BALTIMORE - It's been hailed as a national blue ribbon school of excellence. Now, it's making the news for all the wrong reasons.
An extensive report reveals widespread cheating at the Baltimore City elementary school. George Washington Elementary has been the pride of Baltimore.
The school has been recognized for making huge strides. Improving test scores among students led to a national blue ribbon of excellence award in 2007.
The school even welcomed then first lady Laura Bush for a special visit in 2005. Susan Burgess was the principal during those years. During the 2005 visit, she told ABC2, “It was nice to have her come here and visit our program, we're proud of everything we do here."
But Burgess is now under fire. Her license was recently revoked after an 18 month investigation revealed extensive cheating on Maryland State Assessment tests in 2007. Students had scored 100 percent in reading and almost 99 percent in math.
But according to investigators, thousands of test responses had been erased and corrected. Dr. Andres Alonso, city schools CEO says, "Somebody got far too smart for their own good in terms of what happened here because they thought they could get away with it in part because I believe they had been getting away with it for a while."
Dr. Nancy Grasmick, state schools superintendent says, "This is a tragedy for this school, for this community."
The investigation began when a parent complained about allegations regarding test tampering.
The principal was interviewed, but she would not say who changed the answers. Dr. Alonso says regardless of who did it, he holds the principal accountable and that's why he had her license revoked. Dr. Alonso says, "Whether the principal knows about it, it becomes irrelevant because there should be a presumption that the leader of a school is responsible and actual knowledge to me is far less important than their responsbility to know."
Dr. Grasmick says, "When an incident like this occurs, we do not want the perception to be extended to other schools and say well the achievement of other schools is just a fluke. That is not the case."
In fact, school officials say student test scores were good enough to meeting yearly progress requirements, so there was no reason to cheat. Dr. Alonso says, "Somebody did not believe in our kids, someone did not believe in our teachers, someone did not believe in the normal trajectory of progress. Someone did something that I consider to be egregious."
Dr. Alonso hopes it sends a strong message to other schools that cheating will not be tolerated.
He visited George Washington elementary Thursday morning before releasing the report to talk to teachers and the principal.
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