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Investigation Substantiates Allegations at Potomac Elementary School, MSPAP Results Recommended for Invalidation

June 28, 2000
An investigation has substantiated serious allegations of security violations in the administration of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) at Potomac Elementary School. As a result, the third and fifth grade test results for the 1999-2000 school year have been recommended for state invalidation.

Disciplinary action, where necessary, by state authorities has been recommended, and local disciplinary actions have been approved by the Montgomery County Board of Education.

Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, took the actions after a month-long investigation substantiated several serious allegations of test security violations at the school during the May 2000 testing. Allegations concerning the tests for 1998-99 were not substantiated.

The superintendent has directed implementation of new training requirements and test monitoring procedures for the school, as well as an emphasis on test security and protocols for all new teachers and principals and a review of test administration procedures for all other school-based staff.

Notwithstanding the seriousness of the violations, the superintendent had praise for the parents and staff of Potomac Elementary. "I want you and the entire community to know that the honesty and forthrightness of the students, parents, and staff during the course of this investigation are a credit to the school," said Dr. Weast in a letter to parents and staff this week.

"You should be proud that the school has genuinely caring and professional teachers and other staff who have exhibited a deep and profound sense of responsibility for successful teaching and learning," Dr. Weast said. "Their students are the beneficiaries of an environment that demonstrated a high moral and ethical character during this investigation. I intend to build on that foundation as we complete the selection of a new principal and prepare for the new school year beginning next September."

The findings of the school system's investigation conclude that at Potomac Elementary School during the 1999-2000 administration of the MSPAP:

* Student performance was influenced by coaching, prompting, and additional time allocations, including significant extended time in at least two cases.

* Test security in the school for both third and fifth grades was lax and, at times, non-existent. Test booklets with student answers were reviewed by staff in some cases and left unsecured for unknown periods of time.

Based on these findings, Dr. Weast has recommended to the state that MSPAP test results be invalidated for the 1999-2000 school year for both Grade 3 and Grade 5 at the school. The recommendation is expected to be accepted by Dr. Nancy Grasmick, state superintendent of schools.

The invalidation of the 1999-2000 tests means that the MSPAP results will not be used for school assessment by the state for that school year and that performance information for Potomac Elementary School will not be available for comparisons with data for previous years or with other schools.

Because the MSPAP is an assessment of school and grade level performance, test results are not reported for individual students. Therefore, there will be no repercussions from this action for individual student reports, placements, or records.

The resignation of Dr. Karen Karch, former principal of Potomac Elementary School, has been accepted. Ms. Zorina Mohammed, a fifth grade teacher at the school, will not be working in the Montgomery County Public Schools for the 2000-2001 school year.

In addition, the following actions are being implemented:

* All Potomac Elementary School instructional staff will undergo a training program in testing protocols and procedures prior to the next standardized testing.

* For the next two years, the administration of the MSPAP at Potomac Elementary School will be monitored by school system staff from outside the school.

* All school-based staff in the system will review testing procedures and protocols and be provided information on the results of this investigation for their professional development.

* Training in testing protocols and procedures will be emphasized among all newly hired teachers and principals in the school system.

Dr. Weast also informed parents and staff that he is "confident that by working together in support of the needs of children, we can provide a quality academic program at Potomac Elementary School.

"The opening of the new school year will be preceded by the appointment of a new principal by July 6, and I expect that individual to work closely with parents, staff, and students to create the best possible environment for successful teaching and learning," he said.

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PDF files of the investigative report and the letter to parents are attached below.

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