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2009 study on cheating released, prompting further investigations

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

Pennsylvania is giving more scrutiny to state standardized test scores following the release of a 2009 report that revealed suspicious erasure patterns and other statistical anomalies on that year’s tests in dozens of schools statewide.

The state Department of Education in mid-September received similar analyses of 2010 and 2011 test scores from the testing company, Data Recognition Corporation, said spokesman Tim Eller.

"Districts or schools listed in those reports will be contacted and asked to look internally to respond to why they may have been flagged or notated on the report," Eller said. "Those reports will be released once the investigations are completed."

The 2009 report was not acted on by the state until the Notebook asked for it last spring, then published a story based on its results in July. A state review subsequently found 89 schools statewide that warranted further investigation, including 28 in Philadelphia.

Though the state ordered districts to investigate at all these schools, the District instead chose to re-analyze the state’s data. That review led District officials to conclude that just 13 schools warrant further inquiry. To date, an investigation involving interviews of teachers and students has not occurred.

In state-ordered forensic analyses, schools are flagged for anomalies including wrong-to-right erasure patterns that were unlikely to happen by chance, and for sharp fluctuations in the percentages of students reaching proficiency.

A Notebook review of the data showed that a third of District schools had suspicious erasure patterns.

Eller said that the 2010 and 2011 forensic analyses will give the states enough data to look for schools with suspicious results that persist from year to year and provide more recent data that can be followed up with interviews.

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