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WCS board votes to sue state over not correcting test errors

The Williamson County Schools Board of Education unanimously voted to allow Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney to pursue legal action against the Tennessee Department of Education for failure to reopen the TCAP/EOC test correction window.
After taking a few steps toward litigation over the past month by holding board discussions, and even a rare special called work session with the Franklin Special School District Board of Education in August, the WCS district officially decided to sue the state.

“At issue is the integrity of the entire system of data on which the state bases its rewards, accolades and penalties,” Looney said. “Integrity depends on data. The data has to be right.”

Because three Hispanic students, who were miscoded as “white,” actually scored proficient, the entire Hispanic population was mislabeled as not meeting state accountability growth goals.

“Even if just one of the students had been coded correctly, we would have met our goals [and been labeled as intermediate and not accountable to the state to develop an action plan for Hispanic students],” Looney said.

Looney and FSSD Director of Schools Dr. David Snowden believe that Metro Public Nashville Schools were treated fairly when the state made an exception to reopen the test correction window to allow the correction of demographic mistakes that could affect accountability. However, they believe that they should be given the same consideration.

Board Member Janice Mills, District 2, gave her support of legal action “reservedly.”

“I understand philosophically that the data needs to be correct. I don’t think anyone in this room would not want correct data,” she said. “But I want your word that we’ve exhausted all of our options to avoid litigation.”

“I’ve never sued anyone in my life,” Looney said.

He explained that multiple requests had been made to reopen the test correction window by way of letters from himself as well as the school district’s attorney Bill Squires, but to no avail.

“I was directed to the legal department with any other concerns,” Looney said.

Eric Welch, District 10, said that he supported the resolution whole-heartedly, but regretfully. 

“This is not what we’ve created or welcomed. But it’s a simple issue – We want correct data. During a time that data is used on an unprecedented level, from curriculum standards to ways that we test our students in mandating, measuring and evaluating data with common core … it’s unconscionable not to have correct data,” Welch said.

FSSD discusses options for legal action against state
Meanwhile, Snowden discussed the same issue with his board Monday night during their monthly meeting at Liberty Elementary School.

The prevailing issue for the FSSD board is one of cost. The board did not take a formal vote on the matter, but rather discussed the options available.

Snowden noted that the preliminary estimate for their contracted attorney Chuck Cagle to expend 100 hours of professional work translates to about $20,000-$25,000 for the district.

Cagle also represents several other school districts.

“That doesn’t take into consideration if the school district won the litigation, and it was then appealed,” Snowden said.

 “Williamson County is in a little different situation. They have an attorney that is on staff. At this point in time, it’s difficult for me to recommend litigation based on a cost factor,” but he quickly added, “That doesn’t mean that I don’t think an injustice occurred.

“If it [reopening the test window] was going to be done for one school district, it should be done for all.”

 “I would like to think there is a possibility that other school districts might want to join our cause. I would like to leave the door open…if possible that other school districts would like to help defray costs.”

FSSD vice-chairman Tim Stillings asked if the Tennessee School Boards Association would have an interest in pursuing litigation.

Snowden responded that the TSBA, similar to the Tennessee Organization of Schools Superintendents, took the position that the “organizations were not harmed,” but rather the issue affected individual school districts.

Snowden explained to the board that Cagle could represent multiple districts with costs being based per district on the number of students enrolled.

FSSD’s entire legal budget is $10,000 for the year.

Board chairman, Sherry Badger, said that although “on principle” she would like to pursue action, she said that she was concerned about the expense.

“We are in a different situation from a school district that has a lawyer on the board (staff). I would like to see us remain open to the potential of joining with other school districts. This is not a battle to be fought by us financially.”

Later in a discussion about the logistics of the coding procedures and ensuring correct data, Snowden said, “Some districts have a whole department to work on these coding errors. We do not have such a department. The commissioner says he does not have any plans to give those districts another opportunity.”

Last week, Snowden and Looney signed a letter initiated by more than 60 school superintendents statewide that highlighted their collective concern with the current leadership at the state Department of Education.

For previous stories, see
Looney presses state to reconsider appeal on faulty EOC coding
WCS and FSSD discuss taking possible legal action against state

Posted on: 9/17/2013


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