City schools to be heavily monitored during state exams

Testing monitors will be placed in every Baltimore City school that is administering the Maryland School Assessments beginning this week, an unprecedented measure that comes after an investigation a year ago found test tampering at an award-winning school and a principal of another school was removed pending an investigation into plummeting test scores.

City school officials said Monday that 157 testing monitors have been hired to serve in elementary and middle schools where students will begin taking state assessments in math, science and reading on Tuesday. Over the next several weeks, every Maryland student in grades three through eight will be tested in the subjects.

The additional testing monitors, who are primarily retired educators and substitute teachers, were hired and trained as temporary employees and will cost about $320,000, school officials said. In addition to the monitors, certified central office staff members will serve as "testing coordinators" and will each be responsible for overseeing the tests at five to six schools.

"We want our accomplishments to shine without a shadow of a doubt, and unfortunately when a few do wrong, there will always be some who question our kids," said schools CEO Andrés Alonso. "Too many people are working too hard for the acts of a few to taint the achievement of so many. So we are going beyond and above."

Alonso sent out 120 central office staffers to monitor schools last year, but only at schools that had noted large gains or drops in recent years. At least two highly regarded schools have been the source of cheating investigations.

In May of last year, Alonso and state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick announced that a year-long investigation of George Washington Elementary found that the school's 2008 test booklets had been extensively tampered with.

The school, which holds a prestigious Blue Ribbon designation, was paid a visit in 2008 by then-first lady Laura Bush, who praised it for its accomplishments.

Alonso stripped George Washington's principal at the time, Susan Burgess, of her teaching license. In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Burgess denied any wrongdoing. Alonso said that given the extent of the tampering — investigators found thousands of erasures in the booklets — Burgess should have known about the cheating.

George Washington has a new principal, Amanda Rice, who said Monday that "monitoring is appreciated here." The school was monitored last year and made its academic targets.

"It takes the scrutiny off of us, holds everyone accountable and ensures our success," Rice said.

Also last year, Alonso asked state officials to investigate the almost 50 percent declines in 2010 test scores of third- and fourth-graders at Abbottston Elementary, a school visited by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in 2009, where he celebrated the students' achievement and praised it as a model for the country.

Abbottston Principal Angela Faltz was removed pending the outcome of an investigation, which is not complete. Administrators Union President Jimmy Gittings has disagreed with school officials' decision to remove Faltz before the investigation is concluded.

School officials said that the decision to hire extra monitors was also to provide added support to the high number of new principals in the district. Sonja Brookins Santelises, chief academic officer for the school system, said that the monitors and coordinators will make sure that every school is testing properly and with integrity.

"This is a way of providing support to new school leaders, because a lot of the testing protocol can be confusing," Santelises said. "So this is a way for us to have consistency across the district, and ensuring the integrity of the testing without putting undue pressure on principals."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad