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Washington State Voids Test Scores at Seattle School Due to High Erasure Rates

Education officials in Washington state are discarding test scores from one Seattle elementary school—the first time it is said to do have done so in the era of high-stakes testing—after finding evidence that a high number of answers on students' multiple-choice state exams this past spring had been erased and changed from incorrect responses to correct ones.

The Seattle Times is reporting that the state has stopped short of saying that cheating occurred at Beacon Hill International School, but the high erasure rates there do bring to mind the widespread cheating scandal in Atlanta's public schools.

A dozen former educators in that city are now standing trial for their alleged roles in changing students' answers on Georgia's standardized assessments to inflate student performance on those tests and qualify for bonuses.

But in Washington state, including in Seattle, student test scores do not play a large role in teacher evaluations and no bonuses are offered based on students' performance, The Seattle Times reported.

Beacon Hill is a high-performing school of about 460 students. Students there were already performing at or above state and district averages before the significant spike in scores occurred in the spring, according to the paper.

The district asked the state for the review in August when most of its students got nearly all of the multiple choice questions right on the math and reading tests, the paper reported. The district also hired an investigator to probe any possible breach in testing protocols.  

The state is leaving the determination of whether any cheating occurred at the school up to the district.

The state's analysis found that Beacon Hill students were more likely to get the answer right to a multiple choice question after erasing the wrong answer.

From the paper:

"For example, on one of the fourth-grade reading questions, about 55 percent of the Beacon Hill students got the right answer only after the original answer had been erased. The corrected answers resulted in 100 percent of the students getting the question right compared with the state average of about 60 percent."

A spokeswoman for the state superintendent told the paper that office was invalidating the schools' scores  because the "significant" alterations showed evidence that testing protocols had not been followed.

A district official told the paper that he wasn't sure what happened; officials were also standing behind their teachers.  

"We are not convinced that cheating was the motivation," said Clover Codd, who oversees the district's research, evaluation and assessment department told the newspaper. "It's such an odd case. It's perplexing.

"There was heavy erasure in every single classroom and every single grade, from incorrect answers to correct answers, and virtually 100 percent of the students met standard," he said. 

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