Dozens of students at Chelsea High School found themselves in a familiar situation yesterday morning as they pored over the biology MCAS examination.
That's because they had taken a version of the test just one week earlier. They were told to sit for it again after school administrators learned that students had been given a list of answers to the exam - by their teacher.
Last week, on the first day of MCAS testing, the teacher allegedly copied questions directly from the biology MCAS exam - to be taken the next day - and handed out an answer sheet to students as a study guide, according to school officials.
The superintendent of Chelsea public schools, Thomas Kingston, wrote a letter Wednesday to the parents of the 46 students involved, explaining the situation.
In the letter, Kingston said the teacher, whose name was not released, would no longer be working for the district. There is an appeal process should the teacher choose to fight the decision.
About 60,000 students take the biology portion of the MCAS annually, though this year's sophomores are the first who must pass one of four science MCAS tests in order to graduate. The other subjects are chemistry, physics, and technology/engineering.
In the same letter, Kingston told parents that the students "did not create this problem" and that the "teacher was at major fault."
"Cheating is just wrong, plain and simple," he said later in an interview. "It gives the district a black eye. It sets a very poor example for the students. It presumes that our students cannot pass MCAS, and, of course, they can.
"It makes me very angry."
He knows he's not the only one.
"We talked with the students all together and some are upset, some are angry," he said. "If people are a little upset and a little angry - or even more than a little - it's perfectly reasonable."
In 2007, 20 educators violated MCAS rules by giving students improper help on the exam, up from 15 in 2006 and three in 2005, according to the Massachusetts Department of Education. The number of students cheating also increased, from 19 in 2006 to 43 in 2007.
The union that represents Chelsea teachers, the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, declined to comment about this specific case or the general phenomenon of teachers helping students cheat.
The Department of Education doubts cheating is actually on the rise, said spokesman JC Considine. Instead, he said, the department believes that "schools and districts are doing a better job of reporting these irregularities."
In previous years, when the department released numbers on MCAS irregularities, some national specialists wondered whether teachers were under too much pressure to make sure students pass and to teach to the test.
Kingston says there are no excuses. "The MCAS tests are foundational tests," he said. "They assess the minimal competent knowledge that the student needs in a subject area, and they're very good tests to teach to."
Ryan Kost can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.