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Mar Vista Middle School, in the South Bay and part of the Sweetwater Union School District, was one of 27 California schools stripped of its scores on the state's Academic Performance Index over claims of cheating on or straying from standard procedures for the handling of testing materials.

Statewide, 27 of 10,000 California schools lost their academic rating this year due to incidents involving cheating, mistakes, or misconduct on the more-than-ever important state tests.

Subsequent to a public records request fulfilled by the state Department of Education, the Los Angeles Times discovered that 27 schools in California were stripped of their Academic Performance Index scores.

According to the district’s STAR testing coordinator: "On April 10, 2013 the Principal of Mar Vista Middle School came by to see me in my office. He had concerns that one of his teachers...may have copied previous years’ STAR [testing] materials, using them as study guides with her students. He presented some of the review sheets that he had found in the teacher’s room on campus. In reviewing the documents it appears these materials came directly from [the California Department of Education's] STAR Math Testing materials. Our office looked at over 30 pages of student study guides and found an overwhelming portion of the questions were exactly the same or very similar….

“At [a] meeting the Mar Vista Principal shared that these review sheets have been given to two other teachers in Algebra 1 and one other teacher in Math 7. These teachers have been providing them to students in those classes….

“The teacher in question has had her computer removed and the Information Technology Department is currently going through the hard drive for any documents related to the STAR testing.”

The materials were collected and students were allowed to test in all areas of the STAR California Department of Education Educational Testing Service until a determination was made on the testing violation.

Schools that fail to achieve performance targets are subject to sanctions such as the loss of some state and federal funding or sweeping changes on the campus, including removal of administrators and faculty.

Starting next year, many California students will be able to log on to a computer to take some of the STAR tests that educators say will offer faster results, more complex questions, and fewer opportunities for tampering.

Lafayette Elementary School in the San Diego Unified School District also was stripped of its scores after a substitute teacher in a third-grade classroom left a pocket chart on the board that students could see, showing homophones such as “their,” “they're,” “there,” “hour,” “our,” “hear,” “here,” “new,” “knew,” “its,” and “it’s.”  

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dbdriver Sept. 27, 2013 @ 2:06 p.m.

I'm kind of split on this one.

First, wasn't Mar Vista Middle already 're-structured'? Wasn't it due to its long-time API scores?

Second, the teacher used a previous year's study materials. With all the spending schools and states are doing with regarding to testing materials, aren't tests different from year to year? Though I can see how tests are going to include 'similar" or even the same questions in math. If you are teaching variables in Algebra, you are going to run into several variations of "X=5" or some such.

And didn't some well known person justify, "If you are teaching a subject, and you teach to the test, aren't the kids learning the subject?" (Probably not worded exactly that way.)

I know we want our students to think critically, to know when to use "Distance = Speed x Time" and such. However, until the determination on whether any testing violation was actually made, I'm going to sit on the sidelines.


knowthetruth Sept. 27, 2013 @ 2:38 p.m.

There are a lot of different things going on here so let’s break this down a bit. Mar Vista Middle is now called Mar Vista Academy after its restructure. The same principal is still there. During the restructure the staff was all let go and then teachers could choose whether they wanted to apply for their old job or they would be transferred to another school.

My first question would have to be what happened to the teacher who made a study guide from current test questions, are they still at Mar Vista or are they one of teachers who were transferred? How about the other teachers who used them? It is fairly common prior to the Spring standardized testing window to see teachers using the released questions from old tests to get their students ready, the District endorses this practice, whether it follows state guidelines is debatable. It wasn’t acceptable until the current head of Curriculum took over, then it was game on.

What we know is that the principal went to the District with his concern, which is what he was supposed to do. Was this one of the teachers he already wanted to get rid of, only the principal knows. Since the restructuring was going to happen anyway did the scores matter to the principal? I know of principals who would never have gone to the district and risk losing their scores, but in this case the principal did. Do we see this as an honest principal in a sea of dishonesty or a principal clearing out some of the teachers they didn’t want? Or could it be both at the same time?


Visduh Sept. 27, 2013 @ 3:32 p.m.

All very good points that you raise. Most of the tests, even those for advanced placement classes, are eventually released and are often used as study guides by the teachers. In and of itself, there's nothing wrong with that. But the tests are not changed completely every year, or at least that's what most teachers and administrators believe, and if a student can see last year's test, this year's test will look awfully familiar.

Whenever I've been involved with that sort of testing, the idea is that nobody gets a chance to look at the test, nor keep a copy. When it is advanced placement tests, the College Board has some draconian penalties for leaking the test contents or any other sort of cheating. The test booklets are resealed by the students before they are turned in. If a teacher kept a copy or made a photocopy or facsimile of last year's test, that was a violation of testing rules. That would have to be done willfully.

So, yes, the principal did the right thing, and kept his own neck out of the noose. (There was a good chance that it would have been detected, or that some other teacher would "rat out" the teacher who produced the study guide.)

The final comment I'll make is in regard to the value of such insider information. Is there that much value? If kids understand and can produce correct answers to algebra problems, is there any reason to show them last year's questions? They either know how or they don't understand how to solve equations, and unless they memorize correct responses to specific questions, there isn't any advantage. With thirty pages of such study guides, no kid can memorize that many specifics. Did seeing those problems really give the kids a leg up and distort the results? That's impossible to determine.


anniej Oct. 1, 2013 @ 6:24 p.m.

Perhaps if there was less emphasis on scores and more emphasis on teaching we would not be consistently learning of alleged cheating. This is not the first school in SUHSD to be 'accused' of let's say massaging the data.

Until and unless we are led by a superintendent whose focus is education, until and unless we have, as our representatives, persons whose votes equate to quality education until and unless we have a union whose is willing to admit there is such a thing as a bad teacher we will continue to wallow in the mire of total dysfunction.

You want change? Start by electing new board members, members who care about education. New board members who will replace Ed Brand. Research the votes of the current board - if you are not informed, you need to be one so.


Qar Oct. 1, 2013 @ 9:22 p.m.

And, until we have an assessment system that holds students responsible for their efforts, the tests are meaningless.


anniej Oct. 2, 2013 @ 8:03 a.m.

Qar - I forgot one entity that needs to change - the adults in these students lives. Parents believing that teachers and administrators can do it all need a wake up call.

Little do they realize time and effort now reap major rewards for the child later in life.


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