State officials are investigating testing irregularities at the Ramon E. Betances Early Reading Lab School in Hartford, and, following the release of an investigative report, school officials acknowledged that the tests had been altered.
The investigation, conducted by Siegel, O'Connor, O'Donnell & Beck, P.C., released its first report Nov. 6, was launched in August after the State Department of Education identified possible testing irregularities in the third grade Reading Comprehension section of the 2013 Connecticut Mastery Test.
"Based on the information gathered during interviews and an analysis of abnormal erasure patterns, the investigators found that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that irregularities were present and that changes were made to the students' 2013 CMT reading tests by persons other than the students," said State Dept. of Education spokesperson Kelly Donnelly. "As a result, Betances' scores for the 2012-13 school year will be considered invalid."
Hartford public schools superintendent Christina M. Kishimoto said in a statement today that investigators haven’t identified specific people who may have changed the answers, but that “the investigators determined that someone other than students altered certain tests.”
“Although we have concerns about the process and the report, we accept the findings,” Kishimoto said. “At Hartford Public Schools, we take testing integrity very seriously. Neither the Board of Education nor I tolerate adult interference with student tests."
The investigation found that there were an abnormal number of erasures on the tests at Betances, which were administered March 6, 7 and 11 of this year.
According to the report, 27 of the 42 third-grade reading content area test booklets were found to contain "a greater amount of erasures on questions answered correctly than was considered a statistically acceptable level."
Thus, 64 percent of the test booklets showed "statistically irregular answer patterns," more than twice the amount needed to categorize the tests as irregular. Some of the altered booklets had up to 31 erasure marks. One test, which was scored at 100 percent, had 22 erasures, all of which corrrected wrong answers, the report shows.
Investigators interviewed a number of teachers, including three third-grade teachers who served as test proctors; an associate teacher who distributed the third-grade test booklets, the 2012-2013 Dean of Professional Development and Literacy Coach, the school principal, the head custodian, the Hartford Public Schools Coordinator of Assessment Programs and Communication and several students who took the test, according to the report.
“It is distressing that no person has been identified as having altered the tests," said Kishimoto. "A finding of wrongdoing without identifying any individual has a negative effect on students, families and staff. We are all left with unanswered questions.
“Unfortunately the district has not had an opportunity to conduct its own investigation because the state decided not to share information and evidence with the district prior to today’s release of the final report. The state also informed us that the 2013 scores for the Betances Early Reading Lab School will not be released to families or to the district and that there are no plans to re-test the students.”
State Dept. of Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said in a statement on Wednesday, "Testing irregularities are rare in our state. In general, Connecticut teachers, administrators and students display great integrity around the administration of statewide assessments. However, when such instances of possible tampering do occur, we take the matter very seriously. Unfortunately, the investigators’ report concludes that tampering has occurred in this case. We are in communication with Hartford’s board and central office leadership regarding this matter.”
“It was necessary for the state’s investigators to conduct their work carefully and thoroughly," said Donnelly. "The students, parents and educators at Betances deserve nothing less. The district’s administration should now be focused on drawing upon the significant information and insight provided by the state’s investigators and on coordinating the district’s next steps in the investigation.”
The Betances school includes Pre-K through third grade and focuses on developing early literacy skills.