APS trial: Administrators pressured school to meet testing... | www.ajc.com

APS trial: Administrators pressured school to meet testing... | www.ajc.com



Brick by brick, prosecutors continued building their case Thursday in the Atlanta test-cheating case, calling two educators with more testimony about low-performing students who couldn’t, or shouldn’t, have done well on state tests.
State investigators found suspicious levels of wrong-to-right erasures at Deerwood Academy during the summer 2008 retest of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, and again in spring 2009. But in 2010, with state monitors present, scores plunged.
A teacher and an instructional coach at Deerwood told jurors there were children who were several grades behind in reading and math.
“It was surprising that some of the students were able to pass the test,” said Tabitha Martin, who oversaw a reading program at Deerwood from 2005 to 2010.
Students in fifth grade teacher Betty Peak’s classroom were performing as many as four years behind grade level, and some couldn’t even read phrases without help, she said.
Tabeeka Jordan, the school’s assistant principal from that time, is among the dozen defendants charged with conspiring to inflate scores on the CRCT. Jordan’s attorney, Akil Secret, raised concerns about Peak’s behavior despite a performance review of “exceeds expectations.” She was accused of using profanity at a meeting, and she denied it.
Secret asked Martin if she’d seen Jordan change test answers or tell anyone else to, and Martin said she had not.
Nearly 48 percent of Deerwood’s classrooms were flagged for abnormally high numbers of wrong-to-right erasure marks on the 2009 test, the governor’s special investigators said in a report released in 2011. With state monitors present during testing in 2010, only 8.6 percent of the school’s classrooms were flagged.
The administration of then-Superintendent Beverly Hall placed great pressure on the school to reach testing targets, Martin testified, and Deerwood used data to identify a “hot list” of students likely to fail.
Another defendant, Sharon Davis Williams, was a regional director over the school, and kept the pressure on, Martin testified. Williams’ attorney, Teresa Mann, drilled Martin about the professional development plan her principal placed her on during the 2008-09 school year. The goal of the plan, Martin said: improve student achievement on the CRCT.
Martin said she’d been told that Williams was involved in creating the plan, but only the school principal signed it. Martin testified later for the prosecution that she wasn’t surprised by the plan because her principal, Lisa Smith, had told her that if the school failed to reach targets, “we would all be put on” personal development plans.
Educators got cash bonuses for meeting targets, and Martin, who was not accused of cheating, recalled getting two payments of $500. She acknowledged under cross examination that she did not return the money after learning the test scores at the school were tied to alleged cheating.
Before that, during the 2007-08 school year, Deerwood came up short on the CRCT and failed to reach a benchmark known as Adequate Yearly Progress.
As witnesses in prior hearings testified, schools that missed their benchmarks were shamed at the annual school district convocation, banished to the bleacher seats while those who met targets got floor seats.
“It felt like you had to walk the walk of shame if your school did not meet targets,” Martin said.
11:07 a.m.
Students in fifth grade teacher Betty Peak’s classroom were performing three and four years behind where they should have been. One couldn’t even read phrases without help.
The veteran teacher was at Atlanta’s Deerwood Academy during the 2007-08 school year, and knew how much ground her students had to cover to catch up.
Peak’s testimony at the beginning of Day 12 in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial was used by prosecutors to establish the students’ ability levels at a school where performance on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests would raise suspicions of cheating.
Tabeeka Jordan, the school’s assistant principal from that time, is among the dozen defendants charged with conspiring to inflate scores on the CRCT. Jordan’s attorney, Akil Secret, was raising concerns about Peak’s behavior — she was accused of using profanity at a meeting — despite a performance review of “exceeds expectations.”
After the 2009 CRCT, almost 48 percent of Deerwood’s classrooms were flagged for having abnormally high numbers of wrong-to-right erasure marks on the test, the governor’s special investigators said in a report released in 2011. With state monitors present during the 2010 CRCT, only 8.6 percent of the school’s classrooms were flagged.
Of Deerwood’s 43 flagged classrooms in 2009, the probability that the numbers of erasures occurring without adult tampering in 26 classrooms was no better than one in a million, the report said. In six classrooms, the probability of that occurring was no better than one in a trillion, investigators found.
Of the roughly 1,800 schools that took the CRCT in 2009, only five schools had a higher percentage of flagged classrooms than Deerwood, the report said.

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