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State Investigating Possible CMT Cheating At Hartford School

Ohanian Comment: The school in question for "cheating on the Connecticut Mastery Tests" is PreK-3.

School officials promise "our commitment to valid and accurate student assessments."

There's plenty of research showing that standardized tests of such young children can NEVER be "valid and accurate."

I mis-read the following paragraph as "to teach test strategies" and had to read it three times to get it "right"--though I'm not convinced I wasn't acutally correct the first time:

Betances staffers are hired for their specialty in reading and use the classrooms -- at least one is equipped with two video cameras -- to test teaching strategies that are shared with educators around the city, school administrators said last year.

Notice the role played by salary bonuses. When corporate values rule, you get corporate malfeasance.

Not mentioned in the article: 99% of children attending Betances Elementary School are eligible for free and reduced lunch.

But to suggest that poverty just might affect reading scores would be proffering an "excuse."

From the school's website:

8:15 am ΓΆ€“ 3:25 pm
Khaki pants, white shirts, navy blue sweater
Our uniform policy lets students focus on education. It also encourages them to dress in appropriate college-ready attire.

What People Are Saying
Students Say: "I want to live at the school so I can read all of my favorite books."

That student remark is the one ray of sunshine in this sorry tale.

by Vanessa de la Torre

HARTFORD -- The state Department of Education announced Thursday it was launching an investigation into possible cheating on the mastery test at a Hartford elementary school.

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said the department retained the law firm of Siegel, O'Connor, O'Donnell and Beck P.C. to investigate "potential irregularities detected on Betances Elementary School's 2013 Connecticut Mastery Tests."

The same law firm conducted a 2011 investigation of cheating at Waterbury's Hopeville Elementary School, which posted remarkably high test scores that year. Since then, the state has stepped up its protocols to detect unusual results on the standardized exams administered to thousands of public school students in Connecticut.

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and school board Chairman Matthew Poland released a statement Thursday pledging the district's cooperation and "our commitment to valid and accurate student assessments."

"We take the concerns of testing irregularities very seriously," the statement read. Kishimoto and Poland said they "are totally committed to a full and swift investigation and to holding any responsible individual(s) accountable" if cheating is uncovered at the school.

Kishimoto could not be reached directly for comment.

Betances, a prekindergarten to grade 3 neighborhood school known as Betances Early Reading Lab, has been the research hub for Hartford's early literacy effort called the Third Grade Promise. Kishimoto pledged in 2011 that students who enter pre-K or kindergarten at a city school will be expected to read at grade level by the end of third grade.

Betances was designed to be the district's model for best practices and professional development in early literacy, and in 2012, the CMT reading score for the Charter Oak Avenue school skyrocketed.

Last week, the state notified Kishimoto of possible irregularities on the 2013 mastery exam and "we asked them to get outside investigators to do a full investigation," Poland said in an interview. "They've got to determine whether there's been any adult interference with student assessments, and if so, what occurred."

Statewide scores for the March exam were released to the public Tuesday.

Kelly Donnelly, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, declined to comment on whether the state would also be reviewing Betances' 2012 scores. Hartford schools spokesman David Medina also declined further comment, citing the "pending investigation for which no conclusions have been reached."

In 2012, Betances' reading gain on the mastery test was an increase of 35.9 points on Hartford's Overall School Index, a metric system that rates schools based on standardized test scores.

It was easily the biggest one-year OSI jump of any city school in the district's history, and one that school officials touted at the time.

Only 19 percent of Betances third-graders met the state's reading goal in 2011. When third-graders at the school took the 2012 exam, 74 percent achieved mastery in reading.

Betances staffers are hired for their specialty in reading and use the classrooms -- at least one is equipped with two video cameras -- to test teaching strategies that are shared with educators around the city, school administrators said last year.

Betances Principal Immacula Didier received a $10,000 performance bonus from the district last September for the OSI gain. Attempts to reach Didier were unsuccessful Thursday.

Currently, the state's online database for CMT results does not list Betances' scores for 2012 and 2013.

"We will provide updates on the progress of this investigation at appropriate times," Pryor said.

While test scores are only one measure of a school's success, they are particularly high-stakes in Hartford, where administrators try to arrange their summer vacations so they can be here for the results. A significant boost in scores can lead to performance bonuses for an entire school staff, including guidance counselors and cafeteria workers, and more autonomy for a principal.

Last fall, about 960 employees districtwide received $2.02 million in group performance bonuses for growth on the OSI in the 2011-12 year. Teachers at schools that show major improvement generally receive $2,500 bonuses.

Performance pay was one of the district's reform initiatives implemented under former Superintendent Steven Adamowski in 2008. Bonuses for test score gains are built into many of the school system's employee contracts, including agreements with the Hartford Federation of Teachers and the Hartford Principals and Supervisors' Association.

In Waterbury, investigators concluded in a 44-page report that there was "sufficient credible evidence" that the Hopeville school principal told teachers to improperly coach students during the mastery exam, such as instructing children to "check your work" if their answers were wrong. The principal, Maria Moulthrop, eventually resigned.

After the Hopeville investigation, the state Department of Education "determined that there was a need to enhance efforts to detect future irregularities in Connecticut schools," Pryor said in a prepared statement Thursday evening.

"Therefore, we implemented additional protocols to strengthen the monitoring process, including the flagging of instances where further review and investigating might be warranted."

Pryor declined to elaborate because of the pending investigation at Betances.

Courant researcher Tina Lender contributed to this report.

— Vanessa de la Torre
Hartford Courant





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