Final Investigation Report on Beacon Hill International School 2014 Test Issues

Final Investigation Report (redacted) on Beacon Hill International School Spring 2014 test booklet issues.

My first reaction is that this is not the best written report I have ever read.  It is not linear until the Narrative and not as professionally written as I might have expected for a final investigative report.

This final investigation appears to be a slight rewriting of the original one done by The Sebree Firm.  I was told that the final investigation was NOT being done by The Sebree Firm but all three variations of the report have The Sebree Firm letterhead.  They are dated October 271, 2014, April 7, 2015 and May 1, 2015.  The handwriting expert's is a draft and dated March 2015.  I have asked for the final report from the handwriting expert's as there is key information in the Final Report from that document that is not reflected in the draft report by the handwriting expert.

What is interesting is that the key issue - of high test scores and then discovery of possible erasures - was not solved.  But it seems apparent that one or more BIIS staff looked at one or more test booklets which is expressly forbidden.  All those involved deny doing this and yet the discussion over one student's test booklet would indicate otherwise.  I have to wonder how often this might happen at other schools.

I also note that the investigator did use pronouns for one student, thus showing the sex of the child.  The report also references the ethnic background and sex of another student.  The report gives the grade level for both.

After testing in spring of 2014, SPS' department of Research, Evaluation and Assessment (REA), in reviewing test booklets, found very high scores for Beacon Hill International School in comparison to previous years.  BIIS went from 66% met standards to 99% met standards in one year.

When the scores came back, Helen Finch, BIIS teacher and former testing coordinator,  was asked by the District's Title One department about the high scores and did she believe it was possible.  She said no.

REA contacted OSPI and sent samples of scores.  OSPI had the scoring company check if the booklets had been scored corrected.  The company checked and said yes and OSPI was satisfied.  But OSPI found evidence of heavy erasures as well as possible handwriting discrepancies.  OSPI then "suppressed the scores for BHIS pending further investigation."

An investigation was launched by SPS at the urging of OSPI in August of 2014.

The first investigative report was released to the District on October 27, 2014.  It was done by The Sebree Firm.  Twenty-one people were interviewed for this report.

Key issue beyond the troubling scores and possible erasures

A key aspect of the training and the administration of the state assessments is that no one read the test items. The power point slide provides: 
“Never read the test items. This is a huge breach of security...”
Note; proctors can read test questions for Special Ed students if needed but are trained to not tell anyone at any time what the questions are. 


The investigation failed to uncover any credible evidence of a person (s) responsible for alteration of the test booklets. No one implicated anyone else. The cheating, if it occurred, was conducted covertly so that no one would discover it. 

The investigation revealed several breaches of protocol and procedures in the 2014 MSP testing at BHIS. 

The test booklets were never stored in the extra custodian closet. (Note: the Assistant Principal who was the testing coordinator was new to the school that year and may have thought that the storage closet used, by the stage, was a custodian closet.  It is not clear.)

Those most under scrutiny in the Final Report:

Po-yuk Tang, Principal - Beside the main issue, she was investigated over chain of custody of test booklets.  As well, the custodian reported that Tang had distributed seven inside master keys rather than the usual three.  (It appears that at least 10 people had a key that would work for the storage closet where the test booklets were stored.  The locks were changed on key doors after the investigation started.)  It is unclear to me whether she is still with the district.

Michele Nishioka, Assistant Principal  - Besides the main issue, investigated over chain of custody of test booklets.  She was the testing coordinator for BIIS.  Ms. Nishioka now works for Issaquah School District as a principal.

Helen Finch - long-time BIIS teacher and previous testing coordinator (she proctored some classes during the Spring 2014 testing).  Finch offered to help Nishioka with the testing process but Nishioka said no, she knew how to do it from working in Bellevue district.

Judy Eng - ELL teacher - Beside the main issue, investigated for having one student's test booklet in her possession.  She also talked to two teachers about this student's test after seemingly having read it.
It appears that while Tang did not accuse anyone of tampering, she

...alleged facts that implicated long-time teacher and experienced testing coordinator Helen Finch in reading the test items in s test booklet, along with Tang and Nishioka, even adding during the second interview that Finch allegedly stated, “I know we’re not supposed to do that.” Tang further alleged that Finch asked her and Nishioka if she [Finch] should give the test booklet back to and insist that he work longer on the test.

