‘Cheating on multiple fronts.’ Educators in Floyd County changed test answers, state says.

Floyd County Public Schools has been recognized as a “District of Distinction” and given accolades for increasing achievement on statewide testing.

But a Kentucky Department of Education investigative report released Monday said that “...evidence exists that the staff at Betsy Layne (Elementary) deliberately altered student exams and provided inappropriate assistance to students in order to improve achievement scores.”

“Staff interviews indicate that the principal John Kidd, Assistant principal/building assessment coordinator Rebecca Ratliff and select teachers at Betsy Layne change student answers from wrong to right after test administration,” the report said. “Data analysis showing statistical anomalies is consistent with student responses being changed from wrong to right.”

As a result of the 2019 investigation, the state is invalidating all 2017 K-Prep scores at Betsy Layne. Several staff members have to undergo three hours of training on statewide testing.

Chief Academic Officer Tonya Williams, Principal John Kidd, vice-principal Rebecca Ratliff and teacher Jordan Kidd will all be reported to Kentucky’s Education Professional Standards Board. That board takes actions against educators’ state licenses.

“I would certainly characterize what we found as cheating,” said Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis. “In fact I would call it cheating on multiple fronts. It was an orchestrated scheme that included permitting students to have additional time, inappropriately reviewing test documents... issues around test security all the way to inappropriately identifying children for special education services.”

Lewis said that neither the names of current Floyd County Superintendent Danny Adkins nor former Superintendent Henry Webb would be sent to the education professional standards board. Lewis said there was no wrongdoing or indications that they had directed staff to cheat. Lewis said he could not say enough about Adkin’s cooperation.

Still, Lewis said the degree of coordination that seem to be in place in Floyd, the pressure on teachers and administrators, and the cheating in changing answers was unusual. “Frankly, I’ve never heard of anything like this. It’s really troubling,” he said.

“Our findings in Floyd County are of such a different magnitude than anything I think we’ve ever seen in Kentucky and possibly across the country,” Lewis said.

Adkins said Monday he was reviewing the findings of the report and meeting with the school district’s attorney.

“I can assure you we are going to fix all the problems in the Floyd County School district,” said Adkins.

The investigation that began on April 30, 2019, was related to Betsy Layne Elementary in Floyd County, although some findings related to district-wide practices, the report said.

Betsy Layne, a K-8 school in Floyd County was monitored by state officials during 2018 testing due to a recent history of statistical anomalies, primarily erasing wrong answers and changing them to right answers.

During the monitoring in 2018, the anomalies and the percentage of students scoring proficient/distinguished on the K-Prep assessment decreased.

The 2019 investigation examined whether the statistical anomalies were the result of testing violations.

Floyd County Schools has been under a corrective action plan since June 2018 for violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Students were inappropriately given special education accommodations on statewide testing even though they were not eligible for special education services.

From 2013 to 2017, Betsy Layne was flagged for anomalies in testing and in 2017 was the second-most anomalous school in the state, the 2019 report said.

As the number of erasures and changes in test answers increased from 2015-16, the percentage of elementary Betsy Layne students scoring proficient or distinguished on the K-Prep assessment rose significantly in reading from 46.6 percent to 88.3 and in math from 44.2 to 85.0. The state averages for elementary in 2016 in reading were 56 and in Math 51. 8. Similarly, the percentage of middle school students scoring Proficient/ Distinguished increased in reading from 52.2 to 70.3 and in math from 51. 6 to 59.3 at Betsy Layne. The state averages for middle school reading for proficient/ distinguished was 55.2 percent and math was 47 percent.

In 2017, the percentage of elementary students scoring proficient or distinguished in reading rose to 95.2 and in math to 79.7 at Betsy Layne. The state average for elementary reading in 2017 was 54. 3 and for elementary math was 49.1.

In 2018, when state officials monitored testing at Betsy Layne, the number of students scoring proficient/distinguished dropped significantly. Elementary students scoring proficient/distinguished in reading fell to 67.3 and 48.0 in Math. Middle school students scoring Proficient/Distinguished in reading fell to 69.9 and 47.5 in Math.

The report said there was “incredible pressure” by former superintendent Henry Webb — now the superintendent in Kenton County, and Chief Academic Officer Tonya Williams to have high test scores with Webb’s motto being “whatever it takes.”

Webb said in response that the investigation was conducted in late April this year and focused on multiple years at the school.

“While I have no knowledge of any intentional actions to undermine the integrity of the Floyd County School District while superintendent; I would like to add clarity to the utilization of my name in the findings,” he said. “ As superintendent of a rural Kentucky school district I absolutely had high expectations for assessment scores as I understand the need to ensure students are equipped for post-secondary opportunities especially, in an economically deprived area of the state.

“Achieving high test scores is one important measurement of how we are equipping/growing our kids. Additionally, the findings suggest that the motto under my leadership was “whatever it takes”. Once again, this is absolutely true! “

He said “Whatever it Takes”, addresses how professional learning communities respond when kids don’t achieve. “I frequently utilized this motto with the statement, ‘morally and ethically’ and referenced the expectation to always be ethical and warned of disciplinary action if anyone was every caught being dishonest on the state assessment. Lastly, staff who have worked closely with me understand my commitment to law, policy, procedure and ethics,” said Webb.

Some staff at Betsy Layne declined to talk to state officials about improper practices, saying they were afraid.

Posters with material that could help on tests were on classroom walls. Proctors for students requiring special accommodations told them the definition or meaning of words, the report said.

A staff member named Jordan Kidd showed students what to do on a calculator which was a violation, the report said.

The state report cited several violations including a proctor responding “absolutely” in response to a student regarding an answer choice and a proctor asking a student if they were sure about an answer.

The district’s identification rate for students identified with a mild mental disability has been more than three times the state’s rates. The report said students were inappropriately put in special education so they could get help on statewide tests.

Additionally, test security was an issue at Betsy Layne and at the Floyd district level, the report said.

Lewis said he “believes we’ve abused the trust of parents and of students.”

“In this case it appears that we used data from standardized assessment not to improve learning for students but in fact to game the system and to withhold from students the type of instructional program that they need,” he said.

“If students are in fact the victims here and I believe they are, the biggest tragedy is that students who should have been better served as a result of their performance on standardized assessments were in fact put in a situation where they were receiving even less,” said Lewis. “That’s criminal.”

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