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Test cheating? DPS asks state to review state test scores at two schools for possible cheating

The Colorado Department of Education is conducting an investigation into possible cheating at two schools in Denver where a review of state test results showed "statistical irregularities," according to a press release just sent out by Denver Public Schools. DPS doesn't identify the schools, but Education News Colorado reports that they are Beach Court Elementary and Hallett Fundamental Academy.

Read DPS's full press release below.

And check out the charts at the bottom of the Education News Colorado story that show how the scores at Beach Court and Hallett have gone up over the past eight years.


DPS Asks State Officials for Reviews of Test-Score Results, Procedures in Certain Schools

District's Analysis of 2011 CSAP Results Leads to Call for Independent Investigation

The leadership of the Denver Public Schools has consulted with the Colorado Department of Education on an analysis of all DPS test scores and materials from the 2011 Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP). As a result of that analysis, DPS has asked the state for an independent review of test-score administering and handling of the 2011 CSAP in a very limited number of schools identified by this statistical analysis. The investigation will be overseen by the Colorado Department of Education. The state's Attorney General's Office, in its role as CDE's legal advisor, will conduct the investigation with the assistance of a national firm that is experienced in assessment procedures and integrity.

"We care deeply about the integrity of our student-achievement assessments," DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said. "Students and their families rely on assessment information to get a sense of how students are doing, and teachers use that information to target and modify instruction to best meet the needs of students. We owe it to our students, their families, and the entire DPS community to ensure the integrity of this performance data, and we want to look carefully to see if any actions have compromised this integrity."

"We initiated a thorough, comprehensive review of all 2011 CSAP scores earlier this year to determine if there were any significant inconsistencies or statistically unusual results. We shared that information with the CDE, and as a result of these analyses and our consultation with the state, we have asked for an independent investigation to examine the practices and procedures in any schools or classrooms that are identified as having statistically unusual results," Boasberg said.

Among the analyses that DPS performed and shared with CDE were detailed comparisons of whether students' test performance varied significantly between multiple choice and written responses, between two schools over two years, and among different types of assessments. In addition, DPS and CDE examined the number of wrong answers that were erased and changed to correct answers on state assessments.

Data from only two of the 162 schools in DPS indicated statistical irregularities across more than one subject or grade level. It is important to emphasize that the initial data analysis makes no conclusions about wrongdoing. It is a statistical analysis that helps determine where further review is warranted. No conclusion will be made until the end of the investigation.

It is important to note, moreover, that the number of schools involved in the investigation is very small. Overall, the percentage of tests with statistical concerns in DPS was almost exactly the same as the small percentage of tests that triggered similar statistical concerns in a blind statewide wrong-to-right erasure analysis. CDE will, based on these investigations, be determining practices and procedures which can be applied statewide in the future.

"We commend the Denver Public Schools for being proactive and conducting this early analysis," said Jo O'Brien, Assistant Commissioner of Assessment, Research and Evaluation at CDE. "The CDE's statistical thresholds used with DPS were determined based on statewide data and comparisons used by other states."

The current review centers on results from 2011. DPS and CDE will analyze spring 2012 data when it becomes available this summer. Lessons learned from the DPS investigation will be taken into consideration in the review of the 2012 data and used in determining test policy statewide next year.

DPS instituted several additional measures in the spring of 2012 to protect the integrity of state assessments, including limiting the amount of time an individual could be in possession of assessment booklets and instituting additional test-monitoring safeguards.

During the course of the investigations, DPS officials will not publicly identify schools or classrooms involved. A full report on the findings of the investigation will be made public after it is completed.

"Our Board of Education will work closely with the Superintendent and district staff to make sure the investigation is thorough, fair and transparent," said Mary Seawall, President of the Denver Board of Education. "I support the proactive steps taken by district leadership in initiating this examination and its full cooperation with CDE. I believe in the integrity and dedication of educators in DPS. At the same time, it is our obligation to hold any staff accountable if we find that any have failed in their duty to our students."

"We are committed to have the necessary accountability to ensure, when we convey assessment results to our families and our teachers, that the results are an accurate reflection of our students' academic progress," Boasberg added. "As difficult as it is to ask for this type of investigation, it is essential to ensuring that the hard work of our kids and our educators is being measured and reported accurately. We emphasize that we have great confidence in the integrity and professionalism of our educators, and this investigation involves a very small percentage of our classrooms. We understand that this investigation will raise concerns in our community. It is an unfortunate fact that in every field that tracks performance--be it, for example, financial, athletic, or post-secondary--there is a risk of improper conduct to influence performance results. The answer is not to stop assessing performance; it is to vigorously protect the integrity of the performance assessments. Ultimately, our duty is to serve our kids and our families, and they deserve a thorough and truthful picture of how students are progressing academically."

More from our Education archive: "North High credit recovery investigation says poor adult oversight to blame for cheating."

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