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November 23, 2014

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Nevada superintendent: Kids are victims in cheating scandal

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AP Photo/Cathleen Allison

Dale Erquiaga gives a press briefing Friday, May 27, 2011, at the Capitol in Carson City. At the time, Erquiaga was a senior adviser to Gov. Brian Sandoval. Erquiaga is now the state superintendent of public schools.

Updated Thursday, April 17, 2014 | 2:46 p.m.

Nevada's state superintendent called children the victims and adults the culprits in a cheating scandal uncovered at a Las Vegas elementary school.

Superintendent Dale Erquiaga spoke briefly about the matter Thursday, a day after the Nevada Department of Education released a report concluding at least one adult changed wrong responses to right ones on standardized test answer sheets. The 2012 test scores for Matt Kelly Elementary School have been nullified, and three Clark County School District employees are on leave, although the investigation was inconclusive about who tampered with the tests.

"The children are, in my view, the victims in this testing irregularity, and I don't want any doubt cast on those children or their abilities," Erquiaga said at a Nevada Board of Education meeting in Las Vegas. "It is unfortunate that an entire year of their work is invalidated by this activity."

An anonymous tipster reported possible cheating at the school in April 2012, and an associate superintendent questioned the principal in May about whether she had coached students while they were taking the statewide Criterion Referenced Test. She said she hadn't, and the investigation went no further, according to the state report.

Test scores released in June showed dramatic improvement at the traditionally low-performing school. Witnesses told investigators one student who couldn't read before the test earned a perfect score in reading.

Kelly Elementary earned a coveted five-star rating in the first year Nevada ranked schools on the five-star scale.

The following year, when district officials supervised the tests, the scores fell, and the school landed a two-star rating.

Investigators with the state Department of Education said they interviewed 15 people, reviewed more than 2,000 pages of documents obtained by subpoena and conducted an analysis of erasure marks, which found an unusually high rate of wrong answers being switched to right answers.

But the investigation did not conclude which person or people are responsible for the act. The report suggests either people have lied under oath or someone who was not interviewed is the perpetrator.

The report described the district's initial investigation into the anonymous tip as unsatisfactory, and it faulted the school for lax security involving the testing materials.

Principal Patricia Harris, Assistant Principal Steven Niemeier and Associate Superintendent Andre Denson have been placed on leave, according to a district spokeswoman.

Erquiaga said the next steps for the investigation lie with Clark County. He said he didn't want to comment further because the state Board of Education could be the arbiter on the case in the future.

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