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FCAT inquiry forces students to retake test

Florida Department of Education officials believe someone tampered with the FCAT test results for 15 Zephyrhills High School seniors this summer.

Now, all 15 must retake the test.

Pasco County administrators are investigating whether school employees might have changed responses on the state-required exams after students completed them. Preliminary investigations have ruled out irregularities during test-taking.

"Somebody should lose their job," said 17-year-old Amy Johnston, one of the 15 affected students. Johnston said her joy at being told she'd unofficially passed the test turned to anger and tears after hearing Thursday's news.

Students must pass the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in order to graduate. In Pasco County, pupils who don't pass also are barred from participating in commencement.

Principal Jim Davis said two people _ Assistant Principal Mike Macchiarola and literacy specialist Ann Bowlin _ had rightful access to the test after students completed them. After students turned the tests in, they were gathered, boxed and locked in storage for 24 hours until being picked up and sent to the state, he said.

The two faculty members will not be participating in the upcoming test administration, Oct. 4-6, because of the ongoing investigation, Assistant Superintendent Sandy Ramos said. Neither Macchiarola nor Bowlin could be reached for comment late Thursday afternoon. No one has implicated the two in the incident.

"I'm extremely hurt and disappointed," Principal Davis said of the incident. "My integrity has been challenged. I'm upset for the kids."

Questions surrounding the tests first surfaced in August when the state withheld what it said appeared to be passing scores for 15 of about 25 Zephyrhills High students who took the test on June 22.

In a letter dated Sept. 24, state testing director Laura Melvin notified Pasco test coordinator Madeline Barbery that the 15 tests would be invalidated:

"This group of students demonstrated matched answer pattern responses for portions of the test. These patterns resulted from an excessive number of erasures," Melvin wrote.

Though FCAT scores from the spring testing can affect school grades and funding, the summer test results do not, Ramos said.

Heather Belasic, 17, said she felt great about her performance on the FCAT after the June 22 administration. After four tries, she thought she might have passed.

"It's like doing a job that you think you did well _ and then you don't get credit for it because somebody messed it all up,"her mother, Denise Belasic, said. "I feel like the kids were robbed."

Both Heather Belasic and Johnston rearranged their class schedules after they heard they'd unofficially passed: both dropped remedial reading.

"I just wanted to sit there and cry," said Johnston, who has a 3.0 grade point average.

Terry Rhum, director of employee relations for the district, said a team of administrators would be going to Tallahassee in two weeks to see the answer sheets in person. The matter also has been referred to the Office of Professional Practices, which investigates ethical and legal issues affecting certified educators.

"I can assure you, we're going to get to the bottom of this," superintendent John Long said. "Somebody will probably lose their job."