Seattle Public Schools has spent more than $25,000 investigating what happened at Beacon Hill International School, where nearly every wrong answer on last spring’s state exams was erased and changed to a correct response.
Six months after test scores at Seattle’s Beacon Hill International School were thrown out over suspected tampering, there still are no answers about who might have done it or why.
Seattle Public Schools officials won’t say whether they have any leads in the ongoing case, nor how much more time and money they plan to spend investigating it.
To date, the district has spent more than $25,000, according to contracts and invoices obtained by The Seattle Times.
That money has been used to hire an outside investigator and a handwriting expert to figure out why so many wrong answers on state exams were erased and corrected. As a result, nearly every student who took the tests last spring appeared to ace them.
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In October, state officials invalidated the entire school’s scores — a first in Washington state.
District and state officials aren’t calling the incident cheating, and no district employees have been placed on leave as a result.
The motives are unclear. Unlike in Atlanta, where 11 former teachers and administrators were convicted in a cheating scandal earlier this month, teachers in Washington state can’t be fired if their students perform poorly on state exams, and they don’t earn extra money if their students do well, though teachers whose students make big gains on the test can be eligible for higher-paying jobs as peer mentors.
Principals can earn up to $7,500 in bonuses if students in their schools perform well, but test scores are just one factor in whether they receive the extra money.
After Beacon Hill’s suspiciously high scores first came to light in August, the state looked at the paper test booklets and found heavy eraser marks and multiple-choice answers changed from wrong to right. It tracked suspicious patterns on fill-in-the-blank items, too, and noted potential differences in handwriting.
It took the state about two months to decide to invalidate the scores.
One issue is how many people had access to the test booklets, which were stored for weeks at the school — a process recently questioned in a school-district audit.
In October, right after the invalidation, the district hired Seattle attorney Curman Sebree to look into the case, and so far has paid her $22,500, according to a recent contract extension. Citing “additional hours needed for investigation,” the district has agreed at least twice to extend Sebree’s contract, according to the documents.
In December, the district hired handwriting expert Hannah McFarland to study the test booklets. She has charged the district $3,224 — or about $200 per hour — for her work.
Now six months after the investigation began, the district won’t say when it expects to wrap it up. A district spokeswoman said school officials can’t discuss the investigation because it’s ongoing.