Handwriting Expert
The document examiner found indications in the math test booklets of three (3) students that suggested that the answers may have been altered by someone other than the student taking the test. 

Ms. McFarland compared the answers in these three (3) booklets to handwriting samples of nine (9) District employees who had keys to the closet where the test booklets were stored at BHIS, and one teacher who was found to have read the test items in one student’s test booklet. She found no “significant similarities” between the handwriting of any of the nine (9) employees and the sections of the three test booklets that might have been altered by someone other than the student taking the test. 

However, the document examiner found “significant similarities” between the handwriting of the teacher found to have read test items and some of the suspicious corrections, and opined that the teacher “could have” written some of the corrections. However, further investigation is needed to develop a stronger opinion regarding this teacher and the suspicious corrections.  

I am very unhappy about the information about the handwriting expert's conclusions for two reasons.  As I mentioned above, I only received the draft of the declaration from the expert, Hannah McFarland.

Two, the wording in the Final report does not name the teacher whose handwriting may be similar to writing in test booklets.  This is key because there are only two teachers truly investigated and yet only ONE was in the list of people whose handwriting was examined.  And, it's the more credible teacher.

I have asked for the final declaration to see if I can figure this out. 

From reading the Final Report (partial)

While no one implicated anyone else, there was finger-pointing over custody of the test booklets with the Principal and the Assistant Principal seemingly going back-and-forth, according to the final investigation.  The investigator seems to find the Assistant Principal only marginally more credible than the Principal.

Principal Po Tang’s credibility was lacking in some respects. She stated some facts in such a way that she looked good, when the true facts were not so favorable. In addition, she refused to accept responsibility for her actions without implicating someone else. She had trouble giving direct answers to some questions and appeared to be evasive, calculating, and conniving. 

SPS has a career advancement growth and support program where a student achievement award of up to $7,500 can be earned annually by principals based on demonstrated growth in student achievement as determined by the results of state assessments in reading and mathematics. Principal Tang received an award for the previous school year while principal at Van Asselt. She stated she believed the award was “a couple of thousand dollars.” Tang denied altering the answers on any test booklet. She further denied having any knowledge of cheating or of anyone altering the test booklets at BHIS. 

Assistant Principal Nishioka:
During the second interview, she was accompanied by a principal from the Issaquah School District who took notes. Nishioka appeared calmer and less defensive. However, she frequently stated she could not recall a lot of the events she was questioned about. 

She also told one teacher that she had counted the booklets and packed them to go to the district but that Principal Tang said no, that she wanted to do the count with Nishioka and Ms. Finch, the previous testing coordinator.  Nishioka had signed the district document accounting for the test booklets but Tang would not sign it until the second count with Finch occurred.

(The investigator does not state whether Finch ever did this task of counting and packing by herself when she was test coordinator so it's hard to know if Nishioka was out of line for wanting to not have a second count.)   

Sarah Lorimer, a special education teacher, described Nishioka as coming to her classroom on Friday, May 16, “super frustrated” because Tang told her [Nishioka] she could not deliver the booklets to the District on that day. According to Lorimer, Nishioka told her she had counted and packed the booklets and they were ready to be delivered to the district.  Lorimer said she understood Nishioka to say that Tang had possession of the booklets until they were "delivered to the District." 

The second count was done by Tang, Finch and Nishioka in the storage closet where the booklets were being stored on May 20, 2104.  At the end of the count, they had found some 4th graders test booklets in a 5th grade box, fixed that error and were left with two 3rd grade test booklets missing.

Nishioka went to look in the classroom and her office and found one in her office.  Tang and Finch left for a bit to see parents at a school event that was at the school. (Seems like an odd time to have an event in the building with test booklet counts going on.)  When they got back, Nishioka had "found" the other test booklet in the storage closet.  
Tang seemed perplexed by this response stating they looked everywhere in the storage closet for the booklet and could not find it.

Judy Eng

Ms Eng seems to have somewhat started the issue of one third-grade student's test booklet issue.  She, as the ELL teacher, was supposed to have proctored this student during testing but could not and asked that two teachers seat the student alone between their two classes (BIIS is an open-concept school).

