TEASER Pinecrest High School Students

Students in a hallway at Pinecrest High School in Southern Pines.

Between critical admissions exams, writing application essays and securing transcripts and recommendations, applying to college is already a stressful process or high school students.

This year’s class of rising Pinecrest seniors is dealing with a fairly significant glitch in that process thanks to the school’s loss last spring of testing documents soon after 440 students took the American College Test.

Last week, school staff outlined to the Moore County Board of Education the district’s plans to host re-testing this fall and prevent future incidents.

Along with the SAT, the ACT is one of two major entrance examinations accepted by American colleges and universities. North Carolina requires — and pays for — all public high school students to take it during the spring of their junior year.

This past February, 377 Pinecrest students took the ACT on the statewide test date. A few weeks later, another 63 students took it on the makeup date. But it wasn’t until June that Pinecrest discovered that students’ tests from both administrations were lost rather than being shipped via FedEx to ACT.

The school’s testing coordinator was dismissed from her position on June 13, five days before students were notified that their tests would never be scored.

Pinecrest staff searched the school and reviewed video surveillance footage in an attempt to determine what happened to the tests, but the subsequent investigation proved inconclusive. The school told parents that the tests had not been located and were most likely discarded due to human action.

On Monday, Pinecrest High School Principal Stefanie Phillips apologized to the students whose tests were lost and who are now faced with retaking the three-hour exam.

“The mishandling of the ACT answer sheets was a significant error and I feel personally responsible for the stress and anxiety that those students who were impacted have gone through as a result of this error,” she said.

“It did happen on my watch, and I am ultimately accountable for the successful administration of the ACT at Pinecrest High School. I am also extremely sorry for the amount of work this has caused everyone impacted by the mishandling of the ACT answer sheets, and it’s taken countless staff hours away form very important other needs at the school and at the district.”

Anxious to Retake

At $68 per student, covering the cost for rising seniors to retake the ACT is estimated at $30,000 for Moore County Schools. Pinecrest will administer the test on its campus Oct. 1.

Despite their initial hopes, school officials have not been able to ensure expedited scoring of Pinecrest’s fall ACT administration. So students will still have to wait the standard three to eight weeks for a return of their scores.

Many students are taking it off-campus in the hope of having their scores settled and moving beyond the ACT. So far, 10 rising seniors sat for the test in July and nearly 100 more are registered to take it on Sept. 14 at The O’Neal School, Scotland High and Richmond High.

“These numbers may not be an accurate count of all the students who are going to take the ACT administration, because not everybody’s asking for reimbursement,” Phillips said.

In the meantime, Pinecrest’s guidance counselors have begun contacting popular colleges in North Carolina to alert them to the tight timeline its students will be on.

“The colleges have certain dates that they pull scores,” said Phillips. “That’s one of the things the guidance counselors are calling those early admission colleges for. Just because the student gets their ACT scores in three weeks it doesn’t mean that college pulls at three weeks.”

Many of the UNC system schools have “early action” or “first priority” application deadlines in mid-October and early November. So it’s unlikely that even students who take the ACT next month will have scores in time.

But admissions departments at all of the state’s public schools accept either ACT or SAT scores, and express no preference for one or the other. Regular application deadlines range from January to May, depending on the institution.

Ultimately, the school’s mistake may have a more lasting effect on the school than the students. The state factors students’ ACT scores into every public high school’s annual School Performance Grade.

Schools where fewer than 95 percent of eligible students take the ACT lose points on that assessment. While Pinecrest is technically requiring this year’s senior class to take the ACT, either on Oct. 1 or on an earlier date off-site, there is little the school can do to compel students to do so.

Crisis Response

Following the failed ACT administration this spring, Moore County Schools is re-evaluating testing procedures across the board.

Led by Mike Metcalf, the district’s executive officer for academics and student support services, the schools assembled what they’re calling a “fire team” to review staff training procedures and how tests are handled. One of the team’s tasks is to evaluate the costs and logistics involved with administering the ACT online rather than with physical test booklets and answer sheets.

The group includes Phillips as well as counselors, test coordinators, and Advanced Placement program coordinators from all three high schools.They will examine not only the procedures surrounding administration of the ACT, but also the pre-ACT, Advanced Placement exams, and state-mandated End-of-Grade and End-of-Course tests.

“This is something that we hope will never happen again with all the procedures that are going into place,” said Board Chair Helena Wallin-Miller. “It sounds like looking at all of our testing is the right thing to be doing at this point to ensure that this won’t happen again.”

At Pinecrest, the testing coordinator’s position will now fall into the category of “certified” positions along with teachers, counselors, nurses and other school staff whose jobs require licensure. Until now it has been a “classified” position, the term used to group custodial, maintenance, cafeteria and clerical staff.

“Only Pinecrest, because of their size, has a coordinator. The other two schools use an assistant principal for that particular role,” said Metcalf. “We want to make sure that we have appropriate procedures in place and that they are consistent from school to school.”

Per ACT procedures, the testing coordinator is in charge of administering the test and returning all materials, as well as acting as liaison between the school and the Iowa-based testing organization.

The schools can implement more stringent procedures around administration of major tests — things like requiring constant monitoring of test materials before they’re shipped off and documentation of FedEx shipping labels when the tests are picked up. But the school board still has questions about why it took more than three months after the test date for Pinecrest to realize ACT had never gotten students’ answer sheets for scoring.

“Do we know if ACT is looking at their procedures for the receiving of tests?” Vice-Chair Libby Carter asked. “I still wonder why they didn’t note that, having shipped supplies to Pinecrest, they never received score sheets and that didn’t sound a bell of alarm for them as well. Are they looking into their procedures?”

ACT prescribes that schools should return answer sheets separately from test booklets and other materials.

Once Pinecrest heard from individual students that they had yet to receive ACT scores, the school’s queries revealed that ACT did receive nine boxes of materials from Pinecrest’s two ACT administrations this spring. Answer sheets, though, were not among them.

Kate Faw, Moore County Schools’ director for testing and accountability, said that ACT is looking into it.

“What we were told from our DPI contact, who’s communicating with ACT, is that ACT has launched an internal investigation as well,” she said, “but odds are we will never know the results of that investigation.”

Contact Mary Kate Murphy at (910) 693-2479 or mkmurphy@thepilot.com.

(4) comments

Jim Davis

I'm not sure what the purpose of the column is...there is no new information nor any investigative reporting/results on the part of the Pilot...the paper must have needed "filler"

Conrad Meyer

OK MCS and Pilot. What is new and why is it taking so long?

In the private sector, this would have been fixed a LONG time ago.

I am disappointed that the scapegoat is the fired testing coordinator. This was a management problem and apparently she took the fall for it.

Brian Hicks

Who was the coordinator? Name?? Hey Pilot, get crazy and interview them!

# cuttingedge

Brian Hicks

Please stop dusting off the original article....unless you are trying to stir things up?? Tired of all the cliche stuff MCS and PC throw out there.

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