City schools to monitor administration of High School Assessments

The Baltimore school system has started monitoring the administration of the High School Assessments this year, expanding on a measure that began in 2011 after a series of cheating scandals in its elementary and middle schools.

City school officials said the move was not prompted by suspicions of cheating on the tests —which students have to pass to graduate — but to be proactive.


"The natural extension is ensuring that we were being fair and consistent in our process," said Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, the system's chief accountability officer. "The city-wide test monitoring of the Maryland School Assessments was instigated by something. From our perspective, we don't ever want to be in that situation again, where we could have done something ahead of time."

"We've been looking so intently and so intensely at elementary and middle schools, and the HSA is a graduation requirement, so we wanted to make sure there was as much integrity around that as well."


In 2011, city schools CEO Andres Alonso began spending nearly $400,000 to hire and place 200 independent monitors in all elementary and middle schools that administered the MSA to students in grades three through eight.

That year marked the second in a row the schools chief announced that schools had been cheating on the tests.

The results of three school investigations have been made public — one of which has been challenged for what has been described as a flawed investigation. The investigations into at least a dozen more schools have yet to be released. Last year, the district also entered into a $275,000 contract with the national data forensic company, Caveon Test Security, to review several test booklets from schools under investigation.

Bell-Ellwanger said 20 high schools will be monitored at a time at a total cost of $81,000. Teams of two monitors were placed in randomly selected schools during the January testing, and the same will happen in April and May.

The district also plans to continue its monitoring of the MSAs this year at a cost of $380,000, Bell-Ellwanger said.

She added that the intensive monitoring "has enabled a level of public trust with us being so transparent about the importance of the monitoring, the training and the awareness."

"It's more about us trusting what our students can do," she said, "and we want people to know that this is what our kids can do."