A close-up look at NYC education policy, politics,and the people who have been, are now, or will be affected by acts of corruption and fraud. ATR CONNECT assists individuals who suddenly find themselves in the ATR ("Absent Teacher Reserve") pool and are the "new" rubber roomers, and re-assigned. The terms "rubber room" and "ATR" mean that you or any person has been targeted for removal from your job. A "Rubber Room" is not a place, but a process.
Richard M. Brzeski had his teaching license suspended for two years by New York after he acknowledged helping fifth-graders on a state math test. His district in Rockville Centre also fired him.
James L. Basham, a social studies teacher, had his license suspended for a year after he admitted helping students on the Regents exam in U.S. history.
And Osman A. Abugana, a Brooklyn teacher, was fined $3,000 by the state after admitting that he changed five students’ scores on the Regents physics exam from failing to passing. The city tried to fire him but a hearing officer suspended him without pay for a semester instead.
Among those settled cases, the unit found a range of alleged transgressions, including tipping students off to wrong answers, giving cheat sheets of math formulas, correcting students’ responses and completing essays for a disabled child. New York had such a big backlog of alleged violations, and some inquiries took so long, that at least one case involved tests in 2010.
Mr. Abugana’s lawyer said his client declined to comment. Lawyers for Mr. Brzeski and Mr. Basham declined to comment.
The Test Security Unit was launched in 2012 after a state-appointed investigator, Henry M. Greenberg, found New York education authorities failed to devote enough time, attention and expertise to rooting out fraud. This focus on test integrity arose in the wake of high-profile cheating scandals in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., among other places.
Teachers unions say the increasing use of student test results to rate some teachers has magnified the temptation to cheat.
“The state’s overreliance on testing and data has created intense pressure around standardized testing and unfortunately it appears that a few teachers have succumbed to that pressure,” said Carl Korn, spokesman for New York State United Teachers. “We believe the number has always been minuscule. We would like it to be zero but that’s not realistic.”
The union counts 206,000 classroom teachers statewide, and the state administers more than three million exams a year. Tina Sciocchetti, executive director of the six-member Test Security Unit, said that while the number of breaches appears small, the stakes are high. Students have to pass Regents exams to graduate, for example, and officials say any abuses taint the system.
In one case in upstate New York, Watervliet teacher Noel Santiago made copies of a math test and reviewed the material with his eighth-graders before the three-day exam period was complete, documents from his tenure hearing say.
According to a hearing officer’s decision upholding Mr. Santiago’s dismissal, a 13-year-old warned Mr. Santiago that having copies of the test was wrong and that when the student tried to alert his guidance counselor, Mr. Santiago threatened to write him up on a disciplinary charge.
Mr. Santiago didn’t respond to requests for comment, but in his tenure hearing he denied threatening the student with retaliation for attempting to disclose his use of the test booklet. According to the hearing officer’s ruling, Mr. Santiago also said there was no evidence his behavior compromised the test.
State officials say these cases are complex and the state takes into account sanctions already imposed by local school districts. Ms. Sciocchetti said that in the case of Mr. Abugana, the New York City hearing ended in a suspension that cost him at least $40,000 in lost pay.
The teacher said in his hearing that he didn’t know what he did was wrong because the state used to let scorers hunt for overlooked points to help students on the cusp of passing Regents exams.
When the Test Security Unit opened, it cleared a backlog of hundreds of test-fraud allegations and received 916 new ones in its first two years. Of the new cases, 359 remained in various stages of investigation and local disciplinary proceedings as of September. Another 206 were closed after investigators found no proof of violations.
In 19 of the 32 cases settled by the unit, educators agreed to penalties but didn’t admit wrongdoing, so their names were redacted. Sometimes districts imposed sanctions beyond the state’s steps.
The settlements brought fines totaling $191,994. Most came from six teachers and three administrators involved in Glen Cove cheating scandals that made headlines last year.
State officials imposed corrective action plans on dozens of schools. They say they have boosted test security in the past two years by visiting test sites, adding training for proctors, mandating that witnesses of misconduct report it, and prohibiting cellphones in exam rooms.
Established in March 2012, the New York State Education Department’s Test Security Unit is responsible for ensuring the security and integrity of New York State assessments. The TSU works to deter and remedy testing misconduct by educators and administrators who are involved in the administration and scoring of New York State assessments. TSU’s legal and investigative personnel review and investigate allegations of cheating submitted to the Department from sources that include school districts, educators, parents, and the public. The TSU carefully determines whether testing misconduct occurred, and if so, what corrective actions are warranted, including potential disciplinary proceedings pursuant to Part 83 and/or Education Law §3020-a. The TSU serves an important training and educational function as well, developing model testing policies and practices, and educating district personnel about them. The TSU’s responsibilities include:
Ensuring security and integrity of New York State assessments;
Developing model New York State test security policies and procedures;
Intake of complaints about educator cheating via Incident Report Form found on the TSU website and from other sources;