AUGUSTA — Teachers intentionally placed posters and reference sheets containing mathematical facts in classrooms at Farrington Elementary School prior to recent standardized testing, which prompted the state to invalidate test results of 106 students.

Students also reported that teachers gave them guidance on test content they had not covered in class, according to a state official.

The disclosures came a day after an earlier assertion from Farrington principal Lori Smail that the testing error was unintentional.

The Kennebec Journal reported Wednesday that Smail, who had been honored for her skill as an administrator, resigned from her position within two weeks of the testing irregularities coming to light. With regard to the irregularities, Smail said Tuesday that “the error that was made was unintentional.”

But a letter obtained Wednesday by the Kennebec Journal under a Freedom of Information Act request makes clear that state officials determined inappropriate testing materials were placed in two classrooms on purpose.

“Based on the investigation supplied by Augusta School Department, a variety of mathematical reference sheets and posters were intentionally made available to students in two testing rooms,” Nancy Godfrey, acting assessment coordinator for the state Department of Education, wrote in a May 26 letter to Augusta Superintendent James Anastasio. “Students shared that teachers conducted mini-lessons to classes on test items ‘in case it came up again in the test’ and gave verbal and non-verbal guidance to students who had questions on test content they had not covered in class.”

The letter also states: “The unfair advantage given to these students during the mathematics assessment warrants a determination that the test scores are not valid.”

The investigation started after the testing irregularities were uncovered May 8 and reported to the state Department of Education by Smail, according to Anastasio. Smail, named a National Distinguished Principal of the Year in 2013, resigned May 12.

“The principal notified the Department of Education as soon as she became aware of irregularities,” Anastasio said. “She self-reported.”

Godfrey’s letter to Anastasio indicates that posters and other materials containing such information as mathematical equations and formulas, multiplication tables and other mathematical facts were placed in two testing rooms in which Farrington students took the Maine Educational Assessments this year in violation of testing rules.

Although the state’s letter doesn’t identify who placed the posters in the two testing rooms, Anastasio said Wednesday that several teachers brought the posters to the rooms, though he would not identify them. Anastasio said the posters and other materials in question were not just up on classroom walls already, but rather they “were brought into the testing rooms and put up.”

The initial investigation was conducted by Anastasio’s office at the request of the state after Smail reported the potential irregularities.

Anastasio said the MEA test administrators — those in charge of testing — are the principals of each school. He said those administrators give testing guidelines to the teachers providing the test, and that testing rooms at Farrington had been checked before the tests were given.

Smail said Tuesday she did not want to comment on the testing invalidation or her resignation, but noted they coincided with each other. Anastasio said that when Smail submitted her resignation, the investigation into the testing procedures at Farrington had not yet begun.

He said Smail was not asked or pressured to resign and said Smail’s resignation was her decision. Smail submitted her resignation to be effective at the end of the school year, which isn’t until next week. However, she has not been at the school recently, and the school department has already posted the job opening with applications due by June 12.

The Department of Education letter from the state to Augusta about the issue also expresses concern that educational materials in classrooms apparently were not removed from classroom walls during previous standardized testing. The letter cites an email from an unidentified person writing, “I did not have my teachers take down things that are up all year. This would be an unnatural testing environment and may cause even more anxiety. This is the same protocol I use” for New England Common Assessment Program tests.

The letter further states the state Department of Education “is not in the position to review and/or question past assessment scores or reports. However, it does concern us that compromised testing environments may have been repeated as past practice.”

Anastasio, who said the letter’s redacted portion was blacked out because it could involve a potential personnel issue for the schools, declined to comment on whether that portion of the state’s letter was cause for concern about the integrity of previous test results in the city’s schools.

No disciplinary actions have been taken against school staff members, and none would be before a still-underway investigation of the most recent incident by the Department of Education is complete, Anastasio said. “At that point, we’ll take a look at the district level,” he said.

Anastasio, in a May 27 letter to the parents of Farrington students whose mathematics scores were invalidated, said the investigation’s first phase determined 212 mathematics-related tests, completed by 106 students in grades three to six, would be invalidated because of “unfair testing environment advantages.” Farrington’s other MEA scores in English and literacy were unaffected and will be reported to parents.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Anastasio said Wednesday. “The Farrington community has a lot of pride in school and the education provided to students. That certainly shouldn’t be overlooked or lost in this difficult situation.”

Kimberly Martin, chairwoman of the school board, said board members couldn’t comment on details of the incident because it’s still under investigation. She said the testing concerns were brought to the board’s attention immediately after being discovered.

“It’s disappointing for the students who spent time on testing and their parents,” Martin said. “Unfortunately, it is something that happened.”

She said parents who had questions or concerns could call Anastasio or her.

The education department’s letter also notes that information on the matter has been forwarded to its Certification Department “for further inquiry/investigation,” and that agency will report independently to the acting education commissioner, Tom Desjardin.

Jaci Holmes, interim spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said the next step will be to have Desjardin review the information about the incident so officials can decide whether there will be further actions or sanctions by the state. She said it would be premature to discuss the potential for sanctions against the school or school staff before the commissioner’s review.

The letter from the state is expected to go to the school board at its next meeting, on June 10, as correspondence. Anastasio said Smail’s resignation will go to the board formally at that meeting as well.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj