Saturday, May 03, 2008

Fayette County Report "Substantiates" Test Allegations against Petrilli

The long-awaited report on the murky events surrounding the resignation of ex-principal Peggy Petrilli is out. Petrilli left the Booker T Washington Academy precipitously at the beginning of this school year.

Did she jump...or was she pushed?

In August, Superintendent Stu Silberman declined to comment on a list of parental complaints telling the Herald-Leader the concerns were moot since Petrilli had resigned. KSN&C asked Silberman whether Petrilli had the option to stay. He responded,
"It never got to the point where Peggy ever asked to return to BTWA. As soon as we shared the concerns that were raised she decided that she did not want to go back. So, it never got to the point where that even had to be discussed."
But that was before Petrilli sued Silberman alleging racial discrimination.

District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall told the Herald-Leader that "Petrilli had the option of being suspended with pay while the investigation was pending," but it is unclear when she was given this option.

This from the Herald-Leader:

...A report written by school board general counsel Brenda D. Allen accuses Petrilli and some Booker T. staff of engaging in testing irregularities, improperly holding students back a year, misleading parents, circumventing the school's site-based decision making council and retaliating against parents, records show. Petrilli, 59, resigned last August and later filed a lawsuit against the school board.

"During interviews, staff and parents provided that everything at Booker T. Washington Academy under Peggy Petrilli's leadership was driven by test scores," Allen wrote. "They indicated, if it didn't help to raise test scores, it wasn't an option."

The report has been forwarded to the Kentucky Department of Education, which has the power to invalidate test scores for those years. If scores are invalidated the schools may face sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind Act...

The report also has been forwarded to the Education Professional Standards Board, which licenses teachers and administrators.

Now under the right circumstances, a principal accused of being highly focused on raising test scores might get a hero's welcome at the governor's mansion. Lord knows, I have been in meetings (not with Silberman) where principals with such a singular focus were praised and held up as examples of progressive school leadership - sometimes even encouraged to resist being hampered by certain regulations - "Whatever it takes."

An attorney for Petrilli said she did not break a single law. Attorney J. Dale Golden suggested the report is designed to discredit Petrilli's lawsuit against the school district.

Golden said Superintendent Stu Silberman forced Petrilli to resign after confronting her with allegations from parents in August. Golden questioned why the school board is releasing a report nine months after Petrilli resigned, and he called the report misleading.

Golden said Silberman was pressured by parents to replace Petrilli, who is white, with an African-American at the largely black school off Georgetown Street in North
Lexington. A new principal, Wendy Brown, was hired in April. She is black.

"Peggy was brought in to change the schools," Golden said. "Whenever that happens, there is going to be push back from staff and parents. And then the administration has to decide whether it's about the kids or it's about being politically expedient."

Silberman and Petrilli would seem to share a passion for improved numbers. But there are rules, and under the wrong circumstances school administrators can be called to account.

The report states that in a two-year period about 100 students were improperly held back a grade at Booker T., in some instances on the first day of tests.

Uh Oh.
Students who were performing poorly on practice tests were selected for demotions, including one student who had grades in the 80s and 90s.

Meanwhile, students who did poorly in class work -- in one instance a student had a 29 average in science and a 59 in math -- but did well on practice tests were promoted, according to the report.

One unidentified staff member said this was done to "boost scores."

This "had the effect, intended or unintended, of delaying the state testing, thereby making them at least one year older with one more year of schooling before they took their first nationally norm-referenced assessment or state required assessment with scores attributable to the school," Allen wrote.

Several parents told the district they were misled or pressured into agreeing to hold children back, particularly in the weeks leading up to state testing each April.

Deffindall told H-L, "All of those who were interviewed confirmed that under Ms. Petrilli's leadership, they engaged in the same practices at Northern" where Petrilli received acclaim for raising test scores.

The report alleged that:

• When Petrilli first arrived at the academy in September 2005, she moved 19 third-graders to second grade without consulting teachers or reviewing past grades, as required by law. The decision was based on how they performed in a series of tests conducted at the beginning of the school year.

• Petrilli misreported the number of students who were not academically promoted, which inflated test scores. In the 2005-06 school year, 62 students were demoted from third to second grade. But Petrilli only reported 43 demotions to the school district.

• Students' private files, which include grades and test scores, were left unsecured in the school library during the summer of 2007.

