EditorialLet's get this straight. An eighth-grade physical science teacher at Hart Middle School hand copied questions from a 2005 practice science Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) test that students completed and placed on the teacher's desk. The teacher later made photocopies and shared it with other middle school science teachers during a 15- to 30-minute meeting they had in the early summer 2006 as they were preparing that school year's physical science curriculum. Their objective was to update classroom material to make sure students were well prepared for the coming year's course work and the tests they would face. At no time did any student ever see the teacher's copy of the 2005 test questions nor were any tests or test results compromised in any of the schools. Yet last week, the California Department of Education (CDE) announced that because high test scores resulted after a handwritten copy of the 2005 test questions had been used to prepare course material for 2006, the 2006 test scores from Pleasanton Middle School would be invalidated and not included in the 2007 Academic Performance Index (API) rankings.
State's penalties against Pleasanton Middle School make no sense
It doesn't make sense. Sure, the teacher who made the test copy violated an affidavit he and all teachers sign not to make copies of test questions or the tests themselves. As soon as Superintendent John Casey and his staff learned of the infraction, they conducted an investigation that confirmed the report they had received. The case went to the school board in May, with the board taking firm but measured disciplinary action against the teacher and others who were involved, but allowing them to continue teaching. These are, after all, career teachers with many years of excellent service to the school district. One teacher made a mistake. The district took appropriate action and also notified the CDE about what happened and the disciplinary action that was taken.
Why then did the CDE believe that action wasn't enough and that somehow the 2006 tests administered at Pleasanton Middle School might have been compromised, even though the investigation showed they weren't? The CDE found that since Pleasanton Middle School's results on the 2006 STAR tests were among the highest of middle schools in the state, there must be something wrong. It ruled that the wrongfully copied 2005 physical science test must have been the reason for the superior scores. Did the CDE fail to notice that test scores from PMS are historically among the highest in the state? That's because the school has long been recognized for having some of the brightest, experienced teachers among middle schools in the state with an enviable, statewide reputation for achieving excellence in the courses they teach.
Without question, Casey and the school board made the right decision in taking prompt and decisive disciplinary action when the wrongful test copying was discovered. Even though the intent was to improve the eighth-grade science curriculum in accordance with state standards, copying of test questions is not allowed and the teacher knew it. They accepted responsibility, the teachers' union agreed to the board's action, and Casey has been meeting in recent weeks with school principals, test coordinators and others to remind everyone how important it is to watch testing procedures. In a school district with 1,400 employees, mistakes will be made. This one was discovered early on, disciplinary action was taken and the school district advised the CDE of what happened. What seems unfair to us is the CDE's insistence on punishing Pleasanton Middle School--not even the school involved in the test copying mistake--simply because its test scores are high, which they have been for years. Someone in Sacramento needs to explain this decision.