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El Molino faces another probe into irregularities in STAR tests


For the second year in a row, an investigation has been launched into allegations of testing irregularities at El Molino High School during the administration of state standardized tests.

District officials said the probe is examining allegations of "irregularities" associated with the Standardized Testing and Reporting tests, or STAR tests, given to students this spring. They would not elaborate on the irregularities or confirm the identity of any teacher involved.

"Let me say that I can't make any statement that deals with personnel in light of the district being involved in investigating allegations in this area," said David Stecher, president of the West Sonoma County School Board.

"The district has been made aware of a complaint. The district is handling it and that is in progress," he said.

Superintendent Keller McDonald, who said he is leading the investigation, would not comment on the involvement of any particular teacher.

"Anything involving this has a potential of being a personnel matter. I can't make a comment on it," he said.

The California Teachers Association met with an El Molino teacher about the allegations and referred her to an attorney, chapter services consultant Helen O'Donnell said.

The district alerted the state of the potential problem during the testing period in April or May, McDonald said. There is no timeline for the district or school to make a determination as to whether irregularities occurred, he said.

Typically the state Department of Education receives approximately 200 reports of testing irregularities each year. Of those, about 33 to 50 percent are determined to be real problems, said John Boivin, administrator for STAR.

"What we are talking about when we talk about testing irregularities is something that an adult has done outside of the normal procedure," he said. "Whether that was purposeful, or an accident or oversight or poor training, these were adult mistakes."

The investigation marks the second year in a row that allegations of testing irregularities have surfaced at the Forestville campus.

In September, the school was informed that all of its Academic Performance Index scores from the 2010 STAR test were disallowed because of testing irregularities.

In that instance, a teacher incorrectly administered two sections of math tests, according to district officials. The district never publicly disclosed the identity of the teacher, saying only that he was disciplined.

The penalty for having scores disallowed can be significant.

Without the API, federal benchmarks cannot be calculated, so El Molino was classified as not having met federal benchmarks laid out under the Federal No Child Left Behind law.

If the school's results from this spring's round of tests fail to show adequate improvement — or if the school's results are tossed out — the school will enter Year 1 of federal sanctions.

Those sanctions include completing a plan to exit sanctions and improve scores, dedicating 10 percent of Title 1 funds for professional development, increase parental involvement, and investigate opportunities for extended day programs.

Prior to the issues arising last year, El Molino had met 14 out of 14 federal benchmarks and its base API was 779, earning the school a rank of 8 on the 10-point scale used to measure high schools in California. The state goal for school scores is 800 out of 1,000.