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State PSSA cheating investigation now limited to Philly

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

UPDATED: 6:36 p.m.

By Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner

The Philadelphia School District and two city charters are the last remaining targets of active investigations into possible cheating on state tests.

To date, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has filed complaints against more than 140 educators statewide as a result of its probe, now in its second year.

PDE spokesperson Timothy Eller confirmed the updates Thursday.

The case involving a third charter remains open after its inconclusive internal investigation.

Last summer, PDE launched an investigation of 38 traditional school districts and 10 charters. The goal was to determine whether student answer sheets on state exams had been tampered with. At least 30 of those have been officially cleared. Others will face more intense scrutiny when administering the exams this year.

The only such investigations that are still active are in the Philadelphia District and at Philadelphia Electrical and Technical Charter High School and Imhotep Institute Charter High School, also in Philadelphia.

Efforts to determine whether specific educators cheated may be continuing, however.

Eller has said that an inquiry remains open into possible cheating at the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School even though school officials say they’ve been told the investigation is over.

Eller would not comment on the Palmer case, saying only that there are “multiple facets to the PSSA investigations.”

On Sept. 21, the state released the 2011-12 PSSA scores and said that cases were ongoing in nine districts and schools, including Pittsburgh, Hazleton, Scranton, Reading, and Harrisburg.

According to subsequent local news reports, Reading received a letter earlier this month saying that its investigation was closed. The article also confirmed that some of its educators had received letters saying that complaints were filed against them.

And a story in the Hazleton StandardSpeaker said that on Nov. 13 the district received two letters it considered contradictory – one saying that the investigation was closed and one that "implied that the state’s examination of district test scores will extend further."

The Hazleton school board president blasted PDE for keeping the district under a cloud of suspicion. Eller was quoted as explaining that the findings of an initial investigation could prompt a secondary parallel probe.

Additional reporting by freelancer Bill Hangley, Jr. and Notebook contributing editor Dale Mezzacappa.

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