Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

May 22, 2010

Put to the Test

J.L. Newbern CRCT probes raise questions

VALDOSTA — Valdosta City School System officials are reworking policies in the wake of investigations into questionable testing practices, including possible erasures on Georgia’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT).

The first investigation arose from a state erasure analysis that flagged J.L. Newbern Middle School as a “moderate concern category” school in terms of erasures on student tests in 2009.

The second investigation was conducted after Dr. Marilyn McCluskey, a science teacher at Newbern Middle School, spoke out about the system’s testing practices in 2009, which included the school’s principal pulling students out of classrooms to administer the CRCT to them herself, even though she was not trained to do so.

McCluskey was then reassigned to Valdosta High School and eventually dismissed with one day left in the school year.

Two investigations, several discrepancies

J.L. Newbern Middle School was flagged as a school of concern following an erasure analysis by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (OSA) and CTB/McGraw-Hill, the state’s testing vendor.

The erasure analysis revealed the middle school had a rate of 15.4 percent of its test takers changing from wrong to right answers, giving the school a “moderate concern” rating, and requiring that the system conduct an investigation and submit the results to the OSA.

The system assembled a district-level investigative team comprised of Dr. Bill Cason, superintendent, Gayle Golden, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, Marty Roesch, assistant superintendent of finance, Dr. Cheryl Copeland, director of testing, Page Arnette, director of curriculum for grades six through eight, Scarlet Correll, director of professional learning, Joann Mabry, former assistant superintendent, Gary Moser, school board attorney, and Miranda Cox, school board attorney.

The investigation determined that an administrator (Newbern principal Dr. Janice Richardson), who did not receive training to administer the CRCT, monitored and administered tests and pulled students determined to be “at risk test takers” without informing the system testing coordinator.

Following the investigation, the system sent its findings and corrective actions to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (OSA), which would not release information to The Times as it remains a pending investigation by a state regulatory agency.

A second investigation, conducted by a person outside of the Valdosta City School System, followed a phone call made by McCluskey to Dr. Cheryl Copeland, the school system’s coordinator of testing. 

McCluskey was interviewed on March 4 by investigator Scott Chesternuttwood and school system administrators Copeland and Golden.

Four other teachers were interviewed and a former J.L. Newbern Middle School paraprofessional was interviewed, according to investigative documents provided by the school system.

Information from the second investigation stated that the principal did not include the names of all regular education students pulled and tested separately by examiners other than the homeroom teacher in the “at risk test takers” list.

From the interviews, it was determined that Dr. Dan Altman, J.L. Newbern Middle School testing coordinator, told examiners that only special education students would be pulled from the regular classroom for testing.

However, Dr. Richardson held another meeting concerning the pulling of regular education “at risk test takers.”

The interviewees stated that the principal presented gifts to teachers who were interviewed by the investigative team. According to the investigative documents, the principal’s reason for giving the gifts was as an apology for being interviewed by investigators.

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