Testers, tested

April 14, 2006

It's a fact of life that students have to take tests and sometimes test-givers bend the rules in order to show good results. That may well be the explanation behind a few recent incidents in Maryland where educators in three counties apparently violated state test protocols. State education officials are reviewing the incidents and think they are just isolated occurrences, not an ominous pattern. But the officials are certainly right to keep a watchful eye.

Students in third to eighth grades are given the Maryland State Assessment in reading and math, and high school students are tested in English and geometry. The results are used to determine whether schools and their districts are making sufficient annual progress to prevent the state from taking various corrective actions to help turn things around.

Testing stakes have escalated dramatically since the federal No Child Left Behind law, which authorizes escalating sanctions for schools that fail to make "adequate yearly progress," went into effect in 2002. The idea, put forth by some, that a combination of high-stakes testing that can stifle teachers' creativity and fear of sanctions is to blame for teachers and administrators cheating on tests is ridiculous - there is no excuse for cheating.

In Maryland, educators are free to use approved sample test items, but they are prohibited from reproducing, using or disclosing secure test materials. Each local district has an accountability officer and each school has a testing coordinator to ensure that tests are administered appropriately.

But in recent weeks, allegations of test security breaches have resulted in an elementary school principal in Charles County being placed on administrative leave, the principal and three teachers from an elementary school in Kent County being removed from the school and two teachers at two elementary schools in Carroll County being removed from their classrooms.

Local investigative reports of each incident are being reviewed by state Education Department officials responsible for accountability and assessment. If these educators cheated, they should not be allowed to return to their schools - not just because of their fraudulent acts but because of the terrible example they have set for students.

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