Though it's not as contentious as the debt ceiling debate, fault lines between school board members that have emerged over the "datagate" kerfluffle were still plain during a Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education study session last night on the topic of "Data, Assessment and Accountability." ---

Datagate is a controversy that has been simmering in the BoE since SFR originally reported in May that data contained in a February "Superintendent's Report to the Board of Education" purporting to show student achievement did not match the state Public Education Department numbers it was supposed to be based on. BoE members have called for a re-do of the data by SFPS Director of Assessment and Accountability, Lynn Vanderlinden, as well as an independent audit. Vanderlinden, who has told SFR that the first report was made by removing all data on poorly-performing students, presented the former at yesterday's meeting. The controversy has gathered steam in part because the skewed data was originally presented to the board during a closed session in which Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez' contract was renewed.

In this corner: BoE President Barbara Gudwin, member Frank Montaño (who hardly spoke yesterday but whose views on the topic are well documented), and a member of the public, Miguel Acosta, who during the public forum enjoined the board to quit their "witchhunts" and get over their "obsession with this datagate thing."

Still swinging: Board VP Glenn Wikle, who questioned whether additional reports the district produced in an attempt to validate the Superintendent's report fit the bill, and member Steve Carrillo, who said yesterday that the skewed data belied the fact that the district is "doing horribly."

Wikle and Carrillo, along with BoE secretary Linda Trujillo, are new members to the board this year and were not involved in Gutierrez' contract renewal. Montaño and Gudwin are holdovers from the previous board that renewed her contract.

The hefty report Vanderlinden delivered up in response to the BoE's June 21 request for a data do-over included 28 pages documenting "methods of reporting elementary and secondary student achievement data" compiled by Hanover Research of Washington DC. It was meant to demonstrate that presenting student achievement as a two-sided picture, with positive and negative growth separate, is a standard practice among other school districts. Both Carrillo and Wikle voiced their opinions that the Hanover packet didn't contain any other reports like the now-infamous SFPS one—negative change was presented in some fashion in each chart Hanover provided.

"I don't see where else they are using this methodology," Carrillo said.

Wikle said he did his own comparison of the datagate report with the real PED numbers and came up with discrepancies as large as 12 percent. He said when proficiency percentages are sometimes as low as the 20th percentile, a 12 percent discrepancy "is a rather large difference."

Interestingly, Gutierrez implied in her remarks that district parents are actually demanding more fake data. Apparently after SFPS' (and the entire state's) lackluster Annual Yearly Progress results came in last Friday, Vanderlinden has received emails from parents who are wondering "if there are students in our district making progress." 

Gudwin tried to quell the debate by making the curious argument that if the district was going to cook its data, it might as well have made it look better than the datagate numbers, which she said are "nothing to brag about." Falsifying data to make it look only mediocre is akin to "robbing a business for $5," she said.

The question remaining is whether the old board knew the datagate report was one-sided when it used it as one component of Gutierrez' performance evaluation. Former BoE member Richard Polese has told SFR that the board was not told that the data was incomplete or produced in an, ahem, unconventional fashion. However, Montaño said at the July 19 meeting that Vanderlinden "came forward and told us that that was a statistic that she could come up with—that it wasn't the entire picture, but it was a piece of information that she could create," suggesting the board did know. However, it's not clear whether he was referring to statements made during the previous board's tenure, or more recently. In addition, Gudwin said at the session yesterday that "Miss Vanderlinden gave us the answer we were looking for."

At the July 19 meeting, Carrillo said that Vanderlinden's statement to SFR that she made the report on her own initiative, without direction from the board or Gutierrez, contrasts with what she told the board. Furthermore, Gutierrez told SFR that Vanderlinden and Assistant Superintendent Mel Morgan made the report without any direction from her. If Morgan did have a hand in creating the report, it's strange that he misrepresented the way it was made to SFR in a May interview, when he gave a completely different explanation for the strangeness of the data than the one that ultimately emerged.