LAND O'LAKES — The rules could not have been more clear: Students were not allowed to have cell phones or other electronic devices that can record or take pictures with them inside the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test exam room.
The penalty could not have been more severe: Anyone violating the new rule would have his or her test results invalidated.
Yet as always seems to be the case with kids, some just couldn't resist. Six Pasco students at three schools had their FCATs thrown out during the two weeks of testing.
The most egregious rule breaking came at Pasco High, where test proctors discovered a girl sending text messages to friends while the test booklet sat on her desk. Teachers and administrators checked the messages — they were reportedly "innocuous" — and they tracked the recipients, as well — none were in testing at the time.
Still, "they were not even supposed to have (phones) in their possession," district assessment coordinator Madeline Barbery noted. So the girl's test was tossed.
Two students at Land O'Lakes High and three at Centennial Middle also had their FCATs invalidated because they had phones with them. Barbery said those students were not using the devices.
"I am in a way disappointed that, despite all our best efforts to forewarn the students and their parents," these violations still occurred, she said. "It's not a matter of being unaware or uninformed. … It's discouraging to see they would still take that chance."
The state barred students from carrying cell phones and the like in the exam room after a Volusia County high school student was caught last year taking pictures of the test and posting them on MySpace.
Twenty-seven Hernando County students were penalized this year for having phones during the FCAT.
Barbery said Pasco's administration of the FCAT otherwise went off smoothly with few other invalidations, for things such as working ahead on the test. No teachers were found helping students this year, unlike last year, employee relations director Terry Rhum said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.