UPDATED: Hartland School District to Face State Oversight After MEAP Security Breach
Former principal's conduct during probe criticized, according to final report.
What's new: Reporting from other media outlets that includes a possible amount the district will have to pay for having to hold an alternative test and new comments from Hartland School District Superintendent Janet Sifferman.
The Michigan Department of Education will oversee how the Hartland School District administers the MEAP test next year, according to a final report investigating a security breach of how the exam was administered this year at Creekside Elementary School.
The district must file an employee training plan for MEAP administration by September 2012 with the MDE that will be reviewed by its Bureau of Assessment & Accountability. In addition, testing at Creekside will be monitored, according to the report.
The requirements are included to ensure the district avoids repeat problems after the state found that a Creekside staff member "was able to recite" a test prompt before testing during the investigation. In addition, exams were unwrapped days early and not properly secured, according to the report.
MDE spokesman Martin Ackley said staff members aren't supposed to know the exam's contents until test day.
"It's serious," said MDE spokesman Martin Ackley about the findings in Hartland. "We want to maintain the integrity (of the test) across the state."
The training plan along with additional monitoring had not been publicly disclosed until the MDE released the two-page report Thursday after the district had five days to review it. (A copy is below the photo). The state already announced there had been a security breach on Oct. 7 and forced the district to administer a state-monitored alternative exam at the school.
Ackley said the district will have to pay the costs of the exam, although he was unable to provide a total Thursday.
Another MDE spokesperson told the Detroit Free Press the district would be charged $50 per student but it's unclear how many students took the test. Based on last year's number of 200, the newspaper reported, it would be $10,000.
Hartland Superintendent Janet Sifferman, who calls what happened "pre-test irregularities," announced Wednesday that MEAP administration will be handled at the district's central office instead of at the building level in response to the report and the district's own internal investigation.
Ackley said the state supports the move.
"If that's what they need to do keep the test secure, that's a positive step," he said.
Sifferman told the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus in a story published Friday that the district actions were "unacceptable."
"There were irregularities, someone knew the writing prompt and that is not acceptable," she told the newspaper. "Whether (the irregularities) were intentional or sloppiness, we can't determine that. But the bottom line is, we were wrong."
The report also says former Creekside principal Tracey Sahouri did not honor several investigators' requests during the state probe. It says they had to wait "an extended period of time" when they first arrived and had to interview staff in a location they said "compromised their ability to conduct private interviews."
In addition, they said Sahouri escorted some staff to the interviews, interrupted several interviews and later questioned investigators about why they were asking some questions. The report said Sahouri knew about the questions because she had asked staff what was discussed during the private interviews.
Ackley said Sahouri's behavior contributed to the decision that there was a "misadministration" and that investigators "expect officials to cooperate and accommodate."
"These are surprise investigations for a reason," he said, adding that the investigators bring a letter and ID with them to the school and the superintendent's office is notified 20 minutes prior to their arrival.
Sahouri, who was reassigned as an assistant principal at Hartland High School following the district's investigation, did not respond to a Hartland Patch request for comment Thursday.
Sifferman said in the Press & Argus article that Sahouri at first believed investigators were there to discuss a pending misdemeanor charge against her, causing added confusion.
Sahouri and her husband are accused of allowing underage drinking during their child's graduation party in July at their Argentine Township home. The couple maintain their innocence and a trial is scheduled for Thursday in Flint.
"There was a lot of turmoil when investigators showed up because none of us knew they were coming," said Sifferman in the article. "The principal was trying to run a building with all this going on. … Was she rude to them? Maybe. Did she have a defensive attitude? Maybe. They didn't like her, and she didn't like them, and that's why you see the things in the report."
While agreeing with steps to protect the integrity of the test, Sifferman had previously defended Sahouri's decisions to unwrap the test early because she was organizing them for distribution. In addition, Sifferman said they were locked within her office when she wasn't present. All these actions were acceptable under district policies at the time.
Investigators said this placed tests into an "unsecure area," noting they were "left openly on tables," according to the report.
But following the district's own investigation that also uncovered a teacher knew a test prompt, Sifferman concluded the actions could have compromised the test, which led to Sahouri's transfer and the decision to centralize MEAP administration.
The original tip was from an employee who alleged Sahouri was allowing some staff to see test items too early but didn't want to raise the issue for fear of losing employment, the report said. The employee also believed the principal's action would mean he or she would be falsely signing the state's security agreement.