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Lakeside High teacher's dismissal upheld

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The Columbia County school board voted Tuesday night to uphold the termination of a Lakeside High School teacher accused of helping special needs students cheat on tests.

Lakeside High School special education teacher Margaret Mudrak sits with her attorneys, Freddie Sanders and Zeva Bruckner, at her termination hearing at the Columbia County school board.   Jim Blaylock/Staff
Jim Blaylock/Staff
Lakeside High School special education teacher Margaret Mudrak sits with her attorneys, Freddie Sanders and Zeva Bruckner, at her termination hearing at the Columbia County school board.

Margaret Mudrak "inappropriately" helped as many as four special needs students with a math test, as evidenced by their similar answers on the quiz, said Columbia County school board attorney Pete Fletcher.

Mudrak also failed to follow mandated plans for special needs students, called the Individual Education Plan; made inappropriate amendments to those plans; and provided too much assistance to a student who had failed another test, Fletcher said.

The board voted 4-0, with board member Roxanne Whitaker absent, after daylong testimony and an hour and a half of deliberations.

Mudrak's attorney, Freddie Sanders, said the decision would be appealed to the state Board of Education.

In testimony earlier Tuesday, one of Mudrak's students, identified on the stand only as "A.H.," said Mudrak guided him toward answers during testing.

Mudrak went so far as to work through the problem for him and then tell him, "write this on the answer sheet," said the 16-year-old rising junior.

School officials presented scores for that test from Mudrak's special ed students, showing they had a 92 average. Two other regular ed classes taking the same test averaged 84 and 73, they noted.

In rebuttal, Mudrak's attorneys called to the witness stand another student, identified as "A.R.," who said he neither received any help from Mudrak nor saw any other students receive help.

A.R. said he scored 100 on the test.

In earlier testimony, Lakeside High Assistant Principal Melanie Sprouse said Mudrak helped students during the tests by giving "specific points to students that led to answers." Sprouse said one student told her that Mudrak directed her to erase an incorrect answer.

After Mudrak pushed for a special needs student to retake a math exam, Sprouse agreed to administer the test in April. On test day, Sprouse testified, the student arrived with sheets containing information he could not keep during the exam. The handwriting on the sheets looked like Mudrak's, Sprouse said.

Sanders said the similarities in students' answers were the natural result of Mudrak's teaching methods. As far as helping the student receive a retest, Sanders said, it was indicative of the 30-year teacher's desire to "help her students to a fault."

On cross examination, Sanders got Sprouse to admit that she witnessed no wrongdoing by Mudrak.

School officials recently recommended firing Mudrak, but as a tenured teacher she was entitled to a hearing on the charges against her. The school board members serve as judges in such cases.

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bone1
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bone1 06/09/10 - 01:41 pm
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KaTM: i can't help but get

KaTM: i can't help but get the feeling that this alleged set up has more to it than the math teacher's allegations of cheating. terminating a teacher is never easy and i find it difficult to swallow that there isn't more lead up than this. any ideas? as far as the school board goes, i'll just say that any group with mike sleeper's membership is bound to have some serious issues.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 06/09/10 - 01:53 pm
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Since, I'm trying to be as

Since, I'm trying to be as objective as I can, I have found Mike Sleeper to be nothing but responsive and hard working. I got to know him online in the forum and if I had a question an e-mail day, night or weekends would be answered in about 5 minutes.

I pointed out above that I believe the BOE can have shortcomings. I've, also, debated BOE dealings more than once and didn't support Nagle for Superintendent, but I believe Nagle and the BOE are generally competent, honest and hard working people.

The BOE's decision about the termination may be questioned by many as I questioned Jonathan Pike's demotion, but I feel they are generally good BOE members and individuals.

