published Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Hamilton County teacher cleared in testing probe

A Hamilton County teacher investigated in a possible state exam cheating case has been cleared by state and local officials.

Tosha Shotwell-Bonds was under investigation after she called a teacher acquaintance in Memphis to get advice while preparing her daughter for a state writing test. Shotwell-Bonds said she wasn't looking for answers but was just trying to ensure that her daughter did well on the exam.

Investigators with the Tennessee Department of Education could not prove any wrongdoing and have cleared Shotwell-Bonds and the Memphis teacher, officials said. The state could have pursued revoking the licenses of the teachers if evidence of cheating had been uncovered.

Since widespread cheating cases were reported in school systems like Atlanta Public Schools, many states have tightened testing security and enacted cheating safeguards. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, state exams were given heightened importance, as test results were used to hold schools accountable. Several states, including Tennessee, have made recent moves to incorporate test data into teacher evaluations.

The Tennessee Department of Education investigated 22 testing breaches between 2008 and 2011, records show. Several teachers resigned or were suspended in the wake of those investigations.

Shotwell-Bonds told the Chattanooga Times Free Press she called the Memphis teacher the night before the Feb. 1 exam to give her daughter ideas on how to do well on the state writing test, which asks students to write on a particular topic through a writing prompt.

She maintained her innocence and said she never asked for a specific writing prompt and didn't think her daughter received the prompt from the other teacher. Investigators looked into whether the girl had received any information and whether either of the teachers had breached testing protocol.

The Hamilton County Department of Education took a similar stance as state investigators and took no disciplinary action against Shotwell-Bonds.

"Because the state did not turn up any evidence that warranted action against licenses, we felt we had to follow their lead," said Stacy Stewart, assistant superintendent for human resources at Hamilton County Schools.

But Shotwell-Bonds, who said she's on medical leave this year, will be reassigned. She was a literacy coach splitting her time between two schools.

"We felt that, by her own admission, her need to call someone else for the writing assessment, warranted reassignment," Stewart said.

Shotwell-Bonds has tenure protections and was offered a classroom teaching position, which she declined. She's currently on the district's unassigned list and will be given another position by human resources for the 2012-13 school year, Stewart said. The teacher said she's happy to be cleared and is accepting of her transfer.

"Everything worked out," Shotwell-Bonds said.

Her daughter attends Lakeside Academy of Math, Science, and Technology, though she was not working at that school. In February, Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said Lakeside leaders had followed proper procedures in reporting the testing irregularity.

"Lakeside Academy did exactly what Lakeside Academy and all other schools are supposed to do," he said.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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