Pinellas launches FCAT cheating probe

30 students had matching math scores

The FCAT scores for 30 fourth graders at Bay Point Elementary School are being questioned for possible cheating, as the Florida Department of Education found that the tests were so similar they defied overwhelming odds.

A letter from the DOE to the Pinellas County school district said the odds of those kids having the same answers on the math FCAT were one in a trillion or higher.

"All of them got the same answer?  Wow," said Ellender Jackson, a parent who lives near Bay Point Elementary.  "That needs to be investigated."

State officials have ordered the district to conduct an investigation which could take several weeks.

Pinellas School superintendent Michael Grego sent a letter to parents with children at the school trying to reassure them that there's nothing wrong.

"It is important for you to know that there is no evidence of mismanagement on the part of our students, teachers, or administrators," the letter said.

The Department of Education has made the unprecedented move of withholding Bay Point Elementary's grade until the issue is resolved.  For now, the school is listed with an "I" rating.  Last year, Bay Point received a "C."

Many parents said they were surprised to hear about possible cheating, but they quickly noted that kids are under extreme pressure when taking the FCAT, especially the math exam.

"Some of the children I've seen in elementary school, they get headaches," Jackson said.  "They get nervous just before the test.  They know how important it is to pass."

Teachers and administrators also feel pressure, but it's unclear whether those issues led to a cheating conspiracy.  

"Somebody must have given them the answers," speculated Luella Miffin of St. Petersburg.

Even if that's the case, the answers that matched on the students' tests were mostly wrong.

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