Cheating on student achievement tests at Officer Elementary School involved even the former principal, according to an investigative report released Thursday by East St. Louis School District 189.
The report states that former principal Ronald Ferrell administered the Illinois Standards Achievement Test to one class during a teacher's absence this spring. Ferrell allowed the students to correct their wrong answers, according to the report, and gave them unlimited time to complete their work on timed tests.
Students said Ferrell "directed them to review answers two, three or four times," the report states. "One student said that there was only one answer that could be correct, if you ... had the test returned to you the fourth time."
The report says that Ferrell, after administering the test, asked students, "I didn't give you any answers, did I?" The class responded, "No." Ferrell then said, "Good, because I would get in trouble for giving you answers."
Ferrell, who is no longer the principal at Officer Elementary, could not be reached for comment. His attorney also was not immediately available for comment. The report states that he denies the allegations, as does another former school official who was implicated.
The report, conducted by Beth Shepperd, the school district's new assistant superintendent for human resources and community relations, also says tests were delivered to teachers a week before they were to be administered. Two teachers said Ferrell demonstrated for them how to peek inside the test booklets beforehand. One teacher said Ferrell showed "with his hands how you could pry into the ISAT to see what was on it."
One teacher told investigators that Ferrell came up with a code that would be broadcast over the intercom, in case anyone came to the building to check on how the test was being administered. The code: "Mr. Lincoln, please come to the office."
The code was employed on March 13, when a team of District 189 administrators went to the school to investigate allegations of cheating on the tests. As the administrators approached, it was broadcast over the intercom: "Will Abraham Lincoln please come to the office?"
Officer Elementary's former instructional coach, Barbara Curtis, also is accused in the report of having involvement in the cheating. It says she gave orders to put students into groups while taking the tests, based on numbers written on the test booklets.
According to the report, Curtis gave orders for students to write their answers on separate sheets of paper, then write them in their test booklets. She allegedly said, "If students want to look on another student's paper, there is nothing we can do about it."
Curtis denied the allegations to investigators, and she could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
The cheating investigation began after the state appointed Arthur Culver, a former superintendent in Champaign, to run District 189. Shepperd also worked with Culver in Champaign.
ISAT scores are used to determine a school's progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which demands higher classroom accountability. They also help parents and residents gauge the effectiveness of their schools. And tougher teacher evaluations that some states are rolling out place more weight than ever on the tests.
The investigation at District 189 found that:
* Students were told to write lightly on the test so that erasing answers would be easy and it would "not look like someone else made them."
* Most tests were not collected at the end of the day.
* Ferrell allowed students to go back and complete tests that had been taken on previous days.
* The tests were not stored in a secured location, and were given to the teachers at least a week before testing began.
Ferrell resigned and Curtis retired, Culver said. He declined to comment on the circumstances of their leaving the district.
District 189 is under state oversight. The State Board of Education has voted to remove the elected school board at District 189, though the school board members are fighting the move in court. The state board says it had authority to remove the local school board because the district failed to meet academic standards required by the federal No Child Left Behind law for nine years.
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2511.