Probe finds cheating on DPS test scores

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4min 51sec

Photo: A Beach Court family reacts to the news

The principal at a northwest Denver elementary school has been fired after state investigators said he erased thousands of wrong answers on student tests over two years.

Here’s a transcript of Colorado Public Radio’s education reporter Jenny Brundin’s report.

Reporter Jenny Brundin: For years, Principal Frank Roti was feted by the district, held up as a shining example of what a high-poverty public school could do if it put its mind to it. Beach Court Elementary continually ranked as one of the state’s top performers in academic growth going from 40 percent of students reading at grade level in 2004, to 85 percent in 2010. But according to an investigation led by the attorney general’s office, those scores weren’t valid. Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg:

Tom Boasberg: At Beach Court there was a very extensive and very serious number of incorrect answers on student test booklets that were erased and changed to correct answers and the extent of those erasures was very, very serious.

Reporter: He said there were “thousands” of erasures in the two years investigated, far beyond what is considered normal. He said no teachers or students at Beach Court were involved in altering tests and that evidence showed it involved only “one” individual at the school. Over the past two years, Roti received $30,000 dollars in incentives, partially because of high test scores. Boasberg said he’d have to return that money. Roti has been on leave since the probe began in mid-May and could not be reached for comment. The state investigated a second school, Hallet Fundamental Academy but found no wrong-doing there.

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Reporter: At Beach Court last night, about 50 parents attended a closed meeting where district officials presented the evidence that was uncovered. Nicole Vigil described it as “heated.”

Nicole Vigil: They’re furious. The community’s furious. The parents are furious – they’re trying to hold it in, their furious. People are very upset. It’s very offensive.

Reporter: Not furious at Principal Frank Roti. Angry because parents weren’t buying what administrators were telling them.

Vigil: I said do you have documented proof? Do you have forensic analysis is he on camera - is there proof of him doing this?

Reporter: Vigil described Roti as out-going and personable. She said he knew every parent’s name, looked you in the eye, and pushed, pushed, pushed parents to get involved. Parent Jenny Woodson recalls that Roti promised the kids he’d spend the night on the roof of the school if they had perfect attendance during the state tests.

Jenny Woodson: It was wet, it was cold, it was windy but he still spent the night on that roof because he promised those kids that if they had perfect attendance during the CSAP, that he would do that. And I’ve never known any other school I’ve had my children at that loved these kids as much as he ever did.

Reporter: Parent Lori Sanchez stood outside the school crying with her children.

Lori Sanchez: He is a very good man. I’ll tell you what. My son started off fifth grade, the kids were bullying him because of his shoes. Mr. Roti went out of his way to help me get a pair of shoes for my son. And you tell me he’s not a good principal and he doesn’t have a big heart and you tell me he’s done wrong?I don’t believe! I don’t believe. And I’m not gonna believe!

Reporter: The news was shocking to children who attended the meeting. Many of them were crying. 9-year-old Perla Guillen.

Perla Guillen: I feel like let down, I don’t feel like the school will ever be the same without him.

She’s confused – did Principal Roti not think the kids were doing the best they could and that he should do something about it , she asks?

Guillen: Because I don’t know w hy he would change answers?

Reporter: Van Schoales is with the education policy group A-plus Denver. He says it’s not surprising parents would defend a beloved principal.

Van Schoales: I think it makes sense they would trust folks closer to them than the school district or state department of education. I can completely understand their skepticism but I think the facts are pretty overwhelming.

Reporter: He said there’s no sign in Colorado that testing problems are widespread and no reason to pull back from testing.. He recommends monitors for testing and when big spikes in scores happen, do an erasure analysis more quickly.

Schoales: That can be a regular part of doing business instead of reacting when there’s something that looks really wacky and then bringing folks in.

Reporter: DPS has instituted several measures including limiting the amount of time an individual could be in possession of test booklets. State education officials say they’ll unveil a new policy this fall to tighten testing security.

[Photo: CPR]