Friday, January 13, 2012

Standards board takes action against Perry county educators in ACT investigation

This from the Hazard Herald:
The Education Professional Standards Board this week suspended educational certificates for two employees of the Perry County School District in response to an investigation that turned up allegedly compromised ACT tests in 2009 and 2010.

The ACT organization, which provides college entrance exams to high school students in Kentucky and other states, confirmed to the Herald in October 2010 that officials had cancelled test scores for several students at Perry County Central, and later at Buckhorn High School, after an investigation concluded that answers on some of the tests had been altered and did not reflect “the students’ own independent work.”

ACT forwarded the results of their investigation to the Kentucky Department of Education and the Education Professional Standards Board (EPSB), the latter of which opened cases on five employees of the district. Two of those cases were closed with a suspension of certification on Monday, January 9.

According to documents obtained by the Herald this week through an open records request, Jonathan Jett, who at the time served as the district’s assessment coordinator, was “responsible for test security in the district,” and “should have been aware that ACT scores for certain student groups appeared to be inconsistent with their abilities.”

An agreed order was issued during the EPSB’s meeting on Monday, noting punitive measures against Jett and his certification in Kentucky.

“Although Jett maintains his innocence with regard to the specific allegation,” the order reads, “he acknowledges that the evidence regarding the reported charges is such that, if presented at a hearing of this matter, could result in a finding that he is in violation of KRS 161-120 and 16 KAR 1:020, the Professional Code of Ethics for Kentucky School Certified Personnel.”

Two of the three educational certificates Jett holds were suspended as a part of the order. One listed as a “Professional Certificate For Instructional Leadership–School Superintendent” was suspended for 12 months beginning July 1, 2011 and ending July 1, 2012, while a “Professional Certificate For Director Of Special Education” was suspended for 18 months beginning July 1, 2011.

According to Alicia Sneed, director of legal services for the EPSB, Jett additionally holds a teaching certificate which will not be affected “since the allegations in the case were in reference to his positions as District Assessment Coordinator and Director of Special Education.”

Additional probationary conditions were also attached to the order, including one that bars Jett from supervising the administration of tests required by state statute or by the Kentucky Department of Education.

A second case was closed on Monday against Rebecca Dobson, a certified teacher at Perry Central who, according to the agreed order in her case, was serving as the testing accommodations coordinator at the time ACT alleged the tests were altered. The order also noted that her fingerprints were allegedly found on the answer sheets, according to the original complaint made by ACT.

Dobson also maintained her innocence, according to the documentation, but agreed to the order which suspends her teaching certification for a period of six months beginning September 3, 2011 and ending on February 3, 2012, after which her certificate will be reinstated under a probationary period of five years. Conditions of that probation include that Dobson provide proof that she completed 12 hours of ethics training and that she not be allowed to participate in any testing mandated by state law or by the Kentucky Department of Education.

Perry County Superintendent John Paul Amis noted on Wednesday that Jett’s suspension will not affect his current job as the district’s maintenance and transportation director, and that Dobson is currently on an unrelated leave and isn’t scheduled to return until next month.

He added that the suspensions levied by the EPSB were unfortunate because it appeared that both Jett and Dobson were punished simply by virtue of their supervisory positions, and that to his knowledge there has never been a specific allegation or evidence presented that either had anything to do with physically altering the test’s answer sheets.

“It’s my understanding the only reason the standards board has taken any action against any individuals is due to negligence, because of the positions they held, and not willful negligence, just negligence, that these people never willingly, knowingly participated in anything improper, but due to the positions that they held some disciplinary action was taken against them,” Amis said.

In Jett’s case, Amis noted, he was never in contact with the answer sheets at any time during their administration, and in Dobson’s case, it would be natural for someone administering the test to have their fingerprints on the booklets.

“I’m sure if they checked, there would be numerous fingerprints on them, because somebody has to hand them out and somebody has to take them up, and somebody has to inventory them and seal them up,” he said. “That wouldn’t be evidence of guilt on anybody’s part.”

Amis said he has reviewed the evidence contained in the ACT report several times, and while it does seem that some manipulation of the tests may have taken place, it has been frustrating that no one has been able to pinpoint any specific individual as the person who physically altered the students’ answers.

“When you look at the evidence of some of these answer sheets … the evidence is pretty compelling that some of those could have been manipulated,” he said. “But again, a lot of people don’t realize how in-depth ACT’s investigation was.”

That investigation, he noted, included forensic elements such as fingerprint and handwriting analysis. And despite that inquiry and another completed by district officials on the local level, “they could still never determine an individual who actually went in and changed any of the answers, (or) manipulated those answer sheets in any way.”

And that has been a point of frustration, he added. “We would have dealt with an individual severely if we could ever have determined exactly who it was.”

“It’s unfortunate,” Amis continued, “that you’ve got people that their names are now going to be made public and may be some action taken against them with their certifications when they’ve never been accused of actually doing anything improper.”

Three other cases are currently pending, the details of which are not being released. Alicia Sneed with the EPSB explained that those files will also become public record once the cases are closed. She did not note a time frame as to when that may happen.

Superintendent Amis also declined to release any specifics in those remaining cases, but said he understands that like the two that were closed this week, those individuals were named because of their positions and not because of any specific allegations or evidence against them.

In the original ACT complaint, tests were also alleged to have been compromised at the county’s other public high school at Buckhorn, though Sneed declined to comment if there are any plans to open separate investigations in regard to those allegations.

Amis did say, however, that he received a letter from ACT several months ago that the agency was not pursuing anything with Buckhorn, and that he doesn’t expect any further investigation into those allegations.

No comments:

Post a Comment