A former fourth grade teacher at Southwest Allen County Schools says her district wrongly accused her of giving students answers to problems on the state’s standardized test, the ISTEP+, forcing her into early retirement.
In addition to the cheating claims, the district alleged in a March letter the teacher, Laura Farner, told students, “If you don’t pass the ISTEP, I will be fired.”
The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette ran the story, reporting some parents have come to Farner’s defense:
A group of Southwest Allen County Schools parents have expressed concern over the way the district handled the investigation of the ISTEP+ breach, alleging that their students’ teacher was unfairly dismissed.
The parents said their children should never have been questioned without their prior notification, and they want the district to alter how it investigates future alleged ISTEP+ security breaches…
Farner said she initially planned to fight the allegation that she gave children answers on the ISTEP+ but elected to retire after a district official told her union representative that all of the students the district interviewed reported that she broke ISTEP+ protocol.
The story might have ended there. But a parent close to Farner decided to conduct her own investigation. After talking to other parents, she concluded that at least six of the nine children questioned by the district assistant superintendent and school principal believed Farner had not violated any rules.
The district refused to comment on the matter to the Journal Gazette, citing their personnel policy.
The alleged breach is one of 11 in Indiana in which the Indiana Department of Education believes teachers “violated proper testing procedures” while giving the Spring 2011 exam. The violations, spelled out in a March 30 memo, range from teachers creating practice problems modeled after those on the test to posting essay prompts verbatim on Facebook.
Farner’s case of alleged rule-breaking also brings to light another problem: there aren’t any statewide rules about what constitutes a violation of test protocol, or how to investigate if proper protocol’s been broken.
In the March 30 memo, three DOE officials expressed a desire to put state rules on the books about the proper way to give the test. As of June 30, a draft of those rules were going through a final internal review.
Education blogger Steve Hinnefeld notes these rules couldn’t be drafted at a more critical juncture:
Until now, the stakes [on the ISTEP+] have been high for schools but not for individuals. That’s about to change. Soon third-graders will be retained if they don’t pass the state reading test. Teachers’ salaries and job-retention prospects will depend partially on student test scores. When there’s pressure to do whatever it takes to raise test scores, it’s not surprising that some folks will do, well, whatever it takes.
Given these higher stakes, are you worried about cheating on statewide tests in Indiana? Have you witnessed or heard about teachers breaking rules to boost scores?