The Washington Post

Fort Belvoir Elementary test violations could lead to invalidation of scores

Testing irregularities at Fort Belvoir Elementary could lead to the invalidation of this year’s state test scores for nearly 300 students, according to Fairfax County school officials.

Four teachers diverged from the script they are required to follow when administering Virginia’s Standards of Learning exams, Charles Pyle, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said Thursday.

The teachers required the students, who were in the third, fourth and fifth grades, to answer questions in their test booklets before transferring responses to answer sheets. They also checked some students’ work for completeness before allowing them to continue working. Such actions are generally prohibited.

“We don’t have any indication that inappropriate assistance was provided,” Pyle said. “However, a practice was followed in administering these tests that is not part of the procedure.”

The violations were not so egregious that all 276 affected students’ scores were automatically invalidated. Instead, Fairfax was required to give parents the option of invalidating the scores — a measure that might affect the school’s overall passing rate but would have no effect on individual students’ academic careers.

Some teachers at Fort Belvoir Elementary checked some students’ work for completeness before allowing them to continue working. Such actions are generally prohibited. (FRED DUFOUR/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Fort Belvoir families were notified of the problem in a letter that Principal Jane Wilson sent this week. Parents have until next Friday to invalidate scores in math, reading and/or writing.

The problem surfaced in June when a parent tipped off county school officials, who then alerted state authorities, Pyle said.

Terri Breeden, a Fairfax assistant superintendent, called the irregularities an “unfortunate thing.”

“We want this test to reflect what children actually know, and you need a standardized approach to actually do that,” she said. “These children, the answer sheets were handled differently.”

She declined to say whether the teachers or principal are subject to disciplinary action, citing confidentiality of personnel matters.

By Aug. 2, Fort Belvoir administrators must submit a corrective action plan to state authorities. Next year, the school will be audited during testing season, with outside staff reviewing teacher training and test security protocols.

“We believe these actions demonstrate we take test administration seriously and do not tolerate deviation from procedures or any other action affecting the integrity of scores,” Superintendent Jack D. Dale wrote in a memo to senior staff this week.

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.



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