- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2001

The Montgomery County school system will recommend that the state invalidate the scores of more than 300 sixth-graders in a standardized math test after teachers at their school were found to have cheated.
The action of invalidating scores of the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) will not affect student grades, but will affect test results for the school and the school system, said Community Superintendent Theresa M. Flak in a letter to the staff, students and parents at Silver Spring International Middle School.
The schools principal, Renee Brimfield; an assistant principal; a math team leader; and four math teachers have been placed on administrative leave following a two-month investigation. Four other teachers have also received disciplinary letters. Disciplinary actions have been recommended against all 11 staff members.
Parents at the school met yesterday for the second consecutive night to register their outrage over the action against staff at the school, whom they described as "outstanding."
"This is a colossal judgment error," said Linda McHugh, vice president of the schools Parent Teacher Student Association. "Even if the allegations are true, the punishment is too severe."
The CTBS exams are administered to second-, fourth- and sixth-graders around the country and were introduced in Maryland about a decade ago.
Teachers at the school will now undergo training in testing protocol and procedures, and outside staff will monitor standardized testing at the school for two years, Miss Flak wrote in her letter.
"The steps being taken to restore confidence in the school," she wrote.
One of the schools assistant principals, Gloria T. McCoy, as the acting principal. Substitute teachers have been assigned to cover affected classes.
Within the next 10 to 12 days, Superintendent Jerry D. Weast will make recommendations to the school board on further disciplinary action, said Brian Porter, a spokesman for the countys school system.
"We have a clear case involving the violation of test security in an effort to improve test results. It is tantamount to it is cheating," Mr. Porter said.
Mr. Weast, who was meeting with Maryland State Department of Education officials yesterday, was not available for comment.
The investigation found that photocopies of the test were distributed to staff in the mathematics section and the teachers further distributed photocopies to sixth-grade students prior to the test, Mr. Porter said.
Teachers in the county had a different story, however.
Mark Simon, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, the largest teachers union in the county, said the teachers charged with the violations came forward to admit the mistake when they realized on the day of the test on March 15 that there had been irregularities.
"There was no attempt to cover this up," he said.
Mr. Weast had not even heard the teachers side before making the decision to fire them, Mr. Simon said. The teachers are now scheduled to present their side before a superintendents representative tomorrow, he said.
"The teachers who passed the material to students did not realize they were not supposed to do so," Mr. Simon said.
State education officials said yesterday that incidents of testing violations in the state were "very few," indicating that most teachers took their jobs seriously.
"It is one of the byproducts of accountability. It is inevitable that you will have some problems with testing," said Ronald Pieffer, assistant superintendent of Maryland schools. He said that while it was too early to comment on this particular case, very serious testing violations, if found to be true, could lead to the teachers certificates being revoked.
Some parents at Silver Spring International said that the schools teachers had come under "phenomenal pressures" because of understaffing. "The school opened last year and the number of students increased from 600 last year to 900 this year," Mrs. McHugh said.
"Teachers have been working nights and weekends to help the children," she said.
Parents said the children would now suffer as a consequence of the action to remove their teachers. "We are shocked, horrified and concerned that the teachers were not allowed to finish the school year," said parent Anne Collins.
"This appears a case of bungling rather than conspiracy," said parent Theo Brown. But while he agreed that violators should be held accountable, "no one dreamed that the superintendent would come in and evict the principal, who is the heart and soul of the school."

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