State investigation into testing irregularities at Kelly Elementary School nears completion

The state’s multi-agency investigation of a Las Vegas elementary school for possible irregularities in student test scores is drawing to a close and findings will be written in a couple weeks, State Superintendent of Public Schools Dale Erquiaga said on Wednesday.

Erquiaga will present the investigation’s findings to the Nevada Board of Education in April, including possible plans for corrective action at Kelly Elementary School and the Clark County School District. School employees’ professional licenses may also be revoked, Erquiaga said.

In 2010-11, not even a quarter of Kelly’s fifth-graders read at grade level. However, that number more than tripled to 77 percent the following year at the school near Lake Mead and Martin Luther King boulevards, according to state test results that spurred more questions than congratulations for the campus.

“This is probably the most intensive investigation done by the department,” said Erquiaga on Wednesday, noting the investigation began under his predecessor, former Superintendent James Guthrie, before Erquiaga was appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval in August.

At Erquiaga’s request, the Nevada attorney general’s office joined the Nevada Department of Education in October to take the lead in investigating Kelly. However, Erquiaga has been interviewing those involved in Kelly’s testing and will be finishing depositions and fact finding shortly, he said.

“I took the unusual step of taking personal responsibility for the depositions,” Erquiaga said.

Nevada law grants the department many powers to investigate such cases, including issuing subpoenas to witnesses.

Nevada school districts are required by law to report any suspected cheating or unusually large improvements in test scores to the state. The Clark County district did just that for Kelly Elementary School, according to district spokeswoman Kirsten Searer. No changes have been made at the school because the district awaits the results of the state investigation, she said.

Kelly logged statistically questionable scores not just on the reading test in fifth grade but also on the state’s reading and math tests taken annually by third- and fourth-graders. All pass rates skyrocketed.

In third grade, Kelly went from 44 percent proficient in math and reading in 2011 to 69 percent and 88 percent proficient, respectively, in 2012.

In fourth grade, 51 percent of students scored grade level or better in math, and 42 percent read at grade level in 2010-11. That jumped to 74 percent in math and 85 percent in reading in 2011-12.

Before that, Kelly’s test results had remained consistently low for years.

Proficiency rates declined slightly last school year after Kelly’s sharp spike in 2010-11 but were still uncharacteristically high for the school. The fifth-grade class, which in recent years never had more than 24 percent of students reading at grade level, sat at 72 percent proficient in 2012-13 after the 77 percent high mark of the previous year.

On Wednesday, Erquiaga noted the importance of concluding the investigation and reporting the findings as soon as possible.

“To have an investigation hanging over a school and district is not favorable to educating students,” he said.

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@review journal.com or 702-383-0279.