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State Testing Security Breach Reported at Murrieta School

Four incidences of students posting online photos of state testing materials—one of which was picked up by state officials—prompted MVUSD to issue a stern warning.

State Testing Security Breach Reported at Murrieta School

Photos of state testing materials posted online by a Murrieta student prompted the California Department of Education to contact the Murrieta Valley Unified School District Wednesday.

The district was notified of the security breach when the photos cropped on social media websites and were tracked to a student, district spokesperson Karen Parris confirmed Wednesday evening.

Three additional incidents were reported by district teachers Wednesday at both Murrieta Mesa and , she said.

Murrieta Mesa Principal Mary Walters sent an emailed notice to parents that "due to these incidences, our school will not allow any electronic devices (cellphones, iPods, iPads) to be brought into the classroom."

Walters said all personal items including backpacks, binders and purses are to be stored in a classroom area that is away from students and testing materials.

"Any student found in violation of this directive will have their electronic device confiscated, searched and the student will face school discipline, which may include suspension for up to five days. These incidences are extremely serious and may invalidate Murrieta Mesa's test scores," Walters said.

STAR tests are given each spring to students in grades second through 11th, and include examinations in math, reading, writing, science and history.

The CAHSEE, required of high school students to earn a high school diploma in California, is also being administered.

According to Parris, security incidents similar to Murrieta's have been reported throughout the state as testing is underway.

"We are not the only district, but we are taking it very seriously," she said.

The California Department of Education issued an April 27 notice about testing images being found on social networking sites including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr and Webstagram.

"While most of the images discovered so far contained only students posing with a closed test booklet, blank answer documents or answer documents with a message written on them, in some instances the images appeared to contain test questions or completed answer documents..." CDE spokesperson Paul Hefner said, in the news release.

At the request of State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, CDE has asked website operators to remove the postings, Hefner said.

"Students throughout California have worked hard to prepare for these examinations, and it's vital to maintain the integrity of the testing process," Torlakson said, in the news release. "I'm confident that if schools and examiners follow established procedures, these materials will remain secure so the results remain valid and reliable."

Once alerted to the postings, Torlakson directed CDE staff to remind school administrators and examiners to follow protocols designed to protect the security and integrity of testing materials, Hefner said.

"Testing procedures bar students from having access to cellphones or other electronic devices during testing periods, with the exception of some students with special needs, who may use them only under close supervision," Hefner said.

"CDE staff is working to identify the students and schools involved, and have advised affected districts to begin their own inquiries into how and why the images were allowed to be posted."

He said CDE also has advised ETS, the state's testing contractor that is reviewing the images, to determine the extent to which any particular examination may have been compromised.

Parris said in Murrieta, Superintendent Stan Scheer and Assistant Superintendent Guy Romero were aware of the security breach or breaches. An investigation is being conducted, she said.

"We are taking immediate steps to prevent this. Teachers tomorrow morning will be warned," Parris said Wednesday evening.

Although district policy allows cellphones at school, students were warned to abide by state testing guidelines.

"It could very well be they didn't realize the seriousness of the matter," Parris said. "But it could have very serious consequences not only for the student but for the school and the district. The security needs to be maintained for the validity of the tests and the scores."

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