School official reacts to MSA violations

In a letter to parents, superintendent stresses that behavior of teachers who copied and gave out old tests isn't typical


When Carroll County school officials announced last week that two fourth-grade teachers had violated state rules by circulating copies of questions from a state standardized exam to other teachers and pupils before the test, Superintendent Charles I. Ecker went to great lengths to as sure the children at Mount Airy and Linton Springs elementaries that they had done nothing wrong.

"It's not the students' fault," Ecker said. "I want to emphasize, students did nothing wrong.

"All staff - with the exception of the two teachers - did nothing wrong," he said.

In addition to sending letters home to parents that explained the testing infraction, Ecker met with parents and pupils from both schools to assure them that he is proud of them and that the actions of the two teachers do not represent the entire school system.

"I urge the public not to think that these two teachers are an indication of what our teachers are like. Nothing could be further from the truth," he said. "Our school system is full of employees that are honest, forthcoming and do a wonderful job, day in and day out. They do not cheat and lie."

On Monday, Ecker held a news conference at the Board of Education offices to announce that a teacher at Linton Springs Elementary in Sykesville admitted that she had taken notes from the fourth-grade Maryland School Assessment reading exam last year while she was employed at another Carroll school and created a worksheet for her pupils for this year's tests, which were given March 13 to 22.

She shared the worksheet with a teacher at Mount Airy Elementary, who passed it along to other fourth-grade Mount Airy teachers who did not know the questions had been copied from the MSA test, Ecker said. Those teachers alerted the principal to similarities between the worksheet and this year's test.

Educators are prohibited from copying, reproducing, using or otherwise disclosing any portion of secure test materials. Ecker said teachers are allowed to provide review materials for students, but those materials cannot be identical to the exam, parts of which are the same from year to year.

Ecker said the two teachers have been removed from their classrooms but declined to identify them because disciplinary action is a personnel matter.

He wouldn't disclose the possible duration of their removal and said he expects the teachers to appeal his decision.

State education officials use the results of the test to determine whether schools - and school systems - have made sufficient progress to meet benchmarks known as adequate yearly progress, or AYP. Schools that repeatedly fail to progress face sanctions.

Schools administer the MSA to children from third through eighth grade in math and reading, as well as to high school students in English and geometry, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

State education officials have not decided what sanctions the school district will face as a result of the compromised test.

Carroll school officials said they anticipate that at the least, the scores of 170 pupils - 23 at Linton Springs and 147 at Mount Airy - could be invalidated.

In that event, parents and students would receive actual scores from the state, but when it comes to determining whether the schools have met AYP, those scores would show up as zeroes.

Mount Airy, because it has more pupils affected, could see its AYP status jeopardized, Ecker said.

Pupils also might be required to retake the exam, as nearly 50 students had to do this month in Charles County after test security violations there.

One Mount Airy parent, who does not have a child in the fourth grade, said she was disappointed to hear about the violation but was confident that the school could rise above it.

"It's really just a shame that it happened at our school because our school does extremely well on these tests," said Dana Buswell, the school's PTA president.

"It'll be interesting to see what the state does. But I know that Mount Airy will triumph. It will grow through this."

Ecker said he is focusing on the positive as he tries to assure pupils, teachers and parents that Carroll County still has a high-quality school system.

"My philosophy is that bad things happen, and it's how you handle them that's important," Ecker said. "My hope is that this will make us better, not bitter."

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