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Security breach on state writing test found at middle school


At least one person has been disciplined for giving advance notice to some Central Middle School students of the essay questions that would appear on a state-required writing test.

Associate Superintendent Kenneth Lawson would not say Friday what disciplinary action had been taken or who had been disciplined. He did say, however, that no students were involved in breaching the security of the test material, though some apparently got a look at it after the breach occurred.

News of the incident reached parents Thursday, although school officials have been investigating the problem since Jan. 10, the first day of the two-day state testing period.

A letter sent home with parents of 450 seventh- and eighth-graders Thursday said the children would have to retake the state writing test because "violations of security requirements" caused state officials to invalidate the previous results.

Mr. Lawson said Central Middle's principal learned about the possible problem Jan. 10 and did a preliminary investigation before calling the central office later that day.

A six-week investigation determined that the violations "had to do with the manner in which the test materials were secured prior to testing," Mr. Lawson said.

Items for the writing test and the three other state tests students must pass before graduating should be stored in an area accessible only to a school's test coordinator, according to Mr. Lawson.

"In this case they were stored in a guidance area, and there were opportunities for other folks to get into the room, although [the materials] were locked up securely overnight," Mr. Lawson said.

"We had reason to believe that some individuals had prior knowledge and that was an unfair advantage," he said. "We can't delineate which students got the information in advance, so they all have to take it again."

Kate Harrison, a spokeswoman for the state Department of tTC Education, said incidents such as this are rare.

"The materials are clearly marked, and it would be hard to confuse them with anything else," she said. "Someone would have to be quite deliberate" for questions to be distributed in advance.

The problem with students having advance knowledge of the writing topics is that they could "come up with a smoother, more well-formed answer than someone seeing it for the first time," Ms. Harrison said.

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