Cheating charges churn at a Peoria charter school

Charges that teachers and a principal may have cheated on a statewide test used for accountability purposes at a charter school in Peoria, Ill., have been reported to the Illinois State Board of Education by School District 150, the Peoria Journal-Star reports.

But the principal at the charter school, John Wetterauer, denies any knowledge of or involvement in any cheating that may have occurred at his school, Charter Oak Primary School, according to his attorney. The district’s attorney, on the other hand, said there were violations in testing protocol when the ISAT was given to special education students, but the district couldn’t tell for sure whether the violations were the result of actual cheating or of some misunderstanding of testing protocols.

Things started bubbling when several special ed students who attended Charter Oak as fourth graders had ISAT scores in fifth grade at traditional public schools that were much lower than their fourth-grade scores. Charter Oak serves students in kindergarten through fourth grade only.

“Based on the statistical evidence and students’ (individualized education plans), it’s possible more occurred than what teachers admitted to,” the Journal-Star quoted District 150 attorney Stan Eisenhammer as saying.

Mr Eisenhammer supported his hypothesis with the fact that some students who were still learning to read three-letter words in fourth grade scored in the 90th percentile among all fourth graders in the district while they were at Charter Oak. “Staff at Charter Oak should’ve known something was wrong,” he said.

Editorial

Yes, the staff at the school should have known something was wrong when their kids who could barely read got high scores on the ISATs. But so should district officials have known something was wrong. The question for the schools is, Whose job is it to investigate when something like this goes wrong?

A statement from Mr Wetterauer’s attorney, reported by Peoria Public Radio WCBU, said “the district has no protocol for such an investigation by a principal.” The statement also turned table a little in requesting that Mr Wetterauer be reinstated as principal by suggesting school officials should be more concerned about why, at traditional public schools, student scores dropped so precipitously compared to their scores at the charter school.

I was with him right up until that last part, and I say that in the spirit of a best defense being a good offense. It’s everybody’s responsibility, yes, to investigate when something goes wrong. But that just means everybody has a share in the blame, because the scores at Charter Oak make no sense. Unfortunately, the blame game will distract everyone for a while away from fixing the underlying problem, which is that somehow, test scores at Charter Oak failed to reflect the performance of students at the school.

Some would argue that standardized test scores don’t reflect kids’ true academic ability anyway, but that’s another story for another day. When there’s a violation of testing protocol, the standardized test is automatically invalid because it’s, well, not standardized anymore in terms of the testing environment.

And according to the report filed with the ISBE, “All [Charter Oak] staff members interviewed reported they did not receive any formal training on ISAT administration on a yearly basis.” Administering the ISAT to kids whose individualized education plans call for certain accommodations, such as read-aloud, transcribing, and so on, requires special training on the part of the teacher who provides the special accommodations.

Parts of the report suggest that, for example, teachers responsible for writing the answers in test booklets for students with great physical disabilities may have even erased students’ original answers and replaced them with correct answers. If that occurred, that’s outright cheating. Even someone with no training whatsoever would know that.

Accommodating students with IEPs using a scribe

The Illinois State Board of Education provides that test-takers “may dictate to a live scribe (a school staff member who is or under the line-of-sight supervision of a certified education professional) and/or to an audio recording device.” The following is excerpted from ISBE’s 2014 manual for accommodations, which can be found online as a PDF file:

Responses must be scribed verbatim. The scribe may write using standard English capitalization and punctuation. The test-taker must not be prompted, reminded, or otherwise assisted in formulating his/her response during or after the dictation. The scribe may ask the test-taker to pause, slow down, repeat, or speak more clearly. Such requests must not be communicated in a manner suggesting that the student make a change or correction.

Students who dictate to a “live” scribe may review and modify their response before the end of the testing session. No one may suggest corrections or improvements during this review, but may clarify that the student can make any desired changes to the response.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.

1 Comment on "Cheating charges churn at a Peoria charter school"

  1. Update from the Peoria Journal-Star:

    As cheating scandals go — if what’s been alleged here is so, hard for us to say — this can’t hold a candle to what’s happening in Philadelphia and Atlanta. There is immense pressure to perform on these tests anymore, certainly felt by the adults if not always the students. What is clear is that Charter Oak isn’t the only one on trial here, in a District 150 we keep hoping will turn the corner, someday.

    Read more: http://www.pjstar.com/article/20140208/Opinion/140209237

    I think there are bigger problems in District 150 than whether two teachers can follow testing protocols for kids with IEPs. Charter Oak, with John Wetterauer as principal, was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon school in 2012. He has been reassigned by the district as a result of this very public personnel action. This is indicative of a dysfunctional school board and superintendent, and it needs to be made right.

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