Questionable Investigative Practices by the Florida Department of Education: A Tale of two Schools

Akin to the disparity in disciplinary actions of two teachers, Mr. Emmanuel Fleurantin and Mrs. Brenda Muchnick, due to Adobegate, there seems to be a disparity of actions undertaken by the Florida Department of Education concerning cheating in two Miami-Dade high schools: Miami Norland Senior High School and North Miami Senior High School.

In a recent Miami Herald article, state Rep. Daphne Campbell decried the treatment of North Miami Senior High School in that the school still has a grade of “Incomplete” though it was cleared of cheating by the school district.

On January 28, 2014, Rep. Campbell sent a letter to Florida’s Commissioner of Education urging the state to replace the high school’s “incomplete” status and issue a letter grade, which would have been given in December.

“This is ridiculous,” Campbell is quoted as saying in a press release. “There is no reason why a school should have to wait to receive a report for their institution.”

FLDOE maintains that the “Incomplete” was given and is still in place as a state contractor that highlights highly unusual test scores again zeroed in on the school.

A school district investigation found nothing wrong or unusual, but the FLDOE is still reviewing the latest round of test results and can’t comment until the investigation is over per state law.

What lingers is a question of fairness: How is it that Miami Norland Senior High School has had significant instances of cheating the past two school years but yet was awarded school grades of “A” and Florida School Recognition Program and federal (RTTT, SIG) funds with no impediment or controversy, but North Miami Senior High School was suspected of cheating the past two schools years, eventually cleared, but has had its grades and incentive funding delayed to the angst of the school community?

For whatever reasons, did the FLDOE give Norland a free pass and decided to stick it to North Miami the past two school years?

By examining the evidence, the answer seems to be an overwhelming “yes.”

With the assistance of cheating, undertaken by Mr. Emmanuel Fleurantin and Mrs. Brenda Muchnick, and perhaps other persons unknown, Miami Norland’s school grade went from a “C” for the 2010-11 school year to an “A” for the 2011-12 school year.

As a result, total federal funds (SIG, RTTT) given out due to a grade influenced by cheating was $100,560; the total state funds per FSRP was between $130,000- $140,000; the total overall combined federal and state incentive funds were $230,560- $240,560.

Each teacher at Miami Norland Senior High School received $1730.41 from all three payouts.

During the 2011-2012 school year at Miami Norland Senior High School, there was proven, not suspected cheating as in North Miami’s case, cheating per student and teacher testimony and evidence in the form of cheat sheets and confessions. The only questions were the size and the scope of the cheating and who were all the people involved.

The Auditor General of Florida and the Miami-Dade Office of Inspector General was in possession of this evidence as of early May 2012 and the Florida Department of Education knew soon thereafter as I confirmed with FLDOE personnel over the phone in September 2012, which was three months before the high schools grades were released in December 2012.

If the Florida Department of Education handled the case at Miami Norland Senior High School the same way that it did at North Miami Senior High School, the “A” grade would not have been awarded in December 2012 and the payouts would not have occurred; rather, Miami Norland Senior High School would have received an “I” in the summer of 2012 and when the investigation concluded on Monday, August 26, 2013, with the issuance of the Final Miami-Dade OIG Report, the “I” would have been changed to an “F” and none of the $230,000-$240,000 in combined federal and state incentive funds would have been disbursed.

Yet Norland got the grade and the money and North Miami had to wait almost nine agonizing months to get their school grade and incentive funds.

For the 2012-2013 school year, history repeated itself for both schools.

As stated by the Test Chairperson at a faculty meeting on October 22, 2013, Miami Norland Senior High School led the State of Florida in FCAT invalidations as 13 student exams were invalidated for the 2012-2013 school year, a year after Adobegate, yet the school has not been assigned an “I” for “Incomplete” for the 2012-13 school year per past state practices.

In late December 2013, Norland was given an “A” and state incentive funds are scheduled to be paid out whereas North Miami has an “Incomplete” and left to twist in the wind once again.

Why did the FLDOE not award Norland an “Incomplete” and/or invalidate the “A” as there was confirmed cheating?

One would think what befell North Miami, though the school was eventually cleared of cheating, the past two years from the FLDOE would be appropriate for Norland as cheating on grand scales has actually been confirmed the past two school years.

Perhaps the Legislature should examine these split decisions handed out by the FLDOE and pass a law setting clear and consistent guidelines for the FLDOE to follow concerning schools and suspected standardized test cheating to prevent other schools from suffering the injustices that North Miami has endured the past two school years while Norland, and perhaps other like schools, were awarded school grades and incentive funds with impunity.