Should a teacher lose job for urging kids to check answers?

As demonstrated with North Atlanta High School, APS chief Erroll Davis is fond of the emphatic gesture. That was also evident when he suspended all the educators implicated in the cheating investigation by Gov. Sonny Perdue.

But some of those educators are fighting to return to their jobs as a tribunal sorts through the evidence against them in a series of hearings.

One of them is M. A. Jones Elementary School teacher Precious Moon. Her case seems among the murkiest, given the lack of clear evidence against her. Take a look at the AJC story on this week’s hearing and let us know what you think.

According to the AJC:

Atlanta Public Schools pressed its case Monday to terminate M. A. Jones Elementary School 5th-grade teacher Precious Moon for her alleged involvement in the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test cheating scandal that has implicated about 180 educators.

APS Superintendent Erroll Davis testified before a three-person tribunal that he had lost confidence in Moon because of numerous violations of school policy and for her allegedly prompting students to change answers or giving them the correct answers while she monitored the tests. The tribunal adjourned early Monday evening without a decision.

Davis said APS built its case largely on a state investigation of the school system that cited Moon for prompting students during tests and the Georgia Professional Standards Commission recommendation that her teaching license be suspended two years, which Moon has appealed.

Moon’s attorney, Gerald Griggs — who hammered at the APS case throughout the day citing lack of proof and witnesses — asked Davis if he would change his opinion and let Moon keep her job if she won her appeal to the PSC. “I do not believe that I would,” said Davis, because of all the information he had been given by investigators.

But there was no “smoking gun” testimony Monday, such as witnesses saying they had seen Moon tell students to change answers. Stan Williams, a private investigator hired in 2009 to do an internal investigation for APS, testified that he could find no conclusive evidence she cheated, and none of the estimated 20 Moon students he questioned said she cheated or helped them cheat.

APS said Moon violated test procedures when, as she admitted to investigators, she repeatedly advised students, “You need to focus and check your answers” during the tests. GBI agent Eugene Howard played part of his taped interview with Moon in which she explained she focused on one student in particular during the test and told him to quit playing with a new watch and to reread a section of the test she thought he moved through too quickly.

“Playing with the watch is one issue,” said Howard, explaining that it was within accepted procedure to focus a student’s attention during a test. “But redirecting him back to the test is not right.”

Earlier in the day Melissa Fincher, Georgia Department of Education Associate Superintendent of Assessment and Accountability, conceded under cross-examination that state regulations give test monitors the leeway to repeat instructions during tests. How often, and whether it’s acceptable to remind one student and not necessarily all the students, is a “grey area,” said Fincher.

Moon took the stand after Davis and testified that she never prompted students to change answers, didn’t give students the answers, and never in any way “signaled” that what they had answered was wrong.

“Do you think there is any reason the superintendent should have lost confidence in you?” her attorney asked. “No,” she said.

–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

71 comments Add your comment

Beverly Fraud

October 30th, 2012
11:21 am

Put it this way. Who would you have more confidence in: the documented actions and Precious Moon (of which even the DOE official said were in a “grey area”) or the documented actions of Errol Davis in the NAHS debacle?

Plus, if he has zero tolerance for law breakers, why hasn’t he fired HIMSELF for APS’s long standing (according to Dr. John Trotter and MACE) violations of the grievance law?

Beverly Fraud

October 30th, 2012
11:26 am

You’re going to ruin someone’s career based on what the DOE THEMSELVES say is a “grey area”?

lahopital

October 30th, 2012
11:35 am

If the teacher points to a particular answer and tells the student to check it, then that’s cheating. The teacher would have been, essentially, telling the child that an answer was wrong. You need solid proof or testimony that this is what happened. If the teacher just reminds students to check answers in general and not to waste time, then the teacher is not over the line.

Earnestly

October 30th, 2012
11:35 am

I say let’s furlough all teachers for a month and let legislators, administrators and some of these AJC readers who never have anything good to say about schools take over. One week, heck one day, in a school would change a lot of uninformed opinions. Then teachers could take schools back and get some respect.

We-Need-Teachers-who-Teach

October 30th, 2012
11:45 am

Let me see….telling a student to quit playing, and getting back to the test….that is exactly what a Teacher is supposed to do.

