A Franklin County parent asked the school board last week that the true story be shared regarding the conduct of high school teachers who administer the 10th grade state writing test.
Sherry White stepped forward, she had been placed on the agenda. Before she said anything, everyone indicated they wanted to be clear what the rules did or did not allow pertaining to employee confidentiality.
White is the parent of one of five sophomores whose Feb. 27 Florida Writes exams were invalidated by the district. She has spoken on the matter in a public way ever since questions were raised about possible teacher involvement with students during the test period.
The district invalidated five tests, and issued a statement March 6 that said “a breach of security was reported. The invalidation is the result of documented, unauthorized help or suggestions made during the test by the administrator of the test.”
Even more than a violation of rule protocols, which it appears to be, this could possibly a matter of professional misconduct against a teacher’s record, and even criminality, as serious violations may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor.
Thus it was of utmost importance that the rules be spelled out from the onset, that there would be no reference, direct or indirect, to a particular teacher or teachers.
“We’re not allowed to discuss employees or anything that’s identifiable,” said School Attorney Barbara Sanders. “After that we have to put them on notice if there’s going to be any discussion of any wrongdoing.”
White sounded fine with that, and asked to know when the investigation would be closed. Superintendent Nina Marks was indeterminate.
“I’m not sure,” Marks said. “As soon as I’m notified I can notify everybody when it’s public.”
School Board Chair Jimmy Gander sounded matter of fact when he suggested this was a state matter, too. “This is in the hands of the Florida Department of Education which is usually the way anything is done with any employee. Professional practices with DOE will investigate it.”
White shared what she had been told by state education officials. “They said they were going to let the district do as it sees fit,” she said.
She said the state had told her that her son would only have to take the test if he failed the 10th grade, that otherwise the matter was considered shut.
“Do they get to read what actually happened?” White asked.
This is where the superintendent and the school attorney disagreed at the point where the story would come out.
“When the file becomes public record, student names are redacted,” said Sanders, drawing no further restrictions on the content of the investigation.
Marks said she has issued her findings, and possible reprimands, and has sent them to the state.
“I submitted the plan of action and then that is now going in their direction for them to make the determination, to leave it to the district or anything in addition to that,” said the superintendent.
Gander said he knew of three other instances being investigated across Florida.
Marks said state officials “will make a trip down here. They will come and conduct interviews. My material feeds into their material and then they decide at that point. They decide whether to conduct a secondary investigation or not.”
Sanders suggested the state inquiry was separate from the district’s actions. “It’s public record, a separate investigation,” she said.
“I didn’t understand it that way,” Marks said.
Sanders told White that the district investigation should be completed in “a reasonable time” and that when completed it becomes public record.
Marks said that “it also says by statute I have to report it to the state.” She asked that if a difference exists between what is public at the state and local levels, “that’s something to put in the policy book.”
White said she spoke in detail with state officials, and now has concerns that her son’s invalidated test would reflect badly on his record.
“If someone’s looking at it they can’t decipher (who’s at fault),” she said. “I want to make sure the teacher is reprimanded because it’s not acceptable.”
Gander supported her concerns. “I’d like some further explanation,” he said. “I’m concerned with what would be on any child’s record.”
Marks said that while invalidated test in on the student record, “It’s possible the child was absent or never took the test. There’s not going to be a negative interpretation.”
Marks said Nick O’Grady, the administrator who oversees testing, has spoken with the DOE and received answers to his questions.
“The entire board shares your concern,” Gander told White. “I’m not here to confirm a sense of guilt. I am just, the accusation itself, (the school board is) not pleased with or this administration. We just have to hope it all comes to the proper conclusion for everybody.”