2 resign in probe of exam cheating

Carroll school system had been considering action against teachers


Two Carroll County fourth-grade teachers said to have cheated on this year's state standardized tests have resigned as local school officials were considering their punishment, the system's schools chief said yesterday.

"They were going to be subject to disciplinary action, and they elected to resign," said Superintendent Charles I. Ecker, who added that the teachers notified the school system last week about their decision to leave.

He declined to say whether school officials were considering firing the pair before they resigned.

Ecker said he has requested that state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick revoke the teaching certificates of both women, whom he declined to identify because the situation is considered a personnel matter.

Bill Reinhard, a spokesman with the Maryland State Department of Education, said that as of Thursday, Ecker's revocation request had not been received.

"When that request is received, it'll be reviewed by our teacher certification branch, and they usually act upon [those requests] very quickly," Reinhard said.

He said the teachers would have 30 days from the date of the branch's decision to appeal.

The teachers had been removed from their classrooms in March after officials discovered that copies of questions from a state achievement test had been circulated to other teachers and pupils before the exam.

School officials said a teacher at Linton Springs Elementary in Sykesville acknowledged that she had taken notes from the fourth-grade Maryland State Assessment reading exam last year while she was employed at another Carroll school and created worksheets for her pupils for this year's tests, which were given from March 13 to 22.

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

Educators in Maryland are prohibited from copying, reproducing, using or otherwise disclosing any secure test materials.

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

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

Deborah Bunker, the principal at Linton Springs Elementary, where one of the teachers taught, said yesterday that news of the teachers' resignations did not come as a shock.

"Whether she resigned, was fired or reassigned, it was sort of understood that with what had happened, that she would not be teaching here again," Bunker said. "This didn't upset us all over again. We'd already had that back in March."

Thomasina Piercy, principal at Mount Airy Elementary, where the other teacher taught, said it was unfortunate that the testing violations occurred, but that "just because people make bad choices, it doesn't mean they're bad people."

"It is important for our children and our families that we move forward now," Piercy said.

This spring, at least three school systems -- Carroll, Charles and Kent -- experienced serious enough incidents of MSA security violations to warrant reassignments, suspensions and the prospect of more severe state action, such as fines.

Last year, no school systems faced such serious consequences, according to state education officials.

The State Department of Education reviews local school systems' investigations into such infractions to determine whether it should levy additional sanctions -- which range from a warning letter recommending that local officials redouble their training efforts, requiring pupils to be retested or invalidating test scores.

Ecker said yesterday that state education officials had not notified the system whether it might face such sanctions.

Last month, Linda Jones, principal of Dr. Gustavus Brown Elementary in Charles County, resigned after a school system investigation concluded that she had violated testing procedures by allowing additional testing time, answers and coaching to some fourth-graders and fifth-graders on the math exam, Katie O'Malley Simpson, Charles County school system spokeswoman, said yesterday.

Simpson said 45 pupils were retested immediately after the alleged violations were reported, and that as far as she knows the state has no further plans regarding their situation.

In March, the principal and three teachers from Rock Hall Elementary in Kent County were removed from school because of test violations.

Kent school officials were unavailable to comment yesterday.


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