Both teachers report that Eng had come to them after realizing that the student had 'finished" in 20 minutes and was upset.  Both teachers said that Eng said she had looked thru the student's test booklet.  Eng later denied this and said she thought the student had only completed one-third of the test and had guessed that, not looked at the booklet.  Both teachers gave the investigator the same story and their accounting appeared to be more plausible than Ms. Eng's.

Eng discussed this student's booklet with Nishioka and then Tang and Finch. 

 ... second interview with Eng, Eng was evasive and nonresponsive to the questions asked. She appeared eager to talk about other things and repeat things she had already said. The investigator
concludes that Eng, more likely than not, read the test items in the student's test booklet.

What is confusing is that both Tang and Nishioka knew that one student had finished in 20 minutes (which is fine for the teacher to have reported) BUT that this student had only answered multiple-choice questions.  How that could be known without looking at the booklet is unclear.  The report says that when the student finished so quickly, Tang and Nishioka called Finch and made her aware that the student finished in 20 minutes as Finch had not proctored that class.  Finch then flipped thru the booklet and said she could tell there were no answers for the short-answer questions. Tang and Nishioka seemed to have flipped thru as well.

None of them should have opened the test booklet as that would violate testing procedures. 

One Key Finding 

Tang and Eng were in the building two weekends before the count, May 10-11, for a couple of hours each (one on Saturday and one on Sunday.)

Both Tang and Nishioka were - separately - in the building on the weekend before the count.  Tang for 5 hours on Sunday, May 18th and Nishioka for four+ hours on Saturday, May 17th (she left after two hours, then came back about 2 hours later and told JSCEE security she had locked herself out.  They came and let her back in and she was there about another two hours.)  The report says they were never able to ask Nishioka about what she was doing in the building on that day.

Not one of the three could say what she was doing in the building on those weekend days except Eng who said she was preparing for her evaluation.  (The report does not note if Tang said this was a plausible answer.)

Other possibilities

The final investigation follows the chain of custody after district personnel receive them from the school and then seal the boxes per OSPI rules.  There were apparently JSCEE warehouse and truck drivers (the booklets are sent to Minnesota) who were around all the boxes of booklets but they were not interviewed.   It is unclear to me if the truck drivers were SPS employees.

The investigation notes that these workers were not interviewed because the boxes had been sealed then put on a pallet on the bottom with more boxes from 17 other schools loaded above them and then the whole pallet had been sealed in plastic.


Anonymous said…
SPS has a career advancement growth and support program where a student achievement award of up to $7,500 can be earned annually by principals based on demonstrated growth in student achievement as determined by the results of state assessments in reading and mathematics.

So only the principal would get the $$Cash. Is this true?
So only 1 person would get cash at BHIS.

Who came up with this bonus plan?
There were 31 teachers at BHIS. Wouldn't they have been responsible for student growth if it occurred?

How big an improvement was needed to get a bonus?

Is the bonus plan still happening?
For what schools is the performance bonus available?

-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
Please find an alternative to Scribd, which requires membership to download. Thank you.

~an interested reader
Interested, find me one and I'll do it.
Wanda said…
Having seen some of Sebree's work (and on the web), we find her downright inept. She must be somehow related to someone downtown.
Wanda said…
And WAAAAAY overpaid!

Get a 10th grader. Ours could produce higher quality at a fraction of the cost.
Anonymous said…
Melissa, DocumentCloud provides a nice user interface. I haven't used it from the journalist's end, but it appears to be powerful and easy.


~Interested reader
Charlie Mas said…
So, in the end, what do we have?

We have all of the trappings of accountability, we have leadership that can claim to have made an effort towards accountability, but we don't have any actual accountability.

What a familiar outcome.
And Charlie sums it up nicely. What's interesting is that the investigator notes that the assistant principal has gone to Issaquah district but doesn't say where the principal or teacher in question are.

The principal at BIIS has changed; Susie Murphy is now principal (although the school website still reflects Tang as being at the school). The teacher, Judy Eng, is still at BIIS but Helen Finch is not.

Anonymous said…
Can anyone let us know what has happened to Tang and Eng? Have any consequences been levied against them? Or?
Anonymous said…
I think both Tang and eng should not be retained by the District!
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K.M. said…
Has anyone tried to investigate Sarah Lorimer as a suspect? During her tenure at Concord, we noticed Sarah consistently giving her SPED students "accommodations" during state assessments way beyond their IEP. (Ex: "Are you sure that's the answer you want to bubble?")

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