Royal High School in Simi Valley must return a state award of $331,226 because teachers violated state regulations when preparing students for standardized tests, district officials disclosed Wednesday.
For the last two years, teachers at Royal have used questions from a different version of the Stanford 9 exam to drill students for the test. Simi Valley High School used the same preparation technique this year.
The "testing irregularity" invalidates this year's Stanford 9 test scores at both schools and makes them ineligible for 2001 and 2002 financial awards, which are distributed based on improvement in test scores.
Although the scores will be reported to teachers and students, they will not be part of the Academic Performance Index, which ranks schools statewide and measures progress over time.
The top-scoring students will still receive $1,000 scholarships based on 2000 scores, but might not receive them for 2001.
Simi Valley Unified School District officials said they will use general fund money for the scholarships if necessary.
The state Department of Education began an investigation last month after the district reported the problem.
Department consultant Linda Lownes commended district officials for stepping forward, but said the schools' actions were illegal and inappropriate. She explained that test results are gauged against a national sample of students who did not use study materials.
"They've given students an advantage with these test preparation activities," Lownes said.
The use of other versions of the Stanford 9 test is not considered cheating, but is prohibited by state guidelines.
Other schools throughout California have discovered similar testing problems.
The state investigated six schools last year and as many as eight schools have reported possible errors this year, officials said.
Royal High School Principal Bob La Belle said he took responsibility for the mistake.
"We're not blaming the district," La Belle said. "We're not blaming the teachers. We just misinterpreted the guidelines."
La Belle said the school had planned to spend the award money on computer equipment, campus furniture and a loudspeaker system in the gymnasium.
District officials said they have not decided whether any disciplinary action will be taken.
"We're embarrassed," Assistant Supt. Kathryn Scroggin said. "It's extremely unfortunate that something like this has to overshadow all of the work students and teachers have done."
Scroggin said she believes the emphasis on high-stakes testing may have contributed to the error.
Teachers and administrators should be held accountable for student performance, she said, but should be careful not to go overboard in trying to boost student scores.
"In their zeal to do so, they might overlook something inadvertently," she said.
Parents received letters Wednesday from the district explaining what happened.
Annette Menne, president of Royal High School's parent-teacher association, said she is upset about the loss of funds.
"It's frustrating," she said. "I don't know how something like this could have happened."