The Kentucky Department of Education launched its investigation into testing violations at Betsy Layne Elementary because the school ranked among the highest in the state for the number of testing “anomalies” that occurred there.
The KDE Report of Findings of that investigation, sent to Superintendent Danny Adkins on May 13, defines an “extreme anomaly” as those “with a one in one million chance” of occurring naturally.
BLES received “flags” for the number of times these anomalies occurred on state testing. It received five flags in 2013, one flag in 2014, four flags in 2015, 20 flags in 2016, 17 flags in 2017 and no flags in 2018, when KDE monitored test administration at the school.
The report noted that in 2016, BLES ranked as the “eighth most anomalous school” in Kentucky, as the “second most anomalous school” in the state in 2017 and as the “fifth most anomalous school in Kentucky” in 2018 “due to its high flagging count in previous years.”
The report showed that “increases of wrong to right” erasures at BLES correlated with increased test scores in 2016, and that the school’s scores “continued to soar” in 2017, as the number of erasures increased.
The report said the number of students who scored proficient nearly doubled in 2016 in reading and math for elementary students and also increased for middle school students. In 2016, elementary reading proficiency increased from 46.6 to 88.3 and math proficiency increased from 44.2 to 85. In 2017, elementary reading proficiency jumped to 95.2 and math increased to 79.7 in elementary grades, KDE reported.
“However, when KDE monitored the K-Prep assessment in 2018, 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.”
In October 2018, the KDE provided the Floyd County Chronicle and Times numerous documents related to district testing in response to an open records request.
Letters and emails sent to district administrators explained that the investigation started because of “erasure data” the KDE received on reading and math tests.
“The data provides the KDE the probabilities of erasure anomalies occurring, but the KDE does not consider the data to be an allegation against the district without a corresponding allegation or observation,” KDE Staff Attorney Erik M. Carlsen-Landy wrote in an April 2018 email to former Interim Superintendent Steve Trimble and Davida Marson, former director of district-wide services in county schools.
At the time that letter was sent, KDE had instructed Trimble to withhold testing materials from Betsy Layne Elementary School and Betsy Layne High School — a request that was later changed.
A day before he resigned from his post on April 17, 2018, former KDE Commissioner Dr. Stephen L. Pruitt sent a letter about an “urgent test security matter” to Trimble.
Pruitt wrote, “As you may be aware, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) conducts forensic analysis of every district and school’s results on the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) exam to look for indications of potential testing improprieties. Recently, KDE staff undertook a longitudinal review of schools that have been flagged for the highest potential of testing improprieties and presented me with data that calls into concern the validity of test scores in a number of schools, including some in FCS.”
Pruitt requested that when testing booklets arrived at central office, the test booklets for Betsy Layne Elementary and Betsy Layne High School be withheld and not sent to the schools.
“The materials for these schools are not to be opened by FCS staff,” he wrote, asking Trimble to contact KDE when the testing materials arrive for those schools so that KDE staff could “monitor the inventory process” for BLES and BLHS.
“Upon completion of the inventory process, KDE staff will seal the boxes with a tamper-evident tape to ensure the materials are secure,” Pruitt wrote. “Once materials are verified to be secure by KDE staff, Betsy Layne Elementary and High School will be able to receive their materials but will be instructed that the materials are not to be opened by anyone other than KDE staff.”
He goes on to explain that KDE staff will be sent to both schools throughout testing to “open the materials and monitor their distribution, monitor the administration of the K-PREP, and securely seal test materials on a daily basis.”
He also noted, “For now, knowledge of this situation is to be limited to you and District Assessment Coordinator Tonya Goodman.”
The day after that letter was sent and Wayne Lewis was named interim KDE commissioner, Carlsen-Landy sent Trimble an email, reporting that the letter was mistaken.
“As we discussed yesterday, I was mistaken in placing a hold on the Betsy Layne High School testing materials. The corrected hold is on the K-PREP test materials for Betsy Layne Elementary School, which you clarified for me was the K through 8th Grade school,” Carlsen-Landy wrote.
In September 2018, KDE officials sent the school district several other letters, reporting, among other things, that the 2017 administration of Kentucky Occupational Skills Standards Assessment at the Floyd County Area Technical Center was “compromised,” causing students to have to re-take the test and training to be required for teachers Connie McKinney, Rickey Joseph and Principal Lenville Martin.
Six Sept. 2018 letters were also sent to inform the district about the scores being lowered for six students at Osborne Elementary, Adams Middle School, Duff Elementary and Allen Elementary who “gained a testing advantage” because teachers scribed for students who were not given scribes as an accommodation, as well as other issues.
These issues were similar to those highlighted in the Individuals with Disabilities Act Audit that the KDE released in Floyd County last year. The KDE provided the Floyd County Chronicle and Times with the anonymous letter that launched the investigation that caused that audit.
The Jan. 28, 2018, letter sought an investigation for “unethical and morally wrong things” going on in the school district. The 11-page letter was filed with numerous allegations, and nearly all of them were related to former chief academic officer Tonya Williams, who also previously served as principal at May Valley. No allegations were made against Kidd or Ratliff, but two allegations about BLES were mentioned. One said a teacher “was told that she would not be testing the special education students who she had stated would not be able to perform at the proficient level even with accommodations, and this came to pass along with the huge increase in test scores” at the school. Another allegation concerned Williams asking “for leniency” with the school’s lack of having a response-to-intervention plan in place in 2015-16.
Some of the allegations against Williams in that anonymous letter were highlighted in the May 13 KDE Report of Findings, but not all of them. Numerous allegations made against Kidd and Ratliff in the report came from staff interviews, including allegations that they worked with teachers to make wrong-to-right erasures, that teachers reviewed state tests for accuracy while substitute teachers supervised students, that students were given accommodations they were not qualified to receive and that test materials were not secure.
Following that report, the KDE determined that Jordan Kidd, Williams, John Kidd and Rebecca Ratliff be reported to the Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board.