Balto. Co. OKs cost of redoing state test

New version needed after Essex school lost 4 exam booklets

October 25, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County schools will have to pay $115,000 to reimburse the state for rewriting the Maryland Functional Test in math after an east-side school lost four test booklets.

State officials had to throw out the version of the statewide test that was given last spring after exam questions went missing from Stemmers Run Middle School in Essex.

The breach of security means 77 new questions have to be written for the test, which is typically reused in a later year. The test is given in middle school, but passing is a requirement for high school graduation. The Baltimore County school board quietly approved the $115,000 expenditure this week.

"We have no idea how widely distributed [the missing booklets] might have been," said Ronald A. Peiffer, assistant state schools superintendent.

There is no evidence that the test books were used in any fraudulent way, state and county officials said. The items appear to have been lost. Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said he could not comment on whether any Stemmers Run staff members were disciplined for the disappearance but said no one was fired.

While the tests have to be tossed out, the spring scores will still count.

"No integrity has been damaged in terms of the results," Hairston said. "It's a problem simply because we have to preserve the integrity of the test."

Schools are given a certain number of test booklets and must turn them in after the test is given.

The functional test has been around for more than 15 years and has encountered few security problems. Last year, the state had to do away with a computerized version of the test after a security breach in one county. The state is working to rewrite the computer program, Peiffer said.

"People know how important it is [to keep track of test booklets], and there's a lot of concern that people do it right," he said. "That's why these things happen so infrequently."

Last year, Montgomery County schools had to pay the state more than $400,000 to buy a new sixth-grade version of the nationally standardized Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills in math after teachers at one Silver Spring school photocopied test questions and gave them to students as a review.

The functional test was designed as a high school graduation requirement to assess "the very basic minimal math" skills, Peiffer said. It doesn't test algebra or geometry. It will ultimately be replaced by the much tougher high school assessment tests.

Despite that, 79.9 percent of Baltimore County's eighth-graders passed the test during the 2000-2001 school year, down from 84.4 percent a year earlier.

The school board approved the money for the new test at its meeting Tuesday without comment. The agenda item made no mention of having to rewrite questions, listing the cost as "reprinting of test items." Peiffer said the charge was not for printing.

At the same time, board members were presented with an updated list of procedures regarding testing, including training sessions that emphasize test security.

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