28 districts and charters cleared in probe of 2009 PSSAs

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Benjamin Herold for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

UPDATED: 4:15 p.m. with complete list of districts cleared thus far

Over half of the 38 school districts and 10 charter schools across Pennsylvania that were flagged for statistical irregularities on 2009 state exams have been cleared of any improprieties, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Thursday, PDE released a list of 22 districts and 6 charter schools that have been told no further inquiry is necessary. In the release, PDE Press Secretary Tim Eller noted that the investigation is ongoing.

The School District of Philadelphia was not among the 22 traditional districts cleared. Earlier Thursday afternoon, District spokesperson Evelyn Sample-Oates said the District had "not received anything from the state clearing any school…we’ve heard nothing at all."

Six charter schools serving Philadelphia-area students were among those cleared:

  • Alliance for Progress
  • Charter High School for Architecture and Design (CHAD)
  • Maritime Academy
  • Northwood Academy
  • Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School
  • Wisshickon Charter

Not on the list of districts cleared to date was the state’s largest bricks-and-mortar charter, Chester Community Charter School, which serves over 2,700 students, or 54 percent of the kindergarten through eighth grade students in the mightily struggling Chester-Upland school district.

There was no word yet from PDE officials on when further results of their investigation might be released.

A CHAD representative shared with the Notebook/Newsworks a letter from PDE dated January 5 stating that "in the absence of additional information related to the administration of the 2009 PSSA, no further inquiry is necessary."

"We knew that we did everything as we were supposed to," said Patricia Cirone, the executive assistant to CHAD Head of School Peter Kountz.

"We were always very confident we would be cleared."

Richard Noonan, superintendent of Wallingford-Swarthmore, posted a statement on the district web site critical of how PDE has handled the inquiry.

"The right thing would have been to immediately acknowledge there were absolutely no testing improprieties at Strath-Haven (high school), and to commend the extraordinary efforts that were made by the school to strenghten student achievement."

In July of this year, PDE ordered 10 charters and 38 other school districts to investigate a total of 89 Pennsylvania schools whose 2009 PSSA results were flagged for statistical irregularities in a "forensic data analysis" conducted by test-maker Data Recognition Corporation (DRC). The analysis looked for a combination of unlikely jumps in student performance levels, irregular patterns of wrong-to-right erasures on student response sheets, and other indicators of potential wrongdoing.

Though the district and charter reports were due in August, PDE has been slow to share results of their review.

The Lebanon Daily News reported Thursday that the Lebanon School District received a letter, signed by state Deputy Secretary of Education Carolyn C. Dumaresq, exonerating their district of wrongdoing. The William Penn School School District received a similar letter. So did Wallingford-Swarthmore School District, according to school board member Rick Sonntag.

In August, School District of Philadelphia officials announced that they had conducted an internal review of the results of 28 District schools flagged in the 2009 DRC report and determined that 13 of the schools warranted further inquiry.

The officials said they hoped for more information and support from PDE before proceeding, however.

The complete list of districts and charters cleared to date:

  • Abington Heights
  • Alliance for Progress CS
  • Ambridge Area SD
  • Belle Vernon Area SD
  • Charter HS for Architecture and Design
  • Chambersburg Area SD
  • Cheltenham Township SD
  • Connellsville Area SD
  • Dallastown Area SD
  • Easton Area SD
  • Ephrata Area SD
  • Gateway SD
  • Governor Mifflin SD
  • Lebanon SD
  • Lincoln IU 12
  • Maritime Academy CS
  • Minersville Area SD
  • North Schuykill SD
  • Northwood Academy CS
  • Pennsbury SD
  • Pennsylvania Cyber CS
  • Pleasant Valley SD
  • South Western SD
  • Spring-Ford Area SD
  • Wallingford-Swarthmore SD
  • Wellsboro Area SD
  • William Penn SD
  • Wissahickon CS