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Lax testing security leads to sanctions for North Conejos

State officials have thrown out 2011 and 2012 test scores for La Jara Elementary School in the San Luis Valley’s North Conejos district and reduced the school’s accreditation rating.

The sanctions were imposed after a Colorado Department of Education investigation found lapses in test security, test administration and staff training during both the 2011 and 2012 school years. The CDE findings were issued late last month.

A department official said the case is among the three most serious lapses in the recent history of the state’s testing program. (Get background on the other two cases here.)

Student annual scores and growth on the TCAP tests in reading, writing, math and science are important factors in the accreditation of districts and schools and also will be a factor in teacher evaluations in the future.

Superintendent Kevin Schott told EdNews that he, school board President Robert Chavez and Assistant Superintendent Carla Archuleta met with department officials earlier this week. He characterized the session as “informational” but declined to provide further details or say what next steps in the case might be. A recent story in the Alamosa Valley Courier reported that the school board was unhappy with the state’s order and felt some relevant information hadn’t been considered.

“The results from this investigation indicate that key North Conejos administrators … as well as some teachers failed to adhere to test administration, test security, and ethical testing practices,” the CDE report found. “There is also strong sentiment within the community that unethical practices have occurred on an ongoing basis. In fact, there appeared to be a ‘testing culture’ within the district in which CDE procedures and policies regarding the administration of state assessments were violated on a routine basis. There is clear evidence of pervasive and egregious violations at La Jara Elementary that occurred over multiple years.”

The report also found “some indications” of testing violations at Manassa Elementary School and Centauri Middle School but no problems at Centauri High School.

The administrators cited in the report were former La Jara Principal Brian Crowther (now superintendent in the nearby Centennial district) and Archuleta, who was assessment coordinator. The document focused responsibility on Archuleta.

“Ms. Archuleta did not perform the functions of her position. This led to a breakdown in the chain of custody for secure testing materials and non-compliance regarding test security and administration procedures. The most egregious of these was the failure to provide any training to principals or other staff members in test security and administration procedures for several years prior to the 2012 administration, a clear violation of CDE policy,” the department’s investigation found.

Among other things, the CDE report noted that Archuleta failed to “display a professional approach to testing – her demeanor and behavior as reported by her colleagues conveyed a lack of seriousness regarding state testing (for example, she took vacation during the testing window).”

Other problems found by the CDE investigation included:

  • Test security was compromised because teachers had access to tests before testing began.
  • There was inadequate security for materials during the testing process.
  • Proper control wasn’t maintained over test timing, with the result that “teachers could give students as much time as they wanted in order to finish the tests. This is a flagrant violation of test procedures.”

The report also noted that some staff members who were interviewed reported such other problems as (in the words of the document):

  • Pretending to write down a student’s dictated answer (this is an accommodation available to students who have physical difficulty writing), but actually revising the student’s answer.
  • Erasing students’ responses to a writing prompt and having them redo their answers.
  • Having students practice on items that were almost identical to those on the test.
  • Bringing students in during recess to correct their work.
  • Keeping students in from recess and/or physical education class until they revised their answers to constructed response items.
  • Coaching students during testing by pointing at wrong answers and indicating to students that they needed to change their answers.
  • Reviewing student test booklets to see if all questions had been answered and giving them back to students to complete if some questions hadn’t been answered.

The CDE report concludes, “Therefore the CSAP/TCAP scores for 2011 and 2012 at La Jara Elementary School will be suppressed (they will no longer be reported). In addition, the Commissioner of Education will … lower the 2012 School Performance Framework rating for La Jara Elementary School to ‘Priority Improvement.’”

The report addeded, “It is important to note that at the direction of the new superintendent, Kevin Schott, training was conducted in 2013 in a more formal and direct manner, in line with Department guidelines, and test security and administration procedures and expectations were made more explicit.”

The document also said, “Should further information come to light regarding standardized test security and
administration violations, additional consequences may be applied at the individual educator, school and/or district levels. This includes lowering the district’s District Performance Rating to ‘Turn Around’ should this pattern of behavior continue.”

Schott, who’s been superintendent for only one school year, told EdNews the district now will use two proctors in every classroom during testing and will review other CDE recommendations.

“That’s really where the district’s focus is at,” he said. “We’ll make sure we do what’s right in the future. Our district-wide focus is to improve our procedures.”

Schott previously was principal of Basalt High School in the Roaring Fork district. Archuleta was one of the finalists when the superintendent’s job was filled in April 2012, according to news reports at the time.

About North Conejos

The 1,000-student district is based in the town of La Jara in the southeastern part of the San Luis Valley. About 68 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

The district is rated by the state as “accredited,” the second-highest rating level, earning 70.8 points out of a possible 100 in 2012.

La Jara Elementary, with about 200 students, previously was rated as a “performance” school in 2012, with 77.2 out of a possible 100 points on the state’s rating scale. About 70 percent of Colorado schools are rated as performance. About 7.5 percent are listed as priority improvement, the second-lowest category.

DPS, COVA sanctioned in the past

The prior major case of testing irregularities surfaced in June 2012, when DPS officials fired Beach Court Elementary Principal Frank Roti for erasing wrong answers on student tests. The state invalidated all scores in all subjects for the 2010 and 2011 school years. That investigation also found some “technical” violations of testing procedures at Denver’s Hallett Fundamental Academy. (See EdNews story on those cases.)

In 2010 more than 6,000 tests results for students of Colorado Virtual Academy were thrown out for procedural irregularities, primarily because tests for different grades and subjects were given at the same time in the same rooms.

COVA was chartered by the Adams 12-Five Star school district, which therefore took the hit in its overall test results even though the majority of its students live outside district boundaries. (See this story for details on the case.)

The district and COVA have had a somewhat rocky relationship, and the district has decided to end its relationship with the online school after the 2013-14 school year (see story).

Colorado also has numerous minor “misadministrations” during the annual spring testing cycle, according to CDE spokeswoman Janelle Asmus. Those smaller issues include problems like teachers giving a test section at the wrong time, lack of accommodations from students eligible for them or students going beyond a “Stop” in a test booklet and looking at questions before they’re supposed to do so.

For example, Asmus said, in 2012 there were 32 misadministrations of reading tests in grades 3-10.

All students in grades 3-10 take annual reading, writing and math tests, and students take science tests once in elementary, middle and high school. With about 800,000 students enrolled statewide, that’s millions of tests a year.

According to CDE officials, the state has no test-irregularity investigations pending.

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