Phoenix school staff members accused of forcing students to cheat on AzMERIT test


Three Shaw Montessori Elementary staff members are on paid administrative leave amid an AzMERIT testing violation investigation.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s seriously unbelievable,” said Karen Walker, a Phoenix parent.

Walker spoke exclusively to AZFamily on Wednesday about the outrage she felt when her fourth-grade daughter, Cooper, was kept at school past 5:30 p.m. taking the test last week.

She says that on the first day of AzMERIT testing at Shaw Montessori Elementary, Cooper should have been home by 4 p.m.-- but she never came home after school.

“It turns out that she was still in the school library-- testing. At this point, it’s 5:30 p.m. and she was still there taking the AzMERIT test,” Walker said.

Walker was never notified that the school was going to keep Cooper late. But when she asked her daughter about the school’s reasoning, she was even more shocked by the answer.

“She had to raise her hand and a proctor or an administrator would come by and check her answers and tell her what to change on her test-- whether it be spelling or spacing,” Walker said. “She had to go back and change those answers according to what the proctor or administrator told her to change.”

This accusation, if found to be true, would be an AzMERIT security violation. Administrators are required to sign a form stating they will not change any student’s answers.

Walker said there were at least five other students there when she picked her daughter up late at the school, and another family told us by phone Wednesday that their daughter was also forced to change her answers.

Walker went to Shaw Montessori’s principal about the incident but the principal claimed she didn’t know this was happening.

“You’re the principal of the school and you don’t know what’s going on in the testing room? There’s a problem here,” Walker said. “They’re affecting our children’s future and their education, and they’ve cheated them. They’ve showed them that cheating’s OK. That’s what they’ve taught them.”

We reached out to the Phoenix Elementary School District about the matter and they told us that they have investigators looking into these accusations, but Walker said the investigation may be one-sided.

“I haven’t been notified or asked any questions by any investigators,” Walker said.

We asked the school district several times if they would do an on-camera interview with us on Wednesday, but they declined and said they would consider speaking more about this only after the investigation has concluded.

The school released the following letter to parents on Wednesday:Dear Shaw Parents & Families,

As you know, April is AzMERIT testing time in Arizona for grades three through eight.Report of an alleged testing security violation in grades four and six regarding the writing portion of English language arts has been received. The Arizona Department of Education was notified of this alleged violation. An independent investigation is underway and will take several days to complete. We are cooperating fully with the Arizona Department of Education and independent investigators. I will update you further upon completion of the investigation.Please contact my office if you have questions or concerns or our superintendent’s office at 602-257-2912.

Sincerely,Susan EngdallPrincipal, Shaw Montessori School

School funding is tied to AzMERIT test scores-- the better the school performs, the more money the schools are eligible to receive from the state.

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