THERMAL, Calif. -

What one teacher considered helpful to a third grade student ended up costing the school its state ranking.

"As she was monitoring the class, she may have noticed that some kids should check their answer, and she asked them to check their answer," Coachella Valley Unified School District superintendent Darryl Adams said.

That hint grouped Westside Elementary in Thermal with 22 other schools in California -- accused of cheating, misconduct, or mistakes in administering the standardized tests given last spring. All 23 schools lost their rating on California's Academic Performance Index, or API.
     
The API scale officially measures schools in California. A high score can contribute to high property values. A low score can sometimes label a school a failure, and even cause penalties.

These types of incidents are called "adult irregularities", and if they affect at least 5% of the school's students, the school loses its rating.

"I would like to appeal it to the state because I don't agree that because of a small number of students at an elementary school, you're going to invalidate the whole school's test scores," Adams said.

This sets Westside Elementary back, which was close to getting out of the Program Improvement Level, which is a category describing schools that don't meet the state's API targets.

"The students still get their individual scores, the school's score is invalidated. That means if they were going to get out of Program Improvement, if they met all their targets, well now you set yourself back another year," Adams said.

Now, the school can just move forward.

"We have ensured our training in the future will accommodate those kinds of questions that may come to a teacher," Adams said.

One parent we talked to speaks highly of her child's teacher at Westside, and doesn't think that teacher has done similar hinting on tests.

"I don't think that's ok, but I don't know whether to believe that. How else would my child be learning and be really good?"

For the past few years, the number of schools with invalidated test scores is at least relatively low - about two dozen in a state with more than ten thousand schools.