Despite Baffling Scores, Portland, Oregon Schools Deny Cheating

Portland, Oregon education authorities continue to insist that despite testing scores that showed unexplainable year-to-year swings at some schools, there is no cheating going on in the district. District spokesperson Erin Hoover Barnett, speaking about the release of a report that shows at least one school where passage rates for state math exams more than doubled from 40% to 89% in just one year, said that it is true that such dramatic results required an explanation. Still, she refused to concede that cheating could provide the explanation for such stunning swings in scores.

According to Anna Canzano and Chelsea Kopta of KATU News, at least one staff member at Northeast Portland King School, where the above scoring anomaly was revealed by the report, complained to the district, alleging testing irregularities. The staff member said that during the test teachers were allowing students to change wrong answers to the right ones prior to submitting the answer sheets.

“I would like to see a PPS District observer from Testing and Evaluation review the Oaks Testing Manual with those responsible for testing students, and an observer present for the Oaks Testing,” the complaint said.

Officials launched an investigation, looking closely at King’s testing practices, but at the time Portland Public Schools reported that it did not find any wrongdoing by teachers.

“She had one perspective of what she felt was happening. And when we investigated, we could understand why she was confused and why she had the views she did,” Barnett said. “But in fact, they were not doing the wrong thing.”

This year, the scores dropped. Barnett attributed the decline to a number of things, including stricter test-taking standards implemented by the state.

These are the same types of fluctuations that prompted investigations about cheating in other schools throughout the United States.

During the press conference, Barnett was vehement about there not being any indication of cheating. But if there was no cheating, how could stronger controls during the test administration have produced such different results?

Canzano, who also looked at allegations of cheating in Portland earlier this year, concluded that these kinds of swings were strongly indicative of some kind of intentional wrong-doing either on the part of the teachers or the school administrators. Her report has already landed on the desk of Oregon Department of Education, which has promised an investigation.

A report by the Atlanta Journal Constitution noted Portland as one of the school districts in Oregon showing unusual test score patterns.

Test results fluctuate at some Oregon schools.
There’s no state-wide system in place to investigate a school’s performance following unusual test scores, assistant superintendent Rob Saxton said.

Saxton did agree King’s scores are somewhat of an anomaly.

“As a superintendent, I can’t recall a school ever having that kind of significant shift,” Saxton said.

Attempts to reach the Oregon Department of Education on Wednesday about the most recent fluctuating scores were unsuccessful.