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Testing irregularities alleged at alternative high school

Testing irregularities alleged at alternative high school

By Darcy Spears. CREATED Mar 8, 2012

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- This is the week that high school students across the valley are taking the Nevada Proficiency Test.

It's part of the No-Child Left Behind Act and the results are used to hold schools accountable.

But as Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears reports, some district employees say one school's results may not be reliable.

Meet principal Anita Wilbur. She presides over the school district's alternative education high school called AIS, or Academy for Individualized Studies.

We can only show you Anita Wilbur's picture because she won't answer our phone calls, won't respond to emails and won't return our multiple voice-mail messages.

"She's doing a good job," says school district spokesperson Amanda Fulkerson.  "She graduated 360 students last year who may well have had no other place to go.  The school even made AYP two years ago with this population of students."

AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress, is partially measured by Nevada's High School Proficiency exams.

Schools are held accountable for the achievement of all students.

Schools that don't meet AYP for two years in a row are downgraded and subject to immediate intervention by the state.

Some employees say Anita Wilbur had a "meet AYP at all costs" mentality.

Darcy Spears: "What kind of consideration does that show for the testing process?"
Elena Rodriguez: "None."

Elena Rodriguez was an administrator at AIS in the 2010/2011 school year.

She and several other employees told district officials that Principal Wilbur prioritized statistics over actual student success.

As part of the AYP formula, all schools must have at least 95% participation on each state mandated test.

The Nevada Department of Education requires students to take the tests in a public facility. But Elena says when AIS students were too sick to test, Wilbur would ask employees take the scan-tron answer sheets to the students' homes.

"Some of them were so sick they were throwing up and we actually went to the house, knocked and while they were throwing up, we were asking the parents, just have the kid fill this out, bubble whatever, and just give it back to us." 

Darcy: "What does that say about the quality of -- the priority of -- the education?"
Elena: "There was no actual testing, they just did this in order to make sure that they could say they had so many kids test."

A former AIS counselor transferred to another school due to what she called Anita Wilbur's abuse of power and employees.

In her complaint to the district, she writes about a student on her caseload who'd been released from the hospital a few days prior to testing, and "was in no condition to test." 

She told district officials Principal Wilbur asked her to "go to the student's house and have her at least write one sentence so she can be counted for attendance."  The counselor refused.

Since Wilbur has refused to answer our calls and emails, we went to the district for answers.

Spokesperson Amanda Fulkerson says AIS' independent study model means students do most of their work at home and home visits by staff are common.

That's fine for class work, but state regulations strictly prohibit it for proficiency testing. Fulkerson didn't address that, but she did say that after looking into employee complaints, "the District received no confirmation of testing irregularities." 

Employees we spoke to say the district failed to properly investigate.

Darcy: "You don't think the District wants to hear about dirty laundry."
Elena: "I do not believe they want to because my experience has shown me that they do not want to deal with it."

Here's something else that suggests the district didn't do a thorough investigation. It involves the May 4, 2011 testing when employees say Principal Wilbur refused to evacuate the school during a gas leak.

"She did not want to stop the testing in order to put the kids at a safe distance or the employees at a safe distance because she specifically told me she had to meet AYP," Elena recalls.  "So we left the kids in the classroom.  We left the employees in the classroom."

Luckily, the leak turned out to be nothing serious. In a written statement, the district says they "never received any confirmation of this incident." Contact 13 was able to confirm it with one phone call to the Fire Department.

"As a taxpayer and as a parent of a student who is actually attending Clark County School District, I can tell you that I do not trust them.  Because I have first-hand seen the abuse.  And at the same time, I see that there is no accountability because nothing's happening," Elena says.

Although all the employees we've spoken to still work for the school district, Fulkerson is calling them disgruntled now that Contact 13 has shined a spotlight on their concerns about abuse of power. 

She say it's unfortunate that they seem to be looking for anything to paint a picture of negativity around the hard-working staff at AIS. 

AIS Principal Anita Wilbur may look familiar because Contact 13 first reported on her last week.

We exposed how she used dozens of surveillance cameras -- including one hidden in a plant in her office -- to record video and audio at the old Bishop Gorman campus where AIS was during the last school year.

Employees called the cameras a privacy violation because many recorded confidential conversations between guidance counselors and students.

Darcy Spears

Darcy Spears

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Darcy Spears is currently the Chief Investigative Reporter for Action News.