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State officials to decide penalty for Burbank school breach of test security

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Burbank Unified may be punished by the state after a teacher allegedly helped students answer questions on a high stakes test. The incident took place last week in a third grade classroom, officials said.

"Some people thought that the teachers gave answers or there was cheating,” said Burbank Unified superintendent Jan Britz.

“It wasn't cheating; it wasn't giving answers," she said. "But there's a variety of things that you can do for test security and the students identified that and the investigation actually confirmed that."

Britz agreed that breach is a black eye for the district. Two people investigated the incident last week at McKinley Elementary School after students reported it. The school district handed over the results of the investigation to California’s Department of Education.

Britz said state officials agreed with the district's conclusion that the integrity of one of the state standardized tests was breached.

“Each teacher signs a test security affidavit,” Britz said.

She didn’t offer details about the incident, she said, because it’s now a personnel matter involving the teacher, who’s been placed on paid leave.

Britz says California's Department of Education could invalidate the Academic Performance Index scores for the district and the school. Burbank Unified's API is 846, well above the state goal of 800. McKinley's AP is 835.

McKinley Elementary PTA president Brenda Outwater said the allegations are surprising.

“Yes, because it’s been the most wonderful experience for me and my children,” she said.

This incident is likely on the other end of the spectrum from the most recent high profile case of public school test cheating in which dozens of educators and administrators in Atlanta were indicted last month on criminal charges.

“There are issues of test security and ways to make it difficult or impossible to cheat,” said RAND researcher Laura Hamilton. “But there are also important conversations about what messages are we sending to administrators and teachers about how important these tests are.”

That message until now, she said, has been that high stakes tests are the top priority for a school, above critical thinking skills and a wide curriculum.

California logged 132 testing irregularities in 2012. Officials say there have been 90 incidents so far this testing season. They say cases of students taking pictures of tests and posting them is on the rise.