More High-Stakes Test Cheating…this time…Denver
This is what happens when teachers’ and administrators’ lives rest on the outcome of a bubble in test from 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th graders! Kind of insane, right?? Atlanta, Washington D.C., and now Denver. There seriously needs to be some sanity injected into what is happening with the constant mantra of “test scores need to rise.”
Cheating on standardized tests was deliberate, spanned all grades that were tested and was likely carried out by administrators at Beach Court Elementary in west Denver, investigators announced today, in a report that also cleared a second school of wrongdoing.
As a result of the investigation, all Beach Court’s 2010 and 2011 CSAP scores have been invalidated, the state Department of Education announced.
The state report concluded that “testing violations occurred at the Principal-level at Beach Court during the 2010 and 2011 CSAPs.”
“The evidence is very clear that proper procedures were not followed at Beach Court Elementary and the serious, intentional breaches warrant the suppression of these scores,” said Jo O’Brien, assistant commissioner of assessment at the Department of Education.
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the investigation findings “clearly show that no teachers at Beach Court were involved in altering tests.”
Frank Roti, principal at what had been the district’s shining example of a school that lifted disadvantaged students to unparalleled achievement, has been on leave since the investigation began. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Boasberg said that Roti is no longer employed by the district and has been asked to return thousands of dollars in bonuses he received for Beach Court’s stellar performance on standardized tests.
Last month, Denver Public Schools asked the state to conduct an independent audit of test scores at Beach Court Elementary and Hallett Fundamental Academy — and to look into isolated scoring anomalies at three other unnamed DPS schools. That request followed the district’s own intensive review, and an initial consultation with the Department of Education.
The district presented the results of that investigation today to parents during meetings at Hallett and Beach Court that started at 6 p.m.
At Hallett, the inquiry found “technical errors” in the way tests were handled, but no cheating. As a result, Charmaine Keeton will continue as Hallett principal, ” with our full confidence and support,” Boasberg said.
The independent investigation was conducted by the state attorney general’s office in its role as the Education Department’s legal adviser. The state also hired an outside contractor, Alvarez & Marsal, to help.
Investigators interviewed 23 current and former teachers, staff and students, trying to get to the bottom of a host of statistical anomalies that the district’s initial analysis found.
Among those anomalies: the number of changes from wrong to right answers on Beach Court CSAP tests were 15 times higher than the statewide mean
The report stated that Beach Court administrators stood by the scores and denied altering the tests.
According to the report on Beach Court:
• “Several sources confirmed that, in 2011, School Administrators removed testing materials from the School’s secure storage area and placed them in an Administrative office for an extended period after the conclusion of testing and prior to the delivery of the completed test materials to DPS.” That constitutes a violation of the state’s testing protocols.
• “At least two teachers at Beach Court met with the School’s Administration to discuss the fact that their students’ CSAP scores were not reflective of the students’ classroom performance. One stated, “We’ve always been surprised at the [CSAP] scores” and “we’ve always wondered what happened but we didn’t want to think it’s anything here.”
Those concerns were not reported to the district, the report found.
Boasberg has repeatedly said the district’s review of scores was not triggered by reports of suspected wrongdoing, or any suspicions about a particular school’s performance. Rather, he has said, it resulted from recent, high-profile cheating scandals at other metropolitan school districts.
But unlike allegations in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., where school-district leaders are accused of trying to hide cheating, in Denver it was the district leadership that brought the problem to light.
“Students and parents rely on this academic progress information to understand how students are doing, and teachers rely on this information to target and modify instruction,” Boasberg said.
“As difficult as these last few weeks have been, these reviews were necessary to ensure integrity of our assessment results.”
The story of how a charismatic principal and dedicated teachers took a struggling little school, with a large population of disadvantaged students and pulled them to the heights of academic achievement captivated district officials and the media and inspired education wonks nationwide. Roti was asked by educators across the country to lend his expertise and share the secrets of his success.
Now, with years of progress in doubt, many parents question what Beach Court’s future will be.
Jenny Woodson, who led a parent effort to allow Roti back to the school for the fifth-grade’s continuation ceremony in May, said she isn’t sure whether she’ll keep her younger children at Beach Court.
“He makes that school,” Woodson said. “What it is going to be like with somebody else leading it?”
Karen Augé: 303-954-1733 firstname.lastname@example.org