Sumner is one of four Washington state school districts identified in a recent national investigation by the Atlanta Journal Constitution for showing improvements in student test scores that appear to defy the numerical odds.
The investigation, also the subject of a story in Sunday’s Seattle Times, says the Sumner, Tahoma, Mukilteo and Kennewick school districts showed suspicious swings in year-to-year standardized test results.
Sumner officials strongly defended the security of their testing regimen on Monday. In a statement to The News Tribune, they said staff has done exemplary work the last few years to rise to meet federal standards, and that any suggestion “teachers or principals are cheating to improve school performance is defamatory at best.”
The AJC investigation, called “Cheating our Children,” was prompted by a scandal last year in which state investigators found high-level cheating on high-stakes tests in half of Atlanta’s elementary and middle schools. To see how widespread the problem might be, a team of reporters and database specialists from the AJC obtained scores from 2008-2011 from every state and separated the scores into “classes” made up of all students in a given grade at a given school.
They then used a mathematical formula to predict what each class’s average test score should have been each year. If a class’s actual scores were far off from the prediction, the class was “flagged.”
Having 5 percent of classes flagged was normal, the newspaper said. In each of the 200 identified districts across the country, more than 10 percent of classes were flagged. In each case, the newspaper reported, the odds of that happening “by chance alone” were less than 1 in 1,000.
Sumner had 9 percent flagged in 2008, 6.8 percent in 2009, 15.9 percent in 2010 and 13.6 percent in 2011.
The AJC report has come under fire for its methodology. Some critics have noted that the analysis did not account for aberrations caused by students moving in or out of the district, or in or out of individual schools, in the middle of a school year or between school years.
Sumner Superintendent Craig Spencer said Monday:
We stand by our testing security and the systems we have in place to ensure student assessment data is both protected and secure. The gains that we are seeing are a being made classroom by classroom, where high performing teachers deliver quality instruction.