Arlington school district inquiry finds isolated TAKS cheating incident

ARLINGTON -- An Arlington school district inquiry into TAKS cheating has confirmed that an elementary school teacher urged a student to memorize a story he had written previously and duplicate it on the writing portion of the test, a school official said Wednesday.

The investigation supported a parent's claim involving her son, a fourth-grader at Williams Elementary School, but disputed her contention that many other students received similar instructions, district spokeswoman Amy Casas said.

"Our investigation found that it was an isolated incident, and appropriate corrective action has been taken," Casas said. "Certainly if there are other parents that have information, we would encourage them to come forward. But at this point the investigation has concluded."

Casas said the teacher involved in the incident has since left the district for unrelated personal reasons.

The district has sent its findings to the Texas Education Agency, which is reviewing the case to determine whether action is needed, TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said.

District officials have scheduled a meeting today with the student's mother, Tina Dowling, to discuss his TAKS scores and the investigation's findings.

The incident stemmed from an April test of the state-mandated Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, which determines who is promoted to the next grade and who earns a high school diploma.

The scores are also the key factor in determining a school's accountability rating. The test's content is a closely guarded secret, and the writing topic is not revealed until the test is given, Culbertson said.

Dowling said her son wrote a story as part of a class assignment to practice for the TAKS and that the teacher edited it and encouraged him to memorize it for the writing portion of the test. Her son said the instructions were the same for other students.

"It's not an isolated incident," Dowling said. "I said in my letter [to district officials] that I talked to several parents to verify that my child wasn't the only one memorizing it for the TAKS."

Dowling said that she first brought her concerns to the Williams staff and that the principal told her that memorizing writings for the TAKS was "an acceptable strategy."

Casas said the principal was interviewed as part of the investigation and "did not recall encouraging that as part of a strategy for teachers to utilize."

The principal did not respond to a phone message requesting comment late Wednesday.

Casas said that as part of the investigation, officials compared the TAKS compositions of many fourth-graders with their practice writings and that there were no suspicious similarities.

Casas encouraged residents with concerns or information about possible TAKS cheating to call the district's accountability and testing office at 682-867-7423.