The Kentucky Department of Education has barred JCPS personnel from handling student testing materials at eight schools without the presence of state officials after KDE noticed an unusually high number of changed answers on tests, which indicates possible cheating.

Marty Pollio

Stephen Pruitt, then-commissioner of education, told Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio in a letter March 29, first reported by the Courier Journal, that he deemed the “potential testing improprieties” an “urgent test security matter.”

JCPS told Insider that there are currently no allegations or investigations of cheating. A KDE spokeswoman said the department is “strictly monitoring” at this time.

KDE analyzes results from K-PREP, the standardized test used to determine student progress, from all Kentucky districts and schools to spot potential cheating or mishandling.

Pruitt told Pollio that “KDE staff undertook a longitudinal review of schools that have been flagged for the highest potential of testing improprieties and presented me with data that calls into concern the validity of test scores in a number of schools, including many in JCPS.”

KDE told Insider that an analysis by Caveon, a company that specializes in test security and data forensics, found an unusually high number in test answers that had been erased and changed at some schools.

“Simply put, the vendor evaluates erasure marks – those that are changed from wrong answer to right, right to wrong, etc. Also they evaluate test similarities and determine based on all that where there are anomalies,” a KDE spokeswoman told Insider.

Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County teachers’ union, said the monitoring doesn’t imply teachers or administrators are cheating.

“The Association’s understanding is that this is routine due diligence on the part of KDE when the number of erasures is outside a certain range, and is not meant to imply anything inappropriate is occurring,” McKim said. “It is a reasonable and appropriate quality control response.”

KDE said anomalies at eight schools had “risen to a level of concern:”

  • Audubon Traditional Elementary School
  • Brandeis Elementary School
  • Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School
  • Greathouse Shryock Traditional Elementary School
  • King Elementary School
  • Rangeland Elementary School
  • Stonestreet Elementary School
  • Stopher Elementary School

Pruitt wrote that JCPS staff will be prohibited from opening testing materials, which JCPS will have to hold in a secure facility they’re delivered to schools for testing. KDE staff will monitor the inventorying of the materials at the schools, as well as the testing process at the schools.

“The goal of this process is to ensure the security of the test materials and the validity of scores,” Wayne Lewis, the state’s interim education commissioner, said.

Erasure anomalies can’t solely spark an investigation, Lewis said in an emailed statement, but any evidence of wrongdoing in the May testing period could.

“KDE will remain transparent about the testing process,” he said. “With that, however, the agency does not want to publicly implicate any school or district of wrongdoing without conclusive evidence.”

A JCPS spokeswoman said she believes the analysis that led to monitoring will be included in the soon-to-be-released state audit.

Pollio told Insider in an emailed statement that KDE staff will be in the schools “for observation (and) to ensure there are no irregularities.”

“The district welcomes the review,” he said, “and will be working collaboratively with KDE to ensure compliance with and the integrity of all testing policies, practices and procedures.”

KDE staff also will monitor testing at three other districts, a KDE spokeswoman said, though she would not say which ones.

None of the affected schools had clear, consistent K-PREP score improvement between the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years, according to KDE data. All but one school, King Elementary, had at least one testing category in which the share of students receiving proficient or distinguished scores dropped more than 2.5 percent. King’s percentage of proficient and distinguished results in math dropped 0.5 percent, but otherwise, the school saw large improvements of up to 31.6 percent.

Read the full letter from Pruitt to Pollio below.