Teachers: We didn't cheat; why target us?

Cayuga Elementary School in Hunting Park. The principal there has denied allegations of pressuring staff to alter test answers.
Cayuga Elementary School in Hunting Park. The principal there has denied allegations of pressuring staff to alter test answers. (ALEX REMNICK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 12, 2012

WHEN PHILADELPHIA public-school students today take state achievement tests administered by teachers they are unfamiliar with, it will be done "under a cloud of doubt," one educator said yesterday.

"It's a lot like if two of our students act up, but we give detention to the whole class," said Alison Pironti, a fourth-grade teacher at Carnell Elementary School, in Oxford Circle, who specializes in teaching English to speakers of other languages.

It goes against a basic teaching tenet, Pironti said: Don't punish everyone, and target the students that need the attention.

Or, in the case of the district, she said, focus on the schools under investigation by the state for allegedly cheating on the tests and bypass the schools that are not suspected of cheating.

The state Department of Education believes otherwise. It ordered the city's public-school teachers to be blocked from administering the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests to their own students.

Teachers will also be required to sign forms acknowledging that if any wrongdoing is found, criminal penalties will be pursued, according to a report published yesterday in the Inquirer.

The state measure sends out a "blanket statement that there's something wrong with all Philadelphia schools," Pironti said. "It's putting us all under a cloud of doubt."

The state is investigating 53 district schools, including 11 out of the 25 schools that the district has praised as high-achieving "vanguard" schools, according to the Inquirer. Three charters - Philadelphia Electrical and Technology, Imhotep and Walter Palmer Leadership Learning Partners - are also under state investigation, the paper reported.

Teachers interviewed yesterday were most concerned that the new faces in the classroom during the test would add stress for students who are already under pressure to perform well.

"As much as a 10-year-old can, they understand" that they will have different teachers during the tests, said Stephanie Taggart, a fourth-grade teacher at Thomas Creighton School, in Crescentville.

"It would be reassuring to them to have me in the room," Taggart said. "They are very used to me. I'd like to be there for them."

Many teachers say the message that the state mandate sends out is loud and clear.

"It says that we don't trust you," said Matthew Mandel, a National Board Certified Teacher who instructs eighth-graders at CCA Baldi Middle School, in Northeast Philadelphia.

"Teachers have really not been treated with the respect afforded other professions," he said. "This is kind of consistent."

Still, Mandell agrees with the state-imposed procedure.

"It's unfortunate, because the overwhelming majority of teachers and school personnel are aboveboard, but are still under a cloud of suspicion," he said. "We should welcome efforts to remove that doubt."


Contact Regina Medina at medinar@phillynews.com or 215-854-5985.

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