The Mobile County Public School System is currently looking into a situation at Morningside Elementary School after a recording surfaced of Principal Marva Carter apparently telling her teachers to teach the answers of her school’s End of Quarter Tests (EQTs) to students.

EQTs are in-house tests used by the system to gauge student progress leading up to high-stakes standardized tests, like the ACT and ACT Aspire. Reading and mathematics EQTs are given in grades K-12, science EQTs are given in grades 4-12 and social studies and history EQTs are given in grades 6-12.

After a change to Common Core Standards yielded poor results in math and language arts on the first two EQTs this year, and the results of the first quarter were eventually thrown out.

Since then, teachers have been required to develop their own EQTs at the school level, which some within the system claim has led to pressure from principals to take steps to improve scores — including teaching the test directly to students.

A teacher at Morningside Elementary School made a recording during morning announcements over the school’s PA system sometime in late March, which captured the following comments from Carter:

“Your children will be tested on the questions that you generate. It will be up to you to teach them the questions that you generate. You need to make sure after you create the questions that you have a copy of the questions so you can teach your children. These questions we make up are for Morningside Elementary School, not for the whole Mobile County Public School System. These that you make up will be on the test that you give. When you generate the math questions for your grade level they will be the questions that you will put on the skill practice sheet and these will be the questions that will be on the fourth quarter math EQT’s.”

The recording in its entirety can be heard below.

Mobile County Public School System Superintendent Martha Peek was sent the recording of Carter by a representative of the Alabama Education Association (AEA) via email more than two weeks ago and told Lagniappe she had listened to it.

“Right now that’s an ongoing investigation,” she said. “We’re checking to see what the intent of that was – if the principal was meaning to test the actual content of the questions.”

In the recording, Carter went on to say there would be “no excuses” during the fourth quarter. She also said K-2 had “apparently gotten the message,” which am MES teacher who spoke to Lagniappe said was a direct reference to improved scores in those grade levels.

Attempts to reach Carter were unsuccessful, but a response from MCPSS said “College and Career Ready Standards assessments focus on the application of learning with minimal need for students to memorize information. This assessment change minimizes the concern of teachers teaching the tests.” It also said that teacher’s maintain a professional and ethical position when teaching and assessing the standards.

Peek said EQTs and their implementation are monitored just like standardized tests.

“We want to make sure the tests we’re giving are a legitimate reflection of what students are learning,” she said. “We don’t have to publish the scores, but we try to be very transparent in the MCPSS. We share our scores and report results.”

Peek said EQT scores have been lower because of the change to more demanding standards, but said the tests are not supposed to be “high-pressure” and no status is attached to a school based on how it performs. An instructor at another school said her principal wasn’t pressuring teachers to get high scores, but did say the extra work is too demanding.

“It’s really tedious and very detailed,” she said. “I’m not a teacher that will complain about doing extra work, but this is a lot of unnecessary stress. It seems like what we’re required to do is a lot more strict than what the central office followed when they generated the test.”

A copy of the “Guidelines and Procedures for Quarter 4 Math EQT Development” sent to teachers was also mailed to Lagniappe. The nine-page document outlines how to design tests, blueprint tests and study guides as well as how to submit EQT questions to the central office for review.

Teachers have been required to submit testing questions for approval and then make any corrections suggested by the central office staff. Some time was allotted by the system to work on test development, but many teachers have told Lagniappe and the AEA that time is inadequate.

AEA representative Jesse McDaniel told the board on March 24 more than 10 teachers had reached out to him with complaints over the extra work being asked of them. Most of Mobile County’s elementary schools have required the tests be created for grade level, but teachers have reported spending several days working on the EQTs after school — sometimes as late 6:30 p.m.

Other teachers said they and other teachers would take turns keeping each other’s classes in order to put the tests together.

“There is no extra compensation,” an elementary teacher said. “I have heard some of the high schools picked a person who was paid a stipend to develop EQTs in a single subject for the whole school, but I’m not sure if that’s true.”

Peek said she didn’t know for sure if high schools were offering stipends for creating tests, but did say she hadn’t heard of a situation like that.

In an emailed response, MCPSS said, “with exception of Math, EQTs are designed and created by the Mobile County supervisors and coordinators, with input from teachers. Most tests and quizzes that are written by schoolteachers can be considered Criterion-Referenced tests.”

According to that response, educators benefit from writing the tests because it increases the understanding of which CCRS standards should be taught and what students should learn from each one.

“The central office staff who were making these tests have a lot of training in this area,” a teacher said. “They’re also not teaching, grading papers and planning lessons. The time we spend on EQTs takes away from those things.”

Despite the complaints, Peek said a number of teachers have had a positive reaction to developing their own EQTs, saying its helping them better understand each of the new standards.

Peek said the way the tests are approached at each school also makes a difference.

“If we hear from all our schools and they want district-developed tests, we’ll go back to the way we’ve done it in the past,” Peek said.

“There’s been discontent before over tests coming from district level. We’ll find a happy medium and work on it to make sure our students are getting the benefit of the instructional process.”