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UPDATED: HISD Gets Ready to Fire 3 Teachers, Teachers' Attorney Says Not So Fast

After a five-month investigation into testing irregularities at Atherton Elementary School, three of the teachers involved are going to be recommended for termination at Thursday's school board meeting, Houston ISD announced in a press release Wednesday.

But Larry Watts, attorney for teachers Reuel Sosa, Jennifer Sterling and Veronica Davis, says he has filed a motion for a temporary restraining order in the 61st State District Court trying to block the terminations, saying that the plaintiffs have never been provided or given access to the complete report and were only informed Wednesday of what Superintendent Terry Grier intended to do.

"We're trying to meet the publicity attack that Dr. Grier has done on these teachers," Watts said Wednesday afternoon.

"These teachers are great teachers; they're very young teachers," Watts said. "These teachers were described by Dr. [Albert ] Lemons in his conversation with me as being the best teachers at Atherton. And he said in fact that they don't cheat, they teach." He called the allegations in the report "implausible on their face."

Another teacher represented by Watts, Sherri Jackson, has been cleared by the school district but is being reassigned, her attorney said.

The TRO motion filed by Watts says that "Davis, Sosa and Sterling were offered the option to resign and in return, HISD would not release their names to the press. (HISD has previously released their names to the press.)"

Sheleah Reed, press secretary for HISD got back to us this morning and took issue with the allegation made in the lawsuit filed by Watts about the release of names. She said that none of their records show that HISD ever released the names.

A look at the conclusions from the independent investigatory report into the state-mandated testing at the school shows that seven employees were investigated but findings that the test taking was compromised only occurred in three cases.

In two of the cases marked "unsubstantiated" investigators found the teachers weren't working on test days. (What, they didn't take attendance before they began their investigation?).

In another unsubstantiated case, investigators said it couldn't be verified that the teacher had anything to do with the tests, while in another case, the number of erasure marks on the students' tests was not noted as being highly out of the ordinary.

But in the cases where investigators said the teachers were at fault they pointed to things including: an above-average rate of wrong to right answer changes, a high number of erasure marks, a decline in the students' passage rate on the HISD Formative Assessments given soon after the STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness) tests.

"It is reasonable to conclude the 2013 Grade 5 STAAR Math and Reading tests and re-tests at Atherton Elementary were compromised," the report said.

According to the summation report evidence included "statements by 12 students that they received or observed similar types of improper assistance in their respective tests rooms" during the Grade 5 STAAR Math and Reading tests and re-tests.

"There were significantly higher passage rates on the Grade 5 STAAR tests by students who had performed at the unsatisfactory level in Grade 4 than the District average," according to the summary.

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Grier was quoted as saying in the press release, "Testing helps the district measure the degree to which students are learning. It is, therefore, imperative that we have access to reliable and unbiased test results," he said. "We take these findings very seriously and will present the information to authorities for their review and consideration. State law requires the district to report test security violations to the Texas Education Agency."

Part of the evidence Watts submitted to the court includes polygraph tests given to Davis, Sterling and Sosa. Each were asked:

Did you "coach any of your students taking the STAARS test in 2013? Did you do anything to compromise the normal outcome of any STAARS test in 2013? Have you ever done anything as an HISD employee to compromise the outcome of a state-mandated academic achievement test?

All answered "no" to each question and John S. Swartz, a licenced polygraph examiner and former federal examiner for the U.S. Department of Justice evaluated each one as "no deception indicated."

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