40% of the teachers at Jefferson Elementary School were removed from the classroom in November 2013. Because approximately 38 third graders performed significantly better on the STAAR than the previous year's group of third graders, the district summarily removed 40 teachers across many grade levels from their classrooms. The result was that most of these students spent the year being taught by substitutes.
Dozens of parents and children crowded into a community center on the Northside of Houston. State Rep. Jessica Farrar
, a Democrat, led the hour-long discussion. One question she asked got a resounding response. “What kind of evidence officials have to dismiss these teachers?”
Parents told her in Spanish. “No, nada, no se ha hecho saber.”
They had been told nothing. That’s one of many concerns parents have about the suspected cheating on state tests at Jefferson Elementary. It’s a school where most students are Hispanic and come from low-income families. Eleven teachers there have been reassigned amid the investigation. Parents say they don’t trust how the investigation is being conducted. HISD has hired outside lawyers to handle it. Parent Roberto Mejia says his son was promised a free dress day if he agreed to be interviewed by the lawyers. They felt pressured to talk. Mejia was there when they questioned his son. “They ask one question and if they don’t get the answer they wanted from the kid, they ask the same question four times until they get what they wanted to hear from the kid.”
His son Ricardo is in third grade. Farrar asks Ricardo what that answer was. “They wanted to hear that we were cheating.”
Another mother from Jefferson said lawyers interviewed her child in English, but she only speaks Spanish and couldn’t understand the questions because there was no translator. Gayle Fallon with the Houston Federation of Teachers
has her own concerns about the investigation. She gives one example that one of teachers suspected of cheating was absent when the test was given. That teacher, Elsa Rodriguez, had been hurt in a near fatal car accident. “My take is it’s being done very poorly. This is all based on not reports of cheating, not an erasure report from TEA [Texas Education Agency], but an allegation on the part of the district that the children scored higher than they should have.”
Last year, 100 percent of third graders at Jefferson passed the reading and the math tests
. In addition to the investigation, parents have other concerns, such as the lack of basic supplies like toilet paper and the need for a special education teacher at Jefferson. State Rep. Jessica Farrar left the meeting concerned herself. “This has just really disrupted the learning environment at this school, needlessly. If there is an investigation, that’s something of grown-ups and it shouldn’t have disrupted the education of these kids.”
Farrar says she will take all of the parents’ concerns to Superintendent Terry Grier this week. HISD has declined to comment on the investigation since it was announced.