- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2003

Teachers at the District’s oldest charter school have filed a formal complaint citing improprieties during standardized testing two weeks ago and say the results should be invalidated.

According to a May 13 letter to the D.C. Board of Education, at least three teachers at Options Public Charter School in Capitol Hill were told by Principal Clarence Dixon to “do some test prep” after receiving copies of the Stanford 9 standardized test. The teachers had been waiting for a school-system official to monitor the test, which was administered April 29 and 30.

“Mr. Dixon said to me, … ‘Could you do some test prep or test material on the board with the children?’” former Options teacher Sean Noriega said in the letter. “Before I could tell him it was illegal, he left the room.”

The Stanford 9 exam measures student achievement nationally in reading and math and is administered to grades three through 11. According to testing rules, teachers must stop test preparation once they have seen an exam, officials said.

In an interview with The Washington Times yesterday, Mr. Dixon denied the accusations, saying the test was administered properly.

“We followed all the guidelines and procedures,” he said, dismissing Mr. Noriega’s letter as “the view of a disgruntled employee.”

But another teacher, who asked not to be identified, also said Mr. Dixon had asked teachers to continue prepping students after they had received the exams.

“It’s true. We were waiting for the test monitors to get here after she was late,” the teacher told The Times. “Mr. Dixon asked me if I could continue to do test prep, then proceeded to knock on other teachers’ doors and ask them the same thing. We are not allowed to do this.”

Brenda Belton, who oversees charter schools for the D.C. school board, said yesterday that she has received complaints about irregularities at Options and intends to investigate, beginning this week with the school’s annual review.

“We take these complaints seriously,” Miss Belton said. “From my knowledge, you cannot go back and do any kind of test prep once you have the test.”

If the test results are invalidated, the school would be required to retest its students. The test results do not affect student grades or school funding.

In 2001, Montgomery County’s school system disciplined several teachers and administrators at Silver Spring International Middle School in Silver Spring who had been involved in a cheating scandal in the administration of a standardized test.

In his letter to the school board, Mr. Noriega also said one of his Options students had told him the answers on her test had been changed after she had submitted them.

“When I handed out my answer sheets on [April 30], a student, Ryan Thomas, asked me who had changed her answer sheet,” the letter reads. “When I looked at her answer sheet, it was apparent that in two rows of answers, someone had erased a large number of answers and changed them. Ryan said she did not do this.”

Robin Thomas, Ryan’s mother, confirmed that the seventh-grader had told her about the changed answers.

“[Ryan] came home one day after testing began and said it looked like her sheet had been changed,” Mrs. Thomas said. “I didn’t think too much about it at first, but she kept insisting on it.”

Mr. Noriega was fired May 2 after he complained to Mr. Dixon about how the Stanford 9 had been administered. The former teacher said he was not given a reason for his termination.

School board officials said the termination resulted from Mr. Noriega’s tardiness and his leaving a class unattended. Mr. Noriega and several of his former colleagues disputed those accusations.

Charles Vincent, executive director of Option’s board of directors, said he was unaware of the complaint against Mr. Dixon and had not been contacted by school staff about the matter. He also said he was unaware that Mr. Noriega had been fired.

“The safety of the kids has to come first,” Mr. Vincent said. “A teacher has to do his job.”

In his interview with The Times, Mr. Dixon presented two reports by the D.C. school-test monitor Carolyn Davis in which she noted no irregularities other than a delay in testing due to a bomb threat April 28.

But several Options teachers said Mrs. Davis was not at the school when Mr. Dixon directed them to continue prepping students for the test.

Bill Caritj, assistant D.C. schools superintendent for assessment and accountability, said yesterday that nothing in the examiner’s manual addresses this issue.

“It doesn’t say that just because you have the test in the room, you can’t give a five-minute practice drill,” Mr. Caritj said. “Whether I think it leaves open the perception that a teacher did something wrong is another question. To be fair to the school, we have to have the facts.”

Chartered in 1996, Options has 148 students in grades five to eight and a staff of 23. It is one of 16 schools overseen by the D.C. school board.

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