3 Philly high school principals fired over alleged cheating

Posted: January 17, 2014

THREE HIGH SCHOOL principals have been fired and dozens of other teachers and administrators in the School District of Philadelphia will face discipline for cheating on standardized tests, marking the end of a nearly five-year controversy.

The firings were the first action taken by the district since it launched an investigation in early 2012 into allegations of cheating on 2009, 2010 and 2011 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams. Deidre Bennett, Michelle Burns and Marla Travis-Curtis were terminated by the School Reform Commission and the district will ask the state to revoke their administrative credentials, which would prevent them from serving as principals again in Pennsylvania.

During the alleged cheating, Bennett, the principal at Lewis Cassidy Elementary, was a teacher leader at Samuel Huey; Burns, head of Kensington Urban Education, was the principal at Tilden Middle School; and Travis-Curtis, the top administrator at Lamberton, was in the same role.

"While deeply disappointed by these actions, I'm encouraged by these steps that we're beginning to take tonight and in the future to preserve the integrity among those students and parents [who have faith] in our educators and administrators," Superintendent William Hite said.

A state-commissioned analysis of the tests in 2009 showed statistically improbable test scores and a pattern of suspicious erasures at 53 city schools and several others across the state. The state launched an investigation of 14 so-called Tier One schools, including three charters, while the district probed 19 so-called Tier Two schools.

Of the 19 schools, the district said it concluded that there was evidence of cheating at 13, while three were cleared of wrongdoing and evidence was inconclusive at three others. A total of 69 current and former employees - 20 administrators, 46 teachers and three other school-based staff - will face discipline from the district.

Today, only 40 are active employees, while 29 others have since resigned, retired or were laid off, the district said.

Of the 11 schools investigated by the state Department of Education, another 69 current and former teachers and administrators are expected to face discipline. The district did not provide a breakdown of those employees.

Robert McGrogan, president of the union that represents administrators, did not attend the meeting, but acknowledged earlier in the day that the scandal rocked the district.

"Clearly, the situation where test results were manipulated or inflated has caused all employees in the district and children from the district to have a cloud cast above them as to whether or not the gains that we realized . . . was performed or authentic," McGrogan said. "From that perspective, every student and every employee in the district was harmed as a result of these actions, and we do not condone cheating because it hurt all of us."

While McGrogan would not discuss specific cases, he questioned the district's findings. "I think that inference and speculation have been used to make a determination, and in the absence of additional supporting detail, it leaves some cases open to argument. It hasn't stopped them from pointing a finger or placing blame."

In those cases, McGrogan said, he would represent his members who have been accused. They have the option of appealing the decisions directly to the SRC or going through an arbitration appeals process.

The actions being taken by the district include terminations, suspensions, or being barred from serving as a test coordinator.

Last night's announcements mark nearly five years after the first accusations. Last year, two principals - Barbara McCreery and Lola Marie O'Rourke - surrendered their administrative credentials as part of the investigation.

On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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