The most scathing part of the hearing officers' report described the methodology of the erasure analysis, pointing out that the official had no training, and conducted a manual check of the booklets that was unlike any other erasure analysis done in the country. In major cheating investigations, common practice is for systems to hire outside companies to run electronic scans.

The officers also took issue with the fact that the analysis could not be authenticated because the official destroyed all pertinent documents.

The official, however, maintained that her analysis was superior to electronic scannings, because erasure marks were more clear to the human eye. Nationally, experts debate that fact, and ultimately recommend conducting both an electronic and manual analysis.

But hearing officers also criticized the fact that the official only reviewed 167 of 485 books, which they concluded was a result of "bowing to pressure to reach conclusions quickly."

The officers also pointed out that the erasure analysis was flawed in an even more "troubling way."

An email included in the records shows that before the state official conducted her analysis, she inquired about whether the city's evidence was solid enough to support what she would ultimately find.

That led the independent officers to believe that the analysis was predetermined.

"I want to be sure that MSDE is confident in the findings and that BCPS has empirical data to support my review," the official wrote. "The BIG question is -- How much evidence is enough? A sitting principal is not likely to go quietly and she may lawyer-up at the expense of the [union.]"

Alonso acknowledged during testimony that he was aware of the flaws in the erasure analysis report, and "with this knowledge, he reviewed the report again, convened a meeting of his trusted advisors, and thereafter concluded again that something 'systemic and dramatic' had happened at Abbottston," the report summarized.

The strongest opinion handed down was in favor of Faltz, who has served in the system for more than 20 years and whose name has been attached to cheating at Abbottston, a school that had been visited by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in 2009 for its performance.

According to email documents, the city school system reviewed the school's scores before Duncan's visit, and deemed them clean. That was later found to not be the case, the system said during the hearings.

"While there is a healthy dose of speculation, suggestion and suspicion that cheating occurred in 2009, there is a lack of credible evidence that cheating actually occurred," one hearing officer wrote. "Not one witness was able to testify with certainty that they knew what happened in Abbottston. To the contrary, witness after witness stated that they did not know what happened at Abbottston.

"Not one witness was able to testify as to a specific testing protocol that Dr. Faltz violated," the opinion continued. "In fact, every witness for the CEO testified that they could not identify any testing protocol that she violated."

erica.green@baltsun.com

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