Cheating allegations investigated at Davenport school

2013-04-24T14:30:00Z 2015-05-14T10:29:09Z Cheating allegations investigated at Davenport schoolTara Becker The Quad-City Times
April 24, 2013 2:30 pm  • 

Several months ago, Madison Elementary School was at the head of the class among its peers in Davenport and in the state in improving reading and math skills for different groups of students.

Now, the school is at the center of cheating allegations after the district discovered irregularities in test results for third through fifth grades.

Davenport Community School District Superintendent Art Tate said Wednesday that although the district launched an “exhaustive” investigation in late February, the person or people involved have not been identified.

“What I know is that the tests were altered, they were tampered with,” Tate said. “They were tampered with to the benefit of the school for third-, fourth-, fifth-grade reading and math.”

The district emphasized that the students did nothing wrong and did not participate in altering the tests.

On Wednesday, Iowa Department of Education director Jason Glass sent a memo to Tate, saying Glass will review the materials from the district’s internal investigation. He also directed Tate to turn over those materials to the department by Wednesday.

Glass will then determine if an ethics complaint should be filed with the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners. Glass also notified Scott County Attorney Michael Walton for potential criminal prosecution.

Walton said Wednesday that he was aware of the allegation but said he has not received any information and has not been asked to investigate.

Department of Education spokeswoman Staci Hupp said testing oversight is typically handled at the district level. She added that she was unaware of any other schools or districts flagged for test score irregularities since Glass took over as director in 2011.

Madison Principal Sarah Gott could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Tate said the district received a call in late February from the relative of a student, who claimed the student received help on the tests from a teacher.

Although the allegation was determined to be unsubstantiated, the district’s assessment coordinator discovered there was an “unusual pattern of erasures” on tests in a fourth-grade class, Tate said.

Tate said the district checked tests in third- and fifth-grades and found similar patterns. Officials also compared the Madison test documents with tests from elementary schools across the district. No irregularities at any other schools were discovered.

The district found that on average, Madison third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students had 7.36 erasures per student on the reading test. The average for all other elementary schools in the district was 1.25.

In reading score sheets for those three grades at Madison, 75 percent of the time, erasures were changed to the correct answer. A classroom sample in five classrooms in two similar schools showed an average erasure led to a correct answer 37 percent of the time.

The district also found erasure irregularities on math tests, although the alteration is not as pervasive in all grades, according to the findings.

Tate said the district then interviewed more than 30 Madison staff, including Gott, and recorded more than 20 hours of depositions.

Their search came up empty.

In November, Madison was one of five schools statewide that received the “Breaking Barriers” award, which recognizes schools that have closed the achievement gap for black third- through fifth-graders.

Between 2004 and 2011, the reading scores for Madison were, on average, 1 percent higher than the district score. During that time, Tate said, the school came in 2 percent below the district average to 4.6 percent above the average.

Tate said the slight fluctuation in the numbers was typical.

Last year, reading scores were 13 percent above the district average. Had the scores been submitted from this year, the school would have scored 26.6 percent above the district average, Tate said.

Tate said he has no evidence right now to suggest that tests were altered in the prior year, saying that those scores may have been elevated because of various school programs to work on reading.

That’s something that could be investigated further by the state, Tate said.

Tate said the tests at Madison typically are conducted in small groups with 24 proctors. The tests are then usually kept in the teacher’s room under lock and key before they are sent away to be scored.

Tate said the district will look at enforcing stricter policies regarding who controls tests and where completed tests will be kept. He also said all standardized tests taken in the district will be checked for any irregularities.

Tate said teachers and staff do not receive any monetary incentives or receive raises based on test results.

Tate said he met Wednesday with the staff, who he said were “very, very emotional” about how staff can talk to parents and students about the investigation.

Madison students will retake the test Monday and Tuesday. Tate said the new round of testing will help guide next year’s curriculum and will help students and parents know how they are doing academically.

The scores will not be counted by the state, however, which could put Madison on a “lower rung of the Adequate Yearly Progress ladder,” Tate said.

In his memo to Tate, Glass closed with words of encouragement.

