Pa. has option to launch its own inquiry into school cheating

Posted: July 09, 2011

If the Philadelphia School District's investigation into possible cheating at two schools is deemed inadequate, the state Department of Education could launch its own probe, an official said Friday.

Although the district has said it found no evidence of testing improprieties at Roosevelt Middle and FitzSimons High Schools, it has not yet submitted reports to the state as required.

In all, the district investigated allegations of cheating at 15 schools in the last year, said spokeswoman Shana Kemp. Most accusations are unfounded, she said.

She declined to name the schools or give more information, but said officials wanted to wait until all 15 reports were complete before forwarding them to the state.

"We're going to send all of the reports next week," Kemp said.

Tim Eller, a spokesman for the state department, said the reports would be reviewed and, if deficiencies are found, officials would follow up with the district.

Then, "depending on what's in that report, if there's any allegations regarding any misconduct with specified people, there would be a recommendation to our Office of General Counsel for them to potentially take action," he said.

The state, Eller said, could also conduct its own review.

"If the department feels that there are some serious shortcomings in the report, or serious allegations, they can take it a step further and conduct a more comprehensive investigation," he said.

This week, State Rep. Michael McGeehan (D., Phila.) wrote to Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis calling for him to release the full Roosevelt and FitzSimons reports.

McGeehan said he wanted Tomalis to review the district's investigation.

"The credibility of our education system depends on reliable and accurate testing of our students," McGeehan wrote.

Eller said Tomalis had received the letter, but had not had time to review it.

This spring, multiple Roosevelt teachers told The Inquirer that they questioned a remarkable rise in scores on the Pennsylvania System of Standards Assessment (PSSA). The teachers said that a 50-point jump in reading and a 52-point jump in math between 2007-08 and 2009-10 were achieved through breaches in test security.

The scores rose from 28 percent at grade level or higher in reading in 2007-08 to 78 percent in 2009-10, and from 23 percent to 75 percent in math.

The teachers said they witnessed numerous improprieties, from test answers written on a blackboard to administrators encouraging teachers to drill concepts they knew appeared on the exam. The Roosevelt teachers said they also saw administrators giving students books so they could correct wrong answers.

Another teacher said staff at FitzSimons were given test booklets to review in advance and were encouraged to drill their students on concepts that would be tested, a violation of security. The teacher brought a 2011 PSSA test booklet into the Inquirer newsroom before the test was given.

The district has defended its test-monitoring system as robust and said it has taken investigations seriously.


Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, kgraham@phillynews.com,

or @newskag on Twitter. Read her blog, "Philly School Files,"

at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.

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