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Published in Print: March 17, 1999, as R.I. Halts Exams in Wake of Wide-Scale Security Breaches

R.I. Halts Exams in Wake of Wide-Scale Security Breaches

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Rhode Island education officials abruptly halted their plans to administer five English and mathematics assessments last week, after learning of wide-scale security breaches.

The discovery that teachers in some schools may have kept copies of last year's exams and used them to help students prepare for this year's tests, which ask the same questions, knocks off track, at least temporarily, state efforts to raise student achievement through greater school accountability.

Meanwhile, the state education department has launched an investigation to find out who was responsible for the breach, and whether the offenders realized they were breaking state regulations and federal copyright laws by copying the exams.

The department learned of the extent of the problem only this month, as school officials gearing up for testing this month began hearing that some teachers and administrators may not have followed proper procedures, Commissioner of Education Peter J. McWalters said. "It became clear that the scope of the breach was extensive," he said last week, "and that the assessment results would be invalid."

'A Great Big Hole'

While it is canceling the administration of five state tests for 4th, 8th, and 10th graders, the state will proceed with its plan to give six exams in other grades and subjects that were not given in the same form last year.

The state started using new English and math tests in 1997 as it sought to raise its standards for student performance. That same year, Rhode Island lawmakers enacted an education reform measure giving the state new powers to intervene in schools that persistently failed to show improvement on the exams.

Last week's announcement "blows a great big hole in a year's effort that we were moving along quite well with," said Rep. Paul W. Crowley, a Democrat and one of the architects of the state's school reform plan. "We're now going to have a year of data with an asterisk saying, 'No tests were given.' "

The security lapse, he added, could hurt public support for the reform agenda. "This certainly erodes public confidence in education when something of this size happens."

Vol. 18, Issue 27, Page 28

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