A Palo Alto school teacher has been accused of filling in test answers for a student in an effort to disguise the fact that the girl was struggling and needed special education help.
The very short version of this story: a child with significant, unidentified learning issues, evident in 1st grade, had the same teacher for 2nd and 3d grade. Over the course of those two years, that teacher actively concealed how little progress the student was making, and blocked proper assessment of the child's issues.
I wonder how often teachers manipulate students' output to reduce or delay special education referrals. Details below the fold.
Timeline (text in italics drawing from legal filing)
- 2000-2001 StudentX's probable year of birth
- 2006-2007 StudentX in K at unknown school in unknown district with Teacher A. "Made only minimal progress".
- 2007-2008 StudentX in 1st grade at UVW school in PAUSD with Teacher B, with significant reading and learning deficits. Was provided 1:1 "assistance" (not clear from legal claim if an aide, or additional instruction from a qualified teacher. Also not clear if assistance in all subjects, just math, or just reading/writing). Made progress but still behind grade levels in reading, writing, and math.
- 2008-2009 StudentX in 2d grade at UVW school in PAUSD with Teacher C identified with learning deficits early on and [student] had time with math specialist once per week, and continued to be still behind peers in math and writing skills. However, on standardized tests and classroom tests in math, Student X scored as "highly proficient". Parents notice that StudentX's ability to answer math questions at home is very much less than what her test scores indicate. When the parents question Teacher C about the disparity, Teacher C acts irate, states that StudentX is performing all her own work, and refuses to discuss the matter further.
- 2009-2010 StudentX in 3th grade at UVW school in PAUSD with Teacher C. [Note the same teacher.] Throughout the 2009-2010 school year, StudentX continued to work with a math specialist, however her schoolwork and standardized tests showed nearly perfect scores.
- 2010-2011 StudentX in 4th grade at UVW school in PAUSD with Teacher D. Student X, despite high standardized test scores and in-class test scores from the previous two years, is found to be years below grade level in reading, writing and math.
- December 2010: parents request an assessment of StudentX for learning disabilities and eligibility for services under IDEA. The school declines to assess, citing her very high scores on standardized tests of math the previous two years.
- January and later, 2011 Parents review StudentX's standardized and classroom tests from 2nd and 3d grade, and discover a pattern of erasures and answers in another's handwriting, giving StudentX the appearance of mastering material she does not know.
- January 2011 or later: StudentX evaluated by PAUSD for services under IDEA, and found to be eligible under the category "other health impaired" (OHI).
- April, 2011 StudentX transfers to XYZ school in PAUSD with Teacher E
- May 20, 2011 StudentX files a government tort claim against PAUSD.
At some point after September, 2010, the parents hired a well-known special education attorney, David H. Tollner, who filed the tort claim against PAUSD.
"I've seen cases like this where teachers will cover deficits in students so they don't have to assess them and provide various other special education supports, but this is an extreme case, clearly," Tollner said.
"This is actual standardized testing that's been erased and teacher responses put in where the student clearly didn't know the information, but the parents were led to believe the student was on the right track."
According to the tort claim, Teacher C is alleged to have manipulated one standardized test, the Mathematics Assessment Resource Service (MARS) test, in both 2nd and 3rd grade. This test is given district-wide, but is not mandated by the state.
Some of the commenters have confused the MARS test with the California's Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) test. The STAR test is given to all California students in grades 2-11. The tort claim is silent on the matter of StudentX and STAR testing.
The tort claim also focuses on the school's failure to teach StudentX age-appropriate math skills, but it is apparent that they have also failed in the matter of literacy skills: at the start of fourth grade, according to the tort claim, "She did not know the difference between a noun, verb and adjective. Nor did she know basic capitalization, punctuation and simple page orientation."
Achievement testing fraud isn't unknown, but it usually doesn't take this form. What is more normal is for a teacher (or a whole school) to collude to boost students' scores on NCLB-mandated standardized tests, or for students to cheat on high-stakes tests (exit exams, college entrance exams).
PAUSD is one of 17 districts in California that also has students of color over-represented in special education. I wonder about StudentX's ethnicity -- or if that had anything to do with it at all.
- May 20, 2011 StudentX vs. Palo Alto Unified School District Download StudentXvsPAUSD (pdf file of complaint, redacted)
- June 16, 2011, Diana Samuels at the San Jose Mercury News Palo Alto Teacher Accused of Filling In Test Answers for Student
- June 17, 2011 Chris Kenrick at Palo Alto Daily District Responds to 'Testing Fraud' Charge