Enterprise Elementary principal retires amid test violations

05/11/2012 5:00 AM

06/27/2012 10:19 AM

Wichita district officials said Friday they found improprieties with some assessment tests administered at Enterprise Elementary School this spring, prompting the sudden retirement of the school’s principal.

Superintendent John Allison said “protocol wasn’t followed” when 18 students at Enterprise had their tests improperly reactivated, allowing answers to be changed after the tests had been completed and submitted. The computerized tests were administered to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at the school.

Pam Stead, principal at Enterprise since 2007 and a 27-year district employee, submitted her retirement paperwork April 30, officials said. Her retirement will be effective July 31, the end of the contract year.

Stead had been on a paid leave of absence for more than a month as officials investigated test practices and possible improprieties.

Christy Winn, an English as a Second Language teacher and testing coordinator at Enterprise, also was on paid leave until last week. She was reassigned to Griffith Elementary School in Wichita for the remainder of the school year and is expected to work elsewhere in the district next school year.

“I feel very confident that we know exactly the sequence of what happened and have taken the appropriate actions,” Allison said.

“We follow protocols that the state has, and we have our own internal checks,” he said. “This was an example that the processes we have in place are effective. We were able to address it quickly, and that’s what we want.”

Stead did not return calls for comment Friday. Winn, reached by phone Friday, said she did not want to comment.

Carol Dunne, formerly an assistant principal at Caldwell Elementary, was transferred to Enterprise as acting principal.

Random violations

The Wichita district uses online versions of state assessments, which are administered on school computers.

During the testing season that runs from February through early May, the Wichita district administers more than 113,000 exams.

The assessments are part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which mandates that every student meet testing benchmarks and holds schools accountable for results.

In a letter to parents of Enterprise students, Alicia Thompson, the district’s superintendent for elementary schools, said the testing violations “are certainly serious and I can assure you that they will not happen again in the future.”

“Our investigation determined that 18 students were inappropriately allowed to retake the test for reasons that are not acceptable by state rules,” Thompson said in the letter. “These violations were random, and there were no direct efforts by adults to manipulate scores.”

“It is very important to note that Enterprise’s students did nothing wrong!” she wrote. “Our students and staff at Enterprise have worked very hard over the last several years to make dramatic improvements in both reading and math, and the Enterprise community has so much to be proud of.”

Enterprise, near I-235 and MacArthur Road in south Wichita, was the focus of an Eagle report in February that highlighted large gains in assessment scores over the past five years.

In 2008, just over half the school’s third- through fifth-graders passed state reading assessments. Among students who didn’t speak English as their first language, only one in four passed the reading test.

Last spring, more than 83 percent of students passed reading and math assessments, and the school had nearly closed the achievement gap between non-English-speaking students and native English speakers.

‘Isolated incident’

Wichita school board president Betty Arnold said she feels confident that the Enterprise case is an “isolated incident” that shouldn’t cast doubt on other test scores at Enterprise or elsewhere.

“I appreciate the way that it was handled. I appreciate the speed with which it was handled,” Arnold said.

“The last thing I would want us to do is emulate some of the other states that have ended up with a black eye because of this.”

A report last summer by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation sparked national attention when it revealed widespread cheating in almost half of Atlanta’s 100 public schools. Investigators said educators gave answers to students or erased and corrected mistakes on answer sheets after students had turned them in.

Pressure to meet testing targets was a major reason cheating took place, the report said, and the scandal tarnished Atlanta’s Cinderella story of school reform.

Wichita isn’t immune to the pressures of high-stakes tests, especially at high-poverty schools like Enterprise, which receive federal funding and face sanctions for not meeting prescribed goals.

“Sure, there’s pressure. The standards go up every year,” Allison said. “But … the ethics of teachers and administrators shows through.

“While there is pressure and concern and they take it very seriously, we also know that … if there’s sound instruction, if we’re teaching the curriculum as expected, the state assessments will take care of themselves.”

Safeguards

Both the state and district employ numerous safeguards – including extensive staff training, secure computer passwords and electronic logs – to make cheating by students, teachers or administrators unlikely, Allison said.

“We have a pretty comprehensive system of checks and balances that we do … on a daily, weekly snapshot basis,” he said. “We want to make sure that the hard work of our teachers and our administrators is validated.”

Those regular checks by an outside consultant were how anomalies on some Enterprise tests – the fact that 18 tests were completed and then reopened, changed and resubmitted – first came to light, the superintendent said.

“We have some pretty careful analysis that’s done. We look for trends that would be unusual. We’ve looked at reactivation logs,” Allison said.

“Unfortunately, I think folks rushed to judgment” when the Enterprise investigation began, he added.

“But it was not going to be rushed. We were going to do what we needed to do, follow our process and procedures and make sure that we knew exactly what happened.”

Arnold, the board president, said she thinks the Enterprise incident “had nothing to do with trying to skew results or give the appearance of looking better.”

More likely, she said, it was an example of “a person who kind of had student interests at heart and wanted them to do their absolute best.”

“Sometimes we just get so concerned with making sure that our kids give it their best that we just start to mess with the recipe a little bit,” Arnold said.

She added that the case shouldn’t take away from strides the district has made in raising test scores. At a celebratory news conference last August, officials announced that the number of schools that met state testing targets in reading and math nearly doubled last spring.

District reading proficiency was 74.8 percent last year, an all-time high and the largest increase (3.8 percent) since 2005. Overall math proficiency also was an all-time high at 70.2 percent, a 2.8 percent increase over the previous year.

The district’s response to testing problems at Enterprise Elementary “is a message, certainly,” Arnold said.

“We follow all procedures, we follow protocol and we follow guidelines, and I think it is very timely. For many people who have just kind of gotten comfortable with the process, it wakes them up to say, ‘We really need to pay close attention.’ ”

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