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All students in Grades 3 and 6 write a test conducted by Ontario’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), which measures proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

A former Ontario high-school principal has pleaded guilty to charges of professional misconduct after tampering with the provincial literacy test.

Christine Vellinga, who was a principal with the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, north of Toronto, admitted on Friday to a disciplinary panel of the Ontario College of Teachers that she reviewed test booklets after the literacy test was over, and instructed the school's vice-principal and a teacher to do the same.

She then directed the school's secretaries to call students back to complete the booklets. In total, 21 students returned to the school and were directed to complete specific areas of the test, according to an agreed statement of facts.

"She also told more than one student 'You were never here,'" Zirka Jakibchuk, a lawyer for the college, told the panel.

The disciplinary panel suspended Ms. Vellinga's teaching certificate for six months, a penalty that was reached by both sides. She has also agreed to enroll in a course on ethics.

Ms. Vellinga and her lawyer declined on Friday to comment on the incident.

All students in Grades 3 and 6 write a test conducted by Ontario's Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), which measures proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics. High-school students are assessed in math in Grade 9 and, in Grade 10, they write the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT), which measures whether they are meeting the minimum standard for literacy. Passing the OSSLT is one of the requirements to earn a high-school diploma.

After the test, the booklets are supposed to be collected and kept in a secure environment before they are returned to EQAO.

The incident at Ms. Vellinga's former high school in Bradford occurred in March, 2016. The name of the school was not disclosed at the hearing.

After the incident was investigated by the EQAO and the school board, Ms. Vellinga was suspended for 20 days without pay, and demoted to a vice-principal position at another school. The decision on Friday means she will not be able to work or collect a salary for another six months.

Kim Patenaude, Ms. Vellinga's lawyer, told the three-member disciplinary panel that this was an "isolated incident" and inconsistent with her client's behaviour. She said Ms. Vellinga was feeling the stress of a heavy workload. She was also dealing with a supply teacher who was charged with assault, and an issue with a student, Ms. Patenaude said.

Ms. Patenaude said it wasn't an excuse for the test tampering, but it may have contributed to her actions "which she deeply regrets."

"This action was completely out of character for her," she told the panel.

Ms. Vellinga's case comes at a time when the debate around standardized testing in Ontario has intensified, with teacher unions questioning its merits. Supporters say it measures how students are learning the curriculum and keeps the education system accountable. But critics say some people use it to rank schools, and that it puts pressure on children, teachers and administrators, and has a negative effect on the learning environment and student well-being.

Andrew Burke, the acting vice-principal and a teacher, and teacher Gregory Quinn face similar charges. Mr. Burke was suspended without pay for 10 days, and Mr. Quinn was suspended for five days without pay, according to the notices of hearing. Hearing dates for Mr. Burke and Mr. Quinn have not yet been set.

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