Two former principals charged in state cheating investigation

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

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has filed criminal charges against two more former Philadelphia principals.

Barbara McCreery, 61, former principal of Communications Technology High School, and Arthur "Larry" Melton, 70, former principal of Bok Technical High School, were arrested Thursday as part of the state’s ongoing investigation into adult cheating on standardized tests.

They were taken into custody and charged with crimes of "tampering with public records or information, forgery, and tampering with records or identification," according the attorney general’s office.

A grand jury presentment said that Melton admitted to making an answer key and to personally changing students’ answers on test sheets as early as 2008 or 2009. In an interview with investigators, Melton had cited an "intense" pressure on principals from the District with respect to PSSA test performance.

McCreery, too, admitted to fixing test booklets in 2009 and 2010. According to a grand jury statement, she estimated fixing up to 15 booklets each morning in her office using an answer key she created after reviewing the test herself.

Melton and McCreery are now the sixth and seventh District educators to be criminally charged for their role in the culture of cheating that led to sizeable gains in PSSA reading and math scores. In many cases, the increases were astronomical and the scores came down precipitously after stricter test protocols were put in place.

Bok and Communications Technology are among the 11 so-called Tier 1 schools being investigated by the attorney general’s office, where statistical evidence — an improbably high number of wrong-to-right erasures on score sheets — indicated that cheating was highly likely and often nearly certain.

At Communications Technology in 2010, the percentage of 11th-grade students proficient in math leapt 40 points in one year. After McCreery’s departure that year, scores plummeted.

McCreery was among the first District educators to be sanctioned in the state’s cheating probe in April 2013, when she surrendered her credentials, along with Lola Marie O’Rourke, a former Locke Elementary principal. Melton surrendered his credentials earlier this month.

At Bok, where Melton served for over a decade, scores sank after the strict test-monitoring rules were enforced in 2012. In math, profiency rates declined 45 percentage points, from 71 percent in 2010 to 26 percent in 2012.

Both Bok and Communications Technology were among 24 schools that closed in 2013, when the District downsized.

The attorney general earlier this year charged five former educators from Cayuga Elementary, also a Tier 1 school, including principal Evelyn Cortez. They are currently awaiting trial.