State has taken over probe into 2009-11 tests at Wagner Middle School

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

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has taken over the probe into possible widespread cheating on state tests at Philadelphia’s Wagner Middle School in 2009, 2010, and 2011.

The investigation had previously been the purview of the School District of Philadelphia. District spokesman Fernando Gallard confirmed the switch, saying the state informed the District of its plan at the end of September. No reason for the change was given, Gallard said.

A state-commissioned analysis found extremely high numbers of "wrong-to-right" erasures at Wagner in multiple grades and subjects in all three of those years. District Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon, now on sabbatical, was Wagner’s principal in 2009.

Wagner was originally designated a "Tier 2" school, to be investigated by attorneys from the law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, which has been providing pro bono services to the district since last May.

Superintendent William Hite said recently that the District is "close to wrapping up" those investigations and that educators found to have cheated could soon face discipline.

The state Department of Education has given no timetable for completing its investigation of 11 so-called "Tier One" schools — plus now Wagner.

Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller would not confirm that the state has assumed control of the Wagner investigation.

Wagner is also under scrutiny for more recent allegations of adult cheating on state tests.

Last month, NewsWorks and the Public School Notebook reported that Hite had reopened the District’s investigation of cheating reports on the PSSAs at Wagner in 2012. Multiple eyewitness accounts of serious testing violations at the school by trained test monitors were minimized or ignored, and the District omitted key information about the alleged infractions in its report to the state. One of the monitors was subjected to a disciplinary hearing. The other was fired in July.

Findings from that investigation are expected sometime this month.

This article was produced as part of a partnership in coverage of the Philadelphia schools between WHYY/NewsWorks and the Public School Notebook.