State department suspects tampering with test results, expands Selma team

Published 6:49 pm Friday, March 7, 2014

The Alabama State Department of Education suspects test answers were altered at elementary schools in the Selma City School System.

A report this week from the Department of Education didn’t make any specific allegations, but said scores from Selma appeared to be manipulated, according to interim superintendent Larry DiChiara, who leads the intervention team. DiChiara said he responded to the report, asking for specifics about which schools were involved.

“It was a generic report and not specific on the schools where manipulation may have taken place,” he said. “It’s not good enough to know that tests were manipulated. I’m hesitant to draw conclusions if all I know is that some cheating took place.”

The report compared Selma’s scores to others in the state, using factors such as absenteeism and truancy.  Another way to analyze scores is excessive erased answers across a number of tests, DiChiara said.

“If there was cheating then that would mean that results are invalidated,” he said. “If we are able to determine how [cheating] took place, then the people that were responsible will pay the consequences.”

Consequences could include administrative leave, revocation of teaching certificates or termination, he said.

Selma City School Board president Henry Hicks Sr. said he knew of the state’s report about cheating, but is unaware of any specifics.

“Well, we would hope that there would be nothing to come out of it, but if it is, that’s what they are here for,” Hicks said. “They are here to clean the system up.”

The intervention is entering its third week and DiChiara said other steps are being taken to investigate allegations of wrongdoing and improve the school system.

DiChiara, the previous superintendent of Phenix City Schools, recently brought two more members onto the intervention team, bringing the total to seven. One will focus on securing grant funding for the Selma City Schools’ career technical department. The other is a former principal and will focus on elementary schools.

“We found out that we were about to lose a lot of money in the career tech department,” DiChiara said. “The state said if you can scramble, we can give you an extension. It was a significant amount, a couple hundred thousand dollars.”

Hicks said securing additional funding is an important step to ensuring the future of students in the system.

“[The Career Technical Department] is a strong part of our education system, because a lot of our children will be going into the vocational field,” Hicks said. “In this area, in the Black Belt, we definitely need that piece in our system.”

The intervention team will also begin an immediate instructional audit of the elementary schools in the Selma City School System.

The audit will analyze teaching methods, strength of teaching principles and transcripts.

The intervention became official in early February when the Alabama State Board of Education unanimously voted to take over the system because of alleged misconduct.

Shortly after the takeover began, three central office personnel were put on indefinite administrative leave, including Superintendent of Education Gerald Shirley, curriculum coordinator Wanda McCall and testing coordinator Mamie Solomon. DiChiara said he would determine their future as the investigation continues.

Times-Journal reporter Sarah Robinson contributed to this report