KaTM
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KaTM 06/09/10 - 02:06 pm
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Bone1: I'm just as baffled as

Bone1: I'm just as baffled as you are. My mom had perfect evaluations for her entire career and even received a perfect evaluation after these allegations were made official. We have our speculations and our lawyer tried to bring up the motive in this case but was hastily shut down by the mediator. I can't say what we believe the reason behind this is because it's just speculation and we don't have any evidence to support it. Therefore, it is best to just keep our mouths shut.

Riverman1: I'm not going to comment about Mike Sleeper or the other board members right now (if ever) because I'm filled with raw emotion right now and since I've never done any research on their previous decisions, I cannot give an intelligent and unbiased opinion. Anyone who has been bashing Mike Sleeper has been doing so on their own accord without any guidance from me or my family. I know that I will be doing more research into this board and I highly doubt that I will vote from them to remain in their seats come election time but I'm just one vote.

I don't feel, as do any of our supporters, that my mom deserved termination and I will continue to back her 110%. She didn't do anything wrong. period. I wish you were at the trial to hear for yourself.

scoobynews
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scoobynews 06/09/10 - 02:11 pm
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Riverman - I agree that our

Riverman - I agree that our board is a hard working group of people but I have also worked in other places were if you get on a principals bad side you either get ran off or fired. I was not there so I did not hear the whole story but I do know people who have been demoted for far worse than this. I guess the thing that really upsets people is that with her being fired and not given the chance to retire she has lost not only her job but her diginity. As I stated before, a principal stole from the school she worked at and was at least offered the opportunity to retire. To me that is a far worse offense.

schoolparent
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schoolparent 06/09/10 - 02:24 pm
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Riverman,a few days ago

Riverman,a few days ago didn't you allude to a DUI incident involving a BOE employee that was also the wife of an CCBOE administrator,can you share some info about that.

schoolparent
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schoolparent 06/09/10 - 03:19 pm
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scoobynews,when did the

scoobynews,when did the incident with the missing funds and former principal occur?

scoobynews
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scoobynews 06/09/10 - 03:26 pm
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http://chronicle.augusta.com/

http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/latest/lat_406836.shtml

A parent told me that it was not just about personal issues and that funds had been misappropriated.

mable8
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mable8 06/09/10 - 03:34 pm
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There are a couple of things

There are a couple of things wrong here: The "star" witness, Sprouse, lied under oath; that's perjury no matter where the hearing is held. As the assistant principal, who's to say the lying wasn't a vindictive act on that person's part? Perhaps it was because Sprouse's pet special ed teacher had the lowest points for passing these students? Jealousy? The other thing that is wrong is the allegations of "inappropriate" teaching methods. Are these suggestions for building lesson plans to be strictly adhered to? Is there some leeway for the teacher to show individuality in how teaching is practiced? Perhaps one size fits all is the rule rather than the exception. Although the public does not have all the testimony from that hearing available, there is just enough to think that perhaps the teacher in question has been given the shaft because of her tenure status. I may question the profession of teaching at times, but a person, regardless of status, is entitled to a fair and just hearing. In this case, I think Ms Mudrak's rights were violated. Hopefully, the State Board of Education may reverse the firing and enable Ms Mudrak to find a new position or retire with dignity.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 06/09/10 - 04:21 pm
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Here is what reporter Donnie

Here is what reporter Donnie Fetter tells us about Sprouse's testimony:

  • Sprouse said Mudrak helped students during the tests by giving "specific points to students that led to answers."
  • Sprouse said one student told her that Mudrak directed her to erase an incorrect answer.
  • After Mudrak pushed for a special needs student to retake a math exam, Sprouse agreed to administer the test in April. On test day, Sprouse testified, the student arrived with sheets containing information he could not keep during the exam. The handwriting on the sheets looked like Mudrak's, Sprouse said.
  • Sanders got Sprouse to admit that she witnessed no wrongdoing by Mudrak.

Which one of those testimonies was a lie, Mable?

schoolparent
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schoolparent 06/09/10 - 04:27 pm
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scoobynews thanks for the

scoobynews thanks for the reply.It is a shame that the AC doesn't have a real investigative reporter to look into all of the events that take place within the CCBOE.

