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Apr 032013

This week, The New York Times reported that  former Atlanta Superintendent, Dr. Beverly L.  Hall was indicted along with 30+ other district staff members for wide-spread cheating on standardized tests.  While this may be one of the largest incidents of cheating on standardized tests, they are not alone. Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, blamed “test-crazed” education policies for the massive standardized-test cheating scandal. In a joint statement Tuesday, Weingarten and Verdaillia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, declared, “Standardized tests have a role in accountability, but today they dominate everything else and too often don’t even correlate to what students need to know to succeed.” They added that school districts in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere have put “enormous pressure” on teachers to improve scores.

See full story below:


A new survey by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing reports confirmed cases of test score manipulation in at least 37 states and Washington, D.C. in the past four academic years.  The group has documented   more than 50 ways schools improperly inflated their scores during that period. Below are examples taken from actual cases documented in government and reports. You can learn more here about the misuse of tests.

50 Ways to Cheat on Tests

Fail to store test materials securely
Encourage teachers to view test forms before they are administered
Teach to the test by ignoring subjects not on exam
Drill students on actual test items
Share test items on Internet before administration
Practice on copies of previously administered “secure” tests
Exclude likely low-scorers from enrolling in school
Hold-back low scorers from tested grade
“Leap-frog” promote some students over tested grade
Transfer likely low-scoring students to charter schools with no required tests
Push likely low scorers out of school or enroll them in GED programs
Falsify student identification numbers so low scorers are not assigned to correct demographic group
Urge low-scoring students to be absent on test day
Leave test materials out so students can see them before exam

During Testing
Let high-scorers take tests for others
Overlook “cheat sheets” students bring into classroom
Post hints (e.g. formulas, lists, etc) on walls or whiteboard
Write answers on black/white board, then erase before supervisor arrives
Allow students to look up information on web with electronic devices
Allow calculator use where prohibited
Ignore test-takers copying or sharing answers with each other
Permit students to go to restroom in groups
Shout out correct answers
Use thumbs up/thumbs down signals to indicate right and wrong responses
Tell students to “double check” erroneous responses
Give students notes with correct answers
Read “silent reading” passages out loud
Encourage students who have completed sections to work on others
Allow extra time to complete test
Leave classroom unattended during test
Warn staff if test security monitors are in school
Refuse to allow test security personnel access to testing rooms
Cover doors and windows of testing rooms to prevent monitoring
Give accommodations to students who didn’t officially request them

Allow students to “make up” portions of the exam they failed to complete
Invite staff to “clean up” answer sheets before transmittal to scoring company
Permit teachers to score own students’ tests
Fill in answers on items left blank
Re-score borderline exams to “find points” on constructed response items
Erase erroneous responses and insert correct ones
Provide false demographic information for test takers to assign them to wrong categories
Fail to store completed answer sheets securely
Destroy answer sheets from low-scoring students
Report low scorers as having been absent on testing day
Share content with educators/students who have not yet taken the test
Fail to perform data forensics on unusual score gains
Ignore “flagged” results from erasure analysis
Refuse to interview personnel with potential knowledge of improper practices
Threaten discipline against testing impropriety whistle blowers
Fire staff who persist in raising questions
Fabricate test security documentation for state education department investigators
Lie to law enforcement personnel



Mar 222013

The Norwalk BoE released the following Superintendent Search documents prepared by the search firm ProAct.   Of particular interest is a compilation of  the Stakeholder Feedback   from the community.  Over 589 people were involved in the collaborative process.  Three questions were asked:

1. What are the strengths of the Norwalk Public Schools?
2. What are the challenges facing the Norwalk Public Schools system in the next three to five years?
3. What are the most important characteristics you would like to see in the next superintendent?

The data and ultimate superintendent profile that was created are attached below, as well as a proposed project timeline.


Norwalk-Superintendent Community Feedback Summary



Jan 282013

The following Letter To The Editor  was written by Susan O. Wallerstein,  Ph. D.,  a retired educator and former Asst. Superintendent in the Greenwich Public School district.  The letter appeared in most if not all of  the local papers including:  The Hour, The Norwalk Daily Voice and Nancy On Norwalk.  The letter highlights the importance of getting the search process right for the selection of the next superintendent in Norwalk.

To the Editor:

Several weeks ago the Board of Education appointed a committee, including representative community members, to assist with the superintendent search. Recently the professional search firm hired by the BOE launched an online survey which gives everyone a chance to weigh in about the 10 most important superintendent characteristics. As a long-term “district in need of improvement,” the stakes are particularly high both for the Board’s selection process and for the person they choose as our next superintendent. History suggests the Board should be looking for an experienced change-agent. Since some Board members may not continue after the November 2013 elections, laying a strong foundation for success during the selection process can help reduce the ways politics and other distractions may undermine a new leader’s effectiveness. Here are a few lessons learned from my experience:

Engaging the community in the search is necessary but not enough. Frankly, the list of top 10 desirable superintendent characteristics doesn’t differ much from any one district to another. That said, of course it’s important for people to believe they have a voice and for Board members to both listen and hear.

