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Camden test-rig suspect reinstated

Nearly a year after an internal investigation implicated a Camden schools administrator in a test-rigging scandal, the school board says there is insufficient evidence to hold him responsible.

Nearly a year after an internal investigation implicated a Camden schools administrator in a test-rigging scandal, the school board says there is insufficient evidence to hold him responsible.

Board President Sara T. Davis said the board could not proceed with a case against Roger M. Robinson, who was accused of tampering with test answers at the city's elite magnet high school.

"We did not feel that there was conclusive evidence," Davis said in an interview yesterday. In a settlement approved last week, the board cleared the way for Robinson to return to work yesterday as a middle school guidance counselor, a demotion that retains his $108,000 annual salary.

Previously, he had been assigned to the central office and was responsible for overseeing all testing across South Jersey's largest public school system.

Robinson, who has denied he tampered with answer folders and denied any knowledge of tampering by others, did not return telephone messages left at Morgan Village Middle, his new assignment.

"We certainly believe that a cloud has been removed from over his head and he's been cleared," said his attorney, James Katz.

Robinson was suspended with pay by the school board in January after it received a report from its investigator, Edward F. Borden Jr., concluding that he was responsible for "illicit tampering" that boosted state standardized test scores at the Dr. Charles E. Brimm Medical Arts High.

The report by Borden, a former Camden County prosecutor, marked the first time an investigation had determined that Brimm's suspiciously high 2005 scores were manipulated and the first time someone from the central office was accused of playing a role.

A state grand jury has been conducting a wide-ranging probe into Camden since June 2006 including the cheating allegations, spending, and bonuses received by former Superintendent Annette D. Knox.

To date, three former administrators and a teacher have been charged with submitting phony pay vouchers and stealing students' field-trip money. No one has been charged with tampering with test scores.

It was unclear yesterday what impact the board's action last week would have on the cheating probe and whether the district would hold anyone responsible for rigging scores.

Katz said the charges against Robinson were unfounded, and according to the settlement with the board "any and all current investigations regarding his actions to date shall cease. Further, no disciplinary charges will be brought in connection with anything related to those investigations."

Said Davis: "I think there will be a forever unknown. As far as Dr. Robinson is concerned, that chapter is closed. I'm happy that we were able to bring this to closure and are moving forward."

Borden, who conducted a 10-month investigation and was paid $90,000, yesterday stood by his findings. He said "the final decision as to how to react to my factual findings and recommendations is of course up to the board."

The same report concluded that allegations by former Brimm principal Joseph D. Carruth that a supervisor told him to cheat were untrue.

Carruth has stood by his claim that he was pressured by Assistant Superintendent Luis Pagan to change math test answers. Carruth has said that he did not participate in the alleged scheme, and that he contacted state officials.

Pagan has denied the accusation and maintained that he never spoke with Carruth about rigging results.

In 2004-05, Brimm was among the top performing schools in the region when 92 percent of its 11th graders were proficient in math on the state's High School Proficiency Exam.

After the state sent monitors to oversee testing in 2006, scores plummeted, with 75 percent scoring proficient.

The state Department of Education began investigating Camden's test scores in March 2006 after The Inquirer questioned unusually high elementary scores and revealed Carruth's allegations that he had been pressured to cheat.

Borden cited seven reasons and several inconsistencies in Carruth's accounts - but no proof - that led him to conclude that Carruth should not be believed.

However, Borden noted his findings supported Carruth's theory that the test tampering likely occurred when the answer sheets were sent from Brimm to the central office.

Robinson allegedly failed to follow test security protocols and "participated in or facilitated the tampering," according to the report.

After the answer booklets were sent to Robinson's office, "Robinson and others either changed answers entered by students or inserted correct answers for questions students had not answered," the report said.

No one else was implicated in Borden's report. The report focused only on Brimm's 2005 test scores.

In a separate report, the state Department of Education said the "sudden" increase in Brimm's 2005 scores and the 2006 decrease "cause serious concern" about the validity of the scores. The investigation was inconclusive on Carruth's allegations about Pagan.

The state blamed "adult interference" for high scores at two Camden elementary schools. The state did not accuse anyone of cheating. It singled out the two elementary schools' principals and a literacy coach for pressuring teachers to ignore rules.

The state Department of Education declined comment on Robinson's reinstatement.