Monday, January 31, 2011

Famous Last Words

Amis says ACT inquiry in Perry a ‘dead issue’

This from the Hazard Herald:

An investigation into compromised test scores in Perry County is no longer an issue and districts officials have moved on, Superintendent John Paul Amis told board members during a meeting of the Perry County Board of Education last week.

In 2010, ACT, based in Iowa, launched an investigation into tests given at Perry County Central and Buckhorn High School, noting that information found during the inquiry led investigators to believe that the resulting tests were not solely the work of the students. Several scores were canceled and students were given the opportunity to retake the exam.

ACT took little action following their investigation, but did require the district to submit remediation reports and strengthen testing protocols.

Superintendent Amis took a moment during last week’s meeting to chide local media outlets for their recent coverage of ACT’s investigation, saying the now concluded inquiry is a “dead issue.”

Details of the ACT’s findings were included in two news stories in Hazard last week, first from the Hazard Herald and then from WYMT-TV after the Herald made an an open records request to the Kentucky Department of Education seeking documents related to the investigation.

According to those documents, ACT investigators found among other things high erasure counts indicating altered test responses and were told by at least one student that adult proctors had given answers to students during the test.

Amis said no students have told local officials of any impropriety, adding that there was no reason to be reporting on the story as he considers it over with. He said the investigation concluded two months ago, and there were no Perry County Schools employees implicated in the final report. He also noted that both Perry Central and Buckhorn will continue giving the ACT locally.

“It’s over,” he said. “It’s a dead issue. The only people that are keeping that issue alive is the media.”

Amis said he has never had a parent call him upset with the district about the investigation. He said there has been some anger toward ACT over their handling of the investigation, and now with the media.

“I had people today tell me that they’ll never buy another Hazard Herald or watch WYMT again because you just won’t let this issue go,” he continued. “The media and some of our school rivals are the only people that’s even mentioning this thing.”

Amis also criticized ACT for not sharing information with the district about who may have been responsible for manipulating the tests, and again noted that the final investigative report made no note of specific individuals either.

Board member Jerry Stacy said he has received calls from people about the investigation, and finds some of the allegations “troubling.”

“I was going through this today, and I couldn’t believe some of these allegations,” Stacy said during Thursday’s meeting. “I think these allegations are damning.”

Stacy said he was curious as to why the information was forwarded to other state agencies such as the attorney general’s office.

“That’s a dead issue,” Amis replied, saying that he thought ACT had a hidden agenda and wanted to hurt the Perry County District’s image.

“All ACT is trying to do ... is just to give the district a black eye. That’s all they’ve done,” he continued.

“We have done everything that they have asked us to do, and we’re going to continue to give the ACT at both of our high schools, and it’s over as far as I’m concerned,” he added.

Amis said despite charges of testing manipulation, the majority of the students scored the same or higher on the test during the make-up exam.

“We had 116 students that retook that ACT, and over 60 percent of them made the same score or a higher score than what they made the first time, but they won’t report that,” Amis said. "Nobody reports that.”

The final report issued by ACT on November 23 notes that 59 students whose scores for the 2010 ACT were canceled actually saw an average decrease in their new score by one point. But Amis said ACT cherry picked those students in an effort to ensure a negative reflection upon the school district. He said ACT’s focus on only 59 scores didn’t tell the whole story.

“They could take the 59 and make it appear like the scores went down,” he said.

“You actually think they’ve (ACT) got some kind of hidden agenda?” Stacy later asked.

“Obviously,” Amis replied.

Scott Gomer, media relations director with ACT, said the organization had no hidden agenda in its investigation, but did note that ACT’s part in the matter has concluded and offered no further comment.

According to an email from Lisa Gross with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) in December, the matter was referred to the Education Professional Standards Board (EPSB) for review, as well as the attorney general’s office and the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office of Inspector General.

Gross said KDE has had no word that either of those agencies have finalized their own investigations.

“Our legal counsel remains in contact with all of the agencies mentioned, but we’re not aware that any investigations outside of ACT’s have been completed,” she wrote in an email on Monday.

The Education Professional Standards Board did receive a referral from KDE, noted Alicia Sneed, director of legal services for EPSB, but thus far the agency has taken no action.

She did note that were the EPSB to take action on any matter, it would be leveled at individuals and not at the district as a whole. The EPSB handles the issuance of certification for all teachers and administrators in Kentucky.

Shelley Johnson with the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office said her office has not yet received a referral from KDE about the matter, while a message left with the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office of Inspector General was not returned.

Grady Varney, chairman of the Hazard Independent board of education refuted an editorial published in the January 19 edition of the Hazard Herald which includes a comment Varney made during the January 13 regular meeting. Following a discussion about the hiring of a new ACT coach at Hazard High School, Varney quipped, “We will not have any extra money for erasers or anything like that.”

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