Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Beacon Hill State Test Scores Thrown Out

Update: from KPLU reporter, Kyle Stokes (via Twitter):

@kystokes: Tidbits from the state analysis of Beacon Hill tests: 97% of 3rd graders got a perfect math score. Just 12% statewide achieved that. 

End of district

From the district:

Every year, our students take several tests that help us measure their progress in our core subjects. These assessments are used to ensure we are making progress and to help us make sure our students are receiving the support they need. I am proud of the fact we typically outperform the state in these assessments, and that many of our schools are making strong year-to-year gains.

In August, while reviewing the Spring 2014 test scores, Seattle Public Schools’ Research, Evaluation and Assessment team noticed unusually high test scores in the state Measures of Student Progress (MSP) for Beacon Hill International School, as compared to the 2013 scores. I want to note that BHIS has made remarkable progress over the years, and we certainly expect them to perform highly. However, our team noticed a remarkable jump in scores that is not typical. We immediately flagged the scores and reported the finding to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). At the same time, we hired an independent investigator to help determine what might have happened.

OSPI conducted a review of the Beacon Hill test booklets – paper and pencil – for grades 3-5 and found heavy erasures in the booklets. OSPI believes the test responses were altered in such a way as to significantly increase total scores of students taking the state reading and math tests. OSPI notified SPS last week that they will invalidate those test scores. The district’s outside investigator is continuing to work on determining what happened. In the meantime, I want the public to know that we support our Beacon Hill students, staff and teachers.

MSP tests are typically used in conjunction with other measures for accountability reporting, school goal setting, teacher and principal evaluations, and year-end program analysis. They are conducted in 3rd through 5th grade in elementary schools. These scores are not a primary indicator for student placement in advanced learning.

That said, Spring 2014 was the last MSP test session for SPS. This year the district will initiate Smarter Balanced testing, which better evaluates student progress toward college and career readiness.

Please know that we are working to determine what happened, and also continuing to put steps in place to assure our students’ hard work is recognized by the state, and can be used to help our teachers and principals improve instruction.

Dr. Larry Nyland 

Interim Superintendent 
Seattle Public Schools

A couple of items:

- the "investigation" seems somewhat off. My sources report that the investigator has not tried to verify exactly who had keys to the building. The custodian is supposed to be the keeper of the keys but often, principals do their own thing. It is unclear, among Beacon Hill staff, who had the ability to access the building during off-hours.

- the key situation may be important as my understanding is that tests are supposed to be kept under lock and key in a room not accessible to staff including teachers.


mirmac1 said...

Right, but central staff reported to the A&F(?) committee recently they have no conceivably means to know who had access to what. Hmmmm.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Hence the poor investigation.

mirmac1 said...

Or another excuse to hold no one accountable. Did Kaiser do this investigation....?

Anonymous said...

Wow! I hope that this ultimately gets run to ground. In the meantime, it is small consolation, but I am SO glad that someone noticed it and had the scores pulled before they were ever published as accurate. One less issue to contend with.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of keys, keys were important in the New Yorker article about the Atlanta school testing incident. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/07/21/wrong-answer

Po3 said...

"Spring 2014 was the last MSP test session for SPS. This year the district will initiate Smarter Balanced testing, which better evaluates student progress toward college and career readiness."

Oh well in the end these results don't really matter cause we got a shiney new test that is going to evaluate everything for us.

mm3985 said...

Beacon hill has more than double the amount of master keys assigned than a typical elementary shool has. The Principal has to request a master key be assigned to a staff member.

Nobody will be held accountable for this. How could they? It's a cheating culture at Seattle Schools.

Anonymous said...

A cheating culture? Really? I read the New Yorker article. When you demand too much, people find ways to give it to you.

I had the one master key provided to a teacher at my school and it lasted through several principals until the last one. We now have a key pad allowing all teachers into the building and into their classrooms but not into secure places. All teachers need access to their workplaces.

BTW, anybody notice Jamie Dimon going to jail?

can't win...

mirmac1 said...

can't win,

I'm not on a witch hunt. It's just time for those who would violate the law, be called out for it. Otherwise, some would be more than happy to seek that easy promotion. I would rather all would be able to show their worth via means other than those easily compromised and manipulated.

mosfet said...


