"They voiced concerns that not only would the Philadelphia School District not act on their allegations, but worse, penalize them for coming forward in the first place," McGeehan wrote to Tomalis. His proposal would protect whistle-blowers from reprisal.
He said the teachers he spoke with feared losing their jobs, pensions, and reputations if they reported the testing irregularities they had observed at their school during the 2009-10 academic year.
McGeehan said school employees in Philadelphia and across the state "who want to share their stories" should be able to invoke the job protections outlined in the state's 1986 whistle-blower law.
"I think you would see the floodgates open on this growing scandal and we would see repercussions beyond what we can foresee," McGeehan said in an interview.
Timothy Eller, a department spokesman, said that Tomalis had received McGeehan's letter, but that he did not know how the secretary would respond.
The department has a hotline to report suspected wrongdoing but normally refers cheating allegations to local districts.
"I think we need a more objective, distant eye than the Philadelphia School District," McGeehan said.
District spokeswoman Shana Kemp said the district receives from 10 to 15 cheating allegations each year and investigates each seriously.
She said that if the Education Department decides to implement the whistle-blower hotline, the district would welcome additional safeguards to ensure the integrity of state tests.
Last week, McGeehan urged Tomalis to review the district's internal investigation that concluded that allegations of cheating at Roosevelt Middle School and FitzSimons High were unfounded.
This spring, several Roosevelt teachers told The Inquirer they questioned a remarkable rise in scores on the Pennsylvania System of Standards Assessment (PSSA).
McGeehan said he was encouraged that Tomalis had pledged to review a separate forensics analysis prepared for the Education Department in 2009 that found testing irregularities at 60 schools across the state, including 22 district schools in Philadelphia and seven city charters.
The analysis, which was first reported by the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, flagged potential cheating in schools across the state but did not accuse anyone. The department apparently conducted no follow-up.
Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or firstname.lastname@example.org.