W, Jackson, MO

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One must remember that this is one side of this story. You do not hear from the teachers that go un-named. One must question - why? One must question the timing of this story and other issues that occur with North Elementary at this time. One must question the timing of this story period.

A grid has been created and distributed, in the past- don't know about the last few months, a grid with the number of questions corresponding to type (learning objective) of question asked on the MAP and EOC (high school MAP) test. For example: There were five questions on R.2.B figurative language in grade 8 on the MAP. This example is not a real number, but an example of what this grid contains for that strand. Who put together this information? Was it given to teachers? Why was the information gathered- for what ultimate purpose? Who gathered the information and made the grid? Who was the information given to administration, academic coaches, teachers, everyone, some? Question everything.

Is it a problem to know what concepts students are expected to have mastery? Are the teachers shooting for a target or shooting blindly? Which is the better course for instruction - shooting for a target or shooting in the dark? Question everything.

If a teacher was given this information, why would any teacher not teach the concepts they knew were going to be tested? Do they want their students to succeed or fail? What constitutes cheating? Why was the grid created, if the expectation was not to use it in planning instruction? One must question everything - without predjudice.

I am not privvy to the reasons of why, motives of administration or teachers. I am asking the public to not judge based on half the story that is being given a year later. Question the information that is available and don't assume the information that is not available.

The MAP/EOC is big business. Many vendors make money preparing districts with material to be ready for the MAP/EOC test. Districts wait with baited breath for the MAP/EOC results because those in turn go into the Annual Yearly Performance, AYP, calculations. Ultimately jobs are on the line based on the numbers. AYP status equals money.

MAP/EOC testing time is now. Some districts choose paper, some choose computer based testing. Why do they get a choice? If they have computers available, should they be forced to use them? Why would a school elect paper over computers? Question everything.

Are teachers the only people responsible for MAP/EOC results? Who else is responsible for children's well being? What did they eat for breakfast, how does their family value education, did they sleep the nights before the test, do they even care about the result? Teachers, like tellers, are on the front line of their business entity. Yet, they are the lowest paid in the organization. Question why. Yes, I'm calling education a business. Question why.

Ultimately, citizens are largely unaware of the spider's web that is known as MAP/EOC. It is a mess with people's jobs on the line. Ultimately, there is power and influence - far reaching the boundaries of Cape Girardeau County.

Please, question as much as you can. Receive your information from more than one source. Question at all levels of power and organizational structure from within the source. The answers you find may make your head spin, may make you question the very basis of what is happening in education in our state, and in fact the nation.

Question Everything.

-- Posted by question.everything on Fri, Apr 6, 2012, at 8:40 AM

Teachers have been forced by the administration for a long time to "focus" on the map scores. Focusing has replaced quality class subject time and going forward with new subject materials and the MAP tests have been held over the students heads like an anchor. Should teachers be held accountable for class performance when they don't choose their students? Should any raise be in jeopardy because of the students performance on the MAP tests? Do we have another way to gauge the ability to teach?

We have to improve education standards that is for sure due to the rating of the state of Missouri overall. We have to be able to compete other than in sports. These children deserve to learn so they will be able to compete in the job market Let's give them that chance.

-- Posted by magnolia21 on Fri, Apr 6, 2012, at 10:27 AM

My questions are as follows:

1) where is this supposed email from just 1 out of about 50+ sets of parents. That's a little funny that just 1 was curious.

2) how if the tests are kept in locked cabinets until time for the test to be given, did these teachers supposedly get them in advance. If the counselor acts as the building test coordinator then she obviously had the keys to the locked cabinet,where was her responsibility in this matter? Didn't see anything about a counselor "resigning".

3) it also seems a little funny to me that if the teachers were not "asked" to resign that they felt the need to do so.

I seems that the fault in this matter goes way beyond just a teacher or two and people are covering their collective rear ends. It's also interesting regarding the timing of the release of this story with all the news going on in that small town involving this district and that particular school. Looks like the higher ups are trying to throw some people under the bus to protect theirselves. I think much more investigation needs to be done before anyone passes judgement on these teachers.