• The site-based decision-making council drafted only one policy in its first two years. "This lack of policies permitted Ms. Petrilli and her leadership team to make decisions as they deemed appropriate in areas that are by law, under the authority of the SBDM," Allen wrote.

• Petrilli retaliated against critics on the site-based council. The day after a mother of a special-education student requested that meetings be audiotaped, Petrilli reported to a school-district administrator that the family was not living in the school district. The allegation was not true.

Golden noted that many of the allegations in the report were not made by parents last year.

"Are they truly investigating the complaint? Or do they have an ulterior motive?" Golden said.

School Leadership in Kentucky

What is proper motivation?

What makes the Booker T Washington Academy story important is its implications for school reform and sound school leadership in Kentucky.

The Academy, which was formed from the merger of two low-scoring, high-poverty schools, drew the support of many community groups. Silberman promised to make the academy one of the highest-achieving schools in the state without changing its demographics.

In January 2005, Silberman told Booker T Washington parents that much of their children's low-test-score problem could be attributed to the [former] principals and their ability to motivate their staffs. He said principals -- one at a high-scoring school and one at a low-scoring school -- could be switched, and that the scores would flip-flop in two years.

Motivate? Two years?! What practices does the effective principal employ to accomplish this?

The task of moving low-scoring students into the upper echelons created a high-pressure environment for the adults involved, and a number of teachers jumped ship. Some others were pushed.

A high faculty turnover rate soon caused complaints within the community. While it was generally accepted that some deadwood needed pruning, the broader changes seemed to suggest a different administrative approach was at work.

Well boys and girls, my UK grades are due on Monday and its finals week at Eastern, (and there's this thing called the Derby today) so blogging may slip to the back burner for a few days.

But I'll get into the 50 pages of documents and report back ...fairly soon.


Anonymous said...

There is no way the district director at this school was unaware of everything going on there. The district is using Petrilli as a scapegoat.

Anonymous said...

amen to what the first commenter said. This should serve as a warning to other principals in this district. I wouldn't want to be a principal in FCPS.

Anonymous said...

You have to commend the school district for doing such a full investigation. It is difficult to imagine that a principal would move a student from fourth grade to third grade on the FIRST DAY testing began in April. UH OH is right! Something really fishy about that. Most school districts would have swept this under the rug.

Anonymous said...

Remember, this full investigation came months after Peggy was gone from the district and was conducted by the district attorney who is a full-time employee of Stu and the school board. Do you really think this "full investigation" was impartial and would have happened if there wasn't a lawsuit involved?

If you are commending the district for CYA, then I agree.

The Principal said...

Yeah..that one got me. Generally speaking, it's not a good idea to change any conditions in the classroom immediately prior to testing.

And the chances that a district director knew the particulars of how each school was going to improve test scores is about 99%. In short, it is their job to know.

You try to be even-handed, not jump to conclusions... I respect both Silberman and Petrilli but there are things on both sides of the BTWA question that concern me.

Silberman never claimed he had "cause" to fire Petrilli because she resigned - so he didn't have to produce any. It's a much stronger position legally, right? His best case scenario was for Petrilli to go quietly.

And it's not really a question of whether an attorney working over 1000 pages, 50 interviews, and 8 months can find violations of law or policy at BTWA. She has.

But whatever ex post facto discoveries KDE or EPSB may concur in, they should be seen in some context.

As I understand it, the list of complaints was, at heart, a means for parents to leverage their will with Silberman who had generally been very supportive of Petrilli.

The worst spin for Petrilli was that she put herself someplace where Silberman couldn't save her.

The worst spin for Silberman is that he pushed Petrilli out there and when the heat turned toward him, he bailed.

I wish I knew the truth. So do some current Fayette County principals. One told KSN&C today that the principals are not talking alot about it at at her high school, but it bothers them.

As for sweeping it under the never crossed my mind that Fayette Conty might consider that. I have worked closely enough with DAC Carolyn Martin and was familiar enough with district procedures that that possibility never crossed my mind. By all indications, Silberman runs a good shop.

I think you have identified a real problem, but perhaps not where the problem lies. I have reason to believe that the place testing allegations go to die is not the local district - but it is at the state level.

If I had more time I'd definately look into that.

Anonymous said...

Listen, just this week during testing, there were cover-ups going on at our district level. I hate to be vague, and I doubt you will even post this comment (I don't blame you), but there is a lot of fishiness that went on these past two weeks. I know FOR A FACT that the directors were aware.