Board members are responsible for hiring the superintendent and making a commitment to that person’s success. The Board must show its confidence in the new superintendent through actions and words, both public and private. This sends a powerful message throughout the community that it is not “business as usual.”

There ARE highly qualified candidates interested in coming to Norwalk. These people may have non-traditional career paths and different educational backgrounds and degrees. What they will have in common is a passion for public education and the ability to back up their experience with proof. (Frankly, there’s not much on the Proact list of superintendent characteristics that speaks to accountability or transparency.)

Experienced leaders do their homework and ask lots of questions. They will want to know the specific challenges that need to be dealt with to transform a system of schools in need of improvement into a high performing school system. Among other things they will be interested in the budget: Is the proposed 2013-14 budget a realistic starting point for multi-year planning? Or does it reflect a one-year salary freeze coupled with the shift of some ongoing operating costs (Common Core curriculum) to the capital budget? I have seen many outstanding, experienced superintendents from other states flounder if they haven’t done their homework about how things have worked historically in Connecticut.

Excellent leaders insist on being evaluated. The best will spell out the terms and conditions required for them to be successful. They will ask whether the Board is ready to let the superintendent lead and what Board members’ views are about governance vs. management. The confident, enlightened ones may even suggest tying their performance to compensation! These candidates know that if the Board and the superintendent aren’t on the same page about where the district needs to go and what it will take to get there (this is not about money), it’s unlikely we’ll ever get there.

Outsiders thinking about applying want to know if there is a favored internal candidate. Unless they believe the school system is open and honest about the search process, many will decline to apply. Many area districts make it clear up front whether an acting or interim superintendent may be a candidate for a permanent position. Of course this can change but it’s always better to start with all the cards on the table.

Susan O. Wallerstein, Ph.D.

Jan 222013

Last week, the Norwalk Board of Education (BOE) launched an online survey, developed by the Illinois-based search firm, PROACT.  It is asking respondents to identify various attributes when selecting the next superintendent.  Open to both residents and parents, the survey is part of the Board of Ed’s promise to reach out to the community for input.  The survey can be found on the home page of the the NPS website or by clicking here.  Super Survey

Below is the proposal that PROACT provided to the BOE last fall.

ProAct Proposal


Oct 082012

On Thursday, October 4th, the Board of Education met with three superintendent search firms:  Proact Search, Ray & Associates and Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates.

Below are the presentations and information provided by the three  different firms.  The Board is expected to render a decision on the search firm later this month.


Norwalk_SuperintendentSearch – PROACT

Ray and Associates – What sets us apart

Ray and Associates – National Flip Chart



Typical Search_Pamphlet_no flow

Sep 162012

With all that is happening in  terms of education reform on a national level, not to mention what has been transpiring in our own backyard, is it time for Norwalk parents and taxpayers to consider a NEW governance structure?  The current one  doesn’t appear to be working and many would argue that is hasn’t  for at least a decade, maybe two.   One need only attend one of the regular Board of Education meetings or look to the constant newspaper headlines to view a  (still) dysfunctional Board of Education (regardless of how many elections are held and which political party is in charge.) This situation, coupled with a revolving door of  frustrated or failed superintendents has some of us asking, “Is there another way?”  Increasingly, many reform minded urban-suburban school districts are turning to their respective state’s department of education or mayoral offices to take control.  Three factors that have generally contributed to this sort of a measure point to:

  • Persistent lack of improvement in student achievement
  • Financial inefficiencies
  • Financial waste without academic results

Below are 3 different reports that highlight the pros and cons of exploring different governance structures that came out of The Thomas B. Fordham Institute Center For American Progress Conference last December, 2011.

Re-Imaging Education Governance: An International Perspective By Sir Michael Barber

The Failures of U.S. Education Governance Today By Chester E. Finn, Jr. & Michael J. Petrilli

Governance Challenges To Innovators Within the System By Michelle Davis


Jul 152012

Below is a copy of the email sent to Stefan Pryor, Connecticut Commissioner of Education by REd Apples shortly thereafter hearing of Supt. Marks resignation:


Commissioner Pryor,

See the announcement below.

We had a $6M budget shortfall going into the 2012-13 school year, due primarily to employee salaries and benefits.  The number grew to $10M due to retiree healthcare benefits and Special Ed. When a $4M error was found that dated as far back as 2007-8.   BoE budgets keep getting slashed, despite tax increases each year and we get short-changed in the ECS formula.  We will be laying off about 90 staff this month.

Add to that- a quarter century of status quo union leadership of both the NFT Teachers’ Union and  NASA  Administrators’ union, not to mention out of control insubordinate school principals, and you have a city out of control.