Molleigh
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Molleigh 06/09/10 - 05:23 pm
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My daughter just completed

My daughter just completed the 6th grade in a Columbia County school She also attended another school this year in another part of the state. She was allowed/encouraged by teachers in BOTH schools to retest/retake/change answers/rethink her answers on teacher-made tests. Teachers have always had the ability to have this discretion and autonomy. Should I turn these teachers in?

As a former teacher (special ed) I was taught and encouraged to use evaluation as a part of the TEACHING process. Evaluation should not be a punitive exercise for students to see what they get wrong (failure is NOT the goal) but a process by which we find out what they have learned and remediate for mastery. Shame on all of the people who couldn't figure this out.

Maybe as parents we should email the names of all teachers who "helped" our students during the past year by actually letting them learn from mistakes and succeed in learning.

Riverman1
86791
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Riverman1 06/09/10 - 05:33 pm
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Schoolparent asked:

Schoolparent asked: "Riverman,a few days ago didn't you allude to a DUI incident involving a BOE employee that was also the wife of an CCBOE administrator,can you share some info about that."

That was a long time ago, before Tommy Price's time. I can't remember if they were married at the time and her exact position when she got the DUI on Evans to Lock Rd. Let's just say he had one of the highest positions in school administratioin.

I don't want to throw out names unless I'm certain of all the circumstances at the time. It was a messy matter involving divorces. The BOE did get rid of him and she wasn't on the BOE by that time if memory serves me. I do know they turned up with good jobs in another school system in Georgia and happily married.

That makes you wonder why they couldn't have given Ms. Mudrack something more lenient. Even Linda Schrenko who is in federal prison will be drawing a HUGE retirement from the school system. Did you know that?

Riverman1
86791
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Riverman1 06/09/10 - 05:40 pm
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Schoolparent, I sent you mail

Schoolparent, I sent you mail to fill in the blanks.

aj
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aj 06/09/10 - 06:58 pm
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My son goes to Lakeside and

My son goes to Lakeside and is in an IEP and was not treated any differently than a normal student. I want to let everyone know that the state has reorganized the math and it's horrible. I blame the state for
this. Because of the math my son was held back. I talked with several of the math teachers and none of them approve of what the state has done. I give the state an F- for the math. I don't totally agree on what Mrs. Mudrak did but she seemed to care about those students. My son didn't have her.

angeleyes
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angeleyes 06/09/10 - 09:04 pm
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if a teacher gave me the

if a teacher gave me the answers i would never tell that. some people are so stupid. a bunch of tattletales

disssman
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disssman 06/09/10 - 09:25 pm
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Simple problem. To fix it

Simple problem. To fix it make a rule that NO teacher is allowed to administer a test to his/her class they teach. Teacher a tests class b, teacher b tests class a and teacher c test class d etc. That way no one is familiar with the test questions or for thsat matter the subject matter. I still haven't figured out how teachers gets raises, but if it is performance based on student grades, lord help us.

disssman
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disssman 06/09/10 - 09:29 pm
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It really sounds like the

It really sounds like the education system is like the judicial system. Teachers don't really teach, just like Judges really don't judge. Rather both professions are told how to operate by higher ups.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 06/09/10 - 11:16 pm
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I am troubled by Molleigh's

I am troubled by Molleigh's comment/question above:

My daughter . . . was allowed/encouraged by teachers in BOTH schools to retest/retake/change answers/rethink her answers on teacher-made tests. Teachers have always had the ability to have this discretion and autonomy. Should I turn these teachers in?

The only answer is to separate instruction from testing. Tests should be administered by impartial, uncaring individuals who have no stake in the outcomes of the test or the lives of the students. There are plenty of unemployed people who could benefit financially from becoming proctors of high-stakes tests.

