Glen Cove school district did a major fail

The Margaret A. Connolly Elementary School is one The Margaret A. Connolly Elementary School is one of the Glen Cove elementary schools that is the focus of a probe into "testing administration irregularities" in which students were coached on exams, the school superintendent said Thursday. Photo Credit: Newsday File June 8, 2010 / Audrey C. Tiernan

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

It should not have taken almost five months, inquiries from news reporters and pressure from a crowded room of residents to push Glen Cove's school district into acknowledging allegations that several teachers may have improperly coached elementary school students during last year's standardized tests.

Residents in the unusually close-knit city should have been told sooner about the district's decision to hire an investigator to look into the allegations.

According to residents, the district said nothing formally until last Monday, when parents and others crowded into a school board meeting at the middle school.

For months, residents said, the investigation had been the stuff of worrisome rumors as parents whose children had been called in for interviews began talking to each other and to their neighbors.

"It was frustrating," said Zefy Christopoulos, a former PTA officer who continued to attend school board meetings after her youngest graduated in 2009.

During Monday's meeting, a lawyer for the district, in what appeared to be a detour from the board's expected agenda, acknowledged the ongoing investigation and said he would try to answer questions.

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"He said there was a limit to what he could say because he needed to protect the constitutional rights of the children and the teachers involved," Christopoulos said.

As such, she said, the lawyer declined to answer questions including what had triggered the inquiry, how much it would cost, whether children had been questioned and whether parents had been notified.

Residents also wanted to know -- but were unable to find out that evening, Christopoulos said -- how results of the New York State-mandated 2012 math and English language arts tests for grades 3 through 5 compared with earlier district results.

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On Thursday -- about an hour before midnight, and apparently in response to inquiries from reporters -- the district posted a statement from school Superintendent Joseph Laria on its website.

"It is with great disappointment that the Glen Cove City School District must report allegations of testing administration irregularities," the statement said, noting that the allegations involved testing at two elementary schools.

"These allegations, if true," the statement said, "represent a grave disservice to the children, families and community of Glen Cove."

Indeed, they would.

On Friday came word that the Nassau district attorney's office had launched an investigation. In addition, the state Education Department said it would send monitors down to ensure that the administration of the 2013 tests -- which are on Tuesday -- goes smoothly.

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Some district residents are reeling over the cascade of developments, as well they should be.

It's a lot to digest in one week. The district could -- and should -- have made things easier by substituting suitable and timely information for rumors earlier.

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