Baltimore Hires Data Forensics Firm to Oversee Testing

Baltimore school officials might have never read Kim Dancy’s assessment of the pitfalls of high-stakes testing and how to eliminate them in the Georgetown Public Policy Review, but they’re following her advice anyway.

According to The Baltimore Sun, district officials have contracted with a data forensics company to oversee the integrity of the exams administered in the district schools, as well as review the test result data going back to 2009. The officials said that outside expertise was needed to make sure that the ongoing investigation into alleged cheating going on in the city is fair and thorough.

However, not everyone views bringing in outsiders as a good thing. The contract was greeted with criticism from the president of the city’s principals union which says that the officials can’t really justify spending the $275,000 when the district is fiscally suffering.

“The children of Baltimore City deserve a CEO who is focused on education, not one who is determined to win at all costs because he cannot bear to admit that he was wrong,” Jimmy Gittings, the union president, said in a statement.

Caveon TestSecurity, whose hiring was approved by the city school board, have experience untangling situations where cheating was alleged in both Atlanta and Washington D.C. The company’s first task will be to review nearly 6,000 test booklets from the Maryland School Assessments administered in 2009 and another 2,000 booklets from the same test in 2010.

Alonso’s administration launched investigations into alleged cheating at more than a dozen city schools that saw test scores plunge in the past three years, and school officials contend the Caveon review will help to expedite those investigations. Already Alonso has dismissed several principals at schools suspected of cheating.

The conclusions of this investigation have come under scrutiny recently after the firings of the principal and assistant principal of the implicated school were reversed by independent hearing officers who found that there wasn’t enough evidence to justify the dismissal.

Those officers recommended that Angela Faltz, the principal of Abbottston Elementary, be reinstated, citing what they characterized as a flawed investigation by the school system.

The school board recently reinstated Faltz, though not until 2013 and without back pay. Gittings said Alonso “bullied” the school board to reject the recommendations by hearing officers that Faltz be reinstated immediately.

Baltimore is just the latest city to have its improvements in academic achievement undermined by cheating accusations. Education officials in D.C. have been investigating testing irregularities in several of the city schools, with a recent report by the D.C. Inspector General finding definitive proof of cheating at Noyes Education Campus. In another ongoing investigation in Atlanta, Georgia, where 180 teachers were fired or suspended after evidence of massive cheating conspiracy was published by Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the new superintendent recently cleared 12 to return to work after he found that the evidence used to fire them was insufficient.