One of the five Woodbridge school district educators who were placed on paid suspension last year on allegations of cheating misbehavior to increase standardized test scores has been fired.
The Board of Education voted to dismiss John Radzik - once named Teacher of the Year - on April 18, based on the results of a NJ Department of Education arbitration report.
"We prevailed. We proved most of our accusations. There was a whole list of them," said School Superintendent Dr. Robert Zega. Radzik, he said, was one of the first teachers in the state to go before an arbitration board rather than a Board of Examiners.
Zega replaced former Superintendent Dr. John Crowe, who resigned as the details and scope of the cheating scandal came to light last summer.
Radzik, a third grade teacher at Avenel Street School #4 & #5, had been the subject of an arbitration hearing in March, based on charges that Radzik, along with other teachers and administrators, had engaged in a pattern of coaching students during tests, and in some cases, giving them answers outright.
The NJ Department of Education's Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance (OFAC) had been investigating the cheating charges that has spread over several of the Woodbridge District's schools. The particular tests in question were given during the 2010 and 2011 school year.
Two of the teachers at Avenel Street accused in the cheating debacle and who are on paid suspension are Stephanie Klecan and Lisa Sivilio. Klecan, the arbitrator's report said, is Radzik's first cousin, while Sivilio is now Radzik's wife, having married him in June, 2012 just before the cheating scandal broke.
Activities 'warrant dismissal'
In the report dated April 17, Joseph Licata, the state arbitrator assigned to the case, found that Radzik had engaged in activities that "warrant dismissal." Radizk was dismissed based on "charges unbecoming of a teacher," which Licata said in the report were "especially egregious." He believed charges that Radzik had provided answers to third grade students, using coins to show students the correct answers on the math portion of the NJ ASK standardized test, and giving students extra time to finish.
"Radzik's misconduct was extremely harmful to the Woodbridge School District in the eyes of the public," the report said.
"...[E]ven if Radzik acted purely to protect his students, there is a profound difference between giving a student a push in the right direction and riding the bicycle for him."
The report pulled back a curtain into the details of the cheating scandal and the OFAC investigation.
During witness examinations, Radzik and Klecan, among others, said they felt pressured or were threatened with reassignment if testing scores weren't up to snuff by former Assistant Schools Superintendent Lois Rotella.
Rotella resigned in August, 2012 as the cheating scandal came to light.
Because of the pressure, Radzik said in the report that he spent a third to "a little less than half" of each school day during the 2009-2010 school year tutoring students specifically on NJ ASK test prep.
The OFAC investigation into the extraordinarily high scores at Avenel Street School in August, 2012 revealed that the probability that 45 percent of the school's third graders receiving perfect scores on the math portion of the NJ ASK test was approximately one in 100 million.
That probability, the report noted, was "100 times more unlikely than being struck by lightning."
Brain-injured child gets a perfect math score
One of the more painful results of artificially elevating the scores of students was that those who needed extra help in fourth grade didn't receive it.
Children who had apparently earned high marks on the NJ ASK tests, despite having learning or cognitive disorders, were denied attention and special classes when they were promoted to the next grade, the report noted.
In 2011, the report said, Radzik administered the test to six special needs students, including one who had a traumatic brain injury and an IQ in the low 70s, and another with a cognitive impairment and an 68 IQ.
According to the report, the brain-injured student received a perfect score on the math test and was ranked as "advanced proficient" on the language arts part of the test. The student with the cognitive impairment received an "advanced proficient" and "proficient" score on the math and language arts portions of the test, respectively.
A teacher who worked with the cognitively impaired student said that he couldn't remember from the morning to the afternoon what had been taught to him, and they would have to "reteach the skill."
Because students had received such high NJ ASK scores, it precluded them from getting help that students with special needs would usually receive. That was the reason why "A Mom," one of the tipsters who alerted the Department of Education about the goings-on at Avenel Street, wrote an anonymous letter. Her child, whom she said wasn't good at reading or writing, couldn't receive help he needed following his stellar NJ ASK test results.
Radzik held a dual certification as a teacher and principal. The report says that Radzik's "rising star status" was based upon glowing reviews he received, much of which was because of his heavy involvement with the NJ ASK tests, and his desire to be promoted to principal. Radzik was said to be acting as a de facto administrator of the test at Avenel Street.
Radzik could not be reached for comment.