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Mayor has EAI report, but stays mum


The preliminary findings of a long-awaited evaluation of Educational Alternatives Inc. as well as test scores for city school students are in the hands of Baltimore's mayor, school officials and EAI, but the details are being closely guarded.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke repeatedly has pledged to use the data this summer to decide the fate of the school privatization experiment.

"I don't want to comment on their recommendations," he said yesterday. "This is truly a draft, and I would normally not release a draft. I think everybody wants to see the final report."

However, Mr. Schmoke said he plans to notify the for-profit school management company by Monday whether he will terminate the controversial contract. His deadline comes before the final version of the report is expected to be completed.

If Mr. Schmoke delays making a decision until after Monday, EAI could require the city to give it 90 days' notice to end the contract, forcing the city to allow school to begin with EAI at work.

While Schmoke administration officials are remaining mum, others, who are familiar with the contents of the report and with the test scores, say the results are mixed.

Notably, test scores for the EAI schools -- a benchmark measure identified by many as key to the company's continued work in Baltimore -- have not improved significantly. In addition, some local educators are unhappy with the frequent criticisms in the report.

Several times this month, school officials have postponed releasing the report's analysis of standardized test scores for citywide and EAI schools. Yesterday Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said he will not make those test scores public until the EAI report is finished.

"We have decided we ought to release them at the same time," Dr. Amprey said. The city wants to anticipate questions about the performance of both EAI and district schools.

Although individual schools received their scores in June, the school system only this month delivered test score data to researchers at the Center for Educational Research at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. UMBC researchers are preparing the EAI report.

Without the scores, the researchers have not been able to complete an up-to-date analysis of EAI students' performance or a comparison of EAI's performance to another teaching experiment: the Barclay school's use of the private Calvert zTC School curriculum that focuses on basics.

The report draft was delivered to Dr. Amprey on July 21 -- and shared since with the mayor and School Board President Phillip H. Farfel.

"We have to make sure the test scores are accurate," Dr. Amprey said. "[The report] is incomplete."

Dr. Amprey and Mr. Schmoke yesterday said the report must now be updated, and the researchers' preliminary findings amended to reflect the scores.

EAI has had a preview of some of the test results at its schools and some of its officials have been briefed on the recommendations of the independent evaluator, company spokeswoman Lory Sutton said yesterday. Since the briefing, the company has been asked to provide additional information to the researchers, she said.

EAI is also doing its own assessment of the test results.

A panel headed by Joseph Appel, company's assessment chief, will analyze the standardized test scores from the 1994-1995 academic year and report when the city releases its own results, according to a spokeswoman, Claudia Dowling.

"We do not have all of the information yet," Ms. Dowling said yesterday, "but we're working on it."

The EAI panel will include some members who served on a company-appointed evaluation committee that analyzed last year's achievement tests.

At that time, the firm threw out the lowest scores, saying they were skewing overall results. The panel concluded that city students performed better on the tests than had been reported. The city reimbursed EAI $10,000 for the cost of the evaluation.

Since EAI took over operation of nine city schools three years ago, the experiment has been regularly criticized.

Some critics say without dramatic improvement in academic performance -- there has been little -- the city had made a bad investment.

At the same time, EAI has been praised by some for improving its buildings and enhancing the self-esteem of students.

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