Franklin County School District officials have invalidated the writing exams of five 10th graders after allegations surfaced of possible teacher involvement in the annual standardized testing.

After the parent of one of the five students shared her concerns on Facebook and with officials of the Florida Department of Education, the school district issued a formal statement March 6 on its Facebook page.

In it, the district confirmed that a problem had occurred with the sophomores who took the Feb. 27 Florida Writes exam.

“As with any standard assessment the role of security is imperative during the testing periods. Unfortunately, a breach of security was reported, leading to invalidation of a few tests,” read the statement. “The invalidation is the result of documented, unauthorized help or suggestions made during the test by the administrator of the test. The district takes this matter very seriously and is confident that the issue has been appropriately resolved.”

On Thursday at the regular school board meeting, Superintendent Nina Marks said little, mainly confirming that the matter was part of an “open investigation.”

School board attorney Barbara Sanders told the board that “the superintendent is constrained whenever there are personnel issues.”

Following the meeting, Marks confirmed the tests of five sophomore students had been invalidated, and that she believed that covered the students affected. She declined comment on the names of the teacher or teachers under investigation.

According to the parent who has been public in discussing the matter on Facebook, “the teacher walked up to my son and asked to see what he had written, then instructed him to correct misspelled words. To add an additional sentence and actually made a mark on his exam. (My son) wasn't aware that any wrong had been done until he was questioned by the office.”

According to Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, the state is “aware of the situation in Franklin County and our understanding is that they’re looking into it.”

Etters said that “in general, if a student’s test has been compromised in any way, there is a potential for invalidation. The student’s test would not be scored. If they (school employees and/or students) were not a party to anything like that, there wouldn’t be any reason to invalidate.”

The writing is given only to fourth, eight and 10th graders, during the spring testing window, and does not carry the same weight as the math and reading tests that may influence a teacher’s evaluation or a school’s grade.

In the school district’s statement on Facebook, it said the invalidated tests would not be scored or recorded, and that “the students will have the opportunity to take the writing test again next spring.”

Etters differed in part with that, noting that retakes are given in the fall for high school students who haven’t met the grade requirement by passing the reading and writing portions of the test. She said she that since the writing test is given only to sophomores, she did not believe that retakes of the test would be administered next spring to these particular students.

“We try to look at those things individually for each student. We want students to show us what they know,” said Etters, noting that while the district and the state each have the authority to invalidate a test, the decision in this case was done by the district.

The rules surrounding the administration of standardized tests are rigorous, and explicitly warn against any possible compromising of test security.

“We provide teachers with a script to use and they’re supposed to go through training,” said Etters.

According to state rules surrounding standardized assessment tests, it is a first-degree misdemeanor for anyone to “coach examinees during testing or alter or interfere with examinees’ responses in any way” or to “participate in, direct, aid, counsel, assist in, or encourage any of the acts prohibited in this section.”

In addition, the rules note that a violation can result in loss of teaching certification. The rules cite examples of prohibited activities, which include “explaining or reading passages or test items for students” as well as “changing or otherwise interfering with student responses to test items,” and “copying or reading student responses.”

According to these rules, the “personally identifiable information of any personnel of any school district or postsecondary educational institution, or any specific allegations of misconduct obtained or reported pursuant to an investigation conducted by the Department of Education of a testing impropriety are confidential (until) the conclusion of the investigation or until such time as the investigation ceases to be active.”

The rules specify that an investigation is concluded upon a finding that no impropriety has occurred, upon the completion of any resulting investigation by a law enforcement agency, or upon the referral of the matter to an employer who has the authority to take disciplinary action against an individual who is suspected of a testing impropriety.