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Tampering Revealed, State Throws Out Seattle School’s Test Scores

Flickr Photo/Benjamin Chun

  When Beacon Hill International School in Seattle submitted its tests last spring, district officials spotted improbably high scores schoolwide.

Now, the state schools office has invalidated test results for the elementary school. This is the first time an entire school’s state test scores have been thrown out due to tampering.

KUOW reporter Ann Dornfeld spoke on Wednesday with Ross Reynolds about what might have happened -- was it cheating? Sabotage by someone who objects to standardized testing?

A bid for bonus pay by an administrator?


Ann, how did this first come to light?


Well, the district first noticed that there was something fishy with the tests from Beacon Hill International School.

[asset-pullquotes[{"quote": "It could be that someone who objects to standardized testing sabotaged the school's test results in order to prove a point. Or someone could have done this to make the school look bad.", "style": "inset"}]]The scores were unusually high across the board among the third through fifth grade students. Those are the grades that take the state (Measurements of Student Progress) test.

The district asked the state to investigate.


What do we know about the extent of the changes made to the tests?


The state found a huge number of erasures of incorrect answers and the correct answers filled in instead.

For example, on one third-grade math question, every single student got the answer right.

But 30 tests showed that the students’ answers had initially been wrong, then were erased and changed to the right answer.

The result was that the school looked like it was doing better than most schools around the state, and far better than it had in recent years.

State officials ran data analysis on the scores and found that it was highly unlikely that these scores were authentic.

So they threw out the entire school’s spring test results.


What are school officials doing to address this?


The state has concluded its investigation, and Seattle Public Schools has an ongoing investigation to find out who was responsible for the tampering.

They say they’ve hired an outside investigator to talk to people at the school – from the students to the administration – to try to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.

They’ll want to look at who had keys to any rooms where the tests were stored, and the chain of custody after the students completed the tests.

Stacy Howard is a district spokeswoman. She points out that the state test given last spring has been discontinued in favor of new tests that will be aligned with the new Common Core State Standards.


“And now we’re on to the Smarter Balanced testing, and we’re hoping that will better evaluate students’ progress toward college and career readiness and they will be computer-based so we hope that will decrease the odds of something like this happening again.”


There have been other cheating incidents in public schools across the country. Educators at Atlanta Public Schools are on trial now, accused of manipulating test scores. What happened there?


In Atlanta, teachers have already come forward to say they were pressured by administrators to change student test scores from wrong to right answers in order to keep their schools afloat, and in order to guarantee cash bonuses for everyone from support staff to the superintendent.


What are the similarities?


Seattle doesn’t offer the same kinds of cash bonuses for teachers based on student performance.

But principals and administrators do get thousands of dollars of annual bonuses based in large part on student performance, including test scores.

Of course, it’s not clear whether this was cheating, or who was responsible.

It could be that someone who objects to standardized testing sabotaged the school’s test results in order to prove a point.

Or someone could have done this to make the school look bad.

But there are many who have warned that the increasing pressure on teachers and administrators to boost test scores created an unhealthy incentive for cheating, so that suspicion is out there.