Cheating investigation continues; scores decline at most schools

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

Pennsylvania’s Department of Edu­cation (PDE) and the School District are continuing to investigate possible cheating on standardized tests at 53 District schools, based on damaging forensic evidence – primarily answer sheets from 2009, 2010, and 2011 that show statistically improbable numbers of wrong-to-right erasures.

So far, neither the District nor the state has taken action against any edu­cators who may have tampered with an­swer sheets or engaged in other cheat­ing behavior. Both say that they need time to be thorough and make sure that no one is unfairly blamed.

“The idea in the District is to have this so well nailed down, you’re sure to get the right people,” said David Adama­ny, the former Temple University presi­dent serving as an unpaid “testing in­tegrity advisor” to the District. “There’s a lot of caution being exercised, and it’s heartbreaking we cannot move faster.”

The state has the power to revoke or suspend an educator’s license while the District can fire or demote some­one based on unethical behavior. The District said it expected to complete its investigation by the end of December.

As of September, three area charters – Imhotep Institute, Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners, and Phil­adelphia Electrical and Technology – also have ongoing investigations.

Dozens of other districts and charters around the state have been cleared in a probe that started when a 2009 forensic analysis of test scores was released by the state in 2011 after the Notebook asked for it. PDE subsequently ordered more era­sure analyses of 2010 and 2011 tests.

In the wake of the forensic evi­dence, the state imposed stricter test­ing protocols on Philadelphia and several other districts and charters for the PSSA exam in 2012. The official release of state PSSA scores in late Sep­tember showed that after nine years of steady increases, proficiency rates had dropped. The Notebook had earlier ob­tained documents showing that the big­gest drops – some of them more than 40 percentage points – were nearly all in schools under investigation for suspi­cious erasure patterns.