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2 principals, 3 teachers suspended over test erasures

August 28, 2012 4:20:55 PM PDT
Two principals and three teachers in a New Jersey school district have been suspended for standardized testing irregularities, the first educators to be disciplined in the state after an investigation into why some schools had unusually high erasure rates on exams.

Woodbridge School Board President Brian Small announced the suspensions Monday. He also said an assistant superintendent has resigned.

It's possible more New Jersey educators will face disciplinary action as the state investigates several other schools where high numbers of erasure marks have been found on standardized test forms. Education Department spokeswoman Barbara Morgan said Tuesday that more reports will be complete "soon," but there's not a precise timetable.

The tests are taking on more importance as the state moves to a system where how much students improve on them is a factor in which teachers get - and keep - tenure protections. Critics warn that there could be growing temptations to cheat as the stakes of exams are raised.

New Jersey officials have been taking tips about possible cheating and also studying answer sheets to find possible wrongdoing.

Four Woodbridge schools were among nine that the state Education Department announced in March it was investigating because of high erasure marks on tests.

The state says it's looking into 21 schools that had high erasure marks in 2010 and 15 more that had unusual patterns in 2011. The investigative reports on the two Woodbridge schools are the first to be completed.

Students in middle-class Woodbridge generally score better on tests than pupils in socioeconomically similar schools.

State investigators recently completed reports on the problems at the Avenal Street and Ross Street Elementary Schools, finding what Small called "improper coaching" of students before and during the exams in 2010 and 2011.

The report found that all 20 third-graders in one class made "advanced proficient" marks on a math exam and 11 got perfect scores. Statewide, just over one-third of third-graders score "advanced proficient."

The state said that one teacher gave a lesson just before administering a test that included a problem nearly identical to the one on the ASK3 exam.

And principals at both schools were alleged to have encouraged teachers to suggest students revisit questions after seeing them mark the wrong answer.

In one case, several students gave very similar responses to open-ended writing prompts for essay questions.

The person who answered the phone at the home number of one of the principals, Sharon Strack, said she was unavailable and would not take a message. No phone number could be located for the other principal, Dara Kurlander.

Probes are continuing for two other Woodbridge Schools. The district said it is cooperating and already changing procedures to make sure cheating does not happen in the future.

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