DA probes charges that Glen Cove teachers coached exams

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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The Nassau County district attorney's office is opening an investigation into allegations of testing administration irregularities in the Glen Cove City School District, a spokesman for the district attorney's office said Friday.

Word of District Attorney Kathleen Rice's probe came after news broke that the district is officially examining at least 18 teachers and situations in which students allegedly were coached on exams in two elementary schools.

The district started its investigation in November, according to Superintendent Joseph Laria.

Also Friday, because of the allegations that teachers coached students on spring 2012 state exams in English and math, the state Department of Education said it will send a representative to the Glen Cove district next week to monitor tests that students will take beginning Tuesday.

Those state assessments in English and math are being given across the state, in grades 3 to 8, through April 26.

The state has asked Laria to provide state officials with an "updated plan to ensure the integrity and oversight of the assessments next week," said Dennis Tompkins, chief spokesman for the state Department of Education.

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The school district's probe began in response to an inquiry from a parent and subsequent research by district officials, according to one source close to the case. It is centered on the Margaret A. Connolly and Landing elementary schools, attended by students in grades 3 to 5, sources said.

The district has been in close contact with Rice's office and will continue to cooperate in the district attorney's investigation, Michael Conte, a spokesman for the school district, said Friday. No charges are pending or have been filed, the district said.

Lawyers and legal experts said whether anyone is charged criminally will depend on numerous factors, including what was involved in the coaching of the students, whether educators filed any official documents vouching for the integrity of the testing process, and whether the teachers derived any benefit from what they did.

Kevin Keating, a Garden City lawyer who represented one of the students who Rice charged with accepting payment to pose as someone else to take the SATs two years ago, said the most likely charges would be offering a false instrument for filing, a felony, or official misconduct, a misdemeanor.

Carl Korn, a spokesman for New York State United Teachers, the state's largest teacher union, said Friday the union is providing legal counsel to the 18 teachers. The allegations center on alleged coaching of students, providing improper guidance and violating testing protocol, Korn said.

"We are at the very preliminary stages of our work to determine what actually occurred and what didn't occur," Korn said. "We have only interviewed two of the 18 teachers so far."

Korn said, "Academic integrity is at the heart of what teachers do. We don't condone this in any form, but at the same time, it is also important to point out these are simply allegations."

Laria, in a statement posted on the district's website Thursday, referred to "coaching" of students during the administration of English language arts and math tests in grades 3, 4 and 5 conducted at the two schools in spring 2012.

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"There is no reason to believe that there is any criminal misconduct and there are currently no pending district charges against any teachers or administrators," the superintendent wrote.

Laria said "the board of education retained outside counsel to conduct an investigation that consisted of interviews with staff members, students . . . and building administrators regarding protocols and practices applied during the administration of this exam."

Glen Cove Mayor Ralph Suozzi said he is following the allegations. "My concern is for the children, but at the same time there are still a lot of questions that can't be answered," he said.

Pamela Holden, 70, who has two grandchildren in the Connolly school, said the allegations do not surprise her. The school has become a pressure cooker for students and teachers alike who must perform well on standardized tests, she said, adding that her grandchildren spend hours each night on homework.

"The kids are asked to do way too much," Holden said. "But giving them the answers is not the solution."

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In 2007, state education officials revealed a broad test-fraud case in the Uniondale district, where test tampering was so extensive that even struggling students often scored far higher on the most difficult math questions than counterparts in surrounding districts, investigators had found.

The test-fraud case, one of the biggest in recent state history, rocked the 6,400-student district and generated calls for extensive changes in state testing procedures. All eight of the district's schools were placed on academic probation.

With Bart Jones

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