- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A former principal who said prayer had dramatically boosted test scores has lost her license for 20 years for telling teachers and other workers to correct students’ answers.

A state education department commission voted unanimously Thursday to suspend the license of Lowanda Tyler-Jones, former principal at Heidelberg Elementary School in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

“This sends a strong message that cheating will not be tolerated in any form or fashion and that the interests of our children should be first and foremost in every educator’s mind,” said attorney Tommie Cardin.

Neither Tyler-Jones nor her attorney was at Thursday’s hearing, The Clarion-Ledger reported (http://on.thec-l.com/2k8lcqj ). By staying away, she waived rights such as cross-examination or presenting a counter argument, officials said.

The department cannot permanently revoke teachers’ licenses. Twenty years is the longest punishment in recent record, officials said. It’s also double the time recommended by state officials.

The Mississippi Department of Education investigated after the newspaper reported a dramatic increase in test scores at Heidelberg in 2013.

An assistant teacher told the commission that her lead teacher, Frances Smith Kemp, used codes to tell students the answers to state exams.

“She would use an animal’s name for A, something else for B,” the witness said.

Kemp surrendered her license, and the commission gave a three-year suspension to another teacher, Tetra Winters.

The assistant teacher said she acted as a proctor, but Kemp told her to watch the door to make sure hall monitors did not catch Kemp cheating.

A former teacher said she resigned because Tyler-Jones‘ orders made her physically ill.

She said she and another teacher were told to make sure students stayed on the same page, marking answers in their test booklets so teachers could check them. Teachers who saw a wrong answer were to tap the student’s desk, she said.

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

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