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Prince William teachers helped students on standardized tests

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Photo - Some students in Prince William County received inappropriate help from teachers on standardized tests. (Examiner file photo)
Some students in Prince William County received inappropriate help from teachers on standardized tests. (Examiner file photo)
Virginia,Education,Lisa Gartner

Test scores of some Prince William County students were invalidated after five teachers were found to have given inappropriate assistance to students on the Standards of Learning exams.

Two teachers were put on administrative leave, and about 30 students were retested, said Phil Kavits, a spokesman for Prince William County Public Schools.

"We have kind of a range of situations that might range from a little bit of overzealousness -- trying to be helpful to the students -- to what you might consider seriously bad judgment," Kavits said.

In a school system of 5,400 teachers, officials view the breaches by the five teachers as isolated incidents and are not considering widescale action.

The five teachers are being retrained in test administration, and some may be forbidden from participating in the future.

At Swans Creek Elementary, a third-grade student mentioned to a fourth-grade teacher that his own teacher had changed some answers on his Standards of Learning history test. While the teacher denied helping her students, investigators believe "inappropriate assistance was given to students" after interviewing 20 of the 24 children in her classroom, according to a report filed with the state.

A teacher at Elizabeth Vaughan Elementary admitted to shaking her head at a colleague when a student gave the wrong response, and exclaiming, "You go [student's name]!" when a child chose the correct answer.

Investigators concluded that a teacher at Woodbridge Middle School provided cues to at least two students, while a Kerrydale Elementary School teacher took notes on exam questions. Another teacher at Cedar Point Elementary said she audiotaped a testing session, a violation of state policy.

Kavits said he understood why some may call for the teachers' firings, but that school officials believe the employees misunderstood the rules or got carried away.

Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle said a handful of these kinds of cases each year is not unusual, particularly in Prince William, the second-largest in the state.

"Teachers like to help students. That's what they do," Pyle said. "Sometimes that instinct gets the better of a teacher, and they go, 'Oh no, I just crossed the line.' "

The state also received reports of a teacher in Arlington County who exchanged extra credit for his students' scratch-paper sheets. Assistant superintendent Linda Erdos said the teacher was trying to prod students to work through their answers, and will not be disciplined.

In Fairfax County, four teachers at Fort Belvoir Elementary were under scrutiny by the state for requiring students to fill out their testing booklets with answers before transferring them to the bubble-sheet. In some cases, the teachers would evaluate the booklets to ensure every question had been answered.

At Fort Hunt Elementary, also in Fairfax County, a teacher scored the SOL exams after collecting them and expressed concern about her students' scores to another teacher.

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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