Thu, Feb. 10, 2005
By Amie Streater
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
FORT WORTH - Westpark Elementary School Principal Lynn Allen is on administrative leave while Fort Worth school officials investigate a teacher's report that Allen asked the teacher to have a parent withdraw a child from school just before the TAKS is to be administered.
Westpark administrators expect the student, a fifth-grader with severe test anxiety, to fail the reading portion of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills this month, according to statements given to Fort Worth school district investigators.
On Jan. 26, Allen and Assistant Principal Karen Brown were discussing how to help the student when they called in the child's teacher, Jennifer McMillan, according to statements.
According to McMillan, the conversation crossed the line when Allen told her to ask the student's parents to withdraw the child from school before the TAKS test. Fifth-graders must pass the reading and math portions of TAKS before advancing to the sixth grade.
"She asked me to do this not as a school official, but as if the child were mine, that this is what I would do. I sat there stunned. This is not what I would do if this were my child," McMillan wrote in a statement given to school district investigators.
"This is not morally or ethically right for a teacher or administrator to do. I will not do this."
Bobby Whiteside of the district's Office of Special Investigations said he believes that the administrators were trying to do the right thing for the student.
"Evidence available at this time leads me to believe that Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Allen were simply interested in the child's well-being and were not attempting to alter the TAKS scores at the school," he said.
After meeting with Allen and Brown, records show, McMillan reported the conversation to a co-worker and to Larry Shaw, executive director of the United Educators Association.
Shaw, in turn, alerted school district investigators.
There is no indication from school district records that the child's parents were ever in-formed of the plan.
McMillan declined to comment to the Star-Telegram Wednesday.
Allen was placed on paid administrative leave Friday pending the outcome of the investigation. She also declined to comment Wednesday.
It is not clear whether laws or rules were broken.
Whiteside said the matter has been referred to the Texas Education Agency as a possible violation of its testing rules.
"The investigation is proceeding to determine if the alleged action is actually a law violation, an ethics violation, a testing violation, or since the child was never withdrawn, can the FWISD determine its own disciplinary action without TEA," Whiteside wrote in a report.
'A hard place'
Shaw said McMillan "thinks very highly" of the principal.
"I think Jennifer is a really good person, a good teacher, who was put in a hard place," Shaw said. "She is upset by what she thought she had to do."
Whiteside's report cites a Jan. 19 memo from TEA, which states that educators who violate "test security or confidential integrity" or fail to report violations can lose their teaching certificates.
Allen told investigators that the student had failed the reading portion of the TAKS in the third grade. When Allen took the student out of class for a second attempt at the test, Allen said, the child cried all the way down the hall and while taking the test.
Records show that despite tutoring and extra help, the student has given no indication of having less anxiety this year.
"It hurts me to see a student placed under so much pressure by one test that they become almost physically ill," Allen told investigators Feb. 3.
Allen said the idea to remove the child initially came from Brown, who according to Allen said, "We could tell the mom to withdraw the child and home-school [the student] during the week of the test and then re-enroll" the child.
Allen told investigators that she told Brown that could not be done.
Brown, however, had a different recollection.
In a separate interview, Brown told investigators: "I never said or implied to the teacher or anyone that home-schooling this child was the solution ... to get out of this testing situation. At that point, I remember Mrs. Allen saying something to the effect that this is what she would do if that was her child. However, I do not recall anyone telling Mrs. McMillan to call the parent and ask her to home-school her child."
Brown is on maternity leave and could not be reached for comment.
On Feb. 4, Allen met again with Whiteside and initially offered to take a voluntary polygraph test, records show. But when Whiteside "advised her to consider the evidence, Ms. Allen declined the polygraph test."
A fourth person, school diagnostician Jo Stephens, was present during the discussions, records show, because she was waiting for another meeting to start.
Stephens' account of the discussions matches the teacher's.
"Mrs. Brown recommended to Mrs. Allen that the classroom teacher should suggest to the parent to check the student out of school the day before the TAKS. After the completion of the TAKS, the parent could re-enroll the student back into the school. Mrs. Allen agreed with the plan," Stephens wrote in a statement given to investigators.
Stephens wrote that she heard Allen ask McMillan to contact the parent about the withdrawal.
Superintendent Joe Ross declined to comment on the specifics of the investigation. But, he said, test time is tough on everyone in the school system.
"This is a high-stakes, high-pressure accountability system in Texas. It does put pressure on students, teachers and administrators," Ross said. "But we have it, and we have to live with it."
Amie Streater, (817) 390-7541 firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2005 Star-Telegram and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.