Teachers accused of rigging exam City instructors alleged to have helped pupils cheat on Md. test

State officials found problem

Anomalies also found in Balto. Co., Talbot, Frederick and P.G.

March 02, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Eric Siegel contributed to this article.

Teachers in five city schools breached the security of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program test last spring and helped students cheat, ultimately jeopardizing city test results, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said yesterday.

Testifying before the House Appropriations Committee, Dr. Grasmick said that when her department's investigation is finished, scores for the five schools will have to be adjusted -- seemingly downward. Citywide, test scores showed only "minuscule" progress, she said.

State testing officials discovered the cheating after they took a closer look at schools that recorded large increases in scores last year, said Ron Pfeifer, spokesman for the state Department of Education. In some city schools, teachers supplied answers, and in others the students appeared to be so poorly monitored that pupils could share answers, he said.

At least 10 teachers and about 200 city students were involved in the security breaches, Dr. Grasmick testified.

City teachers who supplied answers make up 97 percent of the teachers statewide who violated the security of the high-stakes tests, Dr. Grasmick said.

Four other districts -- Baltimore, Frederick, Prince George's and Talbot counties -- also showed test irregularities.

The state is considering how to punish the teachers, she said.

In response to Dr. Grasmick's allegations of testing irregularities, city schools Superintendent Walter G. Amprey issued a statement saying the schools' administration was "very concerned but given the size of Baltimore's teacher corps -- more than 6,000 -- the potential problems here appear to be small."

The performance assessment test is taken annually in every public school's third, fifth and eighth grades. The tests, which show what schoolchildren know and whether they can apply that knowledge, are the cornerstone of the state's reform efforts.

By 2000, 70 percent of students at every public school are expected to score satisfactorily on the test.

Dr. Grasmick also testified that no progress had been made recently on a proposed city-state partnership to restructure the troubled city school system.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said he was "seriously disappointed" by the news. He had threatened several weeks ago to withhold $14.6 million from the city schools next year if the city and state did not come to terms by yesterday.

And although Mr. Rawlings did not move to withhold the money, he also pledged not "to sit idly by under these circumstances."

Dr. Grasmick said, "There is a very significant problem in the operation of the Baltimore City schools, and I'm before you somewhat disappointed that there has not been more aggressive progress" in a plan to correct it.

"I do very much want to go forward," she said.

Under questioning, she conceded that she had not met in weeks with Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke on the plan to eliminate the city school board and the superintendent's position in lieu of a more corporate structure.

In return for these changes, three long-standing city schools' lawsuits would be dropped and the state would funnel more money into the city schools, according to earlier reports of the negotiations.

Mr. Schmoke said this week that he and other officials were awaiting a second meeting with Mr. Glendening, whose participation was needed to resolve the city's concern over school funding.

"My sense is that the governor has just been tied up with his legislative agenda," he said.

Frederick W. Puddester, the governor's deputy chief of staff, concurred. "We've been unable to get another meeting scheduled," he said, but one will be arranged "to move this along."

Mr. Rawlings was dismayed by the delay. "These three are not working to solve this serious educational crisis. It really doesn't offer great hope to the children of the city," he said.

Mr. Rawlings said he would meet with other members of the committee soon to consider the next move. Budget talks begin Friday, he said.

"We get no pleasure in taking money from school systems, but it is the only consequence that we have available to us. Taxpayer money is not being effectively and efficiently used," he said.

The proposed city share of state school aid for next year is $424 million.

Mr. Rawlings also has filed a bill asking legislators to cut permanently from Baltimore's current budget $5.9 million they withheld to prompt changes at school headquarters. They designated the money to be withheld from administrative salaries and benefits, but school officials say this does not prevent students from being deprived.

Mr. Schmoke reiterated that he would oppose withholding money from the school system.

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