KaTM
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KaTM 06/09/10 - 11:33 pm
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Little Lamb: That part of the

Little Lamb: That part of the article you quoted refers to three separate situations within this mess of an investigation. In Ms. Sprouse's testimony, she constantly tried to use hearsay and our lawyer shut her down immediately. The part about the student and erasing the answer was hearsay. That student was not there to testify therefore it was not admissible. If this was a real court case, it would have been stricken from the record. The part about "Ms. Mudrak said she asked questions to lead them to answers" is a COMPLETE LIE. Ms. Mudrak was in a meeting with Carney and Sprouse without her lawyers present and she never said that, Sprouse wrote that "quote" down and Ms. Mudrak vehemently said "You are putting words in my mouth." This is in the court transcript as it was part of Ms. Mudrak's testimony. Our attorney got Sprouse to admit that she witnessed no wrongdoing from Ms. Mudrak. That too is in the transcript. Sprouse's entire testimony was a lie because she was not present for any of the events that led to the accusations. She should never have been a witness. Good thing Freddie destroyed her on the stand.

KaTM
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KaTM 06/09/10 - 11:36 pm
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Also Molleigh, I appreciate

Also Molleigh, I appreciate what you are trying to do thinking it may help letting the school board know that other teachers teach in the same fashion as Ms. Mudrak but I'm afraid that would just cause more problems to other good teachers out there. This case had nothing to do with teaching credentials or cheating accusations. It had to do with a principle, an assistant principle, and a teacher with a personal problem against another teacher.

secretagentman
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secretagentman 06/09/10 - 11:50 pm
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I am a teacher in the

I am a teacher in the county-- I had a co-teacher in one of my classes to assist the students with IEPs -- This story makes me nervous... I cant see what proof they used to actually terminate the teacher.... a slap on the wrist maybe, but I must say, it does seem this was a personal issue between certain people... sometimes I do not trust my administrators, or our county leaders to support or trust the teachers... I really dont get the "he had written notes , in teacher's handwriting...." did he use them? Did Mrs Mudrak tell him to use them? I highly doubt that... I cant believe this big stink over this when the LHS coach's cheating did NOT result in his firing... that kind of amazes me still.... I remember thinking that if I , as a teacher, EVER specifically created a situation for my students to CHEAT, Id be fired in a skinny minute.... and the proof here seems mighty skimpy that there was any intention to cheat on the part of the teacher..... and nearly always, dont trust kid's testimony-- they rarely get it right if they feel they could be in trouble... they cannot help but slant the story to best benefit themselves... it is just human nature.

catfish20
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catfish20 06/10/10 - 05:58 am
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Special needs students have

Special needs students have attended AR Johnson. However, they have to meet the same academic requirements as everyone else.

scoobynews
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scoobynews 06/10/10 - 07:41 am
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Disssman - Teacher's are on

Disssman - Teacher's are on salary.
http://public.doe.k12.ga.us/DMGetDocument.aspx/FY%202010%20Official%20St...
Here is the payscale. There are several ways to increase salary but there are catching to all of them.
1. Get your Bachelor degree and go down the steps of experience.
2. Get additional degrees (masters, specialist, etc). These of course cost money and for the most part bite into your increase as you pay back student loans.
3. The last state raise we got was a few years ago. The raises in the past have been no more than 2%. I don't know about you but that does not cover the cost of living increases.

To everyone else: I don't know what all this fuss is about when it comes to testing. Our pay is not based on how many of our students pass or fail. I have given easy quizzes before were kids still made a zero - YES a ZERO! Why? Because they didn't care. It is like the old saying you can take a horse to water but you can't make him drink. This so called cheating incident had nothing to do with this teacher's pay or her role at the school. So what was the motive? I have failed to read on yet. Which means simply she had none and all of this is a crook of crap. This was not a standarized test from my understanding so what on earth was the big deal. Had it been a standarized test then the state BOE would have been involved for "testing irregularities". My understanding it was a simple made up teacher test. Probably a Unit test or some type of benchmark. Nothing worth destroying a teacher's whole life over.

KaTM
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KaTM 06/10/10 - 08:33 am
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Scoobynews: you are correct.

