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Did School District 205 manipulate test scores?

July 1, 1993

Did School District 205 manipulate test scores?

By Scott P. Richert

By Scott P. Richert

Freelance Writer

On March 19, Rockford School District 205 will ask voters to approve a 10-year, $23.2 million referendum and to trust the administration to make an equivalent number of cuts. School Board Member Stephanie Caltagerone(Sub-Dist 2), however, says that the administration’s reporting of the 2001 Stanford test scores shows that voters should think twice before trusting the district.

When Superintendent Alan Brown was hired, the previous board set performance goals that he had to meet in order to be considered for a raise. One of those goals is to raise test scores each year.

Students in District 205 took the Stanford Achievement Test Series, Ninth Edition (commonly known as the Stanford 9) in April 2001. Despite repeated requests from Caltagerone, the board was not given the official Stanford report of the test results. Instead, in July 2001, the board received the district’s report of the 2001 Stanford scores—attached to Dr. Brown’s 2001 evaluation.

About two weeks later, an anonymous informant gave Caltagerone the official Stanford scores for third grade. She immediately noticed that the Stanford report showed that the scores had fallen from the previous year, while the district’s report, prepared by Dr. Mary Lamping of the district’s Office of Educational Accountability (OEA), claimed that the scores had risen.

Lamping was hired by Superintendent Brown. She had previously worked with him when he was superintedent of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). She had been removed from her position with MPS around the same time that MPS bought out the remainder of Brown’s contract.

Asked about the discrepancy, Lamping claimed that she had added in test scores from special-education students, who are normally excluded from both the Stanford report and the district’s report. In order to provide the board with a baseline, Lamping promised to add the special-education students to the 2000 results and present a special report with the modified score data for both 2000 and 2001.

In late August, an anonymous informant gave Caltagerone copies of the official Stanford results for all grades for 2000 and 2001. Lamping presented her special report to the board on Sept. 4. The report showed an upward trend in test scores over the two years for all grades but sixth. However, the official Stanford report showed that test scores for every grade had declined over the same period.

Questioned by the board, Lamping argued that the discrepancies between the two reports were the result of a “cleansing process.” Lamping claimed that she had deleted duplicate files, screened the data for impossible values (for instance, a 10 th grade student whose test results appeared in an elementary grade), matched test records with student ID numbers, and visually inspected student records.

According to a report entitled “Reasons for the Differences Between OEA and Stanford Group Reports,” submitted to the board by Superintendent Brown, “There were at least 389 errors in the Stanford data file” for 2001.

School board President Mike Williams says that “The board is very concerned about the results. We want an independent assessment . . . Once that information comes back, we’ll be better able to determine any statistically significant difference in the results.”

The board has contracted a researcher from Northern Illinois University to review both the Stanford data and the process by which Lamping arrived at the revised results. According to Williams, the researcher will be paid $4,300, which will be taken out of the budget of the Office of Educational Accountability.

While discussing the discrepancies at the district’s Education Committee meeting on Jan. 29, Lamping provided board members with a booklet, which she had written, entitled the “Stanford and Aprenda Test Administration Handbook.” The handbook declared that, starting with the 2001 testing, “Regular education students who are two or more years behind grade level in reading may be provided with assistance during the administration of the test. A test administrator may read test questions on math, social studies, science, and writing subtests to the students. However, the test administrator may NOT read any portion of a reading subtest to a student—regardless of his or her reading level.”

Several board members, including Williams and Caltagerone, raised concerns about the handbook. On Feb. 1, Caltagerone contacted Harcourt (which owns Stanford) and talked to Scott McWilliams in the testing department. On Feb. 6, McWilliams verified that reading portions of the test aloud to regular-education students is a violation of Stanford’s procedures.

Furthermore, McWilliams pointed out that the district had asked Stanford not to exclude special-education students when reporting the 2001 scores, so the discrepancy between the two reports could not have been caused by adding the special-education students back in, as Lamping had claimed. According to McWilliams, Lamping had jeopardized the validity of the test scores by allowing questions to be read aloud and including students in the scores who were not on the Stanford report..

That same day, Caltagerone received a copy of the district’s Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) administration handbook, also authored by Lamping. The handbook contains the same language about providing assistance to regular-education students. The district’s testing guidelines seem to violate the “Professional Testing Practices for Educators,” released by the Illinois State Board of Education. This document, which governs the administration of the ISAT, states that “Test administrators must not read any question or part of any question (including multiple choice and extended response items) aloud to a student or give help by pronouncing or defining a word, except in the following three cases: 1. All or part of a question may be read to a student as part of a test accommodation that is written in the student’s IEP or Section 504 Plan [this applies only to special-education students]. However, no part of the reading test may be read to a student, even as an accommodation. 2. On the grade 3 writing test, teachers may give individual students assistance in understanding a word or words in the writing prompt. Words may be pronounced or defined. 3. On the grade 3 reading test, teachers must read the word-analysis questions aloud to students as part of the testing procedure.”

Lamping did not return calls for comment. On Wednesday, Feb. 13, after the test scores and handbooks were discussed on the Chris Bowman Show on local radio station WNTA, Superintendent Brown removed Lamping from her position. She is now awaiting reassignment, although the board has taken no official action. Superintendent Brown did not return repeated calls for comment, despite the decision of the editor of The Rock River Times to hold this story for a week to provide him an opportunity to respond.

Editor & Publisher Frank Schier said, “Dr. Brown’s stonewalling on this story is inexcusable. He is a public employee and has a duty to respond to the media, especially when he is extended the courtesy of a story being held for his comment. The board should reprimand him on this issue.

“If test scores were inflated through false procedures, both Dr. Lamping and Dr. Brown should be dismissed by the board, especially since they are linked to his pay structure,” Schier said.

Caltagerone has contacted State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34) concerning the administration of both the ISATs and the Stanford 9, and he is currently investigating the matter in Springfield. In the meantime, Caltagerone argues, “Voters should approach the March 19 referendum with skepticism. Dr. Brown wants us to trust the administration to make cuts, but that same administration is manipulating test data—and potentially invalidating test scores—proving, once again, that it doesn’t deserve the public’s trust.”

Scott P. Richert is the executive editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, the publication of The Rockford Institute.

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