Gwinnett County

Nine educators leave school in Gwinnett test cheating incident

Grace Snell Middle School in Gwinnett County. (Photo via The AJC)

GWINNETT COUNTY — Nine Gwinnett County educators, including a principal, are no longer employed by GCPS following an investigation into allegations that a middle school teacher helped students cheat during a standardized test, according to school officials.

The school system refused to name the educators on Wednesday, but the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned that Grace Snell Middle School Principal Allan Craine along with six teachers and two other administrators retired or resigned during the investigation.

The investigation, conducted by the state Department of Education and the county school system, found that the unnamed teacher gave her 8th grade students a math formula sheet from the Georgia Milestones end-of-year exam ahead of the May test. The sheet is provided to educators, but was given to one “team” of eighth-grade students by the teacher to use as a study guide. This is a violation of Georgia Department of Education rules.

Students took notes on the formula sheets and were later allowed to use those sheets during the exam. Another teacher learned of the issue and the state was notified.

The investigation determined that 76 students should be offered the opportunity to take the test again. The investigation was completed in time to allow these students the re-test on May 20.

To ensure that test was in compliance, state education officials had an assessment specialist on site during the test, said Meghan Frick, a spokeswoman for the state.

“While it was unfortunate that a re-test was necessary, this earlier date provided a much better option for students and families,” wrote Steve Flynt, associate superintendent for school improvement and operations in a letter to parents on Friday.

In tracking down how this happened, Gwinnett conducted a personnel investigation as well.

“We did find that there were clear violations of testing procedures and potential violations of the Georgia Code of Ethics for Educators which calls for teachers to administer state-mandated assessments fairly and ethically without compromising the integrity of the assessment,” wrote Flynt. “In addition, we found a lack of oversight and training at the school level which compounded the issue.”

Gwinnett school officials reported the misconduct to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (PSC) which is now conducting its own investigation.

With school out for summer, that may take longer than the standard 90 days, said Paul Shaw, director of educator ethics for the PSC.

Just because the nine educators are no longer employed by Gwinnett County, it doesn’t mean the PSC will reprimand, suspend or revoke their teaching certification.

If a punishment is called for, the educator has the right to appeal. The entire process can take as long as a year and a half, said Shaw.

Gwinnett has appointed an interim principal for Grace Snell. Vivian Stranahan is a former Gwinnett principal and has been working with the school’s leaders and teachers for the past few weeks.

She will be working with school staff, supporting summer school efforts and assisting with the transition to a new principal once the board of education names a replacement for Craine.

Although the news of cheating conjures up images of the Atlanta Public Schools scandal that found the Atlanta Schools superintendent and 34 other educators indicted on racketeering charges, PSC officials don’t believe this incident was on the same level.

“In these cases, we look at intent,” said Shaw. Most teachers don’t set out to outright cheat, it’s more a lapse in judgement, he added.

Most years the PSC investigates 15 to 20 cheating cases. They vary from giving students too much time, walking out of the room without securing documents or prompting students to rework an answer.

This article was written by Arlinda Smith Broady, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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