The Louisiana Department of Education received a complaint alleging cheating on state tests at St. Helena Central Elementary School, but an investigation found no basis for the allegations, officials said Thursday.
An anonymous complaint sent by email alleged that teachers at the elementary school, which includes pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, helped students cheat on the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program tests in the spring, said Scott Norton, director of assessments and accountability for the department.
St. Helena’s LEAP scores were the most-improved in the state for 2012, with an overall gain of 13 percentage points in the number of students scoring basic or above compared with 2011 scores, according to the Department of Education.
At the third- and fourth-grade levels, scores increased by 16 percentage points or more in every testing area except fourth-grade English and Language Arts, Department of Education reports show.
The Education Department forwarded the allegations of cheating to the local district for investigation, as required by Board of Elementary and Secondary Education policy, Norton said.
In cases such as this, local district officials investigate then report their findings back to the state, he said.
The Department of Education has no detailed procedures for how the department is supposed to respond at that point, Norton said.
Generally, though, if the district’s investigation does not appear to be thorough, the department would advise them to go back and do more, Norton said. If the findings indicate there was cheating, the department would advise the district of corrections to make to ensure the integrity of future testing, he said.
“And if there were no findings and the report seems thorough, that’s essentially the end of it. And that’s what happened here,” Norton said.
Department officials met with St. Helena Superintendent Kelli Joseph and other district officials to review the investigation results, and “mutually agreed that having monitors in the school for a while would be beneficial to the district and the state,” Norton said.
“They welcomed that, frankly,” he said, noting that monitors were in the schools for the retest period this week, and “everything appeared to be in order.”
Joseph said the district has been focused on exam integrity throughout the year.
“We made sure of it,” Joseph said. “We kept the test booklets in a locked cabinet in a locked room at the central office until right before the testing. All the teachers went through extensive training and followed everything by the book.”
A test administrator and a proctor were in every classroom, and supervisors walked the hallways during the testing, Joseph said. The superintendent also visited the classrooms to ensure nothing was irregular, she said.
St. Helena students worked hard to improve their test scores, and their achievements should not be tarnished by false allegations, Joseph said.
The superintendent said she suspects the complaint came from a disgruntled parent.
“There was a particular parent that was having some issues out there,” said Carolyn Hill, BESE member for District 8, which includes St. Helena Parish.
Hill said multiple individuals made complaints against the district, but Joseph disputes that.
Norton said he received a couple of anonymous emails from addresses that did not disclose the identity of the senders. He said they could have been sent by two different people, but he believes, based on their language, that one was a follow-up to the other and written by the same person.
“Due to confidentiality, we could not disclose the individuals who sent in the documentation,” Hill said. “The district wanted us to, but we couldn’t.”
“The superintendent may feel that this one particular parent pushed the issue, but that is not the case,” Hill said.
“The district has made significant change over the past year, and I’m really proud they’ve been able to achieve that growth,” Hill said. “I’m sorry it (the investigation) had to happen, but when we receive complaints we must do our part to take precautions and ensure the integrity of the testing and the quality of our children’s education.”
The Department of Education will send a memo back to the district, “closing the loop and documenting that they’ve done what they need to do,” as well as making any needed recommendations, Norton said.
The memo to St. Helena has not been written yet, but Norton said he believes the district’s officials have done everything they need to do in response to the complaint.
As for a recommendation, Norton said, “I think in any case, we would encourage the district to continue to be cautious and to uphold test security to the best they can.”