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Report eyes District 24 test misconduct

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The investigators could not confirm whether the final scores on the February 2003 statewide test reflected any upward revision, according to a letter from the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District Richard Condon. But the school’s scores on the test that measures English language achievement rose precipitously between 2002 and 2003.

The findings were released just days after the city Department of Education announced that more than 1,000 third-graders may have to retake the English-language portion of a different 2004 exam because some schools used copies of last year’s test, which contained questions that were carried over.

During her unprecedented review of the 2003 test, Audrey Murphy, the principal of PS 16, singled out more than 10 test booklets with scores of zero or one on the four-point grading scale and asked that they be regraded, according to investigators.

Murphy, who is still the principal of PS 16, did not return a phone call to her office requesting comment. But during interviews with investigators, Murphy said she was only concerned that her students were given a fair shake, the letter said.

“Murphy asserted that by having the tests looked at again she felt that she was doing the best she could for the children in order for them to get the proper recognition that they deserved,” the report said.

Murphy examined the 2003 tests, Condon’s letter said, with the permission of former District 24 Superintendent Joseph Quinn, who was also up for a salary bonus.

It is unclear what the amount of the bonuses was, but both have been withheld pending further investigation, the investigator’s letter said.

Quinn was reappointed by Klein in 2002, after a contentious battle with the school board, which refused to review Quinn’s contract. Before that, Quinn had been superintendent for 13 years. While some praised his performance, most members of the school board at that time blamed him for chronically low test scores and stagnation in the region.

Former District 24 Deputy Superintendent Catherine Powis helped create the structure whereby Murphy was able to review the test booklets that, according to state guidelines, were to be sealed in boxes and opened only by trained test graders, the letter said.

“It is clear that Quinn and Powis failed to ensure that District 24 used uniform procedures in scoring the (exam),” Condon wrote in the letter to city schools Chancellor Joel Klein. “Murphy’s students’ tests were reviewed in a manner not consistent with the remainder of the district and city. Moreover, tests that received low scores were re-reviewed with the sole purpose of having tests rescored.” Condon’s letter noted that none of the higher-scoring tests were targeted for regrading.

According to state Department of Education figures, only 33.7 percent of fourth-graders at PS 16 at 41-15 104th St in Corona met state standards for reading and language arts in 2002. In 2003, that percentage climbed to 54.7 percent.

The fourth-grade tests were used only to check compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act and to create state school report cards, Department of Education spokesman Paul Rose said, so the students, who are now in fifth grade, will not have to repeat it.

Nevertheless, Rose said the Department of Education takes the charges against the Corona principal seriously and will continue to investigate. “We will meet with the individuals involved and make a decision on the disciplinary action,” he said.

There are currently no legal charges pending against the administrators.

Quinn, who is now a local superintendent in the city’s redesigned region 4, did not return a phone call requesting comment.

Meanwhile, as many as 1,300 third-grade students who used last year’s test to prepare for the 2004 third-grade English exam, which determines eligibility for the fourth grade, will have to retake the test May 12 or have their scores recalculated omitting the repeat questions, the Department of Education announced April 28.

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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