Houston schools to fire six teachers in cheating scandalLINK
HOUSTON, Texas (AP) -- Administrators in Texas' largest school district said Wednesday they plan to fire six teachers and demote two principals and an assistant principal after finding evidence of cheating on state tests at four schools.
Houston Independent School District Superintendent Abe Saavedra said three other district employees, including a principal, will receive formal reprimands.
A Dallas Morning News review of standardized test scores throughout the state prompted a handful of Texas school districts to investigate test results at individual schools from recent years.
The Houston district began an internal investigation four months ago after finding unexplained jumps in scores and statistical irregularities on standardized tests at 23 schools, Saavedra said.
Two months into the investigation, Saavedra announced the district had identified two teachers at an elementary school who assisted students on the state exam. The district has recommended those teachers be fired, and has demoted the school's principal.
On Wednesday, Saavedra said the investigation was over and confirmed cheating occurred at another three elementary schools. At those schools, four teachers have been recommended for firing and a principal and an assistant principal will be demoted, he said.
At one school, investigators found that four eighth-graders were taken from their regular classrooms to another room where a math teacher helped them answer questions. The four answered all of the test questions the same way -- and incorrectly answered the same two questions.
Robert Moore, the district's inspector general who led the review, said all the teachers and administrators accused have denied wrongdoing.
Chris Tritico, an attorney for one of the principals and two of the teachers fighting to retain their jobs, claimed investigators picked a target "and then molded their facts around that target."
Other schools around the nation have faced similar incidents.
In Iowa, science test results for a seventh-grade class have been invalidated and a teacher has resigned after administrators discovered he quizzed students on materials found in the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, the district's superintendent said.
"They were talking about things that were awfully close to the test itself," said Tim Hoffman, Adel-DeSoto-Minburn's superintendent. "Students still had to figure things out, but the public has to depend on us to maintain the integrity of those tests."HISD probe uncovers cheating at four schools
Houston Chronicle 05/05/05
A four-month investigation into possible cheating at two dozen Houston schools has uncovered evidence of cheating at four campuses. Superintendent Abe Saavedra ordered the investigation in January after learning of test score anomalies at about 400 Texas schools. Fallout: Saavedra moved to fire four teachers. PAGE A1
Nepotism inquiry: The Houston school district's chief school administrator is under scrutiny for signing off on a consulting agreement to pay her son $67,000 in little more than a year. Potential problems: The consultant has a criminal background, and HISD's nepotism policy prohibits employees from supervising their relatives. PAGE A1
January 08, 2005Big trouble in big TexasLINK
Quite a bombshell story shaping up in Houston this week:
A Houston teacher's union official says school district officials ignored a middle school teacher who tried to report cheating on standardized tests last spring. The Houston Federation of Teachers says the teacher told union representatives last year that a school administrator gave her advance copies of the 2004 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.
The teacher's school is one of 25 Houston Independent School District campuses under investigation because of uncharacteristically high scores on the TAKS.
Union president Gayle Fallon says the union offered to have the teacher give a statement in return for immunity. She says the district's attorney declined and - as far as she knows - nothing was done.
HISD spokesman Terry Abbott declined to comment.
So what's going on here? It seems that teachers in Houston schools, as is their custom, used last year's exam sheets to prep for this year's exams - which is perfectly kosher on exams that don't re-use items. Only, somehow, in certain schools, what got used for this year's prep was this year's exam, and all the hullaballoo has to do with WHO got ahold of those test forms ahead of time. Teachers aren't too happy that the finger of suspicion is now pointed their way:
There are now 23 schools in the Houston School District suspected of having problems with test scores. Those problems may be tied to cheating on the statewide TAKS test...
Some Houston teachers say they are being targeted in the HISD cheating investigation. There is anger and frustration as the publicity keeps pointing to teachers as the ones helping kids cheat. The local teachers union says it has files of complaints that prove otherwise.
Key Middle School is one of the schools targeted as having huge gaps in test performance. The union describes a complaint last fall involving TAKS review sheets. "Last year's test is this year's review sheet, and that's perfectly legal," says Gail Fallon, Houston Federation of Teachers president.
Only, the practice sheet was not last year's test.
"Someone at Key handed out the sheets that the teachers were led to believe were the review sheets from last year's test. Then they realized when they gave the test they were this year's," says Fallon.
The union complained to the district, but Fallon says the investigation went nowhere when she asked for the teachers to be protected.
"Here we now have members that are in possession of the test they didn't know it to be the test, but they still, you know, it's like having the stolen money in your hand when the police arrive," says Fallon.
