Indiana

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Calling ISTEP+ Cheating Allegations False, Ousted Teacher Sues Former District

Fort Wayne parent Kim Morken has been collecting documents to try and clear the name of a Southwest Allen County Schools teacher.

Nearly two years ago, we told you the story of a Southwest Allen County Schools teacher who resigned amid accusations she fed students answers to ISTEP+ questions.

Now, the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reports, teacher Laura Farner — who denies the allegations — has gone to court saying the district unfairly forced her out of the job:

Filed Friday by Laura Farner against SACS, the board of trustees and district superintendent Steven Yager, the lawsuit seeks damages and a hearing before the board to clear her name.

In March 2011, SACS discovered a Summit Middle School teacher breached protocol on the state’s annual ISTEP test, given annually to assess school and student performance. The test scores for 120 seventh-graders were invalidated, according to court documents. 

Yager sent letters to the parents of children who may have been affected and then two anonymous callers implicated Farner in another possible ISTEP violation, this time at Haverhill Elementary School. Very shortly after those phone calls, Farner was placed on administrative leave.

A 28-year employee of the district, Farner contends she was told that if she resigned, the list of accusations would not be put in her personnel file and she could retain her benefits, according to court documents.

In the lawsuit, Farner said she felt she needed to retire at the end of the 2010-11 school year in order to protect her retirement.

Southwest Allen superintendent Steve Yager didn’t comment on the current suit to the Journal Gazette. But Yager’s allegations are detailed in documents uploaded to a website Farner’s supporters created to aid her defense.

“Your failure to administer the ISTEP+ test in compliance with state and district guidelines is a violation of test rules which invalidates all of the tests of all students in your classroom,” Yager wrote, according to a letter uploaded to laurafarner.com.

“Invalidating my students’ test scores was your decision,” Farner fired back, “based upon poor investigative techniques and poor judgment.”

State officials have been trying to make the “security rules” that surround ISTEP+ testing clear to teachers, as we reported in 2011:

Ask the state’s top testing official, Wes Bruce, why the Department of Education decided to lay down the law now, and he’ll answer, “The Facebook posting.”

Before the Spring 2011 ISTEP+ test, a teacher posted the prompt for the 8th grade writing test verbatim to Facebook. The department invalidated more than 83,000 8th grade writing scores as a result, costing the state “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in testing development, Bruce says. Requiring every teacher to sign a document with 8 to 10 items covering do’s and don’ts of test administration helps keep secure materials more secure.

“Frankly, teachers have a lot of other things they need to be focused on. Teachers don’t need to be testing experts and be aware of every nuance, though they certainly should know” the basics of test security, Bruce says.

“The protocol is pretty clearly spelled out to the test coordinators in each school building. There’s a script you have to read, a clear list of ‘do’s-and-don’ts,’” a department spokesperson told StateImpact last May. “There’s really no reason for anything like this to happen.”

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