This isn’t the first year that a high school English quiz on George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” contained the phrase “shooting at Trump.”
A public records request made of Teton County School District No. 1 revealed that the same quiz question was posed to Jackson Hole High School students Oct. 19, 2016, and Oct. 5, 2017.
“This same quiz was administered in 2016,” information coordinator Charlotte Reynolds said. “It was written in 2016 or prior.”
Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president on June 16, 2015. On Oct. 19, 2016, he was nearing the end of a controversial campaign and three weeks away from winning the 2016 presidential election.
The quiz is an online multiple choice, short answer and true/false test on Chapters 7 and 8 of “Animal Farm.” It has since been taken down — only teachers, not students, can see it — but that didn’t stop parents from claiming liberal bias in schools and raising an outcry that has drawn nationwide media attention.
The question administered this year and last year reads, “Napoleon has the gun fired for a new occasion. What is the new occasion?” Answers include, “He was shooting at Trump,” “His birthday,” “For completion of the windmill” and “To scare off the attackers of Animal Farm.”
The school district said Canvas, its online learning management system, doesn’t show who authored a quiz after it’s been archived in a shared central repository called “Commons.” The school district started to use Canvas during the 2014-15 school year.
Once a quiz is archived it can be used by multiple teachers. Both 11th-grade English teachers, Carin Aufderheide and Jess Tuchscherer, administered the quiz last year and this year.
“I am normally very careful to assess the material I provide to my students to make sure it is accurate and appropriate,” Aufderheide wrote in a statement.
“While I did not write the quiz questions and answers,” she wrote, “it was my responsibility to proofread it; had I done so I can assure you I would not have distributed the quiz without first changing the offensive answer.”
The other teacher who administered the quiz for two years, Tuchscherer, has declined several interview requests.
The school district, citing confidentiality in personnel matters, will not say if he is the author.
The school district will also not confirm if Aufderheide or Tuchscherer is on leave. Students at the high school say that neither teacher is at school and that they have substitute teachers.
Superintendent Gillian Chapman and Jackson Hole High School Principal Scott Crisp have also declined interview requests and directed all questions to Reynolds.
When it comes to routine multiple choice quizzes like this one, Canvas auto-grades students’ answers. That means that if a teacher did not write the material but chose to use it, he or she wouldn’t know about offensive material within the assessment.
That may be what happened to Aufderheide.
“It is a possibility that a teacher would actually never see the responses,” Reynolds said. “Gone are the days of teachers handing out a quiz on a piece of paper, collecting them all at the end of class and going through and grading them. That is not how the district administers these sorts of assessments.”
When assessments go into Commons, Reynolds said, that material becomes “available outside of our district” to “other educators who are teaching the same content.”
“So it is truly shared,” Reynolds said.
It’s a possibility, but not common practice, Reynolds said, that local teachers could pull assessment material from other school districts. A high school faculty member revealed there were several scenarios last year at the high school in which questions were changed and no one could determine the source.
When the news broke and outrage started to increase, Reynolds said the district was conducting a “thorough investigation” into the matter.
When asked Tuesday if the investigation was complete she said she didn’t know.
“I’m not privy to personnel investigation,” Reynolds said. “I can’t definitively say one way or the other. I would hope for everyone involved that it is complete because it takes their focus away from other priorities.”