Friday, October 31, 2008

School’s Success Story Gives Way to Doubt

This from the Charleston Post and Courier:
Former Sanders-Clyde Elementary School Principal MiShawna Moore can't sleep or eat, and she can't escape bad dreams or anxiety attacks.

Since she learned last month that the State Law Enforcement Division had opened an investigation into the authenticity of her former school's test scores, Moore's life has been put on hold. She compared it to a death sentence.

"All I do is wake up and think about this and think about how this has impacted my life," Moore said. "I mean, it's like a bad nightmare, and I'm just waiting on waking up from it."

This from the New York Times:

CHARLESTON, S.C. — MiShawna Moore has been a hero in the worn neighborhoods behind this city’s venerable mansions, a school principal who fed her underprivileged students, clothed them, found presents for them at Christmas and sometimes roused neglectful parents out of bed in the nearby housing projects.

As test scores rocketed at her school, Sanders-Clyde Elementary, the city held her up as a model. The United Way and the Rotary Club honored her, The Charleston Post and Courier called her a “miracle worker,” and the state singled out her school to compete for a national award. In Washington, the Department of Education gave the school $25,000 for its achievements.

Somehow, Ms. Moore had transformed one of Charleston’s worst schools into one of its best, a rare breakthrough in a city where the state has deemed more than half the schools unsatisfactory. It seemed almost too good to be true.

It may have been. The state has recently started a criminal investigation into test scores at Ms. Moore’s school, seeking to determine whether a high number of erasure marks on the tests indicates fraud.

Ms. Moore, who has denied any wrongdoing, has taken a job out of state, leaving behind hurt feelings and wounded pride in a city of race and class divisions as old as the time-mellowed neighborhoods in this Old South shrine.

The public schools here are 98 percent African-American, and nearly 20 percent of the city’s population was below the poverty level in the 2000 census...

...Even as parents, students and some teachers rally around her, the school district that once championed Ms. Moore says it is waiting on the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Sanders-Clyde Elementary under Ms. Moore “became a symbol of what can be achieved with the proper attention,” said the schools superintendent, Nancy J. McGinley. “That’s why this situation is so distressing. It really, I think, has been hurtful to the entire community.” ...

...But whispers began when the test scores rose, and some wondered if the success was really possible. Sanders-Clyde students struggled when they went to other schools. Ms. Kusmider was dumbfounded to find her son’s friend, a student at the school, having great difficulty reading. “I said, ‘What’s going on?

You’re under MiShawna Moore,’ ” she said. “I was very angry.”

Another parent, Tanika Bausley, recalled, “It was hard for me to believe the scores that my daughter had, knowing the struggles she was having,” adding that her child had a “borderline learning disability.”

After testing in 2007, the state noticed an unusually high number of erasure marks — as many as seven per child — with the erasures becoming correct answers. “That became a concern, because the likelihood of that happening is very small,” said Ms. Rose, the district official, noting that the average was around one such mark.

This year, after the tests were closely monitored, the scores plummeted. Suddenly, 44.4 percent of third graders taking the state science test met the state standard, compared with 84.6 percent in 2007. Many teachers said afterward that the presence of the auditors themselves — “cold and very distant,” as one put it — negatively influenced the scores.

The school district is not so sure.

“All the evidence is pointing in the direction of something happening,” Ms. Rose said. “The fact that she left doesn’t make it look any better. People sort of fill in the blanks.”

Ms. Moore, speaking to the television interviewer, said, “I had nothing to do with the allegations that are being made in the newspaper against me and Sanders-Clyde.” ...

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