AltSteve

October 30th, 2012
11:50 am

i don’t think you can fire her based on the info given here.

guest

October 30th, 2012
11:53 am

Telling someone to check their answer(s)is cheating. I can’t believe we’re having this discussion. And we sit here wondering why our schools are so bad. Good grief.

Jerry Eads

October 30th, 2012
11:55 am

I have both studied and taught “test-wiseness” for many years – first in the early 1980’s. Taking a “bubble test” benefits from a certain amount of strategy. Think of test-taking as a game with a set of rules. MUCH of what the test preparation companies do is teach these rules. High-performing kids are in part high-performing because they’ve figured out how to play the game. Pace yourself, know whether there’s a penalty for guessing, leave the ones you don’t know for later, leave time to check your answers – especially on the ones you weren’t sure of, and on and on. MANY people never learn how to play this game, yet a LOT of someone’s performance on a test (what we mistake for “achievement”) is how well they know how to play the game – as well as, of course, to what they know.

Helping kids learn how to play the testing game SHOULD be part of school. Whether a teacher should try to “teach test-wiseness” DURING test administraion, however, is another question. I would say no, but IF all the teacher did was remind kids to remember the game rules before testing began, I would not think that calls for dismissal.

Beverly Fraud

October 30th, 2012
11:57 am

Telling someone to check their answer(s)is cheating. I can’t believe we’re having this discussion. And we sit here wondering why our schools are so bad. Good grief.

You might want to tell Mrs. Fincher that

Inman Parker

October 30th, 2012
12:01 pm

We certainly can make no decision just on what we have read here. Too little input.

Beverly Fraud

October 30th, 2012
12:01 pm

Telling someone to check AN answer? Cheating. Telling someone to go back and check their ANSWERS? (In essence go back and review) Well it appears that AT WORST the DOE representative can only bring herself to say it’s a grey area.

So we ruin a career over this?

guest

October 30th, 2012
12:03 pm

I don’t know what’s more despicable, the teacher denying that she cheated by telling a student to check his/her answer or the people that actually believe her.

guest

October 30th, 2012
12:05 pm

You’re damn right this should ruin a career. Teachers know the difference between right and wrong. If they don’t, then they shouldn’t be in the profession, period.

guest

October 30th, 2012
12:08 pm

If the teacher stands in front of the class and tells them ALL to check their answers, then that’s one thing. Ms. Moon admitted to focusing on ONE student “playing with his watch” to check his answers. That’s cheating.

Looking for the truth

October 30th, 2012
12:20 pm

At the end of the CRCT, students are asked to review their answer sheets and erase any errant marks. Is this state sponsored cheating?

what's best for kids???

October 30th, 2012
12:22 pm

Guest,
She probably focused on that ONE child who was playing with his watch to check his answers because he would move on from playing with his watch to playing with his friends.
It is difficult to wrangle students into being quiet and compliant when they are testing.
It’s ridiculous to even have testing for the little ones. They have no idea why they are being punished by having to sit quietly for hours and hours and bubble pieces of paper.
Heck, it’s hard ot get a ninth grader to take them seriously.

Vernell Powell

October 30th, 2012
12:24 pm

The biggest question is why the so called cheating scandal was started in the first place. Was it because the powers to be want the good kids separated from the bad kids or to get funding for religious schools which they have done.

To the people in Georgia that believes that you could tell student erasures from teacher erasures. These are the people who have no idea what the teachers goes through with day-to-day. Teachers teach kids not to cheat, today stop texting.

Teachers are not fighting back because with the time they put into the kids and parents, their per hourly is about $5 an hour. The private charter schools’ pay less per hour, since they hire teachers without certification. This should keep Georgia education at the bottom.

samantha

October 30th, 2012
12:24 pm

if the teacher only told her students to check their answers after they finished the test a little early there is nothing wrong with that. that is not cheating.

guest

October 30th, 2012
12:26 pm

What’s best,

What on earth are you smoking? “They have no idea why they are being punished”? Seriously? You’re right, she PROBABLY did this because the mob held her family at gunpoint. She PROBABLY did this because her dog had cancer. Blah, blah, blah. People continue to cheat because morons keep excusing their actions instead of punishing them. It’s easy to see why this country has become morally and ethically bankrupt.