“I know that you share my sense of outrage at this professional affront, and I wish to commend you for the expedience and transparency with which you have handled this very difficult situation for your organization and community,” Glass wrote. “Going forward, these values of expedience and transparency will be vitally important in working to hold the appropriate individuals accountable and to restoring the community’s faith in the public school system in Davenport.”

Sarah Campbell, mother of a Madison second-grader, said she has no intention of sending her daughter to school for the retest.

“It’s scary to the kids to know that some adult from the school administration is not trustworthy, and we probably won’t know who that is,” she said.

Amber Myer, mother of a Madison kindergartner, said she was surprised to hear the allegations.

“I don’t think it’s right for them to cheat,” she said. “It’s not a bad school. I just don’t understand why they would need to cheat because they have very smart students there.”

Tate said he hopes the community will respond by supporting the staff, students and parents as the investigation continues.

“Whoever did this did a dastardly act, a serious act,” he said. “But it’s one or two small groups, and we’ve got thousands of people who didn’t do it.”

Copyright 2015 The Quad-City Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(25) Comments

  1. billy hoyle
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    billy hoyle - December 04, 2013 4:48 pm
    wow - either tragic or brilliant tr*lling
  2. ChildLeftBehind
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    ChildLeftBehind - July 25, 2013 10:34 am
    Hello, I would like to introduce my self my name is Valencia Blake and I went to Madison Elementary School back in 1976 till 1979 and I was in kindergarten till the fourth grade. They tested me and placed me in a Special Ed class. I am not talking learning disability class, I'm talking they labeled me mentality challenged I went to the special Olympics. My parents move to Oklahoma when I was in the fifth grade and I did not know how to write my name nor did I know how to read. However because my transcript said I was mentally challenged they kept putting me in that class every school and every state. No one would lesson to me nor my parents. Matter of fact they said my parent were going to have to except that I was mentality challenged. I could not go to college because of my transcript. I am 43 years old now and I have it very difficult to get a good job. I went to a vo-tec and fail all written test but if they tell it to me verbally I would pass. I went to massage school but I could not pass the national exam because I had to read it. I have been retested and my reading level is at a third grader. So I had to have special accommodation meaning someone had to read the test for me. I don't know math very well either. I had wanted to be a register nurse but I can't because math is very hard for me.

    So what I am trying to worn all of you parents please get your children re-tested do not trust what they tell you. Fight for your child to have a good life.

    When I went there my teachers name was Mrs.M Feeney class room 205 and the Principal was Mr.W.Long

    If anyone would like more information please contact me via email
    Than you for your time.
    Valencia Blake
  3. Randogg420
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    Randogg420 - April 27, 2013 9:32 am
    You have to cheat the system to get ahead nowadays.Wake up and move on nobody plays fair anymore nobody.
  4. KayeC
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    KayeC - April 26, 2013 6:58 pm
    To Jjhoss: "dishonest people typicallydon't do things that will tie them to the crime"

    Are you serious?! How do you think that most of these "brilliant" criminals get caught? The erasures were only on answer sheets from Madison school; and, in a previous article they said the sheets were placed in alphabetical order when they were finally turned in. That leads me to believe the damage was already done long before the papers left the school. I have plenty of support and compassion for the students and their parents, but the teachers are on their own this time -- after all, they're protected by the union.
  5. MadisonMom
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    MadisonMom - April 26, 2013 4:54 pm!/groups/412553738842145/

    here is correct link. For some reason I posted the wrong
    help us support our school
  6. Jjhoss
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    Jjhoss - April 26, 2013 4:38 pm
    KayeC- or should i say sherlock? if something seems common sense to you... It's because it is! now im not saying your stupid but yes they obviously did look into the teachers of the tampered tests and intensively interviewed anyone who had anything to do with the tests. You might not expect this but dishonest people typically don't do things that will directly tie them to the crime. They don't know who did this and with that being the case everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Anyone could have done this and that includes people outside of madison.

    Yes it is a tragedy for the kids who have worked so hard and who shouldnt have to retake these difficult tests. its also unfair for the honest educators who have dedicated their lives to the betterment of our children. Don't forget the majority of the educators (possibly all if the tampering occurred by say district admin) involved are hard working, honest caring people. Maybe instead of throwing bombs you should lend support to the students and teachers who need it the most.

