School test score spikes attributed to 'supportive testing environment'

School test score spikes attributed to 'supportive testing environment' »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Months after KATU's On Your Side Investigative team called attention to the erratic test scores at King School in Northeast Portland, an analysis released by Portland Public Schools points to factors for the wild swings.

In September last year, Anna Canzano reported how certain scores at the K-through-8 school saw some of the most dramatic changes in the state. For example, in the 2010 school year, only 36 percent of King's third graders passed the state standardized test in math. That same batch of kids the following year, as fourth graders, performed remarkably better; 89 percent of them passed. But just a year later in 2012, the group bombed the math test; less than 10 percent passed.

What happened?

Portland Public Schools asked the non-profit Education Northwest to conduct an independent analysis. A report released to the On Your Side Investigators Wednesday points to a variety of factors for the spike and dip in scores.

Among the factors, the testing environment for students in the year scores went up. The report cites how staff at King strove to provide students an encouraging environment that helped them feel comfortable. Measures offered by staff during testing included breaks for the students and snacks. Students were also given the opportunity to complete the test over multiple sessions. Some took as many as four to five days to finish. 

These steps all fall within the Oregon Department of Education's guidelines for standardized testing. 

The analysis by Education Northwest found no cheating by teachers and no malicious intent.

So why did the scores dip in 2012?

Schools officials with Portland Public schools say the public scrutiny changed the environment in the third year. Canzano's 2013 report included a complaint filed by a teacher accusing educators at King of cheating on standardized test by allowing students to change test scores to get the right answer.

"We were aware that by doing this analysis we changed that testing atmosphere to a more sterile environment in which we took away some of those things that made kids feel comfortable taking the test," said Antonio Lopez, the regional administrator for the Jefferson Cluster of which King School is a part.

Lopez described the chilling effect on teachers who no longer felt they could offer encouragement to students during testing and allow for breaks or snacks.

Moving forward, Lopez says King School will continue following state testing guidelines but wants to train teachers on how to create the testing environment more like the one students had in the 2011-2012 school years, one that was less stressful, and clearly showed remarkably better results.

Jaime Cale and Sung Kokko both have kindergarten-age children at King. Both chose the school for their children and had questions once the spike and dip in scores was reported.

"It was concerning because this is where our kid was going to be going everyday and these were the people we were entrusting to mold her mind," said Kokko.

But both moms told Canzano having been at the school this year and having gotten to know the teachers, they're confident they made the right choices in keeping their child in attendance there. 

Cale said, "I'm glad the [analysis] results came back the way they but I guess there will always be questions. What really happened? I don't know."