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Probe into Regents grading finds misconduct, but not cheating

A 2010 decision about how to grade Regents exams that a Bronx assistant principal made under pressure has landed him and a teacher in trouble with the city and state.

The decision, to have a teacher grade her own class’s Regents exams when no other teachers were available, has also drawn scrutiny to the scores. After state officials regraded the exams, they found that nearly half had received inflated scores and a quarter of students passed when they should have failed.

The findings are detailed in a report released today that sheds light on the inner workings of the state’s investigative unit, until this year an opaque component of the State Education Department. It also suggests that efforts to tighten test security could run into roadblocks in the form of individual schools’ practical realities.

The investigation began at the state level when David Abrams, the state’s testing director at the time, received a letter about “suspicious patterns in the students’ scores” from a former principal at the school in question, Bronx Collegiate Academy. The state department receives hundreds of allegations per year that are either logged through an anonymous hotline or directly to the Office of Assessment. Beyond that, there is no clear chain of responsibility.

In this case, Abrams asked Richard Condon, the city’s special commissioner of investigation to look into the matter. SCI in turn referred the case to the DOE’s Office of Special Investigations.

According to the report, Darryl White, an AP and testing coordinator at Bronx Collegiate, gave the go-ahead to Emso Asemota to grade her students’ 2010 Integrated Algebra Regents exam without the assistance of a co-grader. Investigators concluded that White violated state regulations in issuing the instruction and Asemota violated the rules by following White’s orders.

But the investigators could not conclude whether the inflated scores that Asemota’s students received were the result of outright cheating. Regrading showed that Asemota had given 44 percent of students higher grades than they deserved, and seven of the 26 students who passed should have failed.

White told investigators the decision to have Asemota grade her own students’ exams was made out of necessity: In the small school, there simply weren’t other teachers available who were qualified to grade the tests.

White said he was put in charge of the school after the former principal, Ryan Scallon, went on leave for the majority of the summer school session, which included the August Regents. White said the reason he instructed Asemota to grade her tests was because he was short on staff to assist her and he did not want to dip into a college prep program that risked losing money if teachers dropped out of it.

Regulating grey area cases such as this one is the purpose of what the state education department is currently working on. In October, NYSED committed to overhauling how it handles cheating allegations as well as how it administers and grades tests. An independent investigator is currently auditing hundreds of allegations over the years that were logged in recent years and is tasked with coming up with recommendations on new policies and procedures around the tests.

White and Asemota each received letters in their permanent files detailing the violations and they will have to share the information with any future employers.

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