    Lastly, I'm sorry if your first response to anything is to attack and blame. I believe people of compassion are the happiest and the bitter blame throwers- not so happy. God bless
  7. MadisonMom
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    MadisonMom - April 26, 2013 4:37 pm
    I have a third grade student at Madison and he will retest out of respect to Mrs. Gott and his school pride. Mrs. Gott is a wonderful principal who is there for each and every child she has contact with.!/pages/BeADisciplecom/114901888525489
  8. KayeC
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    KayeC - April 25, 2013 5:38 pm
    Why should ALL the students have to retake the test? Seems to me like it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out who did the cheating: just look at the names of the students with the multiple erasures. Since their teachers would have been the ones to turn the answer sheets in, they would most likely have been involved. If they continue to say they had nothing to do with it, they're still guilty of breaking the chain of responsibility by not keeping tabs on the tests until they were safely turned in. Enough of this nonsense. All the students shouldn't be punished because some adults don't know how to be ethical and honest.
  9. ref
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    ref - April 25, 2013 4:48 pm

    I will not argue that this may or may not be an isolated incident. I have no information to support either position, although the superintendent seems to be very candid about the potential improprieties at Madison.

    But rather, I am curious about your other comment you espouse as fact: "...Salaries are, most definitely, affected..."

    Whose salary(ies) do you speak of, and what was the effect?
    If the superintendent, can you cite a case?

    If the teachers, I am not aware of any cases. I am aware of terminations, but that did not carry over to the salaries of other staff members.

    I have worked in teacher rights for some time and try to keep abreast of these sorts of actions, so I am not trying to be argumentative. I am only trying extend my knowledge for further reference. Please, you do not need to be specific, I can do the further research myself. I only ask that you point me in the right direction, maybe something like, "Xyz school district about three years ago."
    Thank you for your help.
  10. Bulldog
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    Bulldog - April 25, 2013 2:47 pm
    You are kind of overlooking the obvious. Standardized test scores in the Davenport School District has, for several years now have been below proficiency. If there is wide spread cheating going on, either they are terrible at cheating or the students in the Davenport district are even far more incapable than even their test scores would indicate. If they are given the answers to the tests a month in advance and their teachers, on a wide scale are changing answers and otherwise cheating then their scores should be a lot better.
  11. credit island
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    credit island - April 25, 2013 1:04 pm
    Meanwhile in Georgia compliments of the L.A. Times..

    Indicted educators surrender in Atlanta school testing scandal
    Comments 23 Email

    Teachers surrender in Atlanta cheating scandal.

    Your take?Does tying tests to funding encourage schools to cheat?YesNo
    YesNo86% 14% See more » By Michael Muskal

    April 2, 2013, 10:50 a.m.
    A parade of Atlanta educators trooped to the county jail beginning in the early hours of Tuesday morning and surrendered to officials on criminal charges stemming what is believed to be the biggest testing scandal in American education.

