The article at the center at the controversy was a feature story on the front page of the local section of the Cit-Pat Tuesday. It featured a big picture of a little girl taking the MEAP at Hunt Elementary and a headline "Testing Time." It was published on the Internet too.
The real problem was the 2nd and 3rd paragraph of the article--a description of fifth grader James Ransom's essay on "someone he's thankful for". That was the question posed to fifth graders.
The following sentence says the sixth grade prompt was on being part of a team.
"We couldn't take any chances," Michigan Department of Education spokesperson Martin Ackley says of the department's decision to re-test all 5th and 6th graders. He says it's too hard to know who may have seen the article, and it's an unfair advantage. He says it compromises the integrity of the MEAP.
A new test is already in development for re-testing and for districts who haven't taken the MEAP. They have until October 26th.
Re-testing will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The reporter at issue, Chad Livengood, writes about how this fiasco happened on his blog called "Taking Notes."
He admits he was allowed in the classroom at Hunt Elementary school to talk to students even while others were still testing. He says he thought it odd, but trusted the teacher who let him in.
"I feel bad about the problems this simple feature story has caused," he writes. "I apologize for any problems this story created, but I'm not an expert on MEAP rules and I rely heavily on school officials to tell me what the classroom access boundaries are."
Ackley says the state wishes the reporter and editor knew the gravity of the error before they published it, but he says it is ultimately the district's responsibility to follow the rules related to test taking. A photographer should not have been allowed in, the reporter also should not have been in the room, and the questions should never have been discussed.
The state is investigating Jackson Public Schools. A district spokesperson declined to comment.
There are about 260,000 5th and 6th graders in Michigan. It's impossible to know how many have to be retested. That should happen before October 26.
The Cit-Pat's editor Eileen Lehnert spoke only to the Associated Press. She told them, "We had no idea we were doing something that could hurt the school, the district or the state... It was supposed to be a positive story and it's turned into a fiasco." She says the paper didn't know districts had yet to test, and she wonders why that is allowed if a breach of security causes this kind of trouble.