Assessment

Cheating Charges Roil N.J. District

By Lesli A. Maxwell — April 04, 2006 1 min read

At least two investigations are under way in the Camden, N.J., school district, where questions about irregularities on state tests and allegations of a cheating scheme have sparked anger.

Camden’s board of education agreed last week to hire a former prosecutor to look into whether the principal in the district’s best high school was pressured by an assistant superintendent to rig the results of a state test given to 11th graders last year, according to district spokesman Bart Leff.

The New Jersey Department of Education is conducting its own probe into the test-rigging allegations and is scrutinizing state test scores at two of Camden’s elementary schools.

U.S. Wiggins and H.B. Wilson elementary schools posted dramatic one-year gains last year, and the 4th grade mathematics scores at Wilson were the highest in New Jersey. Questions from reporters about the test results prompted the probe, said Jon Zlock, a spokesman for the state education department.

The department also is investigating test scores in 12 schools outside of Camden, but officials have declined to name them.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week that federal education officials were considering their own inquiry.

Camden, a poor district of roughly 17,000 students near Philadelphia, has been classified as needing improvement because of low test scores. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, a district’s failure to improve student performance on tests can result in sanctions, including a state takeover.

Joseph D. Carruth, the principal at Dr. Charles E. Brimm Medical Arts High School, has told state and local investigators that in January 2005, Assistant Superintendent Luis Pagan instructed him to alter scores on the state’s high school proficiency exam given to 11th graders in March of last year.

Mr. Pagan has denied Mr. Carruth’s allegations.

Officials with the Camden school district would not comment on any of the test-related allegations because they are under active investigation. Superintendent Annette D. Knox, however, has defended the results, saying the district’s academic programs and improved teaching practices drove test scores higher.

In a letter shown on the district’s cable television station, Ms. Knox wrote that questioning the veracity of the test results amounted to “hatred of poor people and people in Camden in particular.”

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A version of this article appeared in the April 05, 2006 edition of Education Week

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