The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

October 7, 2011

Shikellamy test probe open

State agency still reviewing case

SUNBURY — The state Department of Education is still investigating allegations that a Shikellamy High School math teacher gave some 11th-graders test questions before they took a state assessment exam.

The district reported the alleged violation more than 17 months ago, on April 27, 2010. Written notification, dated April 29, 2010, followed.

Education spokesman Tim Eller declined to comment directly about the case because the investigation is open.

“In this specific case I cannot confirm or deny anything,” he said Thursday. “We will not discuss this.”

Eller said the department has received other reports of misconduct during testing elsewhere, and added that in a worst case, the state could rule that Shikellamy’s test scores for 2010 were invalid. However, he was not sure what that would mean.

“This is uncharted territory,” Eller said. “I would have to do more research on that.”

A teacher who committed a violation could lose professional certification, Eller said.

Eller commented after two Valley legislators asked the Education Department to call The Daily Item.

State Rep. Fred Keller, R-85 of Kreamer, and state Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-108 of Sunbury, intervened on the newspaper’s behalf and said the department ought to make a public comment about the Shikellamy case. Both limited their involvement to suggesting that the department speak to the newspaper, and they did not ask the Education Department staff for an explanation themselves.

The alleged misconduct happened the same year the district’s math scores for 11th-graders jumped by 31.2 percentage points. Math scores fell back 23.6 percent this year.

Documents obtained by The Daily Item on Wednesday show that a student reported the improper test preparations to a teacher, who notified administrators. Then-principal Terry Roden completed an investigation, which he described in a report to former district superintendent James Hartman. That probe determined the teacher had copied questions from a prior year’s state test for a study guide, and five of those questions, including an open-ended question, which is worth more points than the multiple choice questions that make up the majority of the questions, appeared on the 2010 test.

Asked why the Education Department has not acted on the information, Eller said: “The state has no deadline on when they have to conclude an investigation. We have no time limit … we don’t rush to judgments.”

Eller said he wouldn’t discuss any cases, but said the state notifies the media and general public after an investigation is concluded.

There is no record of any teacher having his or her license suspended or revoked on account of cheating on the assessments this year.

Of the teachers who had their licenses suspended or revoked this year almost all, about 30, were for misconduct with students or for viewing inappropriate material at school.

Three others, including former Line Mountain principal Thea Tafner, lost their licenses after they were arrested for fraud. One teacher lost his certification after being arrested for intimidating a witness and another for selling drugs.

The amount of time that has elapsed between the April 2010 report of apparent wrongdoing by Shikellamy and now is not unprecedented. The Department of Education announced last summer that it was investigating allegations that there had been cheating on the standardized tests in 35 different districts. The announcement came only after news reports out of Philadelphia disclosed the information, and stemmed from the 2009 tests.

— Email comments to fscarcella@dailyitem.com.

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