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City's education data czar leaving for similar post in Baltimore

The Department of Education will start 2012 without a longtime official who has supervised number-crunching about test scores.

Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, a two-decade veteran of the city schools who is currently a senior advisor to Chancellor Dennis Walcott, was picked last week to be Baltimore’s first schools “achievement and accountability officer.” Starting Jan. 3, she will head data efforts for Superintendent Andres Alonso, himself a product of New York City’s central schools administration. (She is already listed as chief accountability officer on Baltimore Public Schools’ website.)

The city will select a replacement within a month to take over Bell-Ellwanger’s responsibilities, which include managing research and analysis about the city schools and working with the state to align the two education departments’ policy agendas.

“She has built a strong and effective team, and I’m confident the DOE will remain in good hands,” Walcott said in a statement. “I thank Jennifer for her contributions and look forward to seeing all the great work that comes out of Baltimore.”

Bell-Ellwanger’s departure comes just weeks after the state’s seven-year data chief, David Abrams, resigned abruptly. His resignation followed the leak of a memo about much longer state tests. The two departures leave the city and state with key vacancies at a time when efforts to revamp assessment programs are ramping up.

The overhaul efforts are meant in large part to address a yawning gap between what state and city accountability measures have said about student performance and what other measures, such as the NAEP exam and college completion rates, suggest. Bell-Ellwanger has defended the city’s assessment of its own performance against critics. In 2009, she levied an eight-page, point-by-point response to an op/ed by Diane Ravitch that argued that the DOE was incorrect to claim that schools had improved significantly since Bloomberg took control of them.

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