Colorado

Beach Court kids’ scores plunge after move

A large number of Beach Court Elementary School students who scored proficient in fifth grade over a three-year period saw their scores drop out of the proficient category in sixth grade, an analysis conducted for Education News Colorado by I-News shows.

Beach Court Elementary students, shown in a photo from the school's website.

In 2009, for example, 76 percent of Beach Court fifth-graders scored proficient on state math tests. Just 29 percent of those same students scored proficient in math the following year when they entered sixth grade in a variety of middle schools.

By contrast, in Denver Public Schools overall, sixth-graders in 2009 scored 1 percentage point higher in math then they did fifth grade the year before – 47 to 46 percent.

In conducting the analysis, I-News studied student test score records obtained from the Colorado Department of Education. DPS has declined to provide any data or other information until after the state wraps up its investigation.

Earlier this week, Education News Colorado reported that Beach Court Principal Frank Roti has been placed on administrative leave while the state investigates testing anomalies at the school. Hallett Fundamental Academy is also being investigated. The I-News analysis of test scores did not find test score drops at Hallett similar to those at Beach Court.

Sources confirmed the district’s analysis of Colorado Student Assessment Program results included an examination of erasure marks on student answer sheets. Results showed the two schools far exceeded district averages in the number of wrong answers erased and replaced with correct responses.

The I-News analysis of Beach Court scores found that:

  • Between half and three quarters of fifth-grade students in 2007 through 2009 saw their math scores drop at least one level when they left the school and tested in sixth grade.
  • Between a third and almost half of fifth graders dropped a level in reading  over three years of testing  and a level in writing over two years of testing after leaving the school.

As a result, the percentage of fifth-grade students at Beach Court achieving proficiency in math, reading and writing dropped by a half or more between 2009 and 2010 when they were sixth graders in a different school

I-News looked at how fifth graders who took the tests at Beach Court in 2007 through 2009 fared on the CSAP tests the next year when they entered a new school in sixth grade.   The analysis compared how the same students scored – unsatisfactory, partially proficient, proficient or advanced. Between one and three fifth graders each year did not have scores the next year as sixth graders.

The biggest declines took place between 2009 testing at Beach Court and 2010 tests in sixth grade.  Thirty-seven of the 49 fifth graders, or 75 percent, fell at least one level in math.  The biggest drop was from proficient to partially proficient. Twenty of the 21 fifth graders fell below proficiency when they took the math test in sixth grade.  In addition, 13 of the 17 fifth graders who scored advanced on math at Beach Court fell to proficient  or lower after they left the school.

For reading in 2009, 22 of 49 students dropped a level the next year and 25 of 49 dropped a level in writing. As with math,  the biggest declines were from scoring proficient at Beach Court to scoring partially proficient in sixth grade.

The declines bucked the districtwide trends.

For all DPS schools, 46 percent of fifth graders scored proficient or better in 2009 in math, rising to 47 percent when they became sixth graders in 2010.

For all of DPS, the percent scoring proficient or advanced in reading rose from 48 percent in fifth grade in 2009 to 54 percent in sixth grade in 2010. In writing, the scores were the same in fifth grade in 2009 as they were in sixth grade for 2010 – 41 percent proficient or advanced.

Earlier years

About half of the fifth graders who took math tests at Beach Court in 2008 dropped a level the next year. For reading and writing, it was about 30 percent of fifth graders who lost ground the next year.

Just under half of the fifth graders dropped a level after taking reading and math tests in 2007 at Beach Court. A break down on proficiency levels was not available for writing. Only scale scores were used in the data base analyzed by I-News.

I-News also  analyzed scores for Hallet Fundamental School, but the database used by I-News did not include scores to compare the 2010 and 2011 years that are the focus of the investigation. The analysis found that most scores stayed the same or rose between fifth and sixth grades.

Reflections of a former Beach Court teacher

Bernadette Lopez taught third grade at Beach Court from 2005 to 2008, when she left to join the teacher-led Math and Science Leadership Academy. Lopez has since left teaching to enroll in law school.

During her three years at the school, Lopez said CSAP tests were closely monitored. Teachers picked up their boxes of tests in the morning before testing and the boxes were immediately picked up after testing was over.

She also pointed out that no teacher had access to the tests for all of their students. That’s because of testing accommodations allowed under state testing rules. So students who qualified for extra time, for example, or other special circumstances would be under the supervision of a different proctor.

“I never had access to 100 percent of my students’ tests,” she said.

Lopez said she heard about the cheating investigation and “felt really bad for the teachers who have worked so hard … it tarnishes what we did.”

“When I was there, things were on the up and up,” she said. “I never saw anything that would be suspect.”

But she also noted, “I don’t know what happens after someone picks up the boxes” of tests – “you turn in your box … you never see it again.”

“It’s almost too bad the district made such a big deal out of the school – it felt like there was so much pressure to keep scores up,” she said.

Lopez said the second year she taught at Beach Court, 89 percent of her third-graders scored proficient or advanced in reading; the next year, the figure was 100 percent. “I didn’t even think it was possible for all of my students to do so well.”

Still, if someone were trying to cheat, why falsely create 100 percent proficiency, which could create suspicion, she asked.

Lopez and other teachers pointed out that Frank Roti, the Beach Court principal, did not always have the best relationships with teachers.

“If teachers were aware of cheating going on, it probably would have been reported,” she said. On the other hand, if teachers felt nothing would really happen to a principal, they may not have felt it would make a difference.

“You’re going to have different kids every year, your scores are going to fluctuate,” she said. “If there is something to it, the pressure got to somebody.”

By the numbers

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School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede