Baltimore school test scores cut after state probe At least 22 teachers punished; actions tied to alleged cheating

THE BALTIMORE SUN

State and city school officials have lowered the state test scores recorded by several Baltimore schools in 1995 and punished at least 22 teachers, in a series of actions that sources link to a continuing and controversial probe into allegations of cheating.

The revisions at some city schools cut so deep that the entire city average dropped on the 1995 Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests, which are used to judge school quality.

The lowered scores came to light after The Sun examined MSPAP results published last month by the city.

The state would not confirm that the changes were related to the cheating investigation. However, city school administrators and the Baltimore Teachers Union linked the amended scores at many of the schools to the year-old state investigation.

Among the schools with reduced scores are Tench Tilghman Elementary, which was lauded by the State Department of Education when its marks rose in 1995, and Glenmount, the city's top-performing elementary school.

At Glenmount, for example, 87.5 percent of fifth-graders taking the math received satisfactory scores in 1995; the state has lowered that score to 62.3 percent. The state reduced the school's third-grade science scores from 95.7 percent earning satisfactory to 20.3 percent.

State school officials lowered scores also at Rognel Heights, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Collington Square, Cherry Hill and Walter P. Carter elementaries, and at Thurgood Marshall Middle School No. 170.

Yesterday, it was unclear how many of the eight were subjects ZTC of the cheating investigation. At least 22 teachers' cases in the city have been resolved, with about 15 ending in suspensions with loss of pay and others ending in reprimands, sources said.

Neither the state nor the city has identified the teachers or the schools involved.

"Because these are issues that involve personnel matters, and to protect the confidentiality of those involved, we are not able to elaborate any further on the details of specific schools or specific cases," said Charles Herndon, a spokesman for the State Department of Education.

Allegations of 1995 test security violations were first reported in March, when state Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick described them at a legislative hearing in Annapolis. She told the House Appropriations Com- mittee that "irregularities" were found in tests taken by students in Baltimore and in Baltimore, Frederick, Prince George's and Talbot counties.

The scores at affected schools might have to be adjusted, she told the legislators.

Yesterday, state Education Department lawyers advised her not comment while cases are pending.

Through negotiations involving the union, city and state, the allegations against the teachers do not appear in their personnel records, said Christyne Neff, an attorney who represented members of the Baltimore Teachers Union.

"The charges were withdrawn" in settlements that resulted after the union had challenged the state's cases against many of the teachers, calling them weak and unfounded, Neff said. Many of the teachers accepted the settlements because they feared the state might try to take their teaching certificates, she said.

The teachers who received reprimands have filed grievances against the city over them, Neff added.

'Should have known better'

Schools Superintendent Walter G. Amprey declined to discuss the specific cases or comment on the revised test scores. He said that although there was disagreement about the allegations and whether cheating occurred, "tests were mishandled, and punishments were instituted. We took the position that the teachers should have known better."

Officials' silence makes it difficult to determine what happened.

State school officials spot-checked test booklets completed by students only in schools that recorded unusually high improvement on the six-part tests, they said in March.

At that time, spokesmen said some of the teachers were accused of lax monitoring during the testing, which allowed children to copy from one another's work. In other cases, the state alleged teachers interfered in some way.

In one case, for example, a teacher allegedly altered a test booklet after a student finished taking the test, said sources close to the investigation.

In a number of other cases, sources said, testing officials who examined the booklets found groups in which students gave similar answers to test questions. Although they cannot determine exactly how this happened, teachers are held accountable.

School sources said there was no evidence of a widespread conspiracy -- there are more than 6,000 teachers in the city, and accusations were made against only a small fraction of them. In some schools there may have been a single teacher, and in others there may have been more.

Although some city educators say their schools have put the ordeal in the past, bitterness prevails -- especially at schools whose reputations for excellence were besmirched.

Teachers' 'integrity'

"I believe in the integrity of my teachers," said Elizabeth Turner, principal of Tench Tilghman Elementary in East Baltimore.

She said that morale suffered, and that the school was growing past the difficulties that the state's accusations brought for a school that has been a national model for helping at-risk children achieve.

"There is no acceptance of the allegations. There was no admission of guilt. My interest is in protecting the reputation of my school and our programs, which have been proven effective," Turner said.

She had anticipated that 1995 scores might be lowered, but did not learn how deep the cuts would be until the adjusted numbers were published by the city last month, she said.

The mystery of the adjusted test scores surfaced when The Sun began analyzing city and state report cards published last month.

On Dec. 23, The Sun published city 1996 MSPAP scores with original 1995 results for comparison, all provided by the state. Afterward, the city published the revised scores, prompting The Sun's inquiry into the discrepancy.

Pub Date: 1/08/97

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