District brings on Adamany to advise on testing security

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

With PSSA testing less than a week away, the School District has appointed former Temple University President David Adamany as an advisor to coordinate ongoing investigations of potential cheating at schools. Adamany is also expected to help ensure greater test security in the future.

The District also disclosed that 51 District schools and 2 charters under scrutiny for possible cheating have been divided into three categories for further investigation:

  • Eleven District schools and two charters are being investigated by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the state Office of Inspector General (OIG), with the District only providing “logistic” support.
  • Another 20 will be investigated by the District’s Office of General Counsel, with PDE and OIG training the investigators. The District is seeking pro-bono attorneys and other trained investigators to help.
  • And 22 schools are still under “analytic review” by PDE and may or may not prove worthy of further scrutiny.

The District also specified that an unspecified number of schools – presumably at least the 13 in the first category – will be under heightened security measures, described as “unprecedented” in their scope, governing the handling of testing materials before and after this year’s PSSA testing itself.

The schools targeted for intensive security are referred to as “top-tier” schools, meaning they have “a high frequency of grade-level erasures over several years,” according to the statement.

While increased security procedures will be taken in schools where there is already some suspicion, all District schools are under the mandate that teachers may not administer the test to their own students, including the more than 200 without any allegations or forensic evidence of potential impropriety. Many teachers have expressed outraged, but the School District has not objected publicly to the order.

“There is a tremendous frustration among teachers. They are very upset they are not able to test their own children," said PFT President Jerry Jordan.

He said that he is especially concerned about the effect of this policy on special education students and on younger children. But he is also concerned that all city teachers are being unfairly put under a cloud of suspicion.

“There is a sense among Philadelphia teachers that they are being accused of cheating when they have only gone in and done their jobs,” he said. “There is a feeling of a brush painting all teachers as having done something improper.”

Wendy Coleman, a teacher of English for Speakers of Other Languages at Carnell Elementary School, said she thinks the citywide mandate is unfair.

“How come the entire Philadelphia school district has to switch proctors, but in charters only those accused of cheating have to do it?” she asked. “That’s a big question that I have. I understand at the schools that are suspected, but not all [District] schools are suspected.”

Teachers will be trained Thursday on the new protocols and given their proctoring assignments. They will also be required, for the first time, to sign a document certifying that they have been trained and have not done anything to break the protocol, like altering answers in a booklet. This requirement is statewide, but the proctoring change is directed only at Philadelphia and two of its charters. One other district and charter have also been given this mandate.

Adamany, who acted as emergency CEO for one year of the Detroit School District when it was taken over by the state of Michigan, will work as a volunteer with the title of Testing Integrity Adviser.

He said that he will help only with the schools being investigated by the District itself, not with those already in the state’s hands. The District’s statement said he will “collaborate” with District officials and state agencies “to review and monitor” current and proposed practices for test administration.

“We’re just getting into this, so I can’t say much yet about the ongoing work,” Adamany said. “I want to emphasize that the word ‘adviser’ is important.”

He said he decided to help out the District because “I want to see the School District do well” and because while he was president of Temple, “we found ourselves having a more difficult time recruiting qualified students out of Philadelphia public schools.” He said he offered his services to School Reform Commission chair Pedro Ramos.

PDE spokesman Tim Eller said that the Adamany’s appointment “is indicative of the seriousness the SRC places on the security of the PSSAs, as well as ensuring the integrity and credibility of the exams.”

The state’s interest in potential test cheating started in July of last year, when the Notebook published a state-commissioned "forensic audit" of 2009 test results conducted by test-maker Data Recognition Corporation.

Based on the statistical irregularities flagged by DRC, PDE ordered 38 school districts and 10 charter organizations to investigate a total of 89 Pennsylvania schools – including 28 District schools – whose 2009 results were flagged for potential irregularities. Although an internal District review determined that only 13 schools warranted further scrutiny, state officials recently turned their attention on dozens more District schools, based at least in part on preliminary results from analyses of 2010 and 2011 PSSA results that have not yet been made public.

The District has several phone numbers for people who want to report cheating behavior or help with the investigations:

  • 215-400-PSSA (7772) – Testing Integrity Tip Line
  • 215-400-5648 – for attorneys to volunteer to assist the District with investigations.
  • 215-400-4250 – Office of Accountability, for teachers or administrators who have questions regarding the new protocols.