Daniel Ruth: Slap some mustard on these inflated test scores

The answers were on the wall when Spoto High kids took district exams. A hot dog party celebrating the school’s graduation numbers seems premature.
OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times 
Students at Spoto High School are dismissed on scheduled early release in May.
OCTAVIO JONES | Times Students at Spoto High School are dismissed on scheduled early release in May.
Published June 7

Okay everybody, let’s take a multiple choice quiz. And this one is so easy even Hillsborough County School District superintendent Jeff Eakins ought to be able to pass it without pulling an all-nighter. Here we go.

Your chances of passing a Hillsborough high school social studies exam increase markedly if:

A. You work hard to learn the material. Oh, puleeze!

B. The test is graded on such a steep curve a cantaloupe could pass the exam.

C. The teacher puts the right answers on the classroom walls for all the students to see (which is the correct response, by the way). Just trying to help.

If you guessed C, and why wouldn’t you, congratulations. Please see superintendent Eakins for your celebratory hotdog.

There are lots of ways to improve school performance. Academic rigor is one way, but that is so boring since it involves stuff like reading, comprehension and intellectual curiosity. Or you can simply cook the books, which while some fuddy-duddies might regard this as unethical, you can’t deny it saves time.

Until recently (which you’ll figure out in a moment), Isaac Anderson was a 40-year-old veteran social studies teacher in the Hillsborough school system. His last job was teaching social studies at Spoto High School. And when school district officials took a gander at his students’ test scores they were amazed, surprised and suspicious.

Eakins wasn’t so consumed by curiosity. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein – a test score, is a test score, is a test score. So impressed was Eakins over Spoto’s glowing graduation numbers, the superintendent threw a happy-happy-joy-joy hotdog bash at Spoto, during which he lavished praise on the faculty and administration for creating opportunities and addressing multigenerational poverty. He was an inspiration to us all.

Meanwhile, other school officials were investigating if one of those “opportunities” involved some cribbing on the part of Anderson. Indeed, the now former teacher readily admitted he had plastered his classroom walls with the answers to the social studies test.

And it is right about here that Anderson offered up a dubious alibi that would make even President Donald Trump cringe with incredulity.

Anderson – and we presume he did this with a straight face – explained he saw no problem giving his students the answers, because they were taking a school district mandated test rather than a state exam. Feel free to insert a “duh” just about anywhere you want in the preceding sentence.

Spoto is an Achievement School, which means the facility gets special attention to improve student performance. To that end, students are given tests known as “common assessments” through the semester to better prepare them for the district exams and eventually the state exams in the spring.

Or perhaps put another way that the common sense-challenged Anderson might grasp: the whole point of a test is to – ahem – test a student’s knowledge of the material. And not to get too far into the weeds here, but if a teacher posts the answers to the test on the classroom walls, it does sort of cast a pall over the results. Then again, it is always possible if the students can’t read in the first place having the answers laid out in from of them still makes passing the test at least a 50/50 proposition.

According to the Tampa Bay Times’ Marlene Sokol, Anderson candidly explained that throughout his now former teaching career he had routinely left posters up in his classrooms with the answers to regular tests, but covered them for state exams. Who says there are no standards anymore?

The Hillsborough County School District is huge, with thousands of dedicated teachers and administrators who work hard to improve the lives of their students. And while Anderson might well be an outlier in fudging the test numbers, what isn’t known is how many other outliers are within the school system who have improperly made district exams essentially meaningless?

Why was Anderson even permitted in a public school classroom in the first place? In 2015, Sokol noted he received a reprimand for his “flawed decision making” and unprofessional conduct for having a personal relationship with a former student who had graduated and passed her 18th birthday. Mr. Chips this chap was not.

While Anderson may be gone, Spoto’s former principal, Glennis Perez, who hired him, still is employed after she was transferred to an administrative position on a vague “special assignment.” One can only hope does not involve test preparation.

Perhaps Eakins can task Perez with organizing campus hot dog parties, with an extra heaping side dish of balderdash.