Campuses in five Los Angeles County school systems were stripped of their scores on the state's Academic Performance Index over claims of cheating, other misconduct or mistakes that affected the handling of standardized tests.
In all, 27 California schools this year lost their academic rating, an increase from 23 last year.
Losing ratings is damaging because a school needs them to meet performance targets. Schools that fail to achieve those targets over several years are exposed to sanctions such as the loss of some funding or even the wholesale removal of administrators and faculty.
The academic score also is important to parents looking for schools and real estate agents gauging local home values.
Details about the misconduct were included in school district reports obtained by The Times through a public records request filed with the California Department of Education. The reports showed that suspected cheating was isolated, usually one teacher acting alone. And the number of affected campuses was small in a state with more than 10,000 schools.
The L.A. County school districts affected were those in Burbank, Claremont, Compton, Pasadena and Torrance. Elsewhere in the region, problems arose in Fontana, Lancaster, Ontario-Montclair, Orange and San Diego.
In one class, a teacher is thought to have helped students erase wrong answers. In another, a teacher was accused of working out problems on the board during the test.
Compton Unified had several blemishes. At Kennedy Elementary, a 5th-grade teacher "had written a chart on the white board" during the test to help students.
"Disciplinary action is in process," the district wrote in its report to the state.
A district investigation at Compton's Walton Middle School "indicated that, yes, two different teachers had told [students] they had specific questions wrong on the test and to go back and fix them." Officials also found that a 6th grade teacher had improperly divided a test into three parts and gave students more time than allowed to complete them.
At Norma Coombs Alternative School in Pasadena, a teacher is suspected of checking the work of at least two students to alert them of wrong answers.
In Burbank, at William McKinley Elementary, students said a third-grade teacher offered direct assistance such as, "This is wrong and you should change it" and, "If you need to erase a problem, raise your hand."
At Piute Middle School in Lancaster, more than 70 students told officials that a math teacher worked out test questions on the board. More than half said the teacher "stated it was OK to go back and correct their answers."
Nearly half the students at Mar Vista Middle School in San Diego practiced with work sheets that were apparently based on actual math test items. Three teachers reportedly used the review sheets, but it wasn't clear how many knew the materials were suspect.
A student's bloody nose led to the discovery of alleged wrongdoing at Arroyo Elementary in Ontario. A stricken third-grader who went to the office for assistance began chatting with the principal. The student volunteered that he knew he did well on an earlier portion of the test because the teacher "taps once on the test if they get problems right and twice if they are wrong."
"I asked him what happens when she taps twice," the principal reported.
"You go back and work some more," the student said.
A 5th-grade teacher at Hickory Elementary in Torrance allegedly tried to be artful with clues. When a student asked about the word "seldom," the teacher replied: "Well … I seldom know the answer to that."
In Santa Cruz, some teachers at three elementary schools failed to cover up or remove from walls such materials as charts and number lines. These may have been inadvertent mistakes, but they cost each school its state rating.
At three schools a student took one or more pictures of testing materials. That ultimately invalidated the ratings of Community Day School in Claremont, Peralta Elementary in Riverside and Wheatland Community Day School north of Sacramento.
Although students were the wrongdoers in these cases, schools were penalized, in part, because adult staff members should have exercised proper supervision.
Some forms of cheating may become obsolete next year as standardized tests will be given on computers instead of on paper. But experts expect the computer tests to raise different sorts of security challenges.
To see the reports on each affected school, listed by school district, go to latimes.com.