Dougherty CRCT tribunals carry on

T. Gamble acted as the hearing officer with Ed Dyson, Charles Strickland and Sam Allen making up the tribunal for Beverly Knighton-Harris. / Colby Gallagher

The second week of full tribunal hearings surrounding the 2009 CRCT scandal began Monday morning with the case of Beverly Knighton-Harris.

T. Gamble acted as the hearing officer with Ed Dyson, Charles Strickland and Sam Allen making up the tribunal.

Knighton-Harris, a first grade teacher at Sylvester Road Elementary School, is accused of using facial expressions and vocal inflection to coach students on wrong or right answers during the test.

Dougherty County School System Attorney Flin Coleman presented the case against Knighton-Harris and says he will rely on a Georgia Bureau of Investigations recording and the testimony of witnesses to present his case.

Howard Stiller, Knighton-Harris's attorney, says his case will show the recording does not take into context the GBI interview. Stiller says Knighton-Harris never admits to these acts and repeatedly uses "might have" and "could have" during the investigation.

Coleman will now begin the presentation of witnesses.

Coleman called GBI Agent Kristina Smalley to the witness stand first to listen to a recording of her interview with Knighton-Harris.

During the recording, Smalley asks Knighton-Harris if there was a lot of pressure to do well on CRCT tests. Knighton-Harris says teachers at the school saw the situation of judging teachers based on performance as unfair because some students don't perform well on tests.

Smalley says 22% of the classrooms were flagged in Sylvester Road during the 2009 CRCT, including two subjects on Knighton-Harris's tests.

Smalley asked if Knighton-Harris was surprised at her class's scores to which Knighton-Harris answered that she was because she thought they were low.

Knighton-Harris said a lot of her students barely passed and she was disappointed.

Smalley asked about specific students, how they performed and whether or not Knighton-Harris aided them on any of the questions.

During the recording, Knighton-Harris said she may have sighed or rolled her eyes when a student was wrong but said it was never intentional to correct their answer.

Knighton-Harris told agents if she were to have students cheat, her class's scores would have been higher than barely passing.

Smalley reports that in Knighton-Harris's group of 19 students, there were 49 erasures from wrong to right between the students on the reading; the student will the largest amount of changes had 10 wrong to right erasures.

Smalley tried to have Knighton-Harris estimate how many answers she could have given with prompts using facial expression to which Knighton-Harris said it was at most 5.

On the math section, GBI agents said out of 19 students there were 79 wrong to right erasures, with the highest single test carrying 13 of them.

Knighton-Harris adamantly denied any deliberate cheating and says she never pointed to any answers. She says the only way the students got any prompts from her was from her unintentionally making a facial expression or vocal inflection during the test.

Knighton-Harris says that number of erasures is very high and she thought she was a better teacher than to give that many answers away but it could have happened.

Smalley says in the same sense, if positive reinforcement like a smile could have been used, students could have picked up on the lack of a smile to alert them that it was wrong.

Knighton-Harris says this is possible but still stressed if it happened, it was unintentional.

After the recording concluded, Coleman admitted the interview as evidence and turned the floor over to Stiller.

Stiller questioned Smalley about whether or not Knighton-Harris knew she was recording to which Smalley answered no.

Stiller asked if Smalley and other agents interviewed the proctor in the room or any of the students; Smalley says she does not think they interviewed the proctor and cannot specify whether any of Knighton-Harris's students because many were interviewed.

The tribunal was able to ask questions and members Allen and expressed concern with why agents did not interview the proctor, who is the only other teacher in the room. Smalley says she interviewed teachers that were in a certain school and at the time, Knighton-Harris no longer worked in the same school.

Following this questioning, Smalley was dismissed and Coleman moved onto his next witness, System Test Coordinator Renee Bridges.

Coleman admitted the test examiner's booklet before questioning Bridges about protocol surrounding the test.

Bridges says it is a violation of the booklet to evaluate a student's answers and teachers should not be reading the student's answers.

Stiller then asked Bridges questions about how the manual tells teachers to read questions in a way that minimizes prompting.

Stiller says it does not say eliminate because it takes into account the fact that we're human and it is nearly impossible to read everything without any inflection.

Following this question, the tribunal further questioned Bridges on specifics surrounding the manual.

Tribunal member Allen asked Bridges if the system can identify the proctor of Knighton-Harris. Bridges says up until this point, they did not keep a record of proctors but since this incident they keep a written record.

Coleman asked Bridges a few follow up questions about the manual before she was dismissed.

Following a brief recess, Stiller began his line of witnesses by calling Knighton-Harris to the stand.

Stiller questioned Knighton-Harris about how she administered the test from where she stood to how she read it.

Knighton-Harris says when you read a test, especially to young kids, you use inflection such as when reading an exclamation or question. She says where she believes it's wrong is when you use it to emphasize an answer but says she did not and would not do that.

Knighton-Harris also stressed that it takes an animated person to teach first grade and without inflection, you lose a student's attention but she did not use inflection when reading answer choices, just the questions.
Coleman began his line of questions by admitting a test examiner's paper signed by Knighton-Harris that agrees not to prompt students.

Coleman asked Knighton-Harris why she didn't explain this during the investigation; Knighton-Harris says she felt ambushed by an investigation she didn't know was being conducted.

Coleman then asked Knighton-Harris how she is denying any wrongdoing today after listening to a recording where she did not once say she didn't use vocal and facial prompts. Knighton-Harris stuck to her feeling that she was ambushed and now that she has had further time to collect her thoughts, she can voice them better.

Knighton-Harris was then dismissed from the chair to allow the next witness to testify.

Stiller then called Jacqueline Stokes, an employee of Sylvester Road Elementary, to the stand.

Stokes testified that Knighton-Harris is a teacher with integrity who she worked alongside for a few years.

Stokes says Knighton-Harris would often pick up the slack for others and put extra effort in to make sure students had what was necessary.

The tribunal asked Stokes if she ever witnessed the teaching style of Knighton-Harris to which Stokes said she was a literacy coach who had to evaluate teachers but Knighton-Harris was always very good.

Stokes was then dismissed to allow Dr. Ufot Inyang, the principal at Merry Acres Middle School, to testify.

Dr. Inyang was principal at Sylvester Road for 2 years while Knighton-Harris taught. Dr. Inyang said Knighton-Harris was a very competent, dedicated teacher.

He was then dismissed to allow time for closing arguments.

Coleman argued that had Knighton-Harris been so positive she did not prompt students, she would have had the same argument from the beginning when GBI agents questioned her.

Stiller says the tribunal should not accept the recommendation that Knighton-Harris receive a non-renewal of her contract. Stiller says no one else was interviewed that could have testified, like the proctor, as to what happened in the room.

Once they were presented, the tribunal dismissed everyone to deliberate and come to a decision.

The tribunal rejected the superintendent's recommendation of non-renewal in favor of a 40 work-day suspension without pay.

Since Knighton-Harris was sent to the Isabella Complex, her time is considered served and she will go back to teaching at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School with the adjusted salary.

Stay connected to as the story develops and the FOX 31 Newscast at 10 PM.

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