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Woodford Times - Peoria, IL
  • Charter Oak principal denies knowledge of alleged cheating

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  • PEORIA — Charter Oak Primary School Principal John Wetterauer denies any knowledge or involvement in alleged cheating on ISAT tests given to special education students, according to his attorney Nile Williamson.
    And Dan Dugal, chairman of the Charter Oak parents' group Special Action Committee, says some claims in Peoria School District 150's preliminary investigation of the alleged irregularities don't pass the "sniff" test.
    But District 150 attorney Stan Eisenhammer said the real issue is whether Charter Oak staff's alleged violations of protocols in testing students was because of "lack of training or outright cheating."
    "Based on the statistical evidence and students' IEPs (or individualized education plans), it's possible more occurred than what teachers admitted to," Eisenhammer said in a news conference at his law firm's Peoria office.
    Battle lines hardened a day after a School Board meeting Monday in which District 150 released the preliminary report and Wetterauer's supporters, or as many of their T-shirts read "Wetterauer's Warriors," confronted the board and administrators about the report's allegations during a tense five-hour meeting in a packed gym at Von Steuben Middle School.
    Charter Oak parents' Special Action Committee claimed a "small victory" when the board announced its decision to give Wetterauer an opportunity to respond to the findings. Williamson plans to issue a response on Wetterauer's behalf by the end of the week.
    Wetterauer, principal of the award-winning K-4 school for 10 years, is on paid administrative leave, as a result of the allegations of testing discrepancies in the administration of Illinois Standards Achievement Tests to special education students at Charter Oak. Many of his supporters expected him to be terminated after Monday night's board meeting.
    District 150 has submitted the report to the Illinois State Board of Education. The four Charter Oak teachers named in the investigation still are working. Their identities have not been released.
    Teachers' union president Jeff Adkins-Dutro said he's been told any potential discipline of the teachers will be decided at the next board meeting. He took issue with the report's use of the term "admitted" to describe teachers' statements to attorneys regarding alleged violations of testing protocols.
    "Every teacher complied with the investigation and teachers answered every question honestly," Adkins-Dutro said. "That's very different from saying 'I did something wrong.'"
    Eisenhammer also clarified the report's use of the term during the news conference. But the violations he described were no less damaging.
    Some students who still were learning how to read "cat" and "bad" scored as high as the 90th percentile on the ISAT test, he said. Their scores were not consistent with other assessments given during the year, and their ISAT scores dropped dramatically when they entered fifth grade at Mark Bills Middle School.
    "Staff at Charter Oak should've known something was wrong," he said.
    Page 2 of 2 - Charter Oak parents' Special Action Committee maintain the district's investigation is wrong.
    In a statement released Tuesday, the group acknowledged the findings are concerning but described it as a biased, highly-edited report intended to sway public opinion against Wetterauer and students and teachers at Charter Oak.
    The committee's concerns include use of the district's law firm — Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick, and Kohn LLP — to conduct the preliminary investigation and the small data sample, only 26 students, to make the findings. The group also says it's unfair to compare test scores at Mark Bills to scores at Charter Oak and other high-performing schools in an analysis because Mark Bills does not meet standards, or adequate yearly progress goals, on the ISAT.
    Pam Adams can be reached at 686-3245 or padams@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @padamspam.
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