Thanks for linking to the New Yorker article. It's a good read.

Anonymous said...

mosfet, I thought it was a good read too. It showed how well-intentioned people can go down the slippery slope trying to make a difference for kids but ending up in a big mess.

Anonymous said...

Great link, NE Mom: way more complexity and nuance in this article than anything else I have ever read on this issue.



Anonymous said...

Great New Yorker article. Disturbing, but great.

One of my concerns is that in a knee-jerk reaction Seattle could mandate an extreme reduction in key access across the board. That will result in many of us who have keys for resource access beyond our classroom to do numerous support tasks without the access tools needed to do our jobs. Indeed, I've occasionally left tasks undone because I didn't have key access and nobody was available.

That said, I do agree that there should be 1-2 rooms for testing security that almost nobody has access too (I wouldn't want it for deniability myself). It takes planning to rekey 1-2 rooms per building with essential-only access restrictions - but an across the board mandate to dramatically restrict most non-classroom keys by an arbitrary % reduction would have a definite efficiency impact in some school programs.

I wonder if online testing will help increase security or not. Others thoughts? I've heard stories from students (very few fortunately) of an occasional teacher who would go around the class during testing and help to an extent that the students knew the teacher wasn't supposed to. I also personally had to chastise a peer teacher reading a WASL test a few years ago after students were done - after asking to close it because we can't see it the response was along the lines of "as a teacher I need to know what to prepare my students for". After my 2nd snarky comment it was closed.

I was also in a school (outside Seattle) in which 3 of us were asked to do many of the preparations for the state exams even though the rules totally forbid it. Fortunately 1 of the other 2 was a friend prior to (and since) my time there and we could totally trust our ethics not to look at the books or do anything we shouldn't. We did protest some, not at having to do extra work but that we were technically in violation of the protocol.

My point for brining up these stories is to confirm that testing and protocols is having an impact on education - and as an industry transplant from a field in which security and strict ethics were in high regard (usually) even when doing nothing wrong it's sometimes uncomfortable with the access and resources.

Key concerns

Anonymous said...

Peters and others warned us about this for years before she was on the board. And guess what? Here we are. Not to excuse those who broke the rules and engaged in cheating, but it's hard to single out and isolate individual acts of corruption when the system itself is fraudulent and corrupt.

I'm so glad Gates, DFER and the Charter merchants want my kids to become Jeopardy champions, but I'd rather they learn to think, mull over concepts like ethics and morality, and actually learn coping skills and how to solve problems instead of skirting the rules and gaming the systems.

Standardized testing, common curricula and treating teachers like interchangeable robots underlies all of this. A few teachers, admins and staff will be thrown under the bus, but the band will play on and on and on and on.


StopTheMadness said...

WSDWG is correct.

Next, our children will take the brand new Smarter Balanced Assessments, our children will be used as guinea pigs, test scores will fall and our children, teachers and schools will be deemed failures. Then, the we'll hear cries for charter schools because our schools are failing.

joanna said...

This is sad for Beacon Hill Elementary. I think many people in the area felt very lucky to get in there. Sad too, if the District is not working toward real accountability here. It gives a mixed message to the future and implies a waste of the dollars spent on constantly changing tests. Who profits? It is not the students or the families.

Ed said...

Sebree is doing the District "investigation" which means it will be useless.

Site administration had had control of keys, which has always been a recipie for scandle (see ElDoris Turner at Van Asselt) and all sorts of folks (district and non-district) seem to have had access to the building.

Same old culture.

Charlie Mas said...

I honestly don't expect anything to come of this.

The district isn't using the test anymore, so the results won't matter going forward as they won't be used to measure progress going forward.

The district has no interest in discovering the culprits. None. They just don't care. Partly because they don't care about the final MSP test results but mostly because they just don't care about ethics or issues of right and wrong.

The investigation can never pinpoint the guilty parties since all everyone has to do is clam up and deny everything. It's a simple, almost childish strategy, but it will work here.

Finally, this was so poorly done - nearly all of the students getting perfect scores on the math test - that it was either done by someone completely lacking thought or it was done as a test protest. Of course, if it were a test protest they would not be keeping quiet about it.

Anonymous said...

