Saturday, December 12, 2020

Florida teacher certification scheme part of federal investigation. (Tampa Bay Times)

How many Florida schoolmarms cheated on certification exams?  How many principals?  How many school administrators?  How many teachers?

The long arm of the law reached out and arrested two co-conspirators, the Jas[ers, who memorized Florida teacher and administrator exams and published them, laughing all the way to the bank. 

Took two years for FBI and U.S. Attorney to bring charges.  

From Tampa Bay Times:

NavaEd, a teacher certification test-cheating enterprise.
NavaEd, a teacher certification test-cheating enterprise. [ Twitter ]
Published Yesterday

TALLAHASSEE — Federal prosecutors say a Fort Myers couple orchestrated a test-cheating scheme that involved them stealing and selling the contents of exams used by the state to evaluate and certify Florida teachers and principals.

After a two-year investigation, federal prosecutors zeroed in on Jeremy and Kathleen Jasper, two certified Florida teachers who own a company called NavaEd, as the alleged masterminds of a teacher certification test-cheating enterprise that they say erodes the public’s trust on the state’s certification process.

“Floridians expect and deserve to know that the public schools to which they entrust their children to learn are being led by teachers and administrators who properly earned their way into the system,”said Lawrence Keefe, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, whose office is prosecuting the case.

A 65-page indictment, issued by a federal grand jury on Dec. 1 and unsealed Thursday, charges the couple with racketeering conspiracy, 108 counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets and three counts of theft of trade secrets.

Prosecutors say the couple would register to take the Florida Teacher Certification Exam and the Florida Educational Leadership Examination, memorize questions and answers in the tests so they could share the contents with customers and turn a profit.

Because they electronically certified that they would not provide others with any contents of the tests when registering for the tests, prosecutors say the couple committed wire fraud. Even if they obtained the information by memory, the state’s testing rules say that is prohibited.

At one point, the Florida Department of Education, which oversees all testing activities, blocked the Jaspers from taking certification exams “due to concerns about testing anomalies and fraudulent activity,” according to the indictment.

Once that happened, prosecutors say the couple instructed employees and independent contractors to continue the scheme: take the test, memorize the contents and share after leaving the testing center.

NavaEd republished the information “verbatim and almost verbatim” into publications that were sold “worldwide” through the company’s website, Amazon and Shopify, according to the indictment.

Some happy customers

The company, which has been operating since 2016, also offered one-on-one tutoring sessions and training seminars online and in-person throughout Florida.

Some of those customers left glowing reviews on the company’s Facebook page. They included praise for a NavaEd book that they said was “100% identical and close to the test” they took for a Florida teaching certificate in Exceptional Student Education.

Another reviewer said: “NavaEd not only teaches the content, but they also teach tips and tricks to beat the test!! Highly recommended!!”

While the indictment alleges a far-reaching customer base, prosecutors have not indicated how many Florida educators or administrators have used the company’s service for state-required certification exams.

“This is a matter that I would represent as one that goes from Miami to Pensacola to Jacksonville and all in between,” Keefe said in an interview Thursday.

Keefe said his office’s public trust unit is interested in identifying and determining the extent to which the state’s educational certification process has been “compromised.” However, he said he believes the vast majority of Florida teachers and school leaders are competent and honest people doing “great and essential work.”

As of Thursday evening, state records show the company remains active. And it is unclear whether the Florida Department of Education, which has helped prosecutors in the investigation, has warned local school officials about the company’s alleged enterprise.

A department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

South Florida districts promote service

Some school districts, including Broward and Palm Beach, have promoted NavaEd as a testing resource for educators who need to complete the state-required teaching certifications, public records show.

Palm Beach State College has also featured NavaEd as a resource for students who have yet to pass the General Knowledge Test, a requirement before transferring into a Florida education bachelor’s degree program or a professional educator’s certificate.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin M. Keen, the lead prosecutor in the case, said the allegations raise concerns “about the quality of the education that children in Florida are going to receive.”

Keen said the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Department of Education have worked with prosecutors to gather evidence in the case and “connect all these dots.”

The Jaspers are scheduled to make their first public hearing in federal court in Tallahassee on Friday at 1:30 p.m.

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