Jeanene Worrell-Breeden, principal of a West Harlem school in New York, committed suicide one day after her students took state Common Core exams, the results of which had to be discarded because Worrell-Breeden manipulated test answers.
Susan Edelman, Amber Jamieson, and Jamie Schram of the New York Post report that the principal, age 49, of Teachers College Community School jumped to her death in front of a subway train in April.
She was taken to Harlem Hospital and died eight days later. The city Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death a suicide. The tragic event occurred 24 hours after her 47 third-grade students had concluded three days of the Common Core English exam, which had been given for the first time at the new school.
This was the same day that someone alerted Department of Education offices that cheating had occurred at the school.
Worrell-Breeden’s death was announced, but with no specific details as to the cause. Parents were shocked and mourned the loss of the administrator, while rumors erroneously reported that she had been killed in a car accident.
In June, Superintendent Gale Reeves broke the news to parents that all third-grade English exams had been “invalidated”.
“The children didn’t do anything wrong, and the teachers didn’t do anything wrong,” Diane Tinsley, a mother of one of the third-graders, quoted Reeves saying. Reeves refused to explain. She added, “The integrity of the assessment was compromised due to actions outside your child’s control.”
Parents, frustrated at not knowing more details, went to the city Department of Education, the State Department of Education, and politicians, all to no avail. But on Friday of last week, the DOE released the surprising details.
“Principal Worrell-Breeden was the subject of allegations of testing improprieties,” spokeswoman Devora Kaye said. “An investigation substantiated these allegations, and we closed the investigation following her tragic passing.”
In spite of the fact that the children’s exam results were discarded, the superintendent assured parents that their children would be passed to fourth grade. In 2014, only 34.5% 0f city students passed the Common Core math tests and 29.4% passed the English test. But Worrell-Breeden did not appear to be anxious about the testing, saying she had prepared her students to “ace the test”.
Each morning of the test, April 14-16, the principal brought breakfast to the students and held a pep rally. One friend said she was a driven leader but struggled with personal disappointments such as her husband leaving and her grandmother’s death. Worrell-Breeden was the first principal of the school, so she was determined to do a good job, added a friend.
Worrell-Breeden had acknowledged that she forged answers on the exams because her students had not finished the tests, writes Kate Taylor of The New York Times. According to a memo released this week, an email was sent on April 17 complaining that the principal told someone she had forged answers on several students’ tests. It was not clear, however, whether Worrell-Breeden knew about the complaint before she died, and whether she forged answers on the first day of the testing or on all three days.
Although the complaint was referred to the Education Department’s Office of Special Investigations and was substantiated, the case was closed on the recommendation of investigator Robert Small after Worrell-Breeden died.
The Teachers College Community School had a promising start, which was compromised by the principal’s actions, according to Jennifer Peltz of the Associated Press. The first round of Common Core testing, the scores of which are used in part to asses teacher performance and for principal evaluations, would probably not have been a problem for the students at the school.
Teachers College Community School has $30 million in backing from Columbia University’s Teachers College and includes Columbia graduate students interning in classrooms along with extra features such as a robotics program. The school opened in 2011 and will enroll over 200 students in prekindergarten to fourth grade.
The goal is to have 300 students in place in grades prekindergarten to eighth grade in the future.