EAI fails to improve test scores

June 17, 1994|By Gary Gately and JoAnna Daemmrich | Gary Gately and JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writers

Baltimore's ambitious Tesseract school privatization experiment has failed to significantly improve elementary school student performance in the two years since Education Alternatives Inc. took over the schools, test results released yesterday show.

Overall average scores for the eight elementary schools this spring declined in reading and rose slightly in math, compared with results from spring 1992, before EAI took over the schools.

The results drew radically different interpretations from opponents and defenders of EAI, a for-profit company based in Minneapolis.

"The bottom line is we have not gotten the kids in these schools back to where they were before EAI, and they certainly have not shown the kind of dramatic growth we were promised, said Irene Dandridge, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union and an EAI critic.

But officials of the city school system and EAI called the results encouraging. They noted that after falling during EAI's first year, scores in math and reading improved this spring on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills.

"These test scores indicate that this program is working," Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said at a news conference. "We think that given where we were before we embarked on [Tesseract] that the likelihood would have been that these schools would have been going down, that there would have been a decline."

Earlier yesterday, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke ruled out any chance of EAI taking over noninstructional services at other city schools without a drastic change in the existing funding formula. A proposal to turn over the management of three more elementary schools in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood has been put off until fall, he said.

"We can only continue doing EAI if we did a dramatic change in the whole budget," Mr. Schmoke said. "Sure, you could eliminate administration altogether. There's a way of contracting out an entire system. But that's not what we plan to do."

Mayor Schmoke also said he's been told by some community leaders and council members that "folks at the three schools at Sandtown felt pressured to seek EAI as a partner." Mr. Schmoke said Dr. Amprey had been told otherwise but needed to "get to the bottom of that and find out the truth."

Dr. Amprey, whose third school year at the helm ends today, said he's confident test scores at the Tesseract schools will rise during the rest of the company's five-year contract.

The superintendent and EAI officials say they expect significant improvements in test scores by next spring. Some other educators agree that most reform efforts start yielding bigger gains in the third year.

Dr. Amprey minimized the importance of tests alone, however, as a measure of the effort's success. Tesseract, Dr. Amprey said, has markedly improved the condition of the schools, added technology, increased parental involvement and improved attitudes of teachers, parents and students.

"We probably pay far too much attention to standardized test scores," he said. "But it's a game we must play."

Among critics, however, the results heightened doubts about whether the experiment would improve student performance.

A majority of the 19-member City Council now opposes any further expansion of EAI's role. The Baltimore Teachers Union and several council members said the results bolster their opposition to spending millions more to expand EAI's role to other city schools.

"If we were going do no better, we could have done it without paying for profits, corporate travel and all these things," Ms. Dandridge said.

"I think the results clearly demonstrate that it's not the booming success they've made it out to be," said City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd. "Clearly we can't expand this program unless we get more significant results."

Others, noting that Tesseract schools receive more money than most others in the city, renewed their call for giving non-EAI schools the same amount per pupil to see if those schools show more dramatic gains than those run by the company.

"We're now running two separate and distinct systems, one quite richer than the other," said Councilman Carl Stokes, a 2nd District Democrat who chairs the council's education committee.

Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, a 4th District Democrat who represents the Sandtown-Winchester area, vowed last night to resist any attempts to turn over the three neighborhood schools.

"We haven't gotten the results to justify any additional schools going with EAI," she said. "Some of us are very adamant about it and we've made it very clear to Dr. Amprey and the mayor."

Comparisons between EAI schools and others for this spring's tests could not be made because the school system released results only for the eight Tesseract elementary schools. Results for the remainder of the district should be released within two weeks, Dr. Amprey said.

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