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The principal and one staff member at Mann School are the likely individuals who tampered with state-mandated standardized tests that were given to students at the school last month. District 97 Supt. Albert Roberts addressed the controversy to a packed auditorium of parents in a public meeting held at the school on April 4.
Principal Nimisha Kumar submitted her resignation on March 22, but is still serving at Mann, 921 N. Kenilworth, until June 30. Roberts did not mention any names during the meeting but confirmed that the tests were mishandled by two staff members at the school. He noted that Kumar resigned after the violations were found and that one other staff member is facing disciplinary consequences.
"There's going to be disciplinary action on one individual and we have a resignation from another individual," Roberts said at last Wednesday's meeting. He did not mention Kumar by name. Roberts has also said that it was Kumar's decision to resign.
"There will be some additional discipline for the one individual who remains employed," he said. "That's probably as far as I can go about the specifics of the investigation."
Roberts said that he and other district staff members interviewed two Mann employees for about two hours after receiving a tip relayed by the president of the Oak Park Teacher's Association that something improper was being done with the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests (ISAT) after they were turned in. Roberts told Wednesday Journal two weeks ago that the tip came from an anonymous teacher at the school.
As for the irregularities that took place, Roberts told the Mann parents they involved about 25 separate tests, and went beyond erasing stray marks on the answer sheets.
"The two hours of interviews with these folks sealed the deal," he said. "It was about what was stated to me and to others in the interviewing. Our questions led us to believe that the real transgressions occurred outside the classroom. The real serious issues was transcribing information from answer books to the answer key, filling in circles on the answer key that were not filled during the time period in the classroom. These were the most serious of the offenses."
The Illinois State Board of Education is now conducting an investigation of the matter after D97 reported the violations to the state. Roberts disagreed with some parents who suggested that the district overreacted to the situation.
"Would I take the action I've taken for no good reason, for a stray mark on an exam?" Roberts asked. "I don't think it is an overreaction when you hear from the state board of education that people might lose their certification over this."
The irregularities were confined to just two people, Roberts explained, adding that there would be no large-scale shakeup at Mann as some have feared. He said he has no plans to transfer anyone out of the building, adding: "We're trying to keep this faculty intact. This is a great school with a great teaching staff."
As for the actions of the two individuals involved, Roberts doesn't believe they were motivated by evil intent. "I don't think it was malice, but I think it was very poor judgment. I'm comfortable that the serious infractions were limited."
Roberts said that he will meet with the Mann faculty next week.
Some parents expressed concern about the morale among the faculty in the wake of the incident, and the publicity it has generated. Roberts told the crowd that 73 people have already applied for the principal position at Mann and that he hoped to hire someone next month. But Roberts did not rule out the possibility of hiring an interim principal next year if he and the school board, along with Mann stakeholders, cannot find a good fit in the next two months.
"I want to do it right; I don't want to do it fast, but who's to say we can't do it fast and right," Roberts said.
Some parents said that the district should notify parents if their child's ISAT results were tampered with. Roberts responded, "We hadn't thought about that, but we'll give it some consideration."
Parents asked many questions at the meeting, which lasted a little over 90 minutes and was attended by about 150 people. Roberts said he didn't want the incident to tar Mann's excellent reputation.
"Our kids are not cheaters, our teachers are not cheaters. We need to correct something, though," Roberts said, adding that every D97 school next year will receive more training in proper test handling.
Still, many parents were upset about losing Kumar as principal.
"I came in here thinking they threw the baby out with the bath water," said Bruce Moncrieff after the meeting. "I'm walking out with the same opinion."
Moncrieff was also not happy that a Mann employee apparently tipped off the union president about the alleged violations, saying: "I am a little concerned that we do have a whistleblower here."
Bill Gale said his son, a Mann third-grader, cried when he read in the Wednesday Journal that Kumar was resigning. Gale thought the meeting was difficult, but necessary.
"I thought it was fair," he said. "I thought it was painful. It's just a very painful situation."