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Test infraction sends El Molino High into federal sanctions


For the second year in a row, testing irregularities at El Molino High School have wiped crucial scores from the school's books.

As a result, the incident this year has placed the campus in federal sanctions.

When the state released its annual state Academic Performance Index and federal Adequate Yearly Progress results Wednesday, neither score could be calculated for El Molino because a teacher had committed an error that affected at least five percent of pupils tested.

Without the performance index, federal benchmarks cannot be calculated, so El Molino will be classified as not having met No Child Left Behind standards two years running, putting them into Program Improvement sanctions.

"It's sad because it's a good school," said Steve Herrington, superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education.

It's the first time a Sonoma County school has come under sanctions for such infractions in recent memory, according to Herrington.

"It's an anomaly," he said.

Officials from the West Sonoma County district alerted the state to potential problems in the administration of the Standardized Testing and Reporting program last spring. The district conducted its own investigation and submitted it to the California Department of Education.

District Superintendent Keller McDonald did not name the teacher involved or reveal what happened during the test, calling it a personnel matter. He said "appropriate consequences" have been meted out. The teacher remains an employee of the district but is not currently working in the classroom.

In July, a representative from the California Teachers Association acknowledged that union officials had met with an El Molino teacher about the allegations and referred her to an attorney.

"We have analyzed the testing protocol for the school and we really have found that we don't need to make wholesale changes," McDonald said. "It wasn't an administrative problem and it wasn't a widespread problem that needs to be fixed."

It marks the second year in a row of testing irregularities at El Molino, an academically successful campus that has been beset by declining enrollment in recent years.

The school is a four-time winner of the California Distinguished School award, the most recent honor coming in 2009.

Last September, the school was informed that all of its API scores from the 2010 STAR test were disallowed. In that instance, a teacher incorrectly administered two sections of math tests, according to district officials. The district never disclosed the identity of the teacher, saying only that he was disciplined.

After the latest incident involving a different teacher, the district will send a letter to all the families of El Molino students alerting them to school's placement in Program Improvement, which means they are given the option of transferring to a school within the district that is not a Program Improvement campus.

"I have had conversations with some parents who have been concerned about the fact that going into P.I. may reflect poorly on El Molino but also, in that same vein, they have expressed support for the school," McDonald said. "I think that it's common (for) a lot of schools that are going into P.I. — the parents don't feel, and the students don't feel, that the Program Improvement status accurately reflects the quality of their school."

Before El Molino fell afoul of the rules two years running, the school's base API was 779 out of 1,000, earning the school a rank of 8 out of 10 among high schools in California. It also met 14 out of 14 federal academic benchmarks.