Former Orono principal ordered test answers changed, report says

Posted Sept. 18, 2012, at 7:45 p.m.
Robert Lucy
Bangor School Department
Robert Lucy

ORONO, Maine — The principal of Orono Middle School inappropriately told staff members to allow some students to alter their answers on a 2011 test used to measure school progress under federal law, according to a Maine Department of Education investigation conducted last year.

The principal, Robert Lucy, is now assistant superintendent of the Bangor school system.

In a November 2011 report, which referred to Lucy only as “the principal,” the Department of Education stated that there was “incontrovertible evidence that some students revisited the [New England Common Assessment Program] test after the time permitted” and that those actions violated “clearly stated” testing rules and guidelines.

The department investigated the tests of six students, five of whom had disabilities.

Repeated messages left at Lucy’s office at the Bangor School Department were not returned and calls to his home phone were not answered Tuesday afternoon or evening.

According to the report, Lucy approached the middle school’s test coordinator on Oct. 24, 2011, and asked her to come into his office. The test coordinator, identified only as a female in the report, said she saw “tests spread out on a conference table.”

During the weekend of Oct. 22-23, Lucy reviewed test booklets, some of which had been packed into boxes at the conclusion of test sessions, and marked questions students had missed or answered too briefly, according to the report.

Lucy called in the test coordinator and two special education teachers and told them to readminister certain sections of the students’ tests, according to the report.

Students with disabilities may be granted several accommodations for timing, setting and response methods on NECAP tests, “but none of them allows for testing beyond the testing period,” said the Department of Education report.

Lucy told the test coordinator to bring in students who skipped questions to have them fill in answers or add to their written responses, according to the report. The coordinator said she couldn’t and wouldn’t, and emailed Susan Smith, the state’s NECAP coordinator, asking for clarification. The coordinator then forwarded the clarification to Lucy.

Smith, who since has retired, clarified that rules allow for makeup testing, but only if the student misses a session — not for individual unanswered questions or incomplete answers. Students also can finish tests if they have to leave during the test session with an illness.

The coordinator said the principal told her to administer makeup tests, which are not allowed unless the students were absent, tardy or excused. The principal continued to urge her to call in students, she reported.

The test coordinator said “time was of the essence” because tests had to be repacked and mailed on Oct. 26 and that the events of the day “happened very fast under intense pressure and high emotions,” according to the Department of Education report.

The coordinator reported to the department that she was concerned about affected students officially listed as present when the principal claimed they were absent during testing, according to the report.

“The office sheets did not show these students absent,” she said in the report. “I then approached my principal again to inquire why their names were missing on the attendance reports. That is when he told me that the secretary ‘doesn’t always get it right’ because there is a lot of ‘coming and going’ and he assured me they were absent.”

The test coordinator and two special education teachers administered the second round of tests in the days leading up to the Oct. 26 mailing deadline, according to the report.

The Department of Education said none of the documents it reviewed during its investigation indicated that any of the students left sick, and Smith said if that had happened, she likely would have received a call from the school asking for guidance.

RSU 26 Superintendent Douglas Smith sent a fax to Susan Smith on Nov. 3 summarizing what happened and continued to send additional information about testing procedures and students and staff involved, according to the report.

He and school administrators provided the Department of Education with information throughout November while the department conducted its investigation.

“[Lucy] believed that his actions fell within the scope of his role as co-test coordinator and building principal,” Douglas Smith said in the fax.

Smith said Tuesday that the RSU 26 board was made aware of the test situation around the time of the Department of Education investigation. He declined to comment further.

The Principal and Test Coordinator Manual for NECAP states: “Under no circumstances are students to be prompted to revise, edit or complete any test questions during or after testing. Once a student has completed a session and has handed in his or her student answer booklet, test administrators may not look through the booklets to view student responses.”

That message is repeated in a “reminder” printed on multiple pages throughout the manual.

After its investigation, the Department of Education, which called the violations “testing irregularities,” ordered staff and administrators at Orono Middle School to receive training and invalidated the students’ scores for some test questions.

“It would be best to recommend no further investigation by way of interviews with school personnel of these per se violations,” the Department of Education wrote in its report, “as it would be time-consuming for both school personnel and Department personnel, for no useful purpose.”

The NECAP testing manual states that failure to administer security requirements and comply with procedures could result in the delay of reporting results, invalidation of results or investigation by the Department of Education for possible certification or licensure action.

The department forwarded information from the investigation to its Office of Certification for review, according to the report.

Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said Tuesday he couldn’t comment on findings of the Office of Certification unless the office had decided to take some action. He said Tuesday that he wasn’t permitted to say whether the investigation was continuing or if it even happened.

Connerty-Marin said the department gets “a handful of these cases,” usually just one or two per school year.

“They’re usually minor, but we take them seriously,” Connerty-Marin said, adding that the majority of testing complaints involve actions taken by teachers, not principals.

The NECAP is a standardized assessment used by Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont to measure progress of students in grades 3-8 and 11 toward standards laid out in the federal No Child Left Behind law. The NECAP first was administered in Maine in October 2009.

Lucy spent 28 years working in Orono schools and the last 12 as principal of Orono Middle School.

He accepted the job as Bangor’s assistant superintendent in May, less than two months after his former school board voted to eliminate the Orono Middle School principal position and later decided to reinstate it. The RSU 26 board had planned on eliminating the Orono Middle School and Asa Adams School principals and replacing them with one administrator as part of an effort to close a budget gap. The board later changed its mind, but Lucy had applied for the Bangor position and later accepted the job.

Bangor Superintendent Betsy Webb said Tuesday evening that she was not aware of the Department of Education report about the testing irregularities. She declined to comment because the investigation “doesn’t have anything to do with the Bangor School Department.”

Jeff Paul, former Glenburn assistant principal, now is at the helm of Orono Middle School.

Two months before the 2011 testing, Orono Middle School was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School. That award recognizes high academic performance and closing achievement gaps.

The award takes into consideration the successes and improvements among disadvantaged and special education students.

Connerty-Marin said he didn’t know whether the Department of Education investigated testing practices at Orono Middle School before 2011 that led up to the Blue Ribbon achievement. Superintendent Smith also said he wasn’t aware of any such review.

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