    By early morning, at least four of the 35 teachers, principals and school officials had turned themselves in and were expected to post bonds ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than $1 million. All were named in a 65-count indictment released last week by Fulton County Dist. Atty. Paul L. Howard Jr
  12. ladyhope
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    ladyhope - April 25, 2013 12:24 pm
    Unfortunately, Bulldog, it is naive to believe that this is an isolated incident. Test scores affect a wide range of things-most importantly-things involving money. Salaries are, most definitely, affected as well as real estate values. This is a sad situation. Our children deserve better. We have to wonder, though, are students really the priority in Davenport schools? Pay attention to new cuts in the school system. Look at where (and to whom) your tax dollars are going. Heaven forbid we make actual cuts at the top (administrative jobs) when we can eliminate para educators and school nurses. Wake up, folks!
  13. Bulldog
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    Bulldog - April 25, 2013 12:17 pm
    Pretty sure I do know what's going on. Your accusations are completely impossible under the testing procedures in this district.
  14. green-eyed monster
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    green-eyed monster - April 25, 2013 11:01 am
    Bulldog - is this an isolated incident? You evidently do not work directly with students or teachers or you would know what is really going on.
  15. Bulldog
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    Bulldog - April 25, 2013 10:10 am
    Wow- there's a lot of ignorance in these comments! This is an isolated incident that involves a small handful of teachers in one school in the district. Green-eyed monster- the test booklets are not given to the teachers until at best, the day before the tests are administered. So to claim that teachers are having their students memorize answers a month ahead of time is completely ridiculous and impossible anyway. And if cheating is widespread in the district, they are sure not doing a very good job considering all middle and elementary schools in the district (except Madison) are perfoming poorly on these tests.
  16. ladyhope
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    ladyhope - April 25, 2013 9:14 am
    I agree. Parents DO need to get involved and it sounds as though some Madison parents are trying to do just that. Is it not obvious that, given the fact that those tests have a very clear path to the scoring site, it should not be that hard to trace this cheating to its source? Why are all students, including second graders, being forced to repeat this test? Imagine how these kids feel after being told that because an adult cheated,they have to retake the test? Come on, Tate. Who are you hiding?
  17. green-eyed monster
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    green-eyed monster - April 25, 2013 9:03 am
    Without some sort of testing, how can we possibly know if the students are learning anything? I do wonder though, if our most important concern is the student, why is there a teacher's union and not a student's union. The school districts are not easily able to fire bad teachers and these few bad apples give the majority of great teachers extra work and a bad name.
  18. Klaatu
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    Klaatu - April 25, 2013 8:21 am
    Yeah, cause we can't have our kids being tested to find out whether they know the material, right? It's all the fault of NCLB, right? Not one word from you about teacher committing crimes, I guess you want those kids advanced whether they can do the work or not. No, it is you who is out of touch. If you had a clue you would know that kids in the parochial schools can do this work. The problem is the teachers union and the administration. The only way to know whether the kids can do the work for the next grade is to test them. Advancing a kid who can't do the work only ensures that he will not catch up and the problem will simply snowball out of control. You are absolutely shameless in your wild-eyed rant about NCLB.
  19. ref
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    ref - April 25, 2013 7:01 am
    Uhh, . . . no.

    You seem to be quoting from a paragraph from a wikipedia article that describes a proposal from Pennsylvania legislature for PA teachers.

    Has no impact on Iowa teachers. NCLB is a federal law that deals with federal funds,, not state. It does have some impact on funding, though. It directs districts to have more teacher professional development, places restrictions on some direction of the PD, allows students greater leeway on transferring to other buildings or districts with the DINA footing some transportation costs... A few others...

    But, the feds do not mandate a pay cut. Gov. B. is touting adding a "value added" component to a teacher's evaluation that would include student performance on tests, but as of today, no.
  20. billy hoyle
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    billy hoyle - April 25, 2013 6:43 am
  21. sundance
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    sundance - April 24, 2013 10:24 pm
    We should demand the teacher's union be abolished.
  22. pta mom
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    pta mom - April 24, 2013 9:36 pm
    NCLB and its tests are ridiculous. If we care about our children we will demand it abolished. Anyone who claims otherwise has no idea what is happening in our schools, is out-of-touch with children, or has no children.
  23. sundance
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    sundance - April 24, 2013 9:15 pm
    Get rid of the teacher's union. They're probably responsible.
  24. Family man
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    Family man - April 24, 2013 8:53 pm
    How are tests ridiculous? If we don't test the children how are we supposed to know what they have actually learned? Teachers unions of course think these tests are ridiculous because it is basically a performance review for them, and I believe they have fought time and again against that.
  25. pta mom
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    pta mom - April 24, 2013 7:14 pm
    "Tate said teachers and staff do not receive any monetary incentives or receive raises based on test results."

    This is BS.

    "If a district's students do poorly, the district's budget is cut the following year by the state, and the teachers get a pay cut. Critics point out that if a school is doing poorly, taking funds away from its budget and cutting teachers' salaries will, more likely than not, hamper the ability of the school to improve the following year."

    NCLB has placed a ridiculous emphasis on ridiculous--almost meaningless--tests. Our children, the teachers, the schools--our nation--suffer. Let's get back to educating our children--not only attempting to train them to fill in dots!!!!

    Get rid of NCLB!
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