APS principal demoted after reporting cheating, missing targets | www.ajc.com

APS principal demoted after reporting cheating, missing targets | www.ajc.com

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Some students at Benjamin Carson Middle School couldn’t read. Some couldn’t write, former principal Patricia Wells testified Tuesday in theAtlanta schools cheating trial.
But their state test results suggested otherwise, she said.
In August 2007, Wells gathered a group of students and asked them why their performance in class didn’t match their state test performance.
Wells was shocked by what they told her.
It was cheating, she confirmed Tuesday in response to prosecutor John Floyd’s questions.
Wells immediately told then-regional executive director Tamara Cotman.
Cotman asked her one question: “Do you have any proof?,” Wells said.
“I said well, ‘Yeah, I have what the children said,’” Wells told her.
After that meeting, Wells’ relationship with Cotman deteriorated, Wells said.
Cotman did not follow up with Wells about the cheating allegations, Wells said. But months later Wells was called into a meeting and told she could either be terminated or reassigned to a different school as an assistant principal.
“That was the worst day of my career,” she said.
She took the transfer and resigned at the end of the school year.
In response to questions, Wells said she did not cheat and Cotman did not tell her to cheat.
APS trial: Parent says ‘don’t make my baby out to be a monster’ - 11:10 a.m.
A parent of an Atlanta Public Schools student lashed out at defense attorneys Tuesday, telling one “don’t make my baby out to be a monster.”
Keylina Clark broke down in tears on the witness stand when defense attorney Annette Greene documented a number of instances when Clark’s son was disciplined or suspended from school for bad behavior.
“Don’t keep putting up all this negativity about my son,” Clark yelled at Greene, who represents former teacher Shani Robinson, during one angry exchange. Later, she asked, “What does this have to do with the CRCT?”
Clark had been called to testify in the APS test-cheating trial because she complained in 2008 that her son told her he had been given answers to the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.
The student, now a 14-year-old ninth grader, is not being identified by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution because of a court order. He also testified this morning, corroborating his mother’s account.
“She gave me the answers,” he testified, referring to the teacher he said gave him the answers.
After taking the 2008 CRCT, the student, then a second-grader at Blalock Elementary School, returned home and told Clark he’d passed the test. When Clark asked her son how he knew that, he told her a teacher had given him the answers, Clark testified.
At the time, the boy was performing well below grade level and had behavior problems, sometimes leaving school in the middle of the day, Clark said. But he passed all three subjects in the CRCT in 2008 and did the same in 2009, she said.
In his third-grade year, the student was put on an Individualized Education Plan for special needs students. He has not passed the CRCT in all subject areas since then.
After Clark complained about her son receiving the answers in 2008, the APS Office of Internal Resolution conducted an investigation. In a Sept. 12, 2008, letter to Clark, then-Superintendent Beverly Hall said that based on the totality of the evidence, “I am unable to determine that a reasonable basis exists to conclude” test-cheating occurred.
More testimony in prosecution’s case against Cotman - 6:10 a.m.
Fulton County prosecutors on Tuesday are expected to continue presenting testimony against Tamara Cotman, the former Atlanta Public Schools School Reform Team executive director who oversaw 21 schools.
Much of the testimony Monday came from witnesses who testified last year in the first trial against Cotman. Because her lawyer filed a speedy trial demand, she was tried on a single count of influencing witnesses.
Jurors acquitted Cotman at that trial, and she now faces a single charge of engaging in a racketeering conspiracy to inflate test-scores on state-mandated standardized tests. Eleven other former educators and administrators are also standing trial.
On Monday, the former principal and former math coach from Harper-Archer Middle School, one of Cotman’s schools, took the stand and testified about how their students made improbable gains on the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.
“We were ecstatic,” Michael Milstead, who served as the school’s principal for three years, testified Monday in the test-cheating trial.
“Everybody assumed that finally what we were doing was paying off,” Arn St. Cyr, the math coach, said.
But both men said the more they thought about it, the more they realized the gains were not legitimate.
“[I] was trying to make it seem like it was real but it was very difficult,” Milstead said. “That type of gain was very hard to achieve, especially in math.”
Milstead said he did not change any answers on the 2009 CRCT, but he suspected some people did. Under cross-examination, he acknowledged that Cotman never asked him to cheat.
He also said Cotman told him she was not renewing his contract in late 2008 because his school was not meeting targets or being recognized for Adequate Yearly Progress. Milstead resigned in April 2009. He is now a principal in Texas.
St. Cyr, now a math coach at Sutton Middle School, gave a similar account.
“Once we started looking at the numbers it was obvious that something was wrong,” he said. “You can reasonably expect maybe 10 percent a year. To see a 30-percent jump, that was unheard of. It just didn’t add up to me.”
Like Milstead, St. Cyr testified that he was not told to cheat on state tests and that he didn’t change answers on tests.
But he said he had no plausible explanation for the 2009 test results other than that cheating had occurred. The governor’s special investigators later confirmed his suspicions.
Although none of the 52 people investigators interviewed confessed to cheating at Harper-Archer, teachers “almost unanimously” said they agreed cheating had occurred.
In 24 classrooms, the probability that the number of wrong to right erasures on test answer sheets had happened without cheating were no better than one in a trillion, according to the 2011 state investigative report.


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