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Dan ProchiloJul 1, 2014, 3:54 pmJul 3, 2014, 5:51 pm

Update: Teacher allegedly disciplined because her students' scores are too high

East Rockaway instructor fights her removal from the classroom

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This story has been updated to include a FiOS1 sitdown Voula Coyle. FiOS1 News' Elizabeth Saab reports.

An East Rockaway teacher has accused the school district of ousting her from the classroom because her students' strong performance on standardized tests has backfired.

Voula Coyle, a veteran fourth grade teacher at Rhame Avenue School, said her strong teaching skills have dragged down her school's state rating.

Coyle alleged she has been falsely accused of misconduct after she brushed off administrators’ calls for teachers to do a lackluster job in order to rig the state's ranking system.

She said in an interview with FiOS1 News that district has engaged in a campaign of harassment and intimidation against her and has fostered "a divisive environment where the children are suffering.

"They are not putting their concern where it needs to be: with the children and the taxpayers," said the 17-year instructor at the grammar school. "And they are destroying my reputation in the community."

Coyle and her attorney Vincent White of White, Ricotta & Marks PC in Queens, say they are considering filing litigation against the district.

Coyle, who was reassigned from her classroom to a clerical job at the end of April, said her students have consistently scored above average on state tests, winning her the highest possible rating on the pupil performance section of the state's Annual Professional Performance Review.

But her students' solid work has become a problem for Rhame Avenue School teachers at the next grade level and for the school as a whole, according to White.

The New York State Education Department's performance rating system is designed to reward instructors and schools when students show academic improvement from one grade to the next, White said.

But Coyle's students’ scores either don't improve or get worse while they are in fifth grade. As a result a few fifth grade teachers have been rated as less than effective and the school's entire score has been pulled down, which could pose a threat to state funding, according to Coyle.

The instructor said her superiors have regularly encouraged her and her colleagues to avoid overachieving and to keep their scores from exceeding the state rating of "effective."

"One faculty member said our job is not to be optimal, but to be adequate. That underlying message of mediocrity was promoted," Coyle said. Teachers were also told to accept that a third of their students would understand the material, another third would be average and the rest would fail, she said.

"You’re assuming from the start that you are abandoning a third of the children," she said.

But Coyle said she ignored her superiors' warnings to rein in test scores and found herself a target for termination. Coyle said she was accused of helping her students cheat on their April 2012 state tests by pointing out questions that they had answered incorrectly and encouraging them to double check their answers and redo their work.

School officials' testing impropriety allegations went before an arbitrator, and on April 29 — the day before Coyle was slated to testify during the arbitration hearings — she was reassigned from the elementary school to a non-teaching position at East Rockaway High School, she said.

The arbitrator cleared Coyle of wrongdoing on June 4. The teacher said that the school failed to properly investigate the allegations, not bothering to question a teacher's assistant who was present when the tests were administered and who disputed the accusations.

Nevertheless, Coyle has been notified that she will be again be assigned to administrative duty at the high school in September and that she is under investigation for new charges that she mistreated her students — a claim that she said is likewise baseless.

"I have a 17-year exemplary personnel file," Coyle said. "I believe the school district is gaming the system."

Calls to the principal of Rhame Avenue School and to the district's superintendent were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Email the reporter: dprochilo@fios1news.com

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