Fort Worth school board delays decision on teacher's fate

FORT WORTH -- School district trustees delayed action Tuesday night on whether to fire a Diamond Hill Elementary School math coach who was placed on leave because of testing irregularities.

The delay came after other teachers from the school urged the board to conduct a more thorough investigation and raised concerns that cheating has been going on at the school for years.

In the spring, officials learned of the irregularities on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Officials have declined to specify the irregularities, though teachers told trustees Tuesday that someone apparently changed students' tests.

The school's principal resigned from the district last month. Sharon Pate, the math coach, has been on administrative leave during the investigation.

Board President Ray Dickerson said a decision on Pate's future was being delayed for further investigation.

Pate defended herself to the board in open session, saying she has served the district for 17 years because she felt she could make a difference. She has been at Diamond Hill Elementary for 10 years.

"I did not alter any test," she said. "I trust you to have the wisdom to look at the entire investigation."

Pate said she worries that if the board recommends that she be fired, she will have to indicate on any future teaching job application that she was recommended for dismissal even if she is ultimately exonerated. About 20 co-workers and others attended the meeting to support Pate.

Some told trustees that they feared the cheating has been going on for years and that others besides Pate had more access to the tests and more to gain from inflating scores. But they did not name anyone.

The school has received high state ratings in recent years based on its TAKS results.

Teacher Polly Benson said that until the correct person is identified, "there is no assurance that this won't happen again."

In a letter to the board, another teacher said that many at the school feel as if little is being done to find the truth and that "one of our own is being sacrificed." Whoever did cheat is destroying Pate's family and the Diamond Hill Elementary family, wrote Metisha Welsh, who could not attend because of health issues.

The testing irregularities occurred in the May retest and affected 23 students.

Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700