Beverly Fraud

October 30th, 2012
12:37 pm

If the teacher stands in front of the class and tells them ALL to check their answers, then that’s one thing. Ms. Moon admitted to focusing on ONE student “playing with his watch” to check his answers. That’s cheating.

Again, ANSWERS. No SPECIFIC help given. This is apparently why the DOE official could not bring herself to call it “cheating” because as she herself had to admit, it’s a grey area.

If even the DOE THEMSELVES can’t clearly define this as cheating, how do you ruin a career over this?

Beverly Fraud

October 30th, 2012
12:43 pm

“People continue to cheat because morons keep excusing their actions instead of punishing them”

Again if the Georgia Department of Education Associate Superintendent of Assessment and Accountability (someone whose JOB it is to know these things) cannot CLEARLY define these actions as “cheating” then how could the classroom teacher be expect to know?

Answer: in this case, it’s an unreasonable expectation; unless one sees the world in simple terms of black and white because they lack the intellectual capacity to use discernment.

Patrick

October 30th, 2012
12:46 pm

I don’t recall ever having a teacher tell me to check AN answer. I’ve had countless teachers tell me to check all of my answers – that is, make sure the SCAN-TRON sheets were filled in correctly, all erasures were done right, and so on. I might have been told to double-check the answers for the Math segment, but that meant double-checking on a calculator or using pencil and paper.

Beverly Fraud

October 30th, 2012
12:47 pm

Once again it appears we have someone who, when confronted with FAIR and LEGITIMATE questions that force them to explain the validity of their views, prefers instead to beat a QUICK and HASTY retreat.

Logic please...

October 30th, 2012
12:48 pm

Precious Moon?

The name alone make you wonder why anyone would hire her.

Beverly Fraud

October 30th, 2012
12:53 pm

Yes APS should focus on hiring educators with more conventional names; names like Beverly Hall and Kathy Augustine perhaps?

guest

October 30th, 2012
12:58 pm

Beverly,

All I can say is just damn. I guess you’re expecting teachers to just come out and admit that they cheated, err, took the students’ pencils and filled in answers during the test. Or is that a “grey area” as well?

I'm just sayin

October 30th, 2012
1:04 pm

You missed the part about the PSC recommending that her certificate be suspended for 2 years. She is appealing but if that recommendation stands, she can’t be in a classroom.

Don't Tread

October 30th, 2012
1:05 pm

…no conclusive evidence of anything? Really? I suppose those kids suddently got “bright” and aced the tests all by themselves. Is that what we’re supposed to believe?

:roll:

Social promotion, indeed…brought to a whole new level (because there’s money on the line now).

"Guest" is APS Administration

October 30th, 2012
1:06 pm

This is the same old BS of blame and punishment the lowest employee on the ladder (who actiualy does all the WORK) while the *real* criminals, the lazy, over paid, worthless, tax money stealing “administrators” at the top get off Scott-free.

No doubt that “guest” is EXACTLY one of those people.

Beverly Fraud

October 30th, 2012
1:08 pm

“I guess you’re expecting teachers to just come out and admit that they cheated, err, took the students’ pencils and filled in answers during the test. Or is that a “grey area” as well?”

To address your question: Actually @guest that’s exactly what some teachers AND administrators have done, when faced with COLLABORATING evidence that this was the case (notice you haven’t mentioned administrators, evidence that you are not FULLY informed on the issues)

Collaborating evidence that is (from the article) CLEARLY lacking in this particular case.

Again, I’m not the least bit surprised that all you can say is just d@mn, as answering the fair and legitimate questions asked of you only serves to underscore the weakness of your position.

Beverly Fraud

October 30th, 2012
1:13 pm

…no conclusive evidence of anything? Really? I suppose those kids suddently got “bright” and aced the tests all by themselves. Is that what we’re supposed to believe?

