Human error is to blame for the missing 440 ACT tests that rising seniors at Pinecrest High School must retake this fall, Moore County Schools (MCS) announced this week.
On Tuesday, parents and students were informed that the answer sheets for the ACT tests administered to all Pinecrest High School juniors on February 20 and March 13, were not submitted to ACT for scoring. As a result, students who took the ACT on these dates do not have scores.
"I deeply regret the situation and apologize to the entire rising senior class," Pinecrest Principal Stefanie Phillips said, in a ConnectED message.
School and district officials have conducted a thorough investigation, Phillips reported, and appropriate personnel action has been taken; however, MCS officials declined to provide additional or specific information on any disciplinary action.
“Our investigation continues into this situation. This is something we are taking very seriously,” said Tim Locklair, MCS chief officer for academic and support services. “Personnel action has been taken as appropriate.”
"Our main focus is really about responding to the needs of our students and parents, and working through each of those,” he added. “We encourage parents with any questions or concerns to contact the school principal or talk to your student’s counselor. Our top priority is taking care of the students.”
MCS has notified the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and is finalizing a plan to retest all affected juniors upon their return to school this fall at no cost to students. The district will cover the retest cost, estimated at $30,000.
“The date will be selected to ensure these students have the opportunity to take the test prior to Early Decision deadlines for college entrance,” said Catherine Murphy, MCS director of communications.
Locklair said they expect to hear back in the next 7-10 days about potential dates for retesting students. He anticipated the retest would be conducted on or before September 14, and the scoring process expedited.
Incoming senior class president, John Cox, is taking the situation in stride.
“You can’t be too upset about it. Human error is bound to happen sometimes,” he said. “As long as the retest is handled in the way it is supposed to, and people get their results in time for college applications, then I don’t think it is too big of a deal.”
The ACT is a standardized test that can be used as a factor in college admissions. It may also be used as one a several factors in determining a school’s overall performance grade along with EOC scores, WorkKey Assessments and math rigor.
The missing scores included tests conducted on the initial date and also the scheduled make-up date at Pinecrest.
ACT scores are typically received approximately 8 weeks after the test date.
Locklair said the initial test answer sheets should have been returned to ACT immediately, though the organization would not have been scored them until the make-up test answer sheets, from the same school, were also received.
The earliest indication that something was amiss would have occurred in early to mid-May using this standard timeline.
“There were inquiries in the spring to the counseling department. Based on prior experience, they anticipated they would get the results soon,” Locklear said. “But as time went on, there were more questions.”
Murphy said MCS reached out to ACT about May 20. The organization confirmed they had not received the answer sheets the week of June 8.
The barcode on the return envelopes with the answer sheets was never scanned by FedEx, Murphy said.
“That is how we started to track where they might be and subsequently realized they were lost,” she said. “We searched the testing room, the entire campus, and reviewed video footage.”
Locklair said, ultimately, the school principal is accountable for testing procedures. At Pinecrest, there is a test coordinator and an assistant principal who helps oversee the process.
MCS has begun an effort to re-evaluate security, processes and protocols for the administration of non-EOC/EOG tests including the ACT. Additionally, Pinecrest High School has developed a plan of action to ensure the fidelity of testing moving forward.
“We are putting together a district team together to make recommendations that all schools will use,” Locklair said.
“Pinecrest has already looked at putting in process….of having more than one person double-checking and keeping accurate records of each step of the testing process,” he added. “That is something that we know will be a best practice as we move forward.”
Perry Youngblood of Southern Pines-based Youngblood College Consulting works with local families, offering tutoring services and helping students identify colleges of interest.
He explained that ACT schedules tests on Saturdays, approximately six times a year, that are available to anyone who wants to register. The next national test date is July 13, and fees for the ACT test with the writing portion runs $67.
The state of North Carolina has also contracted with ACT to allow them to give the tests in high schools -- to every junior, once a year -- at no cost to the student.
“That is the one that went off the wheels in this case,” Youngblood said. “Every parent who has talked to the school has been in the dark with what happened.”