School district accused of testing fraud
Parents say teacher filled in child's answers to conceal deficits
A family is accusing the Palo Alto Unified School District of testing fraud, claiming their daughter's teacher for two years filled in answers on her tests to conceal her learning disabilities and need for extra help.
The girl, who just finished fourth grade at an undisclosed Palo Alto elementary school, remains "far behind her peers" due to the actions of her second- and third-grade teacher — the same person both years, according to a claim filed May 20 in Santa Clara County Superior Court. The claim seeks $550,000 from the district.
School district officials were off-site at a leadership-training course in Cupertino Thursday and not immediately available to comment.
"It was and is apparent that the test scores were fraudulently manufactured in order to provide the appearance that (the student) was learning the material and did not have a learning disability or need additional supports," the legal complaint said.
The girl started first grade in Palo Alto in 2007 showing "significant reading and learning deficits" but improved somewhat with extra assistance, the claim said.
She remained "significantly behind in math, reading and writing" when she entered second grade but "started to exhibit perfect scores, albeit with many eraser marks," the claim said.
The parents said they raised questions with the teacher when their then second-grade daughter could not do simple math problems at home, despite the high scores on classroom tests and even standardized tests.
But the teacher, according to the claim, "feigned insult and refused any further discussion," saying the girl was "doing fine in math" and "doing all the work herself."
Only when the child entered fourth grade last fall and got a new teacher was it learned that her "math, writing and reading skills were well below grade level after all."
Her "parents were told she was a 'low-achieving' child and that 'we are in the tail end of being able to fix this,'" the court document said.
As late as last December, the district refused the parents' request to administer an assessment of the girl, citing her good performance on second-grade standardized testing and other past tests, the complaint said.
More recently, the district did assess the student and found her eligible for special education in the category of "other health impaired" — one of 14 possible categories under federal special-education law.
"They've come around to recognizing she's eligible, but she had two wasted years because the teacher was otherwise hiding her eligibility," said San Jose lawyer David H. Tollner, who is representing the family. Tollner, formerly executive director of the Pacific Autism Center for Education in Sunnyvale, specializes in special-education law.
"I've seen cases like this where teachers will cover deficits in students so they don't have to assess them and provide various other special education supports, but this is an extreme case, clearly," Tollner said.
"This is actual standardized testing that's been erased and teacher responses put in where the student clearly didn't know the information, but the parents were led to believe the student was on the right track."
The family is seeking $500,000 in damages for emotional distress, and another $50,000 for compensatory education, according to the complaint, a redacted version of which was provided by the school district.
Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at email@example.com.