Marcus Newsome

Petersburg schools Superintendent Marcus Newsome spoke about the school district’s new teaching strategies at Petersburg High School on Wednesday.

Employees of A.P. Hill Elementary School in Petersburg broke the rules on state accountability tests for the second time in eight years, an internal investigation has found.

The division announced Wednesday that several employees have been fired 37 days after the Virginia Department of Education reached out over reports of testing irregularities.

“I am very disheartened by these actions. It’s very unfortunate,” School Board member Atiba Muse said.

The findings throw into jeopardy the school’s hard-won status as one of only two Petersburg City Public Schools that meet the state’s full standards of accreditation, at a time when Superintendent Marcus J. Newsome is fighting to rally morale among division staff and students.

Spokeswoman Leigh Ann McKelway would not say exactly what happened, how many employees were fired or why the information could not be released.

The issues involved allegations that students received inappropriate assistance while taking state tests, said state Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle.

“The investigation is in its closing stages,” Pyle said. “We’ve been supporting the division on the ground in the process.”

Muse deferred questions about details of the investigation and specific board actions to School Board Chairman Ken Pritchett, who did not respond to multiple interview requests.

Messages left for A.P. Hill Principal Kori Reddick and Assistant Principal Stacie Parham were not returned. McKelway said they were still employed by the school system.

Divisions typically investigate themselves when concerns are raised and then report their findings to the state. In this instance, state workers helped conduct interviews on the ground, Pyle said.

“It’s still a division-led investigation,” he said.

In 2009, the state conducted its own probe of the school, because complaints in that case included an allegation that the division’s central office had failed to act on concerns about testing improprieties.

Investigators concluded that up to a dozen students in that instance had been improperly excluded from on-time or make-up testing.

They did not find evidence to support that Petersburg central office staff had been involved in excluding students from taking tests.

Virginia Standards of Learning tests are given in reading and math for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. Fifth-graders also take SOL tests in history and science.

This year’s incident likely will mean the state will withhold the school’s accreditation.

A.P. Hill Elementary students will not be asked to retake the tests. Students also will not likely receive score reports for several spring tests because the “integrity of the test results cannot be determined,” according to a news release from the school division.

“We must ensure the integrity of the testing environment, and violators of state procedures will face consequences. The vast majority of our teachers, staff members and administrators are doing the right thing to improve instruction and academic achievement throughout the school system,” Newsome stated in a news release.

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