Actually in many DOCUMENTED cases, it wasn’t the classroom teacher; it was the ADMINISTRATOR, who had unfettered access to the tests after the close of regular school hours, who went back and “aced” (ERASED!) the tests.

guest

October 30th, 2012
1:13 pm

Actually Beverly, you say evidence is lacking from the article? Ms. Moon ADMITTED that she FOCUSED on ONE student and told him to check his answers (re-read the section). You keep harping on the fact that she said ANSWERS and not ANSWER, but could it be that she saw more than one incorrect ANSWER? No…it coulnt’ be that. Anyone with an ounce of brain can see this is not right.

An Old Man

October 30th, 2012
1:15 pm

When I was in school, one of the most valuable lessons that the good teachers taught me was if I completed the test prior to the end of the testing period, I should go back over my work and look for errors to correct.

It served me well in school and well in life when I went to work.

Always take time to check your work for errors and make corrections.

Only dummies don’t do that. Guess the APS prefers dummies to working smart.

Beverly Fraud

October 30th, 2012
1:20 pm

Again it COULD be she saw that. It COULD be you were on the grassy knoll in Dallas on November 1963. But when you look at the preponderance of the evidence (some 20 odd students interviewed, none said she helped them cheat) and the fact that no less than the Georgia Department of Education Associate Superintendent of Assessment and Accountability, could AT WORST call her actions “a grey area” this is, as Maureen aptly describe, “murky”

Let’s just hope the PSC is as gangbusters about the credentials of Beverly Hall and Kathy Augustine as they apparently are (at this point anyway) about Ms. Moon.

Beverly Fraud

October 30th, 2012
1:21 pm

Again, @guest, notice I have no problem addressing the points you make, while you continually run away from the fair and legitimate questions asked of you.

Wisdom Speaking

October 30th, 2012
1:30 pm

Whoever “guest” is, lives in a world of absolute black and white. There is no room for “grey” only absolutes. I am sure at one point in their career they ended up with a pencil or paperclip from their office or place of work. Taking their crazy logic into account, they should be immediately lose their job. The paperclip did not belong to them, they kept it, and had no intention of turning themselves in. “Guest” should also be labeled a thief, and be required to tell all future employers of his/her willingness to steal without a moral conscience. Since “guest” is so willing to apply their absolute black and white morality on everyone else, it is only right that they apply it to themselves. Think “Guest” believes they are a thief? Of course not. Morality is only what they impose on others, not something they burden themselves with.

George

October 30th, 2012
1:40 pm

Dam NAHS and everybody who disagrees they all system get rid of dam Principals all the time get over it and suck it up please. This teacher did wrong without a doubt.Jus t like them folks at NAHS they were not the first to be removed and will not be the last.By the way HAHS is no dam Chamblee hish school by a long shot and it should be .They needed a change and they got one.

guest

October 30th, 2012
1:52 pm

Beverly, what questions?

Wisdom speaking, that has to be dumbest analogy I’ve ever read. Two completely different things. Nice try, though. Now crawl back into your little hole. And by the way, with what Ms. Moon ADMITTED, this is pretty black and white to me.

Kathleen Clark

October 30th, 2012
1:53 pm

Let her keep her job! At least she cared enough to get the student to focus and get serious about his or her test. She let the student know that she cared and to “try” on his test and not to just bubble in answers! She didn’t actually point to the correct answer! Did she?

Old timer

October 30th, 2012
2:01 pm

I do not believe telling a student who was playing with a watch , to focus on the test and to recheck is work is cheating. Many children need constant redirecting.

Tonya C.

October 30th, 2012
2:18 pm

Ummm, redirecting a little kid to focus and check his answers is cheating? My son has ADHD. At the ES ages he could barely sit in a seat. During testing wold fly through the test materials and start being disruptive to other students or play with whatever object he could find. What she did doesn’t surprise me nor does it seem like anything more than being an elementary school teacher.

And as stated in the article, she admitted to telling students to focus and re-check their answers. That’s not admitting to cheating.

Mike

October 30th, 2012
2:23 pm

This issue is silly in that it’s an easy problem to solve: First, don’t have teachers administer the CRCT to their own classes or grade levels. I teach fourth grade, always administer the test 100% honestly, but wouldn’t have any issue administering it to a different grade level. Then, after I administer the test I return to my own students, oblivious to the test they took hours earlier.

This isn’t difficult to solve.

