HAMMOND | Three Hammond High School teachers were suspended with pay Monday in connection with a breach of security during end-of-course assessment testing. The names of the teachers have not been released.
Hammond High Principal Leslie Yanders said she learned of the incident May 11. She said a teacher administered a retest for juniors and seniors May 8. The teacher was reportedly angry about a writing prompt, or question, the teacher called "culturally biased," and she shared it with two other teachers by email, Yanders said.
One of those two teachers reviewed the writing prompt with his class and presented it as an assignment to his students the following day, Yanders said. About 100 of 180 sophomores were given the assignment. Those same sophomores were scheduled to take the end-of-course English test, which includes a writing prompt, this week.
"The incident has been reported to central office administrators and they have launched an investigation," Yanders said. "We also reported it to the state. They have not allowed our students to use that test. They are going to develop something else."
The essay question was not released.
Hammond Superintendent Walter Watkins could not be reached for comment.
The test window for the English 10 and Algebra I end-of-course assessments was April 23 through June 6. Yanders said Hammond High students would have finished testing May 16, but sophomores have not taken the writing portion of the English 10 test.
Yanders is angry about the incident because the students and teachers at the Hammond school have worked hard to be successful, she said.
"This is not acceptable at Hammond High," Yanders said. "The North Central Association was recently in here. They have witnessed the work we have done. The state has been in and out of Hammond High. The doors have been open to anyone who wants to come in and look around. We have been poked and prodded all year long. When you have an incident like this, it puts a shadow over everything that we have accomplished here. It was a poor decision, and it has affected all of us."
Hammond High School was one of 18 schools across the state on probation for five consecutive years and faced state takeover last school year. The school was removed from probation last summer after improving its academic scores, attendance and graduation rate.
Indiana Department of Education spokeswoman Stephanie Sample said the state takes every breach of security seriously.
"It is a breach of security for a teacher to give access or share an ISTEP-Plus or end-of-course assessment question, regardless of who is affected and regardless of whether a student is involved," Sample said.
Sample said the DOE's legal team gets involved and conducts its own investigation. However, the state does not share information about security breaches because an individual teacher's license, reputation and job could be at stake.
"There is clearly defined protocol about what is appropriate behavior with testing material and the test administrator at every school building is responsible for making sure that all staff know the protocol. It's pretty airtight and gets more so every year. That's another reason why we are shifting to online testing because there are fewer incidents," Sample said.
The most recent breach in ISTEP-Plus testing was last March when a test coordinator copied a question from the eighth-grade language arts test and shared it with others. It was posted briefly on a Facebook page connected with a teachers group.
The question asked Indiana eighth-graders to explain why they should be chosen for a voucher program supported by Indiana Republicans that would use taxpayer money to help send children to private schools.
The leak prompted the state to scrap the question and the writing scores for 83,000 eighth-graders.