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Single Culprit Indicated in Alteration of School Tests

September 15, 1988|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

BALDWIN PARK — One person who "panicked under pressure" may have altered state tests at an elementary school two years ago, according to the district's superintendent who checked records in Sacramento.

Supt. E. David Barker would not name a suspect, but said "an unusually high number" of answers were changed in one of four third-grade classes that took the 1985-86 California Assessment Program test at Pleasant View Elementary School.

Pleasant View is the only school in the San Gabriel Valley among the 40 schools in the state where alterations were discovered on the tests. Eighteen of the schools are in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The State Department of Education notified school districts about the tampering last year and made the disclosures public two weeks ago.

A computer check identified tests that had an unusually high number of erasures. Further checking showed which tests had more than three answers that were changed from wrong to right. Barker said officials assume that the average student will make no more than three changes on a test.

Tests with an unusual number of erasures were checked further for several other criteria indicating tampering, Barker said. Officials looked for a high percentage of answers that were changed from wrong to right. They checked students' math computations to see whether they matched their answers, compared answers to see if there were any obvious differences in the ways they were marked and looked for any dramatic shift in the actual scores for the grade at a school.

"Given those criteria, they didn't want to count the third grade at Pleasant View School," Barker said. "I found that in one class there was something questionable. I had to agree with the findings."

Barker said he took class rolls to Sacramento with him last Thursday and matched them against the altered tests.

The result, he said, showed that there were an abnormal number of changes on the tests from one of the four third-grade classes. There were between 90 and 100 third-graders in the school.

Barker said personnel procedures prohibit him from naming any suspects, but that he made his disclosures to the Board of Education during an executive session Tuesday night.

Board President Margaret Burnett said the investigation will continue, "but we don't have sufficient evidence to take any action against anyone.

"This is not an easy task, especially with something that happened two years ago," Burnett said. "Nobody knows how many people handled that test. It might have been easier if we had known sooner."

"This is more than unfortunate--we're heartsick," Barker said. "We won't let this die. We'll take corrective action."

Although he declined to say whether a teacher may have made the changes, he said: "That year, 85 of our teachers gave that exam. We have a good district, and the teachers have worked like crazy for years. Now what happens to the reputations of the other 84?"

Baldwin Park is a low-income district with 15,000 students. It has 20 schools, 12 of them elementary, and 557 teachers.

Despite high transiency and the fact that English is not the first language of many of the students, the district has consistently ranked above average in CAP test scores among 29 San Gabriel Valley districts.

CAP tests cover basic reading, writing and math skills and are given annually to third-, sixth- and eighth-grade students. Scores that are published each year show how school districts compare, and sometimes are believed to have the effect of increasing or lowering real estate values.

Barker said the scores of one third-grade test would have no effect on the district's overall scores and would not reflect on a particular teacher's effectiveness, since all third-grade scores are counted together.

Pleasant View third-grade scores jumped from 239 in 1984-85, a little below average, to 265 in 1985-86. But Barker noted that the following year, when tighter security was imposed, the grades rose to 319, "a tremendous improvement."

"It looks like one person panicked under pressure," Barker said.

His investigation has been more difficult, he said, because the former superintendent, Jerry Holland, retired in June, and the principal and half of the faculty at Pleasant View are new to the school this year.

This week, when school opened, some teachers speculated as to why someone would change test scores.

Irma Santos, a second-grade teacher for 10 years, said: "In the past year we had two types of teacher evaluations, and we get a lot of in-service programs to tell us what is expected of us. Teacher evaluation is an excellent tool, but I could understand how somebody could misinterpret some of this. But I was really dismayed to learn that somebody could weaken or misunderstand our administrators' wishes for excellence."

A sixth-grade teacher who formerly taught in Los Angeles and is new to Baldwin Park this year, and who would not give her name, said someone other than a teacher may have made the changes.

"Lots of times (sixth-grade Los Angeles) teachers didn't do the scoring," she said. "You may not even know who did."

Several teachers said they approve of CAP testing, calling it an indication of how well students understand the material they've been given.

Juan Diaz, the new principal at Pleasant View, said he has some objections to the tests, which have been controversial for several years.

Because the questions are kept secret until the tests are given, teachers have no way of knowing if they have covered all the material the children are tested on, Diaz said.

"We have a right to know the questions, so we can help our students to be ready."

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