Incidents of Kentucky teachers giving students too much help during statewide public school testing were among the 312 violations that occurred in 2016-17, up from the year before when at least 261 violations were found, according to documents the Herald-Leader obtained under the Kentucky Open Records Act.
Eighty-eight of the violations in the 2016-17 testing cycle resulted in lowered scores. Allegations of violations for the 2017-18 tests are still being investigated, Kentucky Department of Education officials said.
Because of the time state investigations into allegations take, some notification letters were not sent to superintendents until 2018 for the violations that occurred in 2016-17. The tests included the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress used to rate schools.
In July, Paris Independent Superintendent Ken Bicknell received a letter from Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis notifying him that in 2016-17, a Paris Elementary teacher “prompted and responded to the students with too much information,” the letter said.
The statewide test scores of two special needs 5th grade students were invalidated after a Kentucky Department of Education investigation found that a teacher made “comments that were leading.... students to the answers.”
The teacher told state investigators that if she did something wrong she did not do it intentionally, but that she did offer words of encouragement.
“Any time that we see or hear of something that could potentially be outside the guidelines, we self-report,” said Bicknell. “We want to be very transparent. That is the case in this situation. If a mistake is inadvertently made, it still is something you have to report. That has always been my policy.
Kentucky Department of Education officials have said that most violations involve procedural errors rather than intentional efforts to cheat. State education officials think that most districts are complying with testing regulations.
There were several other examples of violations in the state.
In July, Floyd County school district officials were sent a letter from Lewis saying that the administrative support exam given in March 2017 at the Floyd County Area Technical Center was compromised and that five test scores were ultimately reduced to zero. Floyd County Superintendent Danny Adkins declined to comment.
The reading and math scores were lowered for two special needs third grade students at W.R. Castle Memorial Elementary School in Johnson County when they were given accommodations which were not recommended for them beforehand. In the Middlesboro Independent Middle School, a test proctor mistakenly allowed a 8th grade special needs student to use a calculator.
The reading scores of 14 students at Wayland Alexander Elementary School in Ohio County were reduced to zero when a state investigation determined that a teacher provided “inappropriate assistance” to students and 14 fourth grade students said they changed an answer based on things the teacher said to them. The students said the teacher told them they had an answer right, or an answer wrong, hinted at the meaning of a word or told them to look at a specific question again.
The teacher said she had only pointed out to students that they had skipped questions or were on the wrong page. “She did not feel that she had done anything wrong during the test administration,” state documents said.
At Taylor County Middle School, the reading scores for 11 8th-grade students and the math, reading, social studies and on demand writing scores were invalidated for eight 8th-grade students when a teacher was reading for a special needs child in the corner -- and ended up simultaneously reading to 11 students in the room.
A regulation says that the use of accommodations for the assessments can’t interfere with testing for other students. The teacher, along with several others in the state who were found to be responsible for violations, was required to get three hours training.
Taylor County Superintendent Charles Higdon declined to comment.
At Bracken County High School, the U.S. History scores for six 11th-grade students at Bracken County High School were reduced to zero after students told investigators that a teacher stood behind students, “read the questions on the computer screen, gave hints, clues, made comments regarding their answer choice, gave the correct answer for at least one questions on the exam or moved their mouse, nudging them to the correct answer.”
According to state documents, the teacher said he read some of the questions to himself as the students were testing to see whether he had covered the materials in class and he may have read some questions under his breath , but he never purposely gave correct answer choices on an exam.
The teacher “indicated that after some reflection, he realized that “he may have given the impression of some possible wrongdoing .” However, he did nothing but issue some words of encouragement to students,” said a June 28 letter sent to Bracken Superintendent Jeffrey Aulick.
In Jefferson County, test scores were lowered for six former English Language Learner students after they were given extra time on English exams even though they no longer needed special accommodations, a letter to the school district said.
In Kentucky, everyone involved in administering a state assessment must undergo training before the testing session. 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 the state education commissioner as to what should be done. State officials decide which violations result in training for staff or invalidating scores 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.