KDE: Principal, staff changed test scores

Students at Betsy Layne Elementary attend classes Tuesday, the first day of 2019 K-PREP testing.

A scathing report issued by the Kentucky Department of Education cites multiple violations during past K-PREP testing at Betsy Layne Elementary, including evidence that staff “deliberately altered” answer sheets for higher scores. 

The report, issued Monday to Floyd County Superintendent Danny Adkins, states a KDE investigation conducted on April 30 at BLES looked into information collected from the 2018 K-PREP monitoring process due to statistical anomalies from 2013 to 2018 — primarily involving erasures that were associated with increases in test scores. 

Based on the evidence gathered, the KDE determined that all 2017 K-PREP content area scores for the school “will be invalidated.” 

“Reports from monitors did not explain the cause of the high number of erasure anomalies in 2017,” the report said. “However, based on the correlation between KDE’s presence in the building, the disappearance of erasure anomalies and the decrease in achievement scores, as well as staff and student interviews conducted during the 2019 investigation, evidence exists that the staff at Betsy Layne deliberately altered student exams and provided inappropriate assistance to students in order to improve achievement scores.”

Investigators discovered that, as the number of erasures increased from 2015-2016, the percentage of elementary students at BLES achieving Proficient/Distinguished rose as well. However when KDE monitored K-PREP assessments in 2018, the number of students achieving Proficient/Distinguished dropped significantly, according to the report.

The report cites examples of BLES staff telling investigators in April of Principal John Kidd, Assistant Principal Rebecca Ratliff and “select teachers” changing K-PREP answers after testing. 

BLES staff members reported to investigators in April that test administration was not 

“conducted with fidelity” and shared examples cited in the report.

“Assessment Coordinator Rebecca Ratliff and select teachers at Betsy Layne changed 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.”

The report also cites issues with test security, saying District Assessment Coordinator Rady Martin told KDE investigators that he does not have a key to the location where testing materials are stored at the central office but that several other individuals do.

Several other key findings reported to investigators by BLES staff include “incredible pressure” from former Superintendent Dr. Henry Webb and former Chief Academic Officer Tonya Williams to be “the highest achieving district in the state” and that the district’s motto under Webb was, “Whatever it takes.” 

“Most staff feared questioning the district’s assessment practices and scores,” the report said, adding that, when the subject was approached, Webb or Williams would change the topic. 

The KDE alleged that Webb and Williams “created a culture” in the district where schools competed against each other for high test scores. Lower-performing schools were “scrutinized” and “intimidated,” the KDE reported, while higher-performing schools were rewarded.

“Under Superintendent Adkins, there is no longer extreme pressure related to test scores. However, although Webb and Williams are no longer supervisors, there continues to be fear in the district that these individuals will return to power.”

Adkins said in an interview with the Floyd County Chronicle and Times Tuesday that the district’s focus has changed.

“Our focus has switched from test scores to working with the student to learn life skills to prepare them for a career or continuing education,” said Adkins. “We are educating them for opportunities not test scores.”

The report also supports findings from the Office of Special Education and Early Learning (OSEEL) shared with the district on June 27, 2018 that, “... inappropriate evaluation practices existed to qualify students for accommodations so students can receive accommodations through an IEP (individual education plan) for state assessments, even though students may not be eligible for IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) services.

KDE reported that through interviews with staff, investigators learned that the district “continues to violate” IDEA by repeatedly evaluating students for special needs designations, and, among other issues, because Williams allegedly instructed staff to refer all students who scored novice to special education. Like the IDEA audit issued last year, the report also noted that staff turned in “50 special education referrals at one time and another school within the district turned in 120 special education referrals at once.”

Adkins said that the district has been working with KDE on a corrective action plan since the OSEEL report came out last year.

“We just got an update from KDE saying that our actions with the corrective action plan are on track and scheduled to be completed as of June 27 — one year from when the report was received,” he said.

Adkins would not comment on any disciplinary action taken by the district against BLES staff named in the report, but supports the KDE’s determination to report Jordan Kidd, Tonya Williams, John Kidd and Rebecca Ratliff to the Education Professional Standards Board.

“As today is the first day for K-PREP testing this year, we sent out an email reminding all staff members to abide by the state testing policies and procedures to the letter,” Adkins said Tuesday. “I want to assure everyone, as the new superintendent, we provide a quality education through our hard-working staff who cares for our students. We know our students are much more than a number and are proud to help them grow.”

The KDE also investigated the district’s “high number” of W07 withdrawls, reporting that the district withdraws students “to increase school attendance percentages,” but not “for the purpose of excluding students from state testing in order to increase scores.” 

Highlights of the report

Interviews with staff and students at the school revealed: 

•Betsy Layne Elementary Principal John Kidd, Vice Prinicpal Rebecca Ratliff and “select teachers” “change student answers from wrong to right after test administration.” 

•A student asked a proctor about an answer and the proctor said, “Absolutely.”

•Proctors use hand gestures and changed the tone of voice when reading answers to students taking tests. A student reported that the tone of a proctor’s voice made her think her answer was wrong.

•Monitors noticed a “possible pencil cue” between a proctor and student. 

•Scribes were “noted as writing in response books without the students providing verbal responses.”

•A student reported that if a proctor thought he had a wrong answer, the proctor would ask, “Are you sure?”

•Proctors would tell students definitions of words. 

•Students reported being given the same practice test packets daily and that they had to answer questions “repeatedly until they have all the answers correct.”

•Schools provided posters with information on the walls during testing. 

•Students were given accomodations beyond those listed in their special education plans.

• Floyd County’s overall special needs education child count is nearly 1.5 times greater than that of the state and has increased in the last three years. “Inappropriate evaluations practices” were “developed over a number of years as a result of pressure from former Chief Academic Officer Tonya Williams Williams on District staff to qualify students for special education and provide accomodations during state assessments.” 

•Testing materials were not secure in the central office.

•Former Superintendent Dr. Henry Webb and Williams provided “incredible pressure” for schools to have high test scores. 

•There “continues to be fear” in the district that people who scrutinized schools for low test scores “will return to power.”

(Staff Writer Mary Meadows contributed to this report.)

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