Saturday, April 21, 2018
Education

State orders investigation of St. Petersburg school for possible FCAT cheating

The state Department of Education has ordered Pinellas County school officials to investigate possible cheating on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test at an elementary magnet school in St. Petersburg.

This is the first time in the 16-year history of school grades in Florida that the department has withheld a Pinellas school's grade so a full investigation into cheating could take place, a district official said.

At Bay Point Elementary, a large number of fourth-grade students turned in math tests that were so similar as to be statistically improbable, according to a strongly worded letter from the state to Pinellas superintendent Mike Grego.

On multiple-choice tests, it's not unusual for students to give the same answer — when it's the correct answer. But about 30 students were giving the same wrong answers on the same questions.

A state analysis concluded the likelihood that students produced such similar tests under normal conditions was less than 1 in 1 trillion, according to the letter from Mike Blackburn, inspector general for the Florida Department of Education.

"The department is requiring you to conduct an internal investigation regarding the high incidence of answer documents having similarities at the identified schools," said Blackburn, adding that the department "appreciates your understanding and full cooperation in this important undertaking."

Octavio Salcedo, director of assessment and accountability for Pinellas schools, said he has interviewed Bay Point's principal, Felita Grant, the school's assistant principals and some teachers, as well as a handful of students.

Grant was not available to speak with a reporter Wednesday.

Bay Point is one of only 40 schools in Florida this year to undergo such an investigation. Although located in St. Petersburg, the school has a countywide magnet program focused on mathematics, science, technology and foreign language. This year, 261 families indicated interest in one of Bay Point's 108 open kindergarten seats.

So far, Salcedo says he has found no evidence of cheating by Bay Point students, teachers or administrators. He said he still needs to talk with more students and some of the test proctors, and expects the investigation to wrap up within the first few weeks of the school year.

If any cheating occurred, it didn't do much good, Salcedo said.

"The math scores are flat, there's no improvement," he said. "With all the data we have here, the school would have been a C again this year."

During the interviews, Salcedo is looking to find out whether policies for administering and storing tests were followed, and he is asking students whether their teachers improperly prompted them or gave them answers. The children with too-similar tests were spread across five or six classrooms, he said.

Looking at the high number of students who bubbled the answers, "I would think these are the kids who maybe stay after school and there's a tutor there telling them a certain thing, or that the school didn't do a good job of handling test materials," but Salcedo has not found that to be the case.

"We'll just have to document (the investigation) and send it to DOE," he said. "Maybe they'll consider it the 1 in 10,000 that does get flagged but then we find out nothing happened."

In his letter, inspector general Blackburn says, "These statistical analyses are used to further investigations, and the results should not be interpreted as accusatory or indicative of malicious intent by the school or county."

Lorrie Ashley, whose daughter was in the third grade last year at Bay Point, said the principal recently sent out a robocall about the missing grade but didn't explain the circumstances.

"Oh goodness, I'm pretty shocked to hear that. I was wondering what was going on," Ashley said after learning of the investigation. She said she is friendly with some of the fourth-grade teachers.

"I would hope it's a coincidence, but it could be more."

Contact Lisa Gartner at [email protected] Follow @lisagartner.

Comments
A Florida school shooting suspect charged with terrorism says ‘sorry’ to injured student

A Florida school shooting suspect charged with terrorism says ‘sorry’ to injured student

The young man in a white jail jumpsuit, handcuffed and shackled, looked past the throng of reporters pointing microphones toward his face, barely opening his mouth as he answered questions."I shot through the door," he said, looking at a female repor...
Updated: 8 hours ago
After months, no action on Hillsborough’s substitute teacher problem

After months, no action on Hillsborough’s substitute teacher problem

TAMPA — Confronted in late 2017 with reports of misconduct by substitute teachers hired through a contractor, Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins said he would ask tough questions and demand answers. He had his lawyer, Jeff Gibson, ...
Published: 04/21/18
Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Nicole Leary and Taylor Redington stood outside St. Petersburg High School on Friday morning with parents and protesters who had gathered with bullhorns and signs. In a few minutes they would lead about 70 students on a walk to City Hall, joining oth...
Published: 04/20/18
Official: Shotgun in guitar case was used in school shooting

Official: Shotgun in guitar case was used in school shooting

FORT LAUDERDALE — A gunman who carried a shotgun in a guitar case opened fire Friday in a Florida high school, wounding one student before he was arrested on a day planned for a national classroom walkout to protest gun violence, authorities said. It...
Published: 04/20/18
Eakins: New ‘achievement zone’ would lift struggling schools

Eakins: New ‘achievement zone’ would lift struggling schools

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins is preparing to reorganize his cabinet — for the third time since 2015 — in an effort to coordinate programs at the district’s highest-needs schools.In an interview this week, Eakins descr...
Published: 04/20/18
Today: Area high school students to join national walkout in memory of Columbine

Today: Area high school students to join national walkout in memory of Columbine

High school students from both sides of Tampa Bay will commemorate the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings on Friday, although in very different ways. In St. Petersburg, students from several schools will gather at noon at City Hall f...
Published: 04/20/18
Hooper: A tribute to my Godby High School instructors

Hooper: A tribute to my Godby High School instructors

Every time I see an algebraic formula, Mrs. Watson, Mrs. Landreth and Mrs. McBee flash through my mind.If you say history, I say Mr. Groot and Mrs. Melton. If you say civics, I say Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Hunt.I type using the "home keys" because Mrs....
Updated: 11 hours ago
Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District, with a large and growing population of children from foreign cultures, is reducing the ranks of teachers’ aides who help them master the English language.Next year’s workforce will have about 164 fewer...
Published: 04/19/18
Pinellas to enlist Sandy Hook group in its quest for safer schools

Pinellas to enlist Sandy Hook group in its quest for safer schools

LARGO — Starting soon, Pinellas County public schools could be using a nationwide violence prevention program founded by families of those killed during the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December 2012.The nonprofit group Sandy Hook Promise, with ...
Published: 04/19/18

Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District, with a large and growing population of children from foreign cultures, is reducing the ranks of teacher aides who help them master the English language.Next year’s workforce will have about 164 fewer p...
Published: 04/18/18