Students shown arriving before the start of class at the...

Students shown arriving before the start of class at the Landing School in Glen Cove. (Sept. 16, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

School districts whose employees are caught cheating on standardized tests can have test scores invalidated, according to the state Department of Education, which is investigating allegations that teachers in two Glen Cove elementary schools helped students with answers on state tests in spring 2012.

The department took that step at least once before in a Long Island district -- in 2007, when test results in the Uniondale district were invalidated for 2006 math assessments in grades three through eight and for all math Regents exams at the district's high school. The invalidation of test scores in Uniondale did not affect individual students.

The testing scandal led to all of Uniondale's eight schools being placed on academic probation. The probation was lifted in 2009.

Education Department officials declined to comment on the pending investigation in Glen Cove, but said last week that "once an investigation is complete, with findings of wrongdoing, appropriate actions will be taken."

Chris Powers, attorney for the Glen Cove district, declined to comment. Powers also represents the Uniondale school district.

The Glen Cove Board of Education is scheduled to hold its regular business meeting Monday night at the high school. This is the trustees' first session since the revelation that a board-commissioned investigation found teachers at Connolly and Landing elementary schools supplied students with correct answers, darkened answer forms for them or urged them to reconsider their responses on state tests in spring 2012.

The board is not scheduled to discuss the report on the investigation. Newsday obtained a copy of the report and published a story Sept. 15 on its findings.

The school board hired the law firm Guercio & Guercio in November to conduct the independent probe after allegations arose that teachers at the two schools coached fifth-graders during administration of state English language arts and mathematics exams. The report was written by one of the firm's attorneys and was completed in mid-March.

Of 60 students interviewed, 84.7 percent "indicated they received inappropriate, staff-directed assistance" on one or both of the exams, the report said. It also detailed state regulations and requirements governing test-taking and how the teachers were alleged to have violated those rules.

Twenty-two teachers at the two schools, which serve grades three through five, and the schools' principals were named in the report. Each of the teachers "denied, outright, having either provided or witnessed inappropriate, staff-directed assistance to students or otherwise failing to comply with the governing rules and procedures" for the tests' administration, the report said.

School board members have refused to comment on the report. Last week, in a message posted on the district's website, the board said, "We have faith in our teachers and believe that they have the best interests of Glen Cove students and learning at heart. However, we remain firm in standing up for the integrity of our school district by continuing to address this challenge objectively and factually to achieve appropriate and responsible resolution."

Zefy Christopoulos, a former PTA officer whose two children graduated from Glen Cove schools in 2001 and in 2009, said that the focus of the district should be getting back to basics.

"We need to heal from all of this and regroup," she said.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a Massachusetts-based organization that is a strong critic of high-stakes testing, said that Glen Cove likely can recover from the test-fixing controversy. Tighter test security and greater transparency in communicating with residents usually helps, he said.

"Schools have done things like very visible programs of training and public information so that teachers and administrators and parents have confidence that everyone is aware of the rules for test administration," he said.

Jeanette Deutermann of North Bellmore, a leader in a grassroots movement that saw hundreds of parents decide to have their children opt out of taking state tests last spring, said federal and state mandates likely will spur incidents similar to what allegedly occurred in Glen Cove.

"We are going to see this more and more," Deutermann said. "They are backing parents, schools, teachers, administrators into a corner, and when that happens this is exactly the result."

In a separate matter, the district has scheduled a special election on Oct. 21 to elect a new board member, after trustee Joel Sunshine, the board president, moved out of the district. He had served on the board for five years.

The deadline for candidates to file petitions with the district clerk's office is Oct. 1; as of Friday, no one had filed a petition, officials said. The newly elected trustee will fill Sunshine's unexpired term, from Oct. 21 through June 30.

With Lauren R. Harrison and Jo Napolitano

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