Northeast Portland

Faced with erratic test scores, Portland schools deny cheating

Faced with erratic test scores, Portland schools deny cheating »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. – Erratic test scores at more than a dozen local schools are raising suspicions that something’s amiss.

Of the Portland public schools that had marked changes in their test scores this year, Northeast Portland's King School, a K-8th grade institution, had the biggest change of all. The school has seen dramatic growth and decline in test scores for the past several years.

Several other schools had similar trends in the report that was made public Thursday, but King stood out

In 2010, 40 percent of fourth graders passed the state’s standardized math test scores. The next year, the scores skyrocketed – 89 percent of fourth graders passed.

“It’s significant, so it’s something that we’re saying, ‘OK, we need to understand what happened this year,’” said school district spokeswoman Erin Hoover Barnett.

The rise was so substantial that it led to one King staff member filing a complaint last year. The complaint suggests teachers allowed students to change their wrong answers to correct them.

“I would like to see a PPS District observer from Testing and Evaluation review the Oaks Testing Manual with those responsible for testing students, and an observer present for the Oaks Testing,” the complaint said.

Officials launched an investigation, looking closely at King’s testing practices, but at the time Portland Public Schools reported that it did not find any wrongdoing by teachers.

“She had one perspective of what she felt was happening. And when we investigated, we could understand why she was confused and why she had the views she did,” Barnett said. “But in fact, they were not doing the wrong thing.”

This year, the scores dropped. Barnett attributed the decline to a number of things, including stricter test-taking standards implemented by the state.

These are the same types of fluctuations that prompted investigations about cheating in other schools throughout the United States.

“I want to be absolutely clear: There was no indication, at any time by students (or) by teachers,” of cheating, Barnett said. “No changes of answers. No intentional wrongdoing of any kind.”

Too good to be true?

So what does it mean to have scores spike one year and then dip the next?

KATU Investigator Anna Canzano recently examined test scores at metro area school that seemed too good to be true.

Her findings, the result of a two-month investigation of school and district scoring results, now has the attention of the Oregon Department of Education, which has already disciplined four teachers for cheating on standardized tests over the last two years.

A report by the Atlanta Journal Constitution noted Portland as one of the school districts in Oregon showing unusual test score patterns.

Test results fluctuate at some Oregon schools.

There’s no state-wide system in place to investigate a school’s performance following unusual test scores, assistant superintendent Rob Saxton said.

Saxton did agree King’s scores are somewhat of an anomaly.

“As a superintendent, I can’t recall a school ever having that kind of significant shift,” Saxton said.

Attempts to reach the Oregon Department of Education on Wednesday about the most recent fluctuating scores were unsuccessful.

KATU News will be further investigating the fluctuating test scores on Thursday..