Education

100 Kentucky students had their state test scores lowered to zero. Here’s why.

The 2015-16 statewide tests scores of 25 fourth-graders at Clark County’s Strode Station Elementary were lowered to zero after Kentucky Department of Education investigators determined that their teacher obtained a test booklet from a locked room without authorization and taught information from it before the exam, state documents show.

In all, Kentucky education officials changed the test scores of at least 100 students to zero after violations of the testing code were found in 2015-16 on required statewide tests, the most recent year for which results are available.

Because of the time the investigations into allegations took, superintendents across the state have been receiving letters of confirmation in 2017 for the violations that occurred in 2015-16. Some notification letters were dated as late as May 2017.

At least 261 violations were found statewide on tests for 2015-16, state officials say. That compares with 241 in the year before. The tests include the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress used to rate schools and other required exams such as the ACT.

A March 27, 2017, letter to Clark County Superintendent Paul Christy from Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt laid out the case against teacher Audrey Deaton.

Several days before testing began, Deaton used a key to enter a locked storage area where testing materials were stored. She removed a K-PREP test booklet from another teacher’s box of materials and took it back to her classroom, and used it to prepare her students for the K-PREP, according to the letter and attachments sent to the superintendent. That violated the state testing code.

It was April 26, 2016, when a K-PREP test booklet at the school turned up missing.

According to the documents sent to Clark County from the state, the school’s security camera feed showed that Deaton entered the building before normal school hours on April 25, unlocked a room without permission and came out carrying a test booklet. On April 27, she admitted taking the test booklet, the documents say.

She was escorted out of the school building and not allowed to return to the school. K-Prep testing that year began on May 2, 2016. On May 3, several questions on the K-Prep covered by Deaton could be found in student math journals. The first 13 answers on the tests were found in her students’ journals but not in journals of students in other classes. Typed passages from the reading tests were found in her online account, the documents from the state say.

Deaton told officials she wanted to see if she had been teaching all of the content needed for testing.

Christy told the Herald-Leader the issues were immediately reported to the Kentucky Department of Education.

“The teacher’s no longer employed with us based on the outcome of the investigation,” Christy said. “The test scores were removed … it did lower the scores of that building. That building however still remained as a school of distinction … it’s a good school.”

According to state documents, Deaton’s name was sent to the Education Professional Standards Board, which certifies and disciplines teachers. As of June 1, there was an “open and pending” case in the EPSB’s Educator Disciplinary Records, according to an Open Records Response to the Herald-Leader.

Deaton declined to comment for this article.

Statewide, nearly 200 educators or school staff were required to have extra training when violations were found in the 2015-16 assessments, according to documents obtained under the Kentucky Open Records Act.

Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said that as in 2014-15, most violations involve procedural errors rather than intentional efforts to cheat. Rodriguez said state officials think that most districts are complying with testing regulations.

Violations were found when teachers left test booklets unattended or students took photographs of cover pages or other pages of the tests with their cellphones. Sometimes students posted the photos on social media sites. Violations were found when teachers gave students cues or hints that might have caused them to change their answers.

A score was lowered in Adair County after a teacher observed a third grade student copying answers from another student. In another incident in Adair County, scores were lowered when two 12th-grade students switched identification numbers in an attempt to cheat on tests.

At Huntertown Elementary in Woodford County, a score was lowered when a student used a calculator on a portion of the test where it wasn’t allowed, and in Union and Jefferson counties, when a teacher let a student use a dictionary.

A staff member at Franklin-Simpson High School in Simpson County admitted to falling asleep while monitoring a test.

Everyone involved in administering a state assessment must undergo administration code training before the testing session, Rodriguez said.

After an allegation has been made, a case file is created by the state testing allegations coordinator. A state investigator then examines all available evidence. The case is brought to the Testing Board of Review. The education commissioner appoints members to the board representing various divisions within the state Department of Education or agencies outside the state education department.

The Testing Board of Review makes a recommendation to Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt as to what should be done.

State officials decide which violations result in training for staff or changing scores to zero by deciding whether there was intent and whether the integrity of the test was compromised.

A student’s academic record isn’t affected by the state’s decision. Students retain their scores, but the school receives a zero for that student for accountability purposes, Rodriguez said.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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