Scoobynews: you are correct. It was a teacher made test, not standardized. And we do know what the motive is and our lawyer tried to bring that up during the trial but he was told not to bring it up, though I think for those of us there, it was made obvious. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to talk about it in a public forum though.

Secretagentman: You should be afraid and you should not trust your administrators. I urge to to protect yourself from now on. When giving a test, please ask to have a video/voice monitor in the classroom or at least another teacher/parent/volunteer so you have a witness should anything come up!! Please, PROTECT YOURSELF! no one else will look out for you. My mom learned the hard way to CYA. And your friends will be unwilling to come to your side and testify. My mom did have some teachers come to her side but those teachers may face retribution from the administrators next year. Please, do something to protect yourself.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 06/10/10 - 09:11 am
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KaTM does make some good

KaTM does make some good points above. Ace reporter Donnie Fetter spends a good portion of his copy on Melanie Sprouse's testimony, and more than I think appropriate on attorney Pete Fletcher's opening statement, which is not testimony at all. We heard that the hearing lasted almost a whole day! I'm sure there was a lot said that never got reported. You never know what testimony is the most effective in the minds of the trustees.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 06/10/10 - 09:15 am
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As to the part about

As to the part about "hearsay" evidence. Of course, hearsay evidence is not allowed in a criminal trial; but this hearing was not a trial. Hearsay evidence is permissible in such a setting.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 06/10/10 - 09:25 am
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aj wrote: I want to let

aj wrote:

I want to let everyone know that the state has reorganized the math and it's horrible. I blame the state for this.

The state can set up standards in curriculum, the state can choose the textbooks, the state can choose the standardized test questions. But the state cannot really reorganize math. Mathematics is the language of science and finance, and it is bigger than the state. Parents and students must look beyond the teacher and the textbook if there are problems understanding mathematics principles. If you don't like the way your teacher solves a math problem, there are four or five other ways to solve it, and they will arrive at the single correct solution. Spend a little time outside the box and your mind will grow.

KaTM
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KaTM 06/10/10 - 09:28 am
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Little Lamb: Thanks for the

Little Lamb: Thanks for the comment. You are correct that most of the testimony was omitted from this article. The hearing lasted 13 1/2 hours with 45 minutes for lunch, 30 minutes for a separate meeting, and a few 5-10 minute breaks here and there. That puts the trial at roughly 11 hours of actual testimony. This article did not report on most of it though I commend Donnie Fetter for at least trying to make it as impartial as possible. He was there the whole time and saw all of Ms. Mudrak's supporters. I hope that made an impact in his mind. As for the comment about hearsay, you are correct that this was not a criminal trial but hearsay is never allowed in any court setting. This was considered an "administrative court hearing" and was supposed to abide by common court room rules. This was not always the case. On numerous occasions, our lawyer Freddie Sanders motioned for witnesses to stop using hearsay in their testimony and those motions were sustained. However, the damage was already done.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 06/10/10 - 09:39 am
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Donnie Fetter wrote: One of

Donnie Fetter wrote:

One of Mudrak's students, identified on the stand only as "A.H.," said Mudrak guided him toward answers during testing. Mudrak went so far as to work through the problem for him and then tell him, "write this on the answer sheet," said the 16-year-old rising junior.

Perhaps this testimony carried more weight in the trustees' minds than Ms. Sprouse's testimony.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 06/10/10 - 09:45 am
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I may be off base here, but

I may be off base here, but when I read this:

School officials presented scores for that test from Mudrak's special ed students, showing they had a 92 average. Two other regular ed classes taking the same test averaged 84 and 73, they noted.

I couldn't help but imagine that it would be a special ed teacher's dream to see his/her students beat the regular ed students on a test. That is why I say that school systems need to separate instruction from testing. Nevah, nevah, evah let the teacher of the students be involved in the testing. In fact, I think they should bring in people to administer tests who don't have a clue what the test is about.

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