Longform

Schoolhouse Knocks

Page 3 of 7

Wilson-Davis also scoffs at the idea. She points out that the school's charter was unanimously approved. “Even if [Frederica Wilson] had been a dissenting vote, it would not have stopped it one way or another,” she reasons.


Most of the school's ups and downs, both before and after Bush's election, have been widely publicized. No topic drew quite so much attention -- and ridicule -- as the school's poor performance on the first Governor Bush-mandated FCAT in 1999. Union chief Pat Tornillo wrote a letter to the editors of the Miami Herald that insisted he and his organization were not, repeat, not gleeful about the lousy test scores at their archenemy's pet school.

Not publicized at all was the fact that the year before, a teacher at the Liberty City Charter School had helped his students cheat on the Stanford Achievement Test.

Alvin Moore, now 54 years old, is a St. Thomas University graduate who had taught in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools since 1983, mostly as a substitute. He joined the staff of the Liberty City Charter School in its first year of existence. Most of the other teachers were less experienced than he, but his track record with the public schools apparently had taught him little about the proper way to proctor a standardized test.

In March 1998 Moore and teacher's aide Keith Anderson administered the SAT to the school's third-grade students. Wilson-Davis says she didn't know anything was amiss before the preliminary scores were delivered to the school some two months later. Pat Booth, a retired assistant principal from the Miami-Dade schools who was working as a curriculum consultant at Liberty City, took a look at the scores and noticed something was wrong. She brought her concerns to Wilson-Davis. “[Booth] was very alarmed by how well [the students in Moore's classroom] scored on the social studies and on the science,” Wilson-Davis remembers. “She felt there was something inconsistent about those scores.” Booth and Wilson-Davis called Moore and Anderson on the carpet and confronted them with the “inconsistency” of the scores. Anderson, Wilson-Davis says, “indicated that some impropriety had occurred.”

“From there I referred it to the school attorney and the governing board,” Wilson-Davis says. Attorney Mark Wallace took statements from the two proctors and some of the students and determined that Moore and Anderson had gone from desk to desk and helped children with their tests, which explained both the high scores and the consistency of the correct and incorrect answers.

On May 20 Wallace wrote a letter to superintendent Roger Cuevas, informing him the school had determined there was “contamination” of the third-grade students' scores. “In response to the charter school's review, the third-grade SAT administrator [Alvin Moore] has resigned from his employment,” Wallace wrote. In fact both Moore and Anderson were forced to resign; Wallace will not disclose the details of their exits. Anderson, now 26 years old, earned his bachelor's degree from Nova Southeastern University and currently is a fifth-grade teacher at Sweetwater Elementary School. He would not comment on the cheating incident. Alvin Moore also declined comment.

Wallace stresses he was in regular communication with the school district about the cheating, starting almost as soon as he heard about it. “Those kids needed the opportunity to retake the test,” he explains. The kids were tested in early June. Bush, hard on the campaign trail at the time, was kept abreast of the investigation as well. “Jeb was hearing about this at the same time the board was,” Wallace says. “His response was, he wanted to make sure the process was completely transparent.”

It appeared the school dealt swiftly and efficiently with the problem by booting the offending teacher and resolving the scandal quickly enough to allow the children to retest. Other than the embarrassment of having hired a couple of unethical teachers, it seemed the episode had passed with minimal damage to the school's reputation.

But Alicia Banuchi, the principal's former administrative assistant, insists everyone in the school already knew Moore and Anderson had helped those kids cheat, well before the suspicious scores were red-flagged. Banuchi says another teacher heard Anderson confessing his cheating to Katrina Wilson-Davis roughly one month before the scores came back. And yet the principal did not report the incident to her governing board or the school district.

Wilson-Davis says the school's grapevine exaggerated when it called Anderson's statement a confession. “Mr. Anderson came into my office to hook up a VCR, and he said to me that he felt uncomfortable about something that happened during that test,” she recalls. “He said that Mr. Moore had assisted the kids by telling them to check their answers.” Wilson-Davis says that admonition “didn't sound like an impropriety,” thus she took no action. Only when Pat Booth questioned the scores did the aide tell her the full extent of Moore's assistance.

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Ted B. Kissell
Contact: Ted B. Kissell