WCMS float

A float in the 2012 Nogales Christmas Light Parade celebrates Wade Carpenter’s ‘A’ grade from the Arizona Department of Education. The school’s letter grade for the 2013-14 school year is in doubt after an investigation found widespread test irregularities.

As a result of a state investigation into cheating on standardized tests at Wade Carpenter Middle School, about 20 percent of the school’s seventh-grade 2014 Spring AIMS tests were invalidated.

The Arizona Department of Education issued its findings to the Nogales Unified School District in a letter Wednesday after investigating irregularities in seventh-grade students’ scores on the AIMS math and reading tests.

The invalidation of the tests was based on a “disproportionate” number of wrong-to-right erasures, which dramatically exceeded the statewide average. At Wade Carpenter, 23 percent of seventh-grade students’ reading tests and 18 percent of math tests exceeded that threshold, compared with 0.006 percent of seventh-grade students statewide.

After using a scanner to detect where an answer had been erased and interviewing school staff, the ADE invalidated 47 reading and 37 math tests for seventh-grade students at Wade Carpenter. The school administered 211 tests for each of those subjects in that grade.

NUSD Superintendent Fernando Parra declined to comment in detail on the ADE’s letter, saying he had received it late Wednesday afternoon and was still evaluating it.

“All appropriate action will be made at a later time,” he said via email.

The ADE notified NUSD in late July that Wade Carpenter’s scores were suspect. In August, the agency issued the scores for the A-F Letter Grade Accountability System and listed the school as “pending.” WCMS received an A in 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Although the ADE limited its inquiry to the 2014 Spring AIMS test, “historical data suggest testing irregularities extend beyond a single grade level and beyond the 2013-14 fiscal year,” the ADE letter stated.

Wade Carpenter was not flagged in 2013, but the ADE identified almost 130 seventh-grade tests in 2012 as questionable. For the 2010 AIMS test, the ADE noted one-third of reading and math tests across all grades met the department’s invalidation threshold.

No other NUSD school exhibited similar patterns of student erasures in the current year or prior years, the ADE letter stated.

As a result of the investigation, the students whose tests were invalidated are considered untested, which may affect Wade Carpenter’s score in the A-F system. It may also affect the school’s ability to meet its Annual Measurable Objectives under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

The school is required to inform the parents and guardians of the affected students, as well as include the invalidated scores in its notices to the public. The ADE will provide information on the invalidated tests to the NUSD Governing Board, the Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools, and the State Board of Education.

The school will also have to use data other than the AIMS test scores to determine whether those students need remediation or other appropriate supports.

The ADE said it expects Wade Carpenter staff “will conduct such further investigations as is necessary to find out what caused these test irregularities.” In addition, the ADE directed the school to correct any problems it identifies and make necessary changes “to ensure that no such irregularities occur in the future.”

The ADE also directed the school to “take all appropriate action against any individual determined to have acted inappropriately.”

The school can appeal its A-F letter grade as affected by the invalidation of test scores within 30 days.

Erasures

Statewide, students do not typically erase answers on AIMS tests, the ADE letter said. On reading tests, 84 percent of seventh-grade students did not erase a single item. On math tests, 77 percent of seventh-grade students made no erasures.

At WCMS, the seventh-grade tests accounted for 32 percent of the school’s reading tests, but 70 percent of the school’s erasures. In math, seventh-grade tests accounted for 32 percent of the school’s tests, but 71 percent of the school’s erasures.

“Since students statewide infrequently erase answers on the AIMS Reading and Mathematics assessments, it is especially concerning that many Grade 7 students at Wade Carpenter chose the correct answer successfully after initially selecting the wrong answer,” the ADE letter said.

In a report sent to NUSD along with the letter, the ADE noted on 50 evaluations of students’ tests: “There were many more erasures for this year’s test than previous year’s erasures for that student. Student erased multiple, same exact items (wrong-to-right) as other students in the proctored group. Erasures for that student far exceed the erasures for the other students in his/her proctored group.”

In some cases, the erasures moved the student from one performance level to a higher level. In other cases, “the student’s test score is dramatically higher than previous year’s test score for that domain – from “Falls far below” to “Exceeds.””

The ADE letter was addressed to Parra and signed by Jennifer Johnson, deputy superintendent of programs and policy, and Leila Williams, associate superintendent of assessments and accountability. The principal at WCMS is Liza Montiel.

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