1. The Education Gradebook

State clears St. Petersburg magnet school of FCAT cheating

Published Oct. 2, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — So many children at Bay Point Elementary gave the same wrong answers to the same Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test questions last school year that the results were flagged as statistically improbable.

But the state Department of Education has concluded no cheating or tampering was involved, after an investigation by the Pinellas County school district's own employees.

In a Sept. 11 letter to the state, Pinellas superintendent Mike Grego said the investigation determined that the St. Petersburg magnet school did not violate protocol. He asked the department to release the school's grade, which had been delayed pending results of the internal review.

"No wrongdoing or testing irregularities were discovered after reviewing the students answer data, reviewing the school's testing procedures, conducting on-site inspections and interviewing the school coordinator, test administrators, proctors, and students involved in this administration," Grego wrote.

In an email to Bay Point parents Wednesday, principal Felita Grant wrote that the state "fully endorses all components of our testing protocol" and that the school had received a "C" grade for the 2013-14 academic year.

In July, the Department of Education ordered Pinellas school officials to investigate possible cheating on the FCAT at Bay Point. Thirty fourth-grade students gave the same wrong answers on the same multiple-choice math questions.

The likelihood that students produced such similar tests under normal conditions was less than one in 1 trillion, a state analysis concluded.

In response, Octavio Salcedo, district assessment coordinator, inspected the school's handling and storing procedures and found them in accordance with district and state guidelines. Only three staff members — two assistant principals and the head plant operator — had access to the test storage area.

A questionnaire was used to interview those closest to the test-taking process, including nine staff members who served as administrators and six who proctored the exam. All were properly trained before FCAT testing began, the investigation found.

Twelve students from the flagged test groups were interviewed, as well, Grego's summary of the investigation stated. Students said their teachers taught them basic test-taking strategy, such as underlining and double-checking all work. They also noted there were no disruptions during the math tests, Grego wrote.

"The students indicated that no one helped them on the tests, they had not seen the items on the tests before and there were no reports of students copying answers from other students," the summary says.