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Principal Returning Amid Scrutiny

Vanessa de la Torre

August 27, 2013

Betances Early Reading Lab students returning for the first day of school Tuesday will continue to have Immacula Didier as their principal.

As city schools open for the 2013-14 academic year, greater scrutiny is expected at Betances after "potential irregularities" were detected on the 2013 Connecticut Mastery Test, according to the state.

The state Department of Education recently announced that it had retained the law firm of Siegel, O'Connor, O'Donnell and Beck to investigate possible cheating at Betances, a prekindergarten to grade 3 school that was designed as the model for Superintendent Christina Kishimoto's early literacy efforts.

State officials have released no details on the scope of the probe, including what triggered the investigation and when school staff might be interviewed. Betances third-graders took the standardized exam in March.

Didier, who received a $10,000 performance bonus last September for raising Betances' 2012 mastery scores, has not returned calls for comment.

While the current list of school principals includes Didier, schools spokesman David Medina refused to comment directly on her employment Monday. Medina referred to the list of principals and the district's original statement on Aug. 15 in which Kishimoto and school board Chairman Matthew Poland pledged the district's commitment to a "full and swift" investigation.

The state hired the same law firm that conducted a 2011 investigation of cheating at Waterbury's Hopeville Elementary School. More than 30 people, including Hopeville administrators and teachers, were interviewed for the 44-page report released in September 2011 that concluded students were improperly coached during the mastery test. Hopeville posted unusually high scores that year. After Hopeville, the state stepped up its efforts to detect irregularities on standardized exams, state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said.

"We implemented additional protocols to strengthen the monitoring process, including the flagging of instances where further review and investigating might be warranted," Pryor said in prepared remarks.

The state released its 2013 mastery scores on Aug. 13, except for Betances' results. The school's 2012 scores -- praised by district leaders last summer as an indicator of best practices in early literacy -- have been removed from the state's online database.

In 2012, 74 percent of Betances third-graders who took the CMT reached the mastery "goal" level in reading, compared to 19 percent of the school's 2011 third-graders.

The jump factored into an increase of 35.9 points for Betances on Hartford's Overall School Index, a metric system that the district uses to rate schools based on standardized test scores. It was the biggest gain in the district's OSI history -- the previous record for a city school was a 21.8-point OSI increase -- and led to Didier receiving the $10,000 bonus.

Teachers and staff at the Charter Oak Avenue school, the research hub for Kishimoto's Third Grade Promise initiative, also received group performance bonuses up to $2,500 each for the 2012 scores. Performance pay is built into many of the school system's employee contracts.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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