-- Posted by John-Q-Public on Fri, Apr 6, 2012, at 11:04 AM

Magnolia21 - I agree with much of what you have to say. Teachers cannot choose their students. Now, can administration manipulate the class rosters so some teachers get lower achieving or highser achieving students... yes. How does that impact the teacher? Interesting question.

Teachers are on the firing line, literally and figuratively. No one except a teacher in a classroom, right now, realizes the pressure cooker of teaching. It does impact the students and not in a positive way. Question why teachers, new to the profession, are leaving in droves. Question why outstanding veteran teachers are leaving in droves, often taking early retirement, sacrificing thousands of dollars over their lifetime. Ask who are the ones that are trying to stick it out? Are they teachers who can't yet retire and would lose their investment. Are they teachers that have fammily that is dependent on their income? They are tredding water as fast as they can, trying to keep alive an antiquated and long lost image of teaching to instill the love of learning and ensuring student success for the future. Question how these teachers are still teaching everyday. Question how long they will stand to be passed over for the family members of higher ups getting the promotions out of the classroom. Question how long good teachers will be able to swallow their pride, load up on anti-depressants, and keep teaching because their family's need their income. Question how long good teachers can stand to be put down by their supervisors and the public - both being ignorant to the reality of the student sitting in the desk in the class, day in and day out. When was the last time a board member spent, not a few minutes, but days in one classroom really working? Question why they are on the school board. If they are retired educators, how in touch with the new laws and how it impacts teachers today are they? They are out-of-touch. Question how relevant what they have to think really is in regard to the reality of today.

SE MO administrators and the public often forget that academics and sports can coexist successfully. Students are in fact STUDENT-Athletes. Teachers know this all to well. Question your school if you think this isn't being practiced. When budget cuts come around and your school is buying new uniforms instead of new classroom resources, question that.

-- Posted by question.everything on Fri, Apr 6, 2012, at 11:13 AM

John Q - Your questions are ones to which I would also like to know the answers.

-- Posted by question.everything on Fri, Apr 6, 2012, at 11:15 AM

You guys seem to have all the questions and no answers. Question why teachers no longer have a teacher organization helping them stand up to the admin. No one attends the CTA meetings except for the admin and they are there to run the show. As long as teachers are unwilling to stand up for themselves and voice their opinions they will continue to be second class citizens in the school district. This admin knows they will not stand up and classroom teachers are a dime a dozen. Either stand up together teachers or shut up.

-- Posted by wolfwoman on Fri, Apr 6, 2012, at 12:02 PM

Papi - Maybe your own question answers itself. "...on one attends the CTA but admin and theyare there to run the show..."

Perhaps teachers should join a union instead of association. Perhaps NEA? Admin can't join that one. Good question.

-- Posted by question.everything on Fri, Apr 6, 2012, at 2:08 PM

I thought I would respond to questions being posted about the timing of this story. Frankly we had no idea about the testing issues until a Post-Dispatch piece appeared last month on how the state was not checking for cheating. Being as there was no discussion in open session with the school board and that there was no notice given to parents, this was an issue that came about only when the P-D made requests to DESE. That story mentioned Jackson. We were developing other stories at the time. A couple of weeks ago we obtained some information from DESE, then followed that with a Sunshine Law request to the district. As soon as the district made the documents available and granted us interviews we reported the story. We know this story does not answer all the questions that people may have. But we have reported what we know and what the district provided us in response to a wide-ranging records request on the issue. On our end, there was no agenda in terms of timing. We published the story as soon as we received the information.

To get the "other" side of the story, we would have to have people willing to talk to us. If anyone has more information on this story, feel free to contact Erin Ragan at eragan@semissourian.com or call her at 388.3627

Thanks for reading.

Bob Miller


-- Posted by BobMiller on Fri, Apr 6, 2012, at 4:06 PM

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