Related: Shock, anger and tears from parents
A state investigation has found “significant testing violations” at northwest Denver’s Beach Court Elementary School in 2010 and 2011.
Principal Frank Roti, on leave since the probe was launched in mid-May, has been removed from his position and fired from the district. The state Department of Education also has invalidated all 2010 and 2011 test scores in all grades and all subjects. No Beach Court teachers were implicated in the case.
Superintendent Tom Boasberg also said the Roti would be required to return some $30,000 in performance bonuses earned over two years.
Boasberg said the changing of student answers “involved one individual at one school” and repeatedly praised the integrity of DPS students and staff while speaking with reporters late Wednesday afternoon.
The superintendent said “there were thousands of test results [changed] in each of the two years.”
The investigation also reviewed tests at Hallett Fundamental Academy in northeast Denver and found “evidence of technical violation.” But that evidence “did not indicate a pattern of results consistent with post-administration manipulation of test results through the changing of multiple choice answers,” the report said. Principal Charmaine Keeton will remain on the job.
“It is imperative that we have complete integrity in all the student-achievement results that we share with our students and their families,” said Boasberg said in a prepared statement. “In light of the state’s investigative report and CDE’s conclusion regarding serious violations at Beach Court, it is clear that the level and severity of the wrongdoing represent a very serious breach of the high standards of integrity and professionalism we have in DPS.”
The superintendent broke the news to Beach Court parents during an early-evening session with parents, while other district officials met with parents at Hallett.
In both cases investigators looked at what appeared to be suspiciously high numbers of erasures on test papers that changed wrong answers to correct ones.
Here are the main findings of the investigation, which was done for the state Department of Education by Alvarez & Marsal, a New York consulting firm with expertise in the field.
Beach Court– There were an “exceedingly high” number of wrong-to-right erasures on third, fourth and fifth grade tests. Test security requirements were violated, primarily the storage of test papers in the principal’s office. “The violations of test security procedures and the resulting security breach provided opportunity for student test answers to be altered. Results could have been altered in such a way that they did not reflect student independent performance. Multiple sources of evidence indicate that the significant testing violations occurred at the principal level.”
Hallett – “Although there is evidence that technical violation regarding standardized test administration and/or test security procedures may have occurred, the interviews did not reveal major violations. The additional CDE and DPS data analyses did not indicate a pattern of results consistent with post-administration manipulation of test results through the changing of multiple choice answers.”
The investigation also reviewed anomalies at three other, unnamed DPS schools and “resulted in no conclusion of material wrongdoing and no ruling of misadministration” at any of those schools, according to a DPS statement.
“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 state commissioner of assessment, research and evaluation. “We did not conclude that material wrongdoing had occurred in any other DPS school and are not invalidating any other results.”
Findings tarnish Beach Court story
The investigation’s findings were sobering for DPS and Beach Court, which has been the subject of district praise and positive media attention for the last seven years.
Both schools have recorded strong gains in test results, particularly Beach Court, which saw its reading proficiency rate rise from 40 percent in 2004 to 85 percent in 2011.
Boasberg commented Wednesday that Beach Court is “a very good school” that was “made to look like a truly extraordinary school” by the altered test answers.
Hallett’s reading proficiency hit 63 percent in 2004, dropped to the 50 percent range from 2005 to 2010 and then climbed from 50 percent in 2010 to 66 percent in 2011.
Beach Court is rated on the DPS performance report card as a “blue” or distinguished school, meaning it “exceeds expectations” and ranks as one of the district’s highest-performing schools. Hallett is rated as a “green” school, or one that “meets expectations” set by DPS. Both schools are rated “performance” by the state, its top rating.
Both are high-poverty schools. Hallett is a magnet program drawing students from across the district to its back-to-basics curriculum. The school was formerly known as Knight Fundamental Academy, and its program was moved into the former Hallett Elementary building in northeast Denver in 2009.
The investigation was launched after DPS conducted a “very thorough” analysis of 2011 assessment data for schools across the city, Boasberg said last month. “Where that analysis raised statistical concerns, we shared the information with the state Department of Education and asked the state to lead an examination.”
As part of their initial analysis, district officials placed testing monitors in a number of schools during the spring administration of the TCAP state exams. Last month, when third-grade reading TCAP results were released, both Beach Court and Hallett posted double-digit declines.
Beach Court dropped 40 percentage points on both the English and Spanish-language versions of the exams while Hallett, which did not administer the Spanish-language version, dropped 12 points.
An analysis conducted for EdNews by I-News showed a large number of Beach Court students who scored proficient in fifth grade over a three-year period saw their scores drop out of the proficient category when they moved to sixth grade in other schools (read story).
First formal probe for DPS
The probe is the first state-led cheating investigation at a Denver school, but it’s not the first time general questions have been raised about gains in DPS.
Last year, USA Today conducted an analysis of reading and math scores in seven states, including Colorado, and found 69 Colorado schools where students moving from one grade to the next posted dramatic growth, or jumps greater than 99 percent of their peers in the state. Of that total, 29 percent were in DPS. Beach Court was on the list for gains made between 2006 and 2007.
State assessment officials admitted they declined to pay for erasure analysis as part of their testing contract with CTB-McGraw Hill and that their own statistical analysis did not flag those schools. DPS administrator Connie Casson said then that district leaders did not conduct systemic analysis of scores, such as what was done by USA Today, for potential cheating. She said they did look into incidents brought to their attention by staff in schools or by district instructional leaders who had examined results.
In March, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a national look at cheating and cited DPS among districts with test score results warranting a second look. The Atlanta schools have been at the center of one of the nation’s most serious test-cheating scandals.
Roti had led Beach Court since 2002, and Keeton has been Hallett’s principal since 2008. Boasberg Wednesday strongly expressed faith in her leadership and integrity.
Boasberg said he had discussed the matter with Roti but declined to discuss that conversation with reporters. Roti could not be found for comment.