Another possible motivation - someone who doesn't like the school or some of its personnel changed items in a way that guaranteed they'd be flagged and the school + staff would get horrible publicity.

Not beyond the realm of possibility, especially since that result is exactly what is happening.


Anonymous said...

Something like this will not "blow over" even if they want it to. Cheating and lying to make the adults in the building look good is reprehensible.

This is not about keeping a school from being shut down. Even when it is, I don't have any tolerance for the excuses adults give for tampering with tests. High stakes tests "making" teachers cheat is a not being compassionate to teachers but is making them look weak and lacking in morals.

This was about trying to look like you are "the best" and somehow thinking that the other teachers and students in the district are rungs in the quest to get recognized. Some people who work at Beacon Hill were apparently so deluded and felt so special that they somehow forgot how stupid and unethical they were being.

This makes every teacher in every school now seem suspect because it was done in this district by colleagues. Teachers who are working long hours with large class sizes to make sure their students learn are not going to look the other way.

--enough already

mirmac1 said...

Curman Sebree? Hahahahahaha. Why not just ask Ron English to write it for her.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Just curious...what math curriculum was used by Beacon Hill last year?

- reality check

Linh-Co said...

I heard it was a mix of EDM and some teacher created curriculum by a Chinese instructor who works there.

Anonymous said...

Did Beacon Hill apply for a Math adoption waiver to keep last year's curriculum, or were they fine with switching to Math in Focus?

- reality check

Anonymous said...

We have to demand complete accountability, and a complete and unbiased investigation. This is fraud, plain and simple, and we need to get to the bottom of it. We can decide later on remedies and punishments, but we have to demand the truth, or like Charlie suggests, nothing will ever change.

That being said, when will we learn to stop building castles on sand, like we continue to do with our test-score obsessed culture that makes teaching to the test the equivalent of "educating" our kids. We may as well do nothing but give our kids a new set of flash cards on the first day of school and tell them to return in June for the end of year exam.

Wait, somebody at the Gates Foundation may read this and say, "A-HA!" My bad.


mosfet said...

It's interesting that SPS says that they noticed that scores were high and flagged them for OSPI.
I've been wondering why SPS did this -- if SPS flagged them for OSPI because they knew that OSPI would notice the scores anyways and figured that there would be less punishment and embarrassment if SPS flagged them first. Or maybe some honest and sincere SPS employee saw the scores, was alarmed at the prospect of cheating, and wanted to let OSPI know about it. I've very little faith in the SPS culture as a whole, but there are still many good people working there.

joanna said...

No matter what the motive was, it still matters that it could happen. It was so blatant that many different motives could be attributed the actions. I think the next question is about who profits from the constant changing landscape of test scores. It is certainly not the the families, students or even teachers. In the past the test was to assess how each student was doing and look to see who needed help. I'm sure that principals noticed if a particular teacher repeatedly helped students do well or if one particularly seemed to contribute to a low performance, but it was really a student's score and one followed over time. Hopefully, if a teacher seemed to be contributing to poor performance, the principal and administrators had additional evidence and concerns about his/her performance. Maybe a District proctor should collect the tests each day. There has to be a better system.

Anonymous said...

Beacon Hill’s altered student tests were kept in janitor’s closet for weeks


joanna said...

The degree with to which a principal is rewarded for higher test scores is news to me. There is so much more to being a principal and a good one: Student growth based on the annual state test accounts for 30 percent of a principal’s qualification for the merit-based awards, according to district spokeswoman Stacy Howard.

The statewide group representing school principals said it is not aware of any district other than Seattle that incorporates student test scores into principal pay. David Morrill, spokesman for the Association of Washington School Principals, said the practice is not common in Washington.

Melissa Westbrook said...

During the Board meeting, there was a report from the Internal Auditor, Andrew Medina.

One finding is that tests were kept at some schools for weeks. He said this finding was NOT because of Beacon Hill (and did not say if BH was one of the schools that had a random check) but it points to the fact that these test booklets may be kept longer than they should and possibly not as securely as they should be.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ditto on Joanna.

Some yahoos over at the Times were saying it was these terrible teachers/principals who don't want test scores to be used in their evaluations.

I pointed out that unlike most of Washington State, Seattle Schools' teachers and principals DO have test scores used in their evaluations per their contracts.