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In Seattle School Testing Scandal, ‘The Most Likely Motive Was Sabotage’

Kyle Stokes
Seattle Public Schools headquarters.

Incidents of tampering with a set of standardized tests were probably the result of intra-office quarrels rather than an attempt to get away with inflating scores, according to an independent investigation into the suspicious test results at Beacon Hill International School in Seattle. KPLU obtained the report through a public records request.

As the district reported in November, investigators failed to identify the person suspected of erasing and altering answers on tests. That tampering caused Beacon Hill's 2013-14 test scores to skyrocket, arousing suspicion Seattle Public Schools headquarters and with state officials.

But in the report released Wednesday, investigators concluded the tampering was likely designed to raise red flags — an act of "sabotage" that arose from a difficult relationship between two administrators at the school.

In discussing the incident, Seattle Public Schools officials have avoided using the word “cheating” to describe the changes, which were nevertheless judged to be deliberate and obvious. 

“[W]e believe that the most likely motive was sabotage and not simply an attempt to inflate the performance of the BHIS students to enhance the school’s reputation or earn a reward for stellar improvement from the prior year’s test results,” says the report, prepared by the firm Yarmuth Wilsdon PLLC.

The alterations did, nevertheless, have the effect of boosting the scores, prompting the state to throw out all of the elementary school’s 2013-14 test results and suspend two school employees – former principal Po Tang and teacher Judy Eng – for storing the test booklets improperly and other breaches of protocol. Both are now back at work in the district, with Tang having moved to another school.

A third employee named in the investigation, former assistant principal Michelle Nishioka, left Beacon Hill to become principal at a school in Issaquah in 2014. Investigators said Nishioka did not respond to their requests for information.

The investigators found there was evidence suggesting that one administrator had “a motive and the opportunity” to alter the test results, but not enough to point the finger at that person.

“After two investigations, the District has determined that it is time to move on. Without someone coming forward with significant new evidence, there is little hope of ever identifying the culprit. We concur in this decision,” the report concludes. 

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