The union says it also received complaints last year by minimum wage office clerks, claiming principals were asking them to change grades.
SOMEBODY's been very bad here. Be interesting to see how that press conference on Monday turns out.PROBE FINDS 4 SCHOOLS CHEATED ON TAKS TEST
Saavedra saysHISD `will punish those responsible
By JASON SPENCER, Houston Chronicle, May 5, 2005
A four-month investigation into possible cheating on state tests at two dozen Houston schools has uncovered evidence of cheating at four campuses, school district officials announced Wednesday.
Houston Independent School District Superintendent Abe Saavedra moved to fire four teachers: one at Key Middle School, two from Bowie Elementary who now work at other schools, and one at Petersen Elementary.
Key Principal Mable Caleb and an assistant principal are being demoted, and the principals at Bowie and Petersen will receive reprimands, Saavedra said. He announced earlier this year that two Sanderson Elementary teachers are being fired and the principal demoted.
All have denied wrongdoing and are appealing Saavedra's decisions.
Saavedra ordered the investigation by the newly created Office of Inspector General in January, shortly after the Dallas Morning News reported test-score anomalies at about 400 Texas schools. Investigators found no evidence of cheating on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills at 13 schools and inconclusive evidence at seven campuses, Saavedra said.
"The investigation has clearly shown that a few employees at these ... schools helped their students answer questions on the TAKS test," Saavedra said. "A small number of teachers and administrators have profoundly harmed children in our care by taking away their right to a good education. We apologize to those children and their parents, and we will punish those responsible for this wrong that has been committed."
The school district will give the Harris County District Attorney's Office all the evidence collected during the past four months by a dozen investigators who interviewed dozens of students and employees and inspected thousands of pages of testing documents and data, Saavedra said.
One school board member and attorneys for the fired and disciplined teachers and administrators criticized the investigation for relying too heavily on statistical evidence and statements given by children.
"From what I've been told, the allegations against the Key principal don't merit taking a veteran administrator out of a community school in which she has served diligently for over a decade," said trustee Kevin Hoffman, who represents many of the predominantly black communities served by the investigated schools. "Cheating is wrong, and those responsible should be held accountable, (but) from what I've heard, the decision is based on rumors and innuendo rather than facts."
Hoffman said he drew his conclusions from conversations with district administrators. He said he hadn't been given a copy of the 84-page report from Inspector General Robert Moore.
Moore said the evidence of cheating at Key was clear.
"Four eighth-grade students reported that a math teacher who was not supposed to be administering the TAKS test pulled them out of their regular classrooms and took them to a separate room where he administered the test and helped them answer questions," Moore said. All four students gave the same answers to every question on the test, missing the same two questions with identical answers, he said.
At least two Petersen teachers helped eight students cheat on the fifth-grade math exam, Moore said.
Many had only a few, if any, computations in their test booklets to show they had worked out the complicated problems.
A Bowie teacher helped at least four students on the fifth-grade math test, Moore said.
One student "said the teachers tapped students on their shoulders to let them know an answer was wrong," Moore said.
Acres Homes cleared
The Dallas Morning News report focused on schools in HISD's Acres Homes Charter District, which has received national attention for its ability to raise test scores among poor, minority children.
Investigators found no proof of cheating at the Acres Homes schools, although the evidence was inconclusive at Osborne Elementary.
State Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Houston Democrat, publicly called on HISD to clear the Acres Homes schools of cheating allegations in February. Turner is a member of the Acres Homes Charter Coalition's board of directors.
"I am glad, even though it's now May 4, that HISD is vindicating them, and I hope that others who reported the allegations will with just as much fervor put out the positive message that these kids have worked hard, earned their grades and that the teachers have done an excellent job preparing the kids," Turner said.
HISD teacher Donna Garner first accused Acres Homes teachers and administrators of cheating in 2003, shortly after she left her job at the neighborhood's Wesley Elementary School. She said administrators at Wesley and Osborne elementaries expected teachers to help their students pass the state exam. As a result, she said, the schools' scores quickly went from among the state's worst to the top of the class.
Garner, who now teaches at HISD's Longfellow Elementary, said she is still convinced that the Acres Homes schools cheated.
"If Wesley has the solution, that they can get 100 percent of economically disadvantaged kids to pass the state test, why are they not having (teacher training) there so we can get the recipe to bring to our classrooms?" she said. "They continue to cheat and come out looking like heroes, and we look like failures."
