Teacher error will cost Lucia Mar school on API scores

An elementary school in the Lucia Mar Unified School District won’t be able to count this year’s state test scores because a second-grade teacher guided student responses for several questions during the math portion of the test.

The California Department of Education alerted Lucia Mar administrators a few weeks ago that Dorothea Lange Elementary School in Nipomo would not receive its Academic Performance Index score.

The API is a measurement based on state tests taken by students in grades two through 11 and from the California High School Exit Examination. The state uses the data as an indicator of schools’ success.

In the spring, 29 students in the Dorothea Lange teacher’s second-grade class took the math portion of the Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR test. At one point, the teacher made comments that could be characterized as coaching, according to Andy Stenson, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum.The teacher did not provide answers, Stenson said.

“It was something that would fall into the lines of test taking tips and strategies,” he added. “It’s OK for teachers to talk to kids about test-taking skills and strategies prior to the testing window, but once the booklets are out on desks it is strictly prohibited.”

A certificated proctor was present during the testing and reported the incident to the school’s principal, according to a report the South County district — San Luis Obispo County’s largest school system — submitted to the state in June. District administrators conducted an investigation and decided the incident warranted notification to the state, Stenson said.

According to results that Stenson provided, Dorothea Lange made gains in the number of students who tested proficient or advanced in English-language arts and mathematics.

However, the scores would not have been enough to pull the school out of “program improvement,” for failing to meet federal standards, he said. The school is in its third year of program-improvement status.

“These numbers and these results mean something to us,” he said. “We make program decisions based on these results. Any action that jeopardizes the integrity of those results needs to be reported.”

The teacher’s name was not disclosed. It was unknown if any disciplinary action, which would be taken through Lucia Mar’s human resources office, had occurred. Stenson said the teacher continues to teach, though he did not specify whether the individual remains at Dorothea Lange Elementary.

District administrators will redouble their efforts during training to make sure “it is crystal clear to everyone administering the test what can be done and what can’t,” Stenson said.