This district will stop at nothing all in the name of test scores. To single out Petrilli is uncalled for when across the district, principals and teachers (and directors) are being told to do whatever it takes to get those scores up. Schools in Fayette County are forbidden from having any novice portfolios. Does this make sense? They are determined to raise scores. If it means the directors personally looking through student test booklets after testing so they can get an idea of how students are performing, it will be done. If it means teachers typing students portoflio pieces, it will be done.

WHAT KIND OF EXAMPLE ARE WE SETTING FOR OUR STUDENTS???? I am ashamed to teach in this district. I am ashamed that I have been encouraged by my superiors to cover-up unethical behavior by the directors and other staff. I am one of many teachers who is leaving this county. It has all gone too far.

Sorry to ramble - I know this isn't the appropriate outlet for my frustration. I am just sick and tired of what is going on in our district.

The Principal said...

Well, I must admit I have no first-hand knowledge of how the district has been operating since 2004. Furthermore, a number of my former colleagues have commented that things are really different. I never took that comment as an indictment because the district certainly needed a change in leadership.

But if you know of present practices involving district staff that are questionable - let's hear them. The blog does allow anonymous postings for those who are not in a position to go public.

Also, over the past year I'd guess I "moderated out" 2 or 3 comments total, for harsh name-calling or mindless ranting. Regular readers know that I try to keep KSN&C on a professional level,and perhaps as a consequence, KSN&C doesn't get a ton of comments. But that's OK. I generally find the ones we do get to be thoughtful and usually well-informed.

I hope Fayette County folks will provide some particulars. Don't use individual names if you don't want to go there, but please, let us know what's going on. That way we can all better understand the overall climate and any stunts that may be going on.

R. Michael Sheetz, PhD said...

Test scores – definitely the 21st-century buzzword in education. Increasing test scores – certainly sounds impressive enough to warrant the status of holy grail within our current educational system.

One day, hopefully in the not-to-distant future, educators will wake up and realize that test scores on high-stakes accountability testing are, in essence, completely and totally meaningless. The contention that the results of standardized testing represent a reliable indicator of quality of student learning is completely false. The point here is this: It is simply impossible to “inspect” quality into any product or output. This includes education – the output of our educational system. Quality must be built into the system from the ground up as the system is being designed. That is, the system must be “designed for quality” of its output. It cannot be tacked on as a band-aid fix to an already-existing system that was designed in a "quality vacuum". The basic premise of any form of standardized testing is that quality "can" be inspected into the output of our educational system. Since standardized testing is nothing more than a form of inspection (after the fact), then the premise here is that we will inspect quality into education through testing.

Unfortunately, of course, this is a totally flawed premise. Testing simply identifies the fact that a student's education is defective. In no way does it or can it eliminate or prevent defects in the student's education. Testing does nothing more than identify defects after they have already occurred. Identifying defects after they have already occurred in no way represents a form of quality improvement by any stretch of the imagination.

Mandated high-stakes testing does nothing more than perpetuate “teaching to the test” (whether schools want to admit it or not), a myopic focus on short-term memorization as the preferential form of education (which actually does not represent any form of real education), and a complete lack of focus on conceptual understanding. Schools are increasingly becoming little more than test-mill factories and classroom teaching is becoming little more than a plethora of intensive test-prep activities.

The unfortunate fact is that the entire educational system in this country and the curriculum within its individual schools needs to be redesigned from the ground up. It is during this redesign that quality must be designed into the educational system. Until we move completely away from the current mandated testing frenzy in which we find ourselves implanted and, instead begin to focus on a total, start-from-scratch redesign of our existing educational system, seeing any real improvement in education will simply have to remain an exercise in creative imagination.

Anonymous said...

This principal cheated. No person should come out in support of cheating. There is not a wonder why her test scores went up. Shame on her.

Anonymous said...

District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall told the Herald-Leader that "Petrilli had the option of being suspended with pay while the investigation was pending,"...

Okay, dumb question here. How could Peggy have been given the opportunity of being suspended with pay while the investigation was pending, when Stu Simberman said she Peggy has resigned and the parent's complaints were "moot". Seems the superintendent and communications director need to get their stories straight.

The Principal said...

I have reason to believe there's more to this story than we know.

Let's see what develops on this.