Principal resigns from D.C. charter school accused of cheating

June 21, 2013

The principal of Meridian Public Charter School is resigning in the wake of allegations of test-tampering on 2012 standardized tests, according to a document Meridian officials submitted to the D.C. Public Charter School Board.

The document, a “remedial action plan” prepared by Meridian’s board of trustees, lists the principal’s June 26 departure as one of 10 steps officials will take to ensure that cheating does not occur on future tests.

Meridian’s trustees decided not to fire any teachers. Any wrongdoing on the part of teachers was “more attributable to inadequate training and oversight as opposed to a conscious effort” to cheat, the document says.

The school plans to improve teacher training and revise testing procedures in coming months.

Christopher Siddall, chairman of the board of trustees, declined to comment on Meridian’s plan. Siddall is scheduled to present the plan Monday at a meeting of the D.C. Public Charter School Board.

Meridian was among four charters that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education flagged in April for possible cheating on 2012 standardized tests.

Five Meridian classrooms — representing more than 40 percent of tested students — were implicated. Teachers and proctors allegedly explained test questions and urged students to review their answers on certain questions.

Meridian’s students also had an inexplicably high number of wrong-to-right erasures on answer sheets. Across the entire school, 1,084 answers were changed from wrong to right — one of the highest levels in the city. Administrators could not explain this when questioned by outside consultants enlisted by the OSSE.

Meridian made impressive academic gains, according to the results of those tests, which showed 62 percent of students proficient in math and 57 percent proficient in reading. Those scores have been invalidated.

The school’s remedial action plan says that Ten Square — a consulting firm led by Josh Kern, a former D.C. charter school leader — will lead a national search for a new principal. Ten Square, under a $28,000 contract with Meridian, will also conduct a school audit to give trustees “a deeper sense of school operations, best practices being used, and additional areas of concern.”

In addition, the school plans to strengthen its evaluations for teachers and administrators, recruit two new board members with academic expertise and simulate the administration of standardized tests twice before the real test in spring 2014.

At each of the other three charters flagged for cheating, problems were isolated to one classroom. Representatives from those schools told the board in May that teachers and administrators who cheated are no longer employed.

Seven traditional schools were also flagged for test-tampering. “Our investigations continue to ensure we have the sufficient information to take the appropriate personnel actions,” said Melissa Salmanowitz, a spokeswoman for the D.C. school system.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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