Teachers called scapegoats
Attorney Chris Tritico, who represents the Key principal and two of the teachers accused of cheating , said HISD has no solid proof.
"This investigation was results-oriented," he said, accusing investigators of manipulating facts to prove a case. "The teachers have been singled out here."
Attorney James Fallon, who also represents some of the teachers, said investigators erred by failing to offer immunity to teachers who may have been willing to testify against administrators.
HISD officials announced the results Wednesday of a four-month investigation into test-score anomalies.Schools where cheating alleged:
Key Middle School
Petersen Elementary School
Bowie Elementary School
Sanderson Elementary (previously announced)Schools with `limited' testing irregularities
Kashmere Gardens Elementary
E.O. Smith Education CenterSource: Houston Independent School DistrictTeachers may lose jobs in scandal /HISD accuses two at Sanderson of helpingpupils cheat on TAKS
By ROBERT CROWE, Houston Chronicle, 2/18/05
Correct: CORRECTION: In 1999, the Houston Independent School District suspended a teacher each from Kashmere Gardens High School and Alcott and Frost elementaries after a probe into cheating accusations involving the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills tests. This story mischaracterized the disciplinary actions. Correction published 2/23/05.
Houston school Superintendent Abe Saavedra took steps Thursday to fire two fifth-grade teachers accused of helping pupils cheat on the state TAKS test.
The district also plans to report the case to the Harris County District Attorney's Office and the State Board of Educator Certification, which could revoke the teachers' certificates, spokesman Terry Abbott said Thursday.
The veteran teachers at Sanderson Elementary School were removed from the campus Thursday and reassigned to the Houston Independent School District's northeast offices. They will remain on the payroll until the termination process has been completed, Abbott said.
"HISD will not tolerate this kind of inappropriate behavior. It deprives children of their right to a good education," Saavedra said in a statement. "It hurts the integrity of the school, and it damages the confidence of the public in our school district."
The principal at Sanderson, identified by Abbott as James Metoyer, also has been demoted and is facing reassignment.
Abbott said the investigation found no evidence Metoyer knew of the teachers' alleged conduct. Investigators, however, found Metoyer failed to exercise strong administrative controls of the process, he said.
Pupils accuse teachers
Metoyer could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The moves follow an investigation by HISD's new Office of Inspector General, which was created to look into irregularities in scores for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test. The inspector general concluded that improved test scores of two classes of fifth-graders at Sanderson last spring were higher than statistically probable.
According to the inspector general's report, investigators interviewed 17 pupils and confirmed inappropriate conduct by the accused teachers.
Fourteen pupils said at least one teacher helped them solve test problems, while 13 said one teacher told them to raise hands to seek help. Three pupils said at least one teacher pointed out correct answers.
They deny wrongdoing
Lawyers for the teachers, who were not identified by district officials, said their clients deny any wrongdoing. They also said the teachers plan to appeal the pending terminations, which are subject to school board approval.
"I'm confident that, at the end of the day, this lady's going to go back to the classroom," said attorney Chris Tritico, who represents one of the accused educators.
While Abbott said the teachers refused to answer questions during the investigation, Tritico said the district did not tell them the specifics of the allegations and does not have faith in its pupils' abilities to progress.
"They accuse people of cheating when all this is just damn good teaching," he said.
Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said the principal was not adequately disciplined.
"It's business as usual at HISD - dump all the blame on the teacher, and let the administrator walk away with a slap on wrist," she said.
James Fallon, the lawyer for the other teacher facing dismissal, said his client planned to appeal the disciplinary action. Fallon is the son of the union president.
Test scores raise flags
Saavedra requested the investigation in December after an analysis by the Dallas Morning News revealed that 31 of Sanderson Elementary's 38 fifth-graders scored perfect, or near perfect, on the TAKS math exam last spring. Twenty-five of them correctly answered all 44 math questions, and six pupils missed just one. Those results were substantially out of line with the pupils' scores on past TAKS exams and other tests, Saavedra said.
The Morning News analyzed scores from 7,700 Texas schools, searching for unusual gaps in performance between grade levels or subjects.
Other schools questioned
After the Sanderson probe, the school district identified two dozen other schools with scores on last year's TAKS that were substantially higher than expectations.
In 1999, HISD asked a teacher and the principal at Kashmere Gardens Elementary School to resign (SEE CORRECTION) and fired (SEE CORRECTION) a teacher each from Alcott and Frost elementaries after an investigation into accusations that answers on some pupils' Texas Assessment of Academic Skills tests had been changed.