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Don't breach test security, official warns Utah teachers

Published April 4, 2014 2:01 pm

Education • High-schooler's photos of a question were later posted on the Internet.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Office of Education is threatening action against the license of any educator involved in a breach of test-question security by a high school student.

A female 11th-grader took pictures of a passage of writing that was testing students' ability to think and write critically on the new high-stakes SAGE standardized tests. The passage was about the merits of reading books or playing video games.

The pictures were posted on a blog run by opponents of the new Utah Common Core standards, and a number of posters encouraged other students to illegally take pictures of test questions, Judy Park, deputy superintendent of public instruction, said Friday.

"That's illegal," she said.

Disclosing standardized-test questions violates state law and publishing a question violates copyright law. The company that owns the book from which the excerpt was taken, she said, could take legal action on copyright infringement.

"I'm saddened," Park added, "that all this concern about Common Core and SAGE has led us to the point that parents are encouraging students to break the law."

Park said the office's attorneys likely will be consulted about any violations of law.

She said she has no evidence that the girl's teacher knew she was taking pictures. Students are not allowed to have phones or other devices during tests. Any educator who posts or releases a test item to the public violates teacher ethics, she said.

"Any licensed educator that has been involved, I will report to UPPAC (Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission of the state Board of Education), because they have now violated the obligation to follow ethics," Park told the board's Standards and Assessment Committee.

Utah high-schoolers have been taking the direct writing part of SAGE tests this spring. The computer adaptive tests on math, English and science start soon.

The exams are controversial because the English and math portions are based on the new Utah Common Core standards, which are adapted from national Common Core standards.

Opponents nationwide continue to fight the standards, calling them a federal incursion into what should be state and local decisions. They also fear social engineering in the test questions and the privacy of student data.

Details about the passage and pictures the student snapped have appeared on the blogs Utahns Against Common Core and Common Core: Education Without Representation.

The compromised question, based on book excerpts, asked students to imagine they lived in an alternate world, where video games were invented before books and considered more valuable than books. They then were to write an analysis.

The passages the student shared "make the following devilish assertions: 'books understimulate the senses' and 'books are downright discriminatory' and books are 'choreographed by another person [while video games are not],' " the writers at Education Without Representation said.

One of the dozens commenting, however, noted that such passages are only meant to assess the student's critical thinking skills. "It's not teaching kids that books are bad. It's teaching people to understand both sides of an argument and see what parts are valid and what parts are not — for yourself."

Park said the question has been removed from the test and will cost the state $5,000 to $6,000 to replace.

She noted the state Office of Education has asked the school to investigate the breach and has reminded all districts and charter schools that test proctors (teachers, in most cases) are responsible to ensure students do not use electronic devices during the exam.

kmoulton@sltrib.com

Twitter:@KristenMoulton