And the alleged decision to exempt advanced-placement students from certain exams, lest their scores muck up their class rank.
After the Education Malfeasance Meter stopped buzzing, blinking and coughing, it spat out the verdict: There had been no malfeasance, but plenty of stupidity.
The silliness began in late winter, when English and math teachers in the 17 archdiocesan high schools learned that their students would be taking a standardized test in June.
The aim was to see how the kids were responding to new curriculum standards - called the Common Core - that had been implemented in high-school English and math classes.
The teachers were fine with that, I was told, until they learned that the standardized tests would also replace the final exams they usually give their students. The scores would account for 10 percent of a student's grade for the year.
Given that individual English and math teachers had no idea what the tests would cover, they worried that their students might unfairly fail them because the test material hadn't been covered in class.
They also wondered what effect the test might have on advanced-placement students whose curriculum is so different from the curriculum taught to the rest of the student body. Many of the AP kids rely heavily on class ranking for honors and scholarship money. A few points in the wrong direction could really mess things up.
"Teachers on the whole were disenchanted with the test - that's a nice way of putting it," said Rita Schwartz, union president of the Association of Catholic Teachers, who got an earful of complaints from frustrated teachers. "We'd never heard of using a standardized test as a final exam."
Archdiocese spokesman Kenneth Gavin told me that this was the first year the schools were using the standardized tests, so there may have been some fits and starts in administering it.
Take the Algebra I test.
Back in the spring, math teachers were given practice Algebra I tests to share with students. On test day, though, there was a glitch. Students were given the practice test as the actual exam.
One teacher told me that the Archdiocese was immediately alerted to the mistake, but that nothing was done to address it.
"They said, 'Don't worry about it,' " said the teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "My students wound up doing well on the exam, as you might imagine, given that they'd already taken it."
The Archdiocese's Gavin said that the duplication was due to an oversight, and that it was impossible to administer a new test in the time left in the school year.
"Mean scores indicate no significant spike in student achievement on the test for Algebra I in comparison to other courses," he said, adding that similar sample tests won't be issued this coming school year.
As for the advanced-placement worries, teachers told me that the AP kids were exempted from the test, out of fear that their ranking could be affected by an adverse grade. That's why their teachers were allowed to create their own final exams.
That's not the reason they were exempted, said Gavin.
"The focus of an AP class is to give students the skills and knowledge necessary to perform well on the AP examination and earn college credit," he said. "Flexibility is needed for AP teachers to develop a curriculum that meets those unique goals, which are markedly different from the Common Core" curriculum.
Makes sense to me. But some non-AP teachers felt the AP students had an unfair advantage in that their final exams were created by the actual teachers who'd taught the content being tested.
That's why some teachers were glad to see a memo issued by the Archdiocese's then-director of high-school curriculum, Carol Carey.
If the final-exam grade in math or English "causes the student to fail the course, then the teacher should adjust it so that it is not less than 60," she wrote. "I do not want this one assessment to cause a student to fail for the year."
Two teachers told me that Carey, who has since been promoted to superintendent of secondary schools, verbally advised them and others in a meeting to "pad" second-semester grades if it looked as if those grades wouldn't be high enough to counter low final-exam scores.
"I was stunned," says one teacher. "But that's the word she used - 'pad.' A few of us looked at each other and said, 'Did she just say that?' "
Carey wasn't available for comment. But Gavin said in an email: "At no time did [Carey] issue a directive simply to lift students into passing territory."
Another Archdiocese representative, Meredith Wilson, said that Carey was simply reiterating the Archdiocese's long-term grading policy that a failing grade is never scored lower than 60 because anything below a 70 is failing.
"There is no need to create a sense of hopelessness in students by further emphasizing a failure," Wilson said.
You know what I think?
I think the Archdiocese, in its rush to embrace the Common Core curriculum - whose standards have been adopted in 48 states - didn't anticipate the mess created by using a standardized test as a replacement for a final exam.
I think it caused a kerfuffle, and then the Archdiocese had to scramble to get through the muck. Which kind of negated what standardized tests and final exams are supposed to be.
Wilson said it's too soon to say how the Archdiocese would administer the tests next year. But I hope they consult their teachers first.
They have a front-of-the-classroom perspective that needs to be heard.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Call 215-854-2217. Recent columns: philly.com/Ronnie. Twitter: @RonniePhilly. Blog: philly.com/RonnieBlog.