by William McKee June 24th, 2012
A Washington state elementary school teacher in the Colville district with 26 years of experience resigned her job as disciplinary actions unfolded following charges she provided “unauthorized assistance” to students in her fifth-grade classroom for three straight years during state-mandated achievement tests. The narrative emerges from an agreed order recently posted online by the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in which Sherral M. Kaiser, 52, formerly of Fort Colville Elementary School in Colville, Wash., agrees to the temporary suspension of her teaching certificate for unprofessional conduct.
Teacher’s testing improprieties were only reported to the state after three years
According to the findings of fact in the agreed order signed by Kaiser and top state education officials May 30, 2012, the Colville School District did not notify OSPI until June 14, 2010 that Kaiser for three straight school years, from 2007-08 into 2009-10, had provided “unauthorized assistance to students in her 5th grade classroom” during state-mandated Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) and then Measurement of Student Progress (MSP) achievement tests, and instructed classroom assistants to do likewise, despite Kaiser “having been previously trained in the proper testing procedures.”
The agreed order further reveals that it was only after Kaiser in late May of 2010 engaged in minor misappropriation of Colville district funds of less $40 – by using for personal purposes a returned item credit voucher from a Walmart store where she bought classroom materials on the district’s account – that the district placed her on (paid) administrative leave, and reported her testing improprieties to the state. A pending criminal case in Stevens County court related to her $37.36 misappropriation from the district was dropped as part of a settlement agreement which included her resignation effective August 31, 2011. Though on leave from June 1, 2010 until then, Kaiser was paid total salary and benefits of $79,936 for the 2010-2011 school year according to public records accessed via a Kitsap Sun database.
Online records indicate Kaiser has relocated to Beaverton, Oregon. She could not be reached for comment. Then-Colville District Superintendent Ken Emmil said in a phone interview Sunday the district reported Kaiser’s “unauthorized assistance” to students on the standardized tests for three straight years as soon as officials learned of it, in June 2010. Several teachers came forward with the information, said Emmil, and several of Kaiser’s classroom assistants corroborated the reports. It was a coincidence that this occurred right around the same time Kaiser was ensnared in the small misappropriation of district funds, Emmil said.
Reached by phone, Colville School District Board President Cheryl Mitzel Fenno said she “was not all that familiar with the case,” and declined further comment. School Board member Sarah Newman said she was “unaware” of the case and also declined comment.
Pressured to Cheat
In 2004, the Tacoma News Tribune reported on WASL irregularities catalogued by OSPI. The Spokane Spokesman-Review reported that similar problems surfaced in Spokane County in the early 200Os and KXLY-TV in Spokane in 2009 reported on another case.
Cheating on standardized tests by educators has become a growing problem in the past decade as federal programs such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top increase the stakes for teachers and schools to make sure the percentage of students demonstrating basic proficiency in core subjects, continues to rise. Some teachers tell students stories before the test that include test-relevant material in them. Others copy the test ahead of time and use actual test questions to help students prepare. Or they may go back over completed tests and actually change answers.
U.S. Department of Education to crowdsource solutions
Recognition of the problem prompted the U.S. Department of Education to issue in January a request for information (RFI) from state education agencies seeking their input on the best way to “prevent, detect, and respond to irregularities in academic testing. The RFI states that the reliability of accurate information about student performance is essential to the established test administration system and attempts to reform education across the country.
The RFI asks for “advice, technical information, legal, regulatory and policy approaches, and other input” from educators around the country, in an effort to help address the problems facing the system. The hope is to ultimately create a “how to” manual for schools to fight the growing problem of educators cheating on standardized tests.
Transcript and slideshows from “testing irregularities” symposium
The U.S. Department of Education held a related symposium on February 28th (transcript; full agenda page with Webcast access and slideshow links).
Schools Marred By Testing Scandals in 2011, USA Today, 12/29/11
Cheating Report Confirms Teacher’s Suspicions, CNN, 8/8/11