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Four Red Flags Found In One Seattle School's Now-Invalidated Test Results

Wes Chapman
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Someone altered test responses at Seattle's Beacon Hill International School in a way that significantly increased the elementary school's test scores. State education officials have now thrown out the entire school's results after noting "heavy erasure" marks on the test forms.

Whatever the reason for the alterations — both Seattle Public Schools and the state aren't using the word "cheating" — the changes produced some pretty startling test results, as a state analysis shows:

1. One Very Wrong Answer

Nearly every Beacon Hill third-grader incorrectly answered Question No. 3 on their reading test. But statewide, nearly three-quarters of third-graders correctly answered that question. But that's not all. At Beacon Hill, nearly 80 percent of the responses were changed from the correct answer to an incorrect one. 

You can see for yourself in the bar graph below. The light-red portion indicates "erased and incorrect" responses, meaning the answer had been erased and changed to the incorrect choice. (Education experts say erasure marks can indicate "testing irregularities," although there are also legitimate explanations.)

The blue bars in this graph show correct responses. The light-blue bars indicate answers that had been changed from the wrong answer to the right one.

Credit Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction
A chart from the state's analysis that breaks down Beacon Hill's third grade reading test results question by question. The shades of red represent percentages of students who got incorrect answers. Light red represents percentages of students who recorded an incorrect answer after an erasure. Understandably, No. 3 raised some red flags at the state.

2. Perfect Or Near-Perfect Scores 

Of Beacon Hill's 72 third-graders, 70 students (97.2 percent) received a perfect score on their multiple choice math tests. No one received a perfect reading score, but 59 of 71 third-graders (83.1 percent) were just one point away from a perfect score (which makes sense given Question No. 3 mentioned above).

Compare that to statewide numbers: just 6.8 percent of third-graders achieved a perfect math score and 7.1 percent got every point possible in reading. Another 12.6 percent of third-graders missed a perfect reading score by one point.

3. Perfection Isn't The Norm

That wasn't the only suspect test item. Every fifth-grader at Beacon Hill correctly answered the first question on their reading test. Statewide, just under two-thirds of fifth-graders got it right.

On the math test, every Beacon Hill fifth-grader answered Question No. 5 correctly, but statewide, barely one-half of fifth-graders managed to do the same.

4. 'Level Up' 

The students' test results place them in a "performance level," with Level 1 being the lowest and Level 4 the highest. Statewide, about one-quarter of third-graders achieved the highest level on their math tests, Level 4. Another one-third achieved Level 3. At Beacon Hill, nearly 90 percent of third-graders achieved Level 4, a handful placed in Level 3, and no students placed in Levels 1 and 2. 

State officials noted similar skews in the other grades' math results, as well as in the fourth- and fifth-grade reading results.

Seattle Public Schools officials first noted the discrepancies while reviewing test results in August and alerted the state's Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. In a letter, interim superintendent Larry Nyland said he stood by the school's staff, parents and students.

The district has hired an outside investigator to determine what happened.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.