2 SCS schools under scrutiny for possible TCAP cheating - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

2 SCS schools under scrutiny for possible TCAP cheating

(Source: WMC Action News 5) (Source: WMC Action News 5)

Two Shelby County School District elementary schools are at the center of a TCAP cheating investigation, making SCS one of three school districts across the state flagged for an audit.

State test examiners said a high number of wrong answers were erased and changed to right answers at Alcy and LaRose Elementary schools.

A proctor for one of the schools in question said the teachers were professional and the students worked hard to succeed for months.

"What you're looking at are situations where you have more erasures than the average," said Tennessee Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Stephen Smith.

New Hope Baptist Church Deacon Robert Pope helped lead a national initiative, grounded in Memphis, to adopt inner city schools. Alcy Elementary was on his list.

"If you can impact the children, you can impact that family, which will impact that community," said Pope.

Church members helped students struggling with reading comprehension, then served as proctors who make sure that both teachers and students follow state TCAP guidelines.

"I didn't see anybody being helped by the teacher or being helped by us or being helped by each other," Pope added.

The State's analysis found wrong-to-right answers erased at the two SCS schools at 70 percent or greater.

SCS said the investigation focuses on small groups of students; in some cases, just one or two students in a school are under scrutiny.

"If you're going to give them a pencil with an eraser, you're going to have to give them very specific instructions not to use their eraser," Pope said.

"It's always good to have safeguards in place,” said SCS board member Stephanie Love.  “But, then again, if we're focusing on the erasure analysis then what are we telling our students? Don't make a mistake? And even if you do, don't go back and erase it, because the district may very well get audited for this?”

SCS also said test administrators distribute and collect tests in the presence of proctors. When students aren't taking the examination, all materials are locked away. Only the principal and the building test coordinator have a key to access the materials.

According to SCS, the state doesn't require them to notify parents about the investigation until it's complete.  If they find any wrongdoing, termination and loss of teaching or administrative licenses would follow.

Meanwhile, Deacon Pope believes in the students.

"I was dealing with fifth graders," Pope explained. "They were interested and excited about going to the sixth grade. They thought this test was going to be their bridge to the sixth grade."

So far, the Tennessee Department of Education hasn't concluded that any schools in Shelby County cheated on the TCAPs, but there is no information on how long the state’s audit may take.

SCS released the following statement and background information about the audit:

Statement on the audit:

“At the request of the Tennessee Department of Education, the District completed a thorough investigation of testing practices in schools where there were erasure marks that may require further review.  We did not find anything indicating that testing had been handled inappropriately.  The state department is also conducting its own investigation, and we are still awaiting those results.”

Additional statement on testing security:

“Issues related to testing security are handled with the utmost seriousness.  All schools and staff are continually reminded of the importance of following testing protocols.  In addition to ensuring a fair testing environment for our students, the correct administration of tests is crucial in order to obtain the valid data we need to improve instruction for our students.”

Other background information:

This is not an investigation into the District’s testing practices districtwide.  The investigation is focused on cases of small groups of students-- in some cases 1-2 students within in a school.

How are tests handled before and after testing?

Two adults, a proctor and a test administrator, are in each testing area during testing.  Materials are checked out each morning from the building test coordinator just prior to testing.  They are returned by the test administrator immediately after that day’s testing session.  The test administrator distributes and collects the tests in the presence of the proctor.  While not in use, all materials are secured in a locked location to which only the principal and the building test coordinator have a key.

What systems are in place to ensure there is no cheating?

In addition to the above, the District trains all building test coordinators on test security measures prior to each test.  Then, the building test coordinators train faculty members at each school.  In addition, district monitors visit every school during testing and review the school’s testing process.  Once test results are received, the District carefully reviews the scores to determine whether a school needs further review.

What punishments do faculty members face if caught cheating?

Cheating will not be tolerated.  Anyone involved with a breach of testing security faces discipline up to termination and loss of teaching/administrative license.

Why weren’t parents alerted about the investigation?

The District followed the protocol provided by the TDOE.  Also, we would not release any information to parents or to external stakeholders until the state finishes its investigation and shares its results with the District. 

When do you expect the results of the state’s audit?  

We do not have an estimated time for the results of the state’s investigation.

Copyright 2015 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved. 

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