I said it like it is

October 30th, 2012
2:26 pm

Alot of my teachers stated, “You need to focus and check your answers” during the tests when I was in Jr. High School, High School and College. I graduated and I’ve been doing very well. What is a teacher SUPPOSE to say to a student on a final grade when they worked hard to help every child pass and graduate even though not everyone will! If a teacher is concerned a student isn’t as focused or is just a poor test taker then reminding them, “You need to focus and check your answers”, is a GREAT thing! Not every single time but it’s not a bad thing at all. Adults don’t listen so how do you expect teen agers, kids and college students to “GET IT” without a professor’s word of encouragement? A waste of time for court and the tax payers.

I said it like it is

October 30th, 2012
2:29 pm

Now ajc wants to moderate my comment. REAL TALK people in 2012.

Ole Guy

October 30th, 2012
2:50 pm

This is precisely why (that which passes for) education is in the crapper. Long-time Cobb residents will remember the “Tweety Bird” incident in which the kid, a girl of single-digit age, was suspended for some boneheaded principal’s inability/unwillingness to exercise a little common gd sense, and chose, instead, to practice the time-honored “tradition” of cya. By covering their six and demonstrating that they actually did something about the problem…screwing up a few careers in the process…they remain within the box of safety.

Teachers…the lower end of the educational totem pole…are becoming/ALLOWING themselves…to be so gd micromanaged to the point of literally destroying the profession they profess to care about. If these people had the professional spheriods to gain a collective voice, they could go about the task of educating/coaching kids without the fear of having their every breath observed and analysed by idiots.

Anya

October 30th, 2012
2:52 pm

Anyone who says a teacher should not be able to encourage students to take their time, slow down, go back and review answers (ANSWERS….NOT ANSWER) is obviously clueless and never has been in an elementary school during testing. As a fifth grade teacher, I will always remind the students that I am testing to double check their work. With our pay about to be tied directly to test scores, it is absolute insanity to think a teacher would do anything but encourage the best and most accurate portrayal of what has been taught and learned in the classroom….and that will require focused, hardworking students.

Knowledge

October 30th, 2012
2:58 pm

I’ve read all of your comments and some of you make some good points, but its much bigger than the article, AJC breaking the story, and the investigation “ordered” by former governor Perdue.

Food for thought: There are people in the DOE that are responsible for noticing high percentage of wrong to right marks on high stakes test as well as monitor the procedures of each school to determine if tampering has occurred. So do you believe that this cheating went on for all those years and NO ONE noticed ANYTHING????? It was only when Sonny Perdue and Dr. Hall “fell out” his last year in office is when the cheating was discovered? After all those years when you have DOE staff who’s job is to crunch those numbers to discover high wrong to right erasers????
People, this is not about cheating, children or public education; this is a political muscle flex by two individuals and money. Now after some of the smoke has cleared, you have an amendment for the state to take over awarding charters to school systems on taxpayers dollars!!!!!??? I was always told: ” if something doesn’t make sense and you want to know the source, follow the money!!”

Maureen Downey

October 30th, 2012
2:58 pm

@I said: Don’t try to sneak in obscenities and your comments won’t land in moderation. See my deletion of your offending word.
Maureen

Pompano

October 30th, 2012
3:05 pm

“Teachers are not fighting back because with the time they put into the kids and parents, their per hourly is about $5 an hour.”

What an idiotic statement. Two huge myths that continue to be perpetuated by the Public Education Crowd:
1> Education is under-funded. We’ve showered the system with funds with no results. Time to stop throwing money at the problem.
2> Teachers are under-paid (or over-worked). Let them try the Private sector – where most would never earn half of what they make. Also, the Public Education system is the only place where employees earn raises just by completing an extra degree/training regardless of job performance.

I wish we could go with one of the suggestions above to let some of us from the private sector take over the schools for a month. Sorry – but I don’t think it would be difficult to improve on the present system. I know this statement will set off a bunch of whining about how difficult their jobs are, blah, blah, blah.

Knowledge

October 30th, 2012
3:11 pm

@Pompano- You can not, and I repeat, can not run the government like a private company; different set of objectives and funding sources. That’s Political Science 101.