Statement by whistleblowing teacher James Oliver
Thus Treem, when I was hired, was already a school in turmoil. What I would soon learn, however, was that it not only refused to stand up for the children sent to it, but it was also corrupt.
Days 1 and 2
The first day I had no computer. It was suggested that the last substitute had left with it. The next day, I received a computer, allowing me to access Infinite Campus and look at classroom attendance and see which children had IEPs, etc.
The third day Mrs. Katherine Robertt, the ARL supervisor and “learning coordinator,” came in to show me how lessons were taught using the i-Ready teaching software that the school administration had purchased for its Common Core curriculum. I did not understand how to explain it to the kids, because the method used in i-Ready is, you have to keep going backwards and forward, back and forth through the digital books. This confused not only the kids but even the teachers.
Mrs. Robertt, too, had trouble with that curriculum, in having to skip around in it. Ultimately, I was just shown where to find books in the classroom.
Later that same day, Mrs. Robertt came in again, went into the Infinite Campus grade book and printed out the classroom grades for the report card that was scheduled to go out that Friday, two days later.
After looking at the grades, she then called both the principal and the vice principal on the radio, saying that they needed to come to my classroom and look at what she had printed out.
When they came in, Mrs. Robertt had spread the test grades of each student across four desks in a square. Both admin approached the desks to look at the grades. My teacher’s aide (TA) sat down next to Mrs. Robertt.
Looking over the shoulder of Mrs. Robertt, I started thumbing through the tests and grades and saw all the F’s. I remarked, “I have never seen so many F’s.”
Mrs. Robertt jerked the tests from my sight and stacked them up. I thought that was strange, since normally administrators would want the new teacher of a class to see how that teacher’s class is currently doing.
Assistant Principal Sarah Cyprus stepped back and said, “I did not think it would be that bad.”
The principal, Yvette Tippetts, said, “We can’t show that.”
Tippetts then asked Cyprus, “What do you want to do?”
I thought this was strange also. I expected that, for some major educational failure like this, the administrators would start seeking the source of the problem, discuss how and where improvements were needed, talk about interventions, ask parents for help, etc.
Then Mrs. Cyprus said, “We can’t let the parents see the students hadn’t made progress since the beginning of school.”
Looking at me and the TA, she continued, “We have to change the grades on this report card, and then just let the students catch up with the grades.”
She was saying we had to conceal from parents the students’ actual lack of learning from the start of school and make it appear that they were not still making D’s and F’s — even though they obviously were.
At that moment, my first thought was that maybe this was a trick they were running to test me — to see if the new guy was a crooked teacher who’d go along with anything.
Mrs. Robertt then asked, “What about the tests for those grades and the past grades?”
Mrs. Tippetts said, “Don’t worry about that; we will do that later.”
Mrs. Cyprus then said, “We can make tests just on standards. We can make tests out of questions they have already got right before. [For] tests on standards, you can make one question or even 5 or 7.”
Mrs. Cyprus told the TA and me to look through the class grade book and try to find some test answers the kids got right. My TA and I looked through the gradebook and could not find many.
Mrs. Cyprus then said that they, the school’s administrators, would go to the three computers in the back of the room and look though everything the class had done. She said I could grade some of them later and post them in the grade book as they found them. She added that Mrs. Robertt would show me how to grade standards tests with a sample she would provide.
As they started on the back computers they were again saying they had to find some tests the students had taken, to see if they could find answers the students had gotten right.
The TA came to me and asked me what we were to do about this situation. I asked her if I heard them right — that they want us to erase the kids’ grades and give them A’s and B’s?
She confirmed that’s what she heard also. So I said, “I guess we’ll wait and see if they are really going to do that.”
During my break, the administrators stayed on those computers, so I went and told my second-grade chair and two other second-grade teachers what appeared to be happening.
That next day, Mrs. Robertt came into my room and asked two students to pass out some tests she provided. Other students, looking at the tests, began to talk out loud.
“We already did these,” said several students. Others remarked that they know they will pass the tests. Mrs. Robertt smiled at the children and told me to tell them it was a test to see if they remember anything. However, she was very strict about me needing to return the test papers to her.
Walking around and looking at the papers, I said, out loud, “These are what you call standards tests? They have only a few questions on each test.”
Mrs. Cyprus then told me that they would grade the tests with the teacher’s assistant, and my job would just be putting the grades in the Infinite Campus grade book. They then turned and went to the three computers in the back of the room. I was only able to glance at the test papers, which, when completed, had been brought to the back table by the students.
When I came back from lunch, however, Mrs. Robertt, the ARL supervisor and “learning strategist,” was in my classroom. She asked me to come over to where she was sitting, grading their new, concocted tests, and asked me to help her by doing some of the grading. I again said, “I don’t understand that process.” But now I added, “And I wouldn’t touch those new tests with a 10-foot pole.”
She just kind of looked at me, and I walked away. But then she got on the speaker, talking to the vice principal and telling her I was refusing to help her change grades. So when the class came back in from lunch, the vice principal popped in and said, “I’m giving you your observation.”
Now normally they give you a day’s notice in advance of the observation. She, however, did it immediately. Then, once she left, in 15 minutes she called me in to her office, to go over my observation. As soon as I walked in, that’s when I heard what hostile vice principals always say: “Well, Mr. Oliver, it’s probably about the worst thing I’ve ever seen and —” blah, blah blah.
On Friday, Oct 19 — the last day of my first work week at Treem — all of us second-grade teachers were waiting to see if the administrators were actually going to do it. That morning, Mrs. Robertt came in right before lunch and had the kids line up to go to lunch, putting a test paper in each student’s backpack (where I could not see it), and said, “Bring these home to your parents, but tell your parents we will have your report card next Friday.”
I reported that to everyone on my second-grade teaching team.