Text by Vanessa de la Torre, Hartford Courant; video by Jan Carabeo, Fox CT
HARTFORD — The school system has placed two administrators at Betances Early Reading Lab School on paid leave while it conducts an internal investigation into tampering on the 2013 Connecticut Mastery Test.
The city board of education was informed that Betances Principal Immacula Didier and Linda Liss-Bronstein, Betances’ literacy coach and dean of professional development, are on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, said Matthew Poland, the board’s chairman.
Didier and Liss-Bronstein could not be reached for comment Monday night.
A recent state probe conducted by the Hartford law firm of Siegel, O’Connor, O’Donnell & Beck confirmed that hundreds of answers on the state standardized exam were altered at Betances, but did not identify who may have tampered with the tests.
The report, released earlier this month, noted that Didier, Liss-Bronstein and a head custodian were the only school employees with keys to a “secure” storage closet where CMT materials were kept. The custodian told investigators that he “never accessed the closet during the CMT and only had a key because he has keys to all doors for emergency purposes.”
In a letter to Betances families last week, Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said the district appointed Delores Cole as interim principal. Cole is a former longtime principal of Noah Webster MicroSociety Magnet School.
“We took this necessary action to avoid any disruptions or distractions to your child’s education at Betances while the district investigates CMT testing irregularities that occurred last spring,” Kishimoto wrote. “We appreciate your understanding and cooperation during this difficult period.”
The state’s investigation, which cost $20,000, focused on third-grade reading tests taken in March at the pre-kindergarten-to-Grade 3 school that specializes in early literacy.
One teacher, describing “Student D,” said she expected the student to score poorly on the test because the child has “an extremely hard time recognizing words and comprehending text.”
When advised that the student changed answers 26 times, and that 25 of those erasures resulted in wrong answers changed to right answers, the report says the teacher “could not believe it … She did not feel it was possible.” Two other Betances teachers expressed similar reactions to their students’ test results.
Liss-Bronstein, however, told investigators that “the number of erasure marks did not surprise her because she expected that the students would recognize their mistakes and correct them, therefore, she expected that there would be a great deal of erasure marks.”
Figuring out who altered the tests and any discipline will be left to Hartford public schools, according to the report, which also urged the school district to prohibit all staff at Betances from administering the 2014 state standardized exam. The state has invalidated Betances’ 2013 scores.
Poland said the board wants to hire an outside firm to lead Hartford’s internal investigation.
Last year, Liss-Bronstein and many Betances teachers received a $2,500 performance bonus for the school’s high scores on the 2012 mastery reading tests. The principal, Didier, received a $10,000 bonus from the district.