Huntsville teacher suspended for violating testing policy

Eleanor Burks was handed a 15-day suspension without pay Thursday. (Source: WAFF)
Eleanor Burks was handed a 15-day suspension without pay Thursday. (Source: WAFF)
The board took 15 minutes to reach their decision. (Source: WAFF)
The board took 15 minutes to reach their decision. (Source: WAFF)

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - A Huntsville City Schools teacher will be suspended for 15 days without pay, after allegedly assisting a student change answers on a standardized test. This goes back to an incident during the spring semester, when students took their ACT testing.

Eleanor Burks is a 4th-grade teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary. She has been with the school for 27 years.

School board leaders allege Burks assisted a student in changing test responses on the May 5 examination. Evidence came from the student himself, who said in a statement read aloud Thursday that Burks told him to erase an incorrect answer and to re-read the question, "because I may want to change it."

This is in direct violation of the testing manual, which dictates that teachers may not aid a student with a response or provide answers or formulas.

Burks' testimony differed from the student's account.

"I asked him, 'Did you read your directions?' And he stated no, and he asked 'if I need to erase,' and I said 'you might ought to,'" she told the board.

The school board attorney said the very fact she knew what the student wrote and believed it wasn't responsive to the question is a violation.

Burks' attorney, Stan McDonald, argued about the board using witnesses for evidence instead of documentation. He said he plans on appealing the case.

"Their own rules were read to them, and they had a disregard for them - period, exclamation mark - and there will be a review of this if I have anything to do with it," McDonald said.

15 students were taking the test in the classroom at the time. These allegations mean that all 15 tests will be rendered invalid, with no scores given. Ultimately this will cost the district.

"Having standardized test procedures are ultimate, because you want to get the same results from everyone," said Dr. Kathy McNeil, Director of Testing and Assessment. "If you have one group doing one thing and another doing something else, we're not going to have the same test results."

The board deliberated for 15 minutes before ruling against Burks. They said Burks has been written up at least nine times before.

The suspension does not take effect immediately; a board member said Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardynski will decide at a later date whether Burks will start the year with her students or impose her suspension throughout the school year.

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