Cheating scandal rocks Van Buren Public Schools district

Elementary school teachers accused of cheating for better MSTEP scores

BELLEVILLE, Mich. – Officials say five staffers from a suburban Detroit school district have been placed on leave after a state investigation found students at one elementary school performed so far above the state average on standardized tests that it was deemed suspicious.

Local 4 has learned that third and fourth-grade non-gifted math students at Savage Elementary in the Van Buren Public Schools district scored about 40 percent better than the state average.

In the span of a few months, third-grade math scores improved by about 30 percent, and reading improved by about 23 percent. Fourth grade math scores also went up by about 30 percent, and reading by about 20 percent.

The state describes the 2015 Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress scores results as "highly unlikely due to chance alone," and the scores were invalidated.

Parents say their children studied hard and they support the suspended educators.

"I believe they're being targeted because they did well," said Steven Harkle, whose 9-year-old daughter's test results were invalidated. "She was crushed. She studied hard. I know she did because her grades had been going up.”

Superintendent Michael Van Tassel discussed the issue in a letter on the district's website, saying there were "testing improprieties."  

The district was asked to conduct an independent investigation and hired their own attorneys.

"If the state would have sent their own investigators and came back and said, 'We found the anomalies.' OK. Investigate it further. Why?" said parent Charity Fielder.

Teachers who administered the exam were interviewed, as were third and fourth-grade students.

"I'm upset that they allowed an attorney to talk to the children without parents being present. We weren't notified about it until afterwards," said Fielder.

"Parents gotta stand up. Who is going to stand up for our teachers if we don't," said Emily Smith, another parent.

Analysts with the state of Michigan found students at Savage Elementary got more time to write the tests than the average student received.

State officials will monitor the exams at Savage this year.

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