Audit of EBR school records focuses on graduation, not cheating

State Superintendent of Education John White insists a four-year records audit of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system was not provoked by “test scores or cheating on tests” but instead focuses solely on potential problems with student graduation records, according an email from White shared with The Advocate.

That email stands in contrast to reports from other media outlets last week that White’s office is looking into widespread test cheating by students. But it squares with East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s more limited description of the state’s inquiry, which Taylor said he based on what he was told by White himself during two phone conversations they had Wednesday, the day before the audit was formally announced.

White said all this in an email he sent Sunday to Carolyn Hill, District 8 representative on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and he copied to BESE President Chas Roemer and three state representatives. Hill on Tuesday shared with The Advocate that and two other emails she exchanged with White over the weekend on this issue.

White makes clear in the exchange that the audit was the result of an oral complaint from “anonymous sources” that was not recorded and that identified an “acknowledged discrepancy in graduation records.”

He described it as “common procedure.”

“We are simply looking into the district’s records to verify the discrepancy and to determine whether this is more widespread, as is our responsibility when an instance like this comes to our attention,” White writes.

Hill said this audit has been blown out of proportion. Consequently, Hill has called a news conference for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, at the Claiborne Building, the Baton Rouge headquarters of the state Department of Education, to share these emails and ask reporters to seek answers from White as she did.

Hill said she thinks White should have cleared up this matter earlier, saying the misinformation does a disservice to the parish school system, which has made great strides.

“He should have clarified that this information he has received is not about widespread cheating,” she said.

Hill also questioned why White’s office would launch such an investigation on the basis of an anonymous complaint. She said she feels it is her duty to the people she represents in East Baton Rouge Parish to speak out.

“My job is to make sure that our citizens have facts and the truth,” she said.

White, in an interview Tuesday night, defended his office’s approach, saying he’s been clear to whoever asks about what the audit is about and is not responsible for misinterpretations of what he has said or written.

“I don’t know how to be any more clear about what we’re doing or not doing,” White said. “But I’m certainly not interested in a tit for tat with Carolyn Hill or anyone else. We have ample evidence about an incident, an incident that has been verified to have occurred.”

In a letter sent to Taylor Thursday, White said he authorized the audit after receiving “detailed complaints of discrepancies among student graduation records” and the audit would examine “relevant records” from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2013.

On Wednesday, parish school system spokesman Keith Bromery said the discrepancy, which the school system discovered on its own and informed the state about, involved a student who was allowed to graduate in May, but who it was later determined lacked a necessary course credit.

Bromery said the student, who is now in college, is making up the missing credit belatedly via a dual enrollment course and that school administrators have dealt with the school employees who missed the problem.