It is bad enough that after two years, reading and math test scores for the eight elementary schools run by for-profit Education Alternatives Inc. are still declining. That may not be fatal, however. Those knowledgeable on the subject understand that improving test scores is a long-term effort that requires at least three years to reach any reliable conclusion.
Far worse is the revelation that the Baltimore City school headquarters staff overstated those scores last spring. It suggests that the legendary incompetence of North Avenue continues even after more than three years of Superintendent Walter G. Amprey's stewardship.
Misstating test scores is embarrassing under any circumstance. This error -- if it was an error -- is particularly troubling because of some recent developments involving EAI.
When city school leaders initially touted alleged improvements at EAI schools at a June press conference, the small Minneapolis company was trying to get selected to take over the failing Hartford (Conn.) school system. For EAI, it was a critical contract. Many interest groups, particularly the American Federation of Teachers, fought bitterly against privatization.
In the end, EAI won, arguing that the Baltimore results showed it was most likely to produce the required scholastic improvements. That argument, it now turns out, was based on a fallacy.
The inevitable question is: Did the Baltimore school headquarters staff make an honest error in tabulating the test scores? Or did someone intentionally commit a fraud, trying to do EAI a favor?
The latter possibility opens up such a can of worms we urge Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to have City Auditor Allan Reynolds get to the bottom of the situation. This is a matter that cannot be handled by Dr. Amprey because he has become too publicly identified as an EAI cheerleader.
With nearly three years left on EAI's five-year contract in (P Baltimore, it is becoming increasingly clear that this potentially promising privatization experiment has been badly mismanaged by the city school system's administrators. The necessary oversight has been lacking. In fact, only recently was a team of outside evaluators hired to assess the outcome of the experiment.
The school system's internal evaluation, for its part, has been conducted under most curious circumstances. Three of the original "control group" schools in its evaluation were mysteriously replaced "in an effort to improve the selection process," as it was officially explained.
This flies in the face of elemental testing practices. The wonders at North Avenue never cease.