State to Investigate Unauthorized Release of Assessments

Montclair School Board may suspend its own investigation.

Montclair Board of Education President Robin Kulwin Photo credit: Teresa Akersten
Montclair Board of Education President Robin Kulwin Photo credit: Teresa Akersten
The New Jersey Department of Education informed the Montclair Board of Education Tuesday that it plans to investigate how student assessments wound up on a public website, the district announced in a release.

The Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance (OFAC) will conduct the investigation into the unauthorized release of 14 assessments, which ended up on a public website for a brief period in late October just days before they were to be administered to students. 

The Montclair BOE's own investigation, which has met with numerous roadblocks, may be suspended as a result of OFAC stepping in.

The school board said it intends to support OFAC’s efforts and will schedule a meeting of the board "as soon as practical" to discuss discontinuing its own investigation. 

“I’m confident that OFAC’s investigation will enable the Board and the Montclair community to obtain a detailed understanding of the events leading to the unauthorized release of our assessments," Montclair BOE President Robin Kulwin said. "More importantly, OFAC’s involvement will enable the Board to shift its focus back to its primary mission of governing the public schools.”

The news from the state comes the same week an internal township memo came to light which claims there is no evidence of hacking or security breaches on the web servers the board shares with the municipal government.

The memo, dated Dec. 29, said the tests were saved with permissions which would allow anyone to access them from the Internet. 

The investigation into the possible security breach has resulted in more controversy than the actual compromising of the tests. The assessments designed to align with new Common Core State Standards were created by groups of teachers during the summer of 2013 at a cost of nearly a half-million dollars.

The ACLU-NJ successfully blocked an effort by the board's attorney to obtain the name and contact information of an anonymous blogger who the board said could potentially know something about how the tests wound up on the site Gobookee.org

Montclair School Board Vice President Shelly Lombard said at the time, “It’s our responsibility to investigate this because this is a theft — just as if somebody broke into our schools and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment.”

The investigation hit another dead-end in December when the township council voted to deny the school board access to the servers shared by the two entities.

Pete Mock January 08, 2014 at 03:02 PM
Just as it is confirmed that the assessments were not leaked, but released due to security failure by the BOE, the NJDOE decides, more than two months after the fact, that they need to investigate? That is certainly questionable timing. The head of the NJDOE, Chris Cerf, is Super MacCormack's former boss at the NJDOE and Montclair resident. It's very convenient for him to step in and give Super MacCormack and the MBOE a way to gracefully duck out of the mess they have created. This is one of the clearest signs so far that this is not just about Montclair schools, but a political battle for the control of education in New Jersey. The failure of Super MacCormack in Montclair would be a major blow to the corporate school reform movement, which is taking blow after blow lately, so they are desparate to make this go away quietly.
I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 January 08, 2014 at 03:08 PM
This new twist to the debacle that the Monclair School District is becoming is no more than political protection coming from Trenton to rescue the Montclair Board of Education (MBoE) and School Superintendent MacCormack in their hour of need. Montclair is, after all, Commissioner Cerf’s hometown. Superintendent MacCormack came from Trenton with a mission and she has been willing to go to extremes to have the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) programs implemented just as wanted by Trenton and without any care or consideration for the town or its people. She has even gone to the extent of copying much of the "leaked" assessments word-for-word from the Trenton website (a modest half million dollar copy and paste job). There will be no accountability from the MBoE on the hundreds of thousands of dollars (?) given to Mark Tabakin for this sham of an investigation. The MBoE members learned nothing from this investigation. Nada. They only succeeded in silencing critics who were afraid of having their lives turned upside down by a rogue lawyer armed with illegitimate, even court defying, subpoenas. Why is the NJDOE’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance (OFAC) now, more than 2 and a half months after the “security breach” coming into play? Why did they wait for the investigation to be cut out from under its feet by a Superior Court Judge on behalf of the ACLU, and then chopped at the waste by the Town Council before entering the fray? Will the OFAC investigate all the money handed over to Mark Tabakin for this sham operation? Again, the cover up is taking on new dimensions. From what we know now thanks to the good work done by Network Administrator Alan Benezra and Director of Information Technology Joseph Fagliarone, Superintendent MacCormack had to have known on Friday, October 25, that the “security breach” was nothing more than another dismal catastrophe under her command (not unlike the Glenfield gun incident earlier in the year). We will never have any report from either the MBoE investigation or the NJDOE OFAC investigation. It is all part of a mushrooming cover-up to protect a wrongheaded school superintendent supported by an unlawful and unethical board of education.
Spread Love and Fly January 08, 2014 at 05:47 PM
Didn't the NJDOE recently refuse to get involved in an issue involving MacCormack's credentials?
I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 January 08, 2014 at 05:56 PM
@Spread Love and Fly Yes. And the NJDOE also refused to get involved when Superintendent MacCormack broke the law on the required annual evaluations of school principals. We need to see all of the correspondence that took place between Chris Cerf and the MBoE at the time that Penny Elizabeth MacCormack was hired. It has been obvious that the MBoE has been more interested in serving the interests of Trenton than serving the needs of Montclair's children, but now it is time for this to stop. A new school superintendent and a new board of education are needed to end the crisis. Nothing short of this will restore confidence in the Montclair School District. At the time of the next rating, the Montclair School District will have fallen below the top 100 school districts in New Jersey. The free fall will continue until the townspeople and the Town Council finally wake up to the disaster in front of them.
Halsey B. January 08, 2014 at 10:57 PM
Montclair School Board Vice President Shelly Lombard said at the time, “It’s our responsibility to investigate this because this is a theft — just as if somebody broke into our schools and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment.” OR More like somebody left hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment in the A&P Parking lot with a "take me" sign the day before Christmas.
esther January 10, 2014 at 09:13 PM
This is truly horrible- we, as a district, are losing all kinds of credibility. We have people who are not being supervised properly not are they being evaluated- something is wrong here. How can things be spinning this much out of control? Why are we sitting still for this? As it turns out there was no theft-see the other article on Patch-I think this Board knew this but found it a way to get rid of a long time employee- Mr. Benezra. Both the BOE and the supe are out of control. No credentials-no evaluations of administration? Layering of all kinds of new positions? New curriculum and assessments are working. And what is going on with all the money she is hoarding that should have already been spent on technology and new computers.
tryintosurvive January 11, 2014 at 12:27 AM
The qualified system administrators that I know would be able to instantly identify if this was an external breach of security or if an authorized user took a specific action that allowed the tests to become unprotected and hence to be taken. The system administrator would also have the appropriate audit logsand controls in place to be able to identify the specific user and the date and time when they took this action. This is needed not to point the blame on someone, but to ensure that this does not happen again with the additional assessments. It does not seem that Mr. Benezra has this level of expertise. Either that or the arrangement that he does all of his work from thousands of miles away may have prevented this.
I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 January 12, 2014 at 04:32 PM
It appears quite certain that Mr. Benezra has that level of expertise and more. And certainly Superintendent MacCormack and the Montclair Board of Education knew the simple truth that there was no "leak" and that there was no password protection long before the public even knew that the assessments were public. Mr. Benezra, like Principal Charlie Miller, is just another person to lose their livelihood for Penny MacCormack's mistakes. It is unconscionable that good people allow this to happen, let alone support it.
Laura Gardner January 15, 2014 at 11:37 AM
I, for one, would like to see the BOE issue a formal apology to the teachers who were accused, implicated or inconvenienced in this process. Our teachers are working so hard as a whole to be the glue behind a turbulent new process. The attorneys that were paid a lot of public dollars to "dig up the dirt" came up short. Apologize to those teachers who were accused, Dr. Mac Cormack. We are behind you so please support the teachers that need your support in the process!


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