Two simple words -- “Listen again” -- led a tribunal Thursday to back the firing of another Atlanta public school teacher.
During the tribunal hearing for former Parkside Elementary School teacher Selena Wyatt, attorneys for APS successfully argued that Wyatt used that phrase to subtly prompt her first-grade students to change wrong answers on the math part of Georgia's 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.
“We’re not contending that she pointed to correct answers or changed the answers [herself], but that she did something she knew was wrong,” prosecuting attorney Tom Cox told the tribunal, which was composed of Georgia teachers.
Wyatt came to the attention of state investigators when statistical data showed her students erased wrong answers and filled in correct answers at a rate so high that investigators said it could only be explained, as outside intervention.
On Thursday, Wyatt denied cheating. But Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Eve Rodgers, who interviewed Wyatt during the initial probe, testified that Wyatt would read out CRCT questions and answer choices to her students, wander through the classroom, notice that students had selected incorrect responses, and guide students to change their answers by saying aloud, “Listen again.”
Rodgers also testified that Wyatt made incriminating admissions during their interview, including that she did not tell any other teachers what she was doing because they “might have gone and told.” Rodgers said Wyatt also “acknowledged that what she was doing was wrong,” and that she had used the “listen again” method during prior testing, .
But Wyatt told the tribunal, “It was not my intention at all to get them to change their answers. Just to get them to focus.”
Students were sometimes doodling on their exams, putting their heads on their desks, and standing up, Wyatt testified. She said that "Listen again" was simply her way of refocusing the students, not guiding them to cheat.
Cox countered that the wrong-to-right statistical anomaly "could not have happened unless comments were directed toward particular students while Wyatt was observing responses to particular questions."
The tribunal ultimately sided with APS. The Atlanta Public School Board must now vote on whether to accept the tribunal's recommendation on Wyatt.
Where they stand now
About 89 educators of 178 suspected of cheating remain on the Atlanta Public Schools district's payroll, including teachers and administrators. They can make their case to keep their jobs before an APS tribunal. Once the hearings are held and terminations are recommended, the matter goes to the school board for approval. Once approved by the board, the employee is terminated immediately.
Where the cases stand
9 Number of educators whose recommended firing has been upheld by a tribunal.
50 Number of letters sent to educators outlining charges and the school district's intent to terminate.
78 Number of educators notified that their contracts will not be renewed; some will have the option of a hearing.
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