office of special investigations

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test tampering

New York

New York State's bulked-up test security team opens its inbox

A new form allows people to report suspicions of cheating on state tests online, simplifying a long-complicated process. Starting today, school staffers can report their cheating suspicions online. The state's new test security watchdog has launched its website, allowing people to use an electronic form to file allegations about possible cheating by educators on state tests. It's one of the first concrete moves by the State Education Department's new test security unit, created last year after a self-imposed audit of the department's test security policies found them severely lacking. The audit came after U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged states to scrutinize their test integrity practices following a spate of high-profile cheating scandals. The scandals threatened to undermine the real and perceived value of test scores even as New York State was attaching higher stakes to its scores. The audit concluded that the state's paper-based system for receiving allegations of improprieties was disorganized and outdated, creating the potential for "underreporting and underestimation of information." Plus, the Office of State Assessment did not have anyone assigned exclusively to investigate allegations that did come in. Now, four investigators —  all former state and federal law enforcement officers — are ready to look into cheating allegations received online, according to Tina Sciocchetti, who heads SED's Test Security and Educator Integrity office. The investigators are also working on piles of years-old cold cases absorbed from the assessment office.
New York

Bureaucracy left teacher accused of sex misconduct in schools

A teacher reported for looking at pornography on a school computer in January remained assigned to schools until late March, racking up additional complaints that he was loitering in girls' bathrooms during that time. During the period when the teacher, Daniel Meagher, was collecting allegations, city officials were demanding more power to fire teachers who misbehave. Yet the extended timeline between the first allegation against Meagher and his removal from the classroom suggests that the city does not always use the power it already has to shield students from school workers suspected of illicit behavior — and that the Department of Education sometimes does not even know when teachers are accused of misconduct. According to a report released today by Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon, Meagher behaved inappropriately at three different schools: Bedford Academy High School, P.S. 17, and P.S. 19. A city teacher since 2000, Meagher was assigned to multiple schools as a member of the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of teachers without permanent positions who rotate to new schools each week. Bedford Academy's principal called Condon's office in mid-January after students said they saw Meagher looking at pornography in the school library and other school officials realized Meagher had also been searching online for sexually explicit content about children, according to the report. Investigators quickly began looking into the allegations, seizing Meagher's computer six days after hearing from the school principal. But it was not until March 30, more than two months later, that the Department of Education assigned Meagher to a central office position to keep him away from students, according to the report. That month, the principals of P.S. 17 and P.S. 19 each reported that Meagher had been spotted repeatedly in girls' bathrooms.
New York

Shuang Wen School inquiry reveals deep "dishonest behavior"

A parent stands in front of the Cherry Street entrance to the Lower East Side's Shuang Wen elementary school. A sprawling investigation into the leadership of a controversial dual-language school in Chinatown concluded that the school's principal had falsified attendance data and accepted money from a non-profit hired to administer after school language lessons. The Department of Education will move to fire Ling Ling Chou, who was removed from the school in September while as many as 16 different investigations were underway. According to the report, she frequently faked numbers when reporting information about the school to the city and the United States Department of Education, including student attendance records and the length of the school day. The report does not conflict with a different report released last year by the special commissioner of investigations, which found that Chou and other staffers committed multiple improprieties, but did not outright steal public money. "For years, Principal Chou engaged in dishonest behavior, unbeknownst to her students and school community," said Chancellor Dennis Walcott in a statement. "Principal Chou’s conduct has failed to meet the standard we set for our principals, and I am filing charges to terminate her employment.” Shuang Wen consistently boasts some of the strongest test scores in the city, but divisions between the staff and parents at the Lower East Side school have led to numerous allegations of and investigations into misconduct.
New York

After arrests, schools to tighten screening of workers' histories

Chancellor Dennis Walcott set something of speed record today by announcing new policies to screen school employees for histories of abuse. Earlier this week, Walcott vowed to review screening procedures for school aides after an aide at P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side was charged with sexual abuse of a student. The aide had been found to have inappropriately touched a student when he worked at a different elementary school, but P.S. 87 did not seem to have been aware of that investigation. The arrest at P.S. 87 came just days after a different aide was charged with videotaping sex abuse he committed inside a Brooklyn elementary school. On Thursday, another school worker was arrested on sex abuse charges: a teacher at P.S. 174 in Queens who had been found more than a decade ago to have behaved inappropriately toward students. Today, the Department of Education announced a new policy that will allow schools to see whether people they are considering hiring were ever found to have behaved inappropriately at other schools. The schools will be able to see the results of any substantiated inquiry conducted by either office that investigates allegations of misconduct by school workers, not just inquiries relating to sex abuse. The department has an in-house investigations unit, the Office of Special Investigations, but also sends cases of misconduct to retired detectives at the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation. SCI had substantiated the abuse allegations against the school workers at P.S. 87 and P.S. 174.
New York

Probe into Regents grading finds misconduct, but not cheating

A 2010 decision about how to grade Regents exams that a Bronx assistant principal made under pressure has landed him and a teacher in trouble with the city and state. The decision, to have a teacher grade her own class's Regents exams when no other teachers were available, has also drawn scrutiny to the scores. After state officials regraded the exams, they found that nearly half had received inflated scores and a quarter of students passed when they should have failed. The findings are detailed in a report released today that sheds light on the inner workings of the state's investigative unit, until this year an opaque component of the State Education Department. It also suggests that efforts to tighten test security could run into roadblocks in the form of individual schools' practical realities. The investigation began at the state level when David Abrams, the state's testing director at the time, received a letter about "suspicious patterns in the students' scores" from a former principal at the school in question, Bronx Collegiate Academy. The state department receives hundreds of allegations per year that are either logged through an anonymous hotline or directly to the Office of Assessment. Beyond that, there is no clear chain of responsibility. In this case, Abrams asked Richard Condon, the city's special commissioner of investigation to look into the matter. SCI in turn referred the case to the DOE's Office of Special Investigations. According to the report, Darryl White, an AP and testing coordinator at Bronx Collegiate, gave the go-ahead to Emso Asemota to grade her students' 2010 Integrated Algebra Regents exam without the assistance of a co-grader. Investigators concluded that White violated state regulations in issuing the instruction and Asemota violated the rules by following White's orders.
New York

At school under scrutiny, students offer accounts of cheating

The test was a joke. That’s how several graduates of a Bronx high school under investigation for inflating test and graduation rates have characterized a Regents exam they took nearly two years ago. During the 2010 Algebra 2/Trigonometry Regents exam at the Theatre Arts Production Company School, the students said they were the beneficiaries of a rogue proctor who repeatedly broke rules during the duration of their testing period. The proctor, their teacher during the school year, roamed the room quietly and alerted students to questions they had answered incorrectly. When students asked for help, she responded with individualized attention. Students said they were allowed to talk openly and compare answer sheets. In at least one case, the proctor even helped a top-performing student cheat when he hadn't asked for help. “I handed it in and she handed it right back to me,” the student said. “She told me, ‘These four questions are wrong. You should change them.’” The exam experience was so well known around the school that it became an inside joke because almost everyone passed and moved onto calculus for their senior years. “The students joked about it because everyone knew it was going on,” said another student who took the test. “She would pass by, look at our papers, and if we had the wrong answer down, she would point to the right answer and then quickly walk away.” Eventually the exam became an open secret among students and even other teachers, the students said. It even became fodder on a Facebook group for the school.
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