APS police disciplined over test answers; GBI admits rules were vague

6:00 p.m Friday, Dec. 15, 2017 Education
Hyosub Shin/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Ronald Applin is sworn in as APS Police chief in 2016. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

The Atlanta Public Schools Police Department disciplined 17 officers after a probe into possible cheating on a state-administered test, and now the vague test rules are being rewritten.

The district, in a statement released Friday by spokesman Ian Smith, said the review is coming to a close and the school resource officers were disciplined “in a fair and appropriate manner.”

Seventeen officers admitted to receiving answers, including some from a dispatcher, on an open-book, multiple-choice exam administered by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

APS referenced a recent letter from GBI that acknowledges the vagueness of test-taking rules. The incident has prompted the GBI to begin rewriting and clarifying its expectations for those who take the test.

“The language will make crystal clear that although collaboration during the training modules is acceptable, sharing answers on the test is NOT permitted. That has always been the requirement,” said GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles, in a written statement Friday.

In October, APS police Chief Ronald Applin asked an outside law enforcement agency to look into officers who took a GBI-managed Criminal Justice Information System test. The exam is required to access a database of millions of confidential, criminal and driver’s license records.

APS officers and other test-takers had to certify that the completion of the course work is their “sole product” and “any discussion of these courses with others is not permitted.”

GBI officials met with school district leaders Dec. 4 to review the matter. D. Scott Dutton, GBI deputy director for investigations, wrote in a letter this week to Applin, “it was learned that collaboration is acceptable and promoted within the study modules” by trainers.

He wrote that students are allowed to confer with each other and coordinators while going through the study guides and manuals.

“Additionally, the training materials and tests are considered ‘open book’ potentially leaving vagueness which leads to open interpretation,” Dutton wrote.

The test rules will be rewritten “to clarify expectations and clearly state when collaboration is acceptable and when it is not,” he wrote.

APS released a sample of a “letter of direction” that will go into the files of some officers involved. The letter states that recipients “did not follow” guidance included in the test-certification process.

“Please be advised that it is our expectation that you follow the written directions for all future exams and that you are truthful in anything that you certify or acknowledge during your course of employment with the district,” the letter stated.

The school district will maintain testing requirements it set during the investigation, such as having a proctor oversee test-takers.

In November, APS sent the findings of the investigation to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, which would determine if the incident should be prosecuted as a crime. The district attorney’s office could not be reached for comment Friday.

The school district reported that one additional officer involved in a different infraction has resigned, and that case has been referred to the district attorney.

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