Security of Md. test is breached 60,000 pupils to retake functional math exam, a must for graduation

Could cost up to $100,000

Lapse originated with staff members, not with students

November 20, 1997|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Howard Libit contributed to this article.

A "breach of security" in Maryland's functional math test -- required for high school graduation -- means that 60,000 students across the state will have to retake the test at a cost to the state of between $50,000 and $100,000.

About 850 of those students are 12th-graders, who must pass the exam and the state's functional tests in other subjects to graduate.

Ronald A. Peiffer, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said yesterday that state officials found out in the -- past week that "some practice material" given to some students before the last administration of the test in October was identical to some of the questions on the test.

Peiffer would not provide details of how or where this took place, other than to say it appeared to have happened in more than one school system and did not take place in Baltimore or Baltimore's suburban counties.

He said that students did not initiate the security breach and that it is being treated as a possible "personnel matter" involving one or more teachers or administrators.

Because state officials do not know how widely disseminated the test questions were, they have notified Maryland's 24 local school systems that all students must retake the multiple-choice test between mid-January and mid-February, Pfeiffer said.

"We are moving as quickly as possible," he said. "Local school systems are starting to deal with it."

The multiple-choice math test, which covers basic computation, takes most students about an hour to complete using a pencil.

Students who took the test by computer are not affected by the security breach and will not have to retake it. Peiffer had no estimate of how many students take the computer test, though he said it was far fewer than by traditional means.

Maryland began giving statewide functional tests in math, reading, writing and citizenship about 10 years ago, as prerequisites to high school graduation. Because the tests are considered basic, they are first given to seventh- and eighth-graders, more than 80 percent of whom pass before entering high school, Peiffer said.

These tests are now considered insufficiently challenging, so state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and the State Board of Education want to replace them with much more rigorous high school graduation tests, beginning with the Class of 2004.

Though that testing program is still being developed, it has met with continued criticism from parents and PTAs, who say their concerns about the cost of the tests and the weight they will carry are not being addressed.

"If there are security problems with a test that has been around for such a long time, the security of the new high school exams is a serious concern," said Susan Poole, president of the Howard County PTA Council. "I'm concerned whether this has happened before."

Peiffer said it has not.

"We've been administering these [functional] tests for a decade," he said. "To my knowledge, this is the first time we've had to deal with a breach of security on this level."

Peiffer said he did not think the security foul-up would create "any negative fallout" for the new high-school tests being developed.

But incidents such as this increase parent frustration because of the toll they take on teaching time and local budgets, said Carmela Veit, president of the Maryland PTA.

Pub Date: 11/20/97

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