After two years, our Superintendent, Dr. Marks just wanted her life back.  This was largely due  to a combination of incompetent and insufficient staff protected by union contracts, her own 18- hour days and personal attacks from the status quo, that date back to the very day she arrived two years ago!

Norwalk will be on its 6th superintendent in a decade.


We need an interim/permanent Superintendent that  possesses the following attributes:

–          A Reformer

–          Proven executive leadership – can effectively lead a $155 million organization.

–          Willing to fire insubordinate people, crack heads and take on the unions. Norwalk is a rough place.

–          Openly embraces the City as a partner and appreciates the financial/political support the City sincerely desires to provide

We would appreciate a meeting with you or your staff anytime and will  bring members of our BoE and City Officials!

Lisa Thomson

Red Apples of Norwalk



Below is a copy of the Press Release from the Norwalk Board of Education

Norwalk Public Schools Superintendent Tenders Resignation

Norwalk, CT  (July 13, 2012) – – Norwalk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan Marks submitted her resignation to Board of Education Chairman Jack Chiaramonte today citing personal reasons and following the Board of Education’s meeting on Thursday night at which the Board approved a revised budget based on additional funding appropriated by the Board of Estimate and Taxation.  The school superintendent’s contract would have expired in 2014.  Her last day will be August 17, 2012.  In the interim, Dr. Marks will work with the Board of Education on a transition plan.

In a statement, Chiaramonte thanked Dr. Marks for her leadership the past two years, highlighting her accomplishments under “challenging financial circumstances largely beyond her control”. “Student test scores have been up across the board… We were rated the school system that made the most progress of the eighteen largest school districts in Connecticut in systematic use of data and staff professional development, according to Warren Logee of the State Board of Education.”

The Norwalk Public Schools ensure that its more than 11,000 students succeed academically and achieve their full potential, preparing them for post-secondary learning and a life of meaning and purpose.  Through rigorous classroom instruction based on the Common Core Standards, high expectations, and excellence in instruction, NPS builds upon Norwalk’s diversity through a collaborative culture, partnership with parents, and commitment to individuality and growth.

#  #  #






Apr 042012

On March 8th, the BoE Curriculum Committee met with central office staff  to review the district plans for roll out of the Common Core State Standards across Norwalk’s 19 schools.  There are interesting changes afoot that will be made to both the Math and Language Arts curriculum.  Math will focus on depth over breadth and  will remove some  content previously viewed as sacred in certain grades and will shift the content to other grades.  Language Arts will see an more emphasis placed on  non-fiction and informational texts and an increase in evidence based writing and vocabulary.

Click  on the presentations below to see what was reviewed:

PRINCIPALS Presentation___ Common Core State Standards

CCTT mtg_2_29_12





Jan 102012

Nine Questions    By Susan Wallerstein

Even before looking at the bottom line or % increase, policymakers, parents and the general public may find these nine questions useful in evaluating the overall effectiveness of the school system’s resource allocation plan as reflected in the budget.  An assumption here is that addressing these questions is a prerequisite to developing a budget which efficiently, effectively and transparently aligns resource allocation decisions with the school system’s goals and priorities.  Once the budget is finally approved by the BET, the Board should also engage stakeholders (parents, elected officials, school administration, etc.) in a public post mortem review toward the goal of continuously improving both the process and the budget book.

  1. Is there evidence that the administration and the Board have agreed in advance on a set of clear measurable goals for improving student performance as well as all other organizational functions?  Is the work of data teams and school governance councils reflected in the budget document?
  2. If yes, does the budget provide sufficient focus and detail about how resources (funding, staffing, time) are being allocated to achieve these goals? For example, if reading or professional development are priorities, is it possible to determine how much has been allocated to these priorities, both at the school and district levels? If not, why, as this should be in place before the administration develops a budget.
  3. Do line item and school/program narratives provide sufficient specific detail about how funds will be used as well as measurable goals associated with the spending plan?
  4. Given legal requirements and cost, have the Board and the administration reviewed special education data including but not limited to benchmarking identification by category and staffing models/delivery systems, etc. against comparable (DRG) districts and other relevant standards?
  5. Are budget assumptions about costs associated with operations functions e.g., utilities, transportation, etc. defined, supported, and aligned with other town departments including finance?  Related, is there evidence of efforts to contain if not reduce non-instructional costs?
  6. Is the relationship between enrollment and resource allocation e.g., staffing, funding, clear and consistent throughout the budget document?  Related, is the PreK-12 staffing model defined and bench-marked and are costs/savings associated with staff turnover provided?
  7. Are the narrative portions of the budget generally well written, clear and consistent throughout?  Related, is there consistency and integrity between the budget information and that available in the applications used to store and manage financial and other data e.g., personnel?
  8.  Is there evidence the budget was developed using a “level services” model; are all variances justified e.g., over/under funding, collective bargaining, and unfunded mandates?
  9. Is it possible to isolate costs associated with new initiatives, efficiencies, and efforts to reallocate existing resources?