ISTEP science exam results invalidated at Pendleton school

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Emily Longnecker/Eyewitness News

Pendleton - Two teachers are facing discipline for what one local school district calls a security breach involving ISTEP+ testing. One of the teachers may lose their job.

South Madison Community Schools admitted to a security breach during science ISTEP+ testing last week at Pendleton Elementary School Intermediate.

(Note: The following day, the Indiana Department of Education released a statement about a much larger, unrelated security breach that will affect over 83,000 students.)

The school says two sixth grade teachers did not follow testing guidelines when they looked at the questions ahead of time and went over that material in class with students before they took the test.

"In their minds I think they thought they were doing what was fair for the students, but in retrospect they know that it was a violation," said Tom Warmke, superintendent of South Madison Community School Corporation.

The district sent out a note to parents explaining that the science ISTEP+ scores of 55 sixth graders won't count this year.

"I think if they did that and they're not supposed to do that, it's not a good thing to do," said Annette Twilley, whose daughter attends school at Pendleton Elementary. Her daughter was not one of the students affected.

"If sixth grade teachers are doing this what makes us think all the rest of the teachers aren't doing this as well?" said Rhonda Hurd, parent.

A Department of Education spokesperson told Eyewitness News, "This is very serious and we are extremely disappointed this has occurred and possibly negatively affected students."

The school district says even though students science scores are now invalid, that won't effect their report cards or scores on other sections of the ISTEP+ tests.

But parents worry what message it sends to students.

"They're the ones that our kids look up to. So if the ones that they look up to are doing something wrong, what tells our kids to do something right?" said Hurd.

SMCSC self-reported the incident to the Indiana Department of Education.  State protocol for security violations requires compromised assessments to be invalidated.

Warmke declined to identify who was responsible for the security breach, but indicated South Madison Community School Corporation officials were in the process of evaluating what happened, adding that the school district will administer the appropriate consequences.

Consequences for staff members who violate ISTEP+ security could range from a formal, written reprimand to termination, depending on the nature and extent of the staff member's actions.

Letter to parents (March 9, 2011)

Dear Parents/Guardians:

This letter is to inform you that the ISTEP+ science test recently completed by your child must be invalidated, due to a security breach in the testing process. As a result, the score for the science portion of the test will be marked "UND" (Undetermined) for all of the students in your child's homeroom.

Students in Indiana take the ISTEP+ science test to comply with the federal legislation, No Child Left Behind. The Undetermined score will not negatively affect your child's report card.

The science section of ISTEP+ is scored separately from the English/Language Arts and Math sections of the test. An invalid score on the science exam will not affect the student's scores on the other sections of ISTEP+.

The students' science tests are being invalidated due to a school violation of Indiana Department of Education rules for Ethical Test Preparation. It became evident that content from one of the questions on the state science test was presented to some of the sixth-grade students during the week of ISTEP+ testing.

The Indiana Department of Education has been notified of the security breach, and South Madison Community School Corporation is complying with all procedures for reporting test irregularities. In addition, the school district has notified the press.


Arlene Dawson