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138 Philadelphia educators implicated in cheating probes

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

Philadelphia’s PSSA test cheating scandal broke open in January when District officials provided a long-awaited update, revealing that 138 educators may have engaged in misconduct, such as erasing wrong answers and substituting correct ones, over a three-year period.

At its Jan. 16 meeting, the School Reform Commission terminated three principals in connection with the scandal. Officials said they were proceeding with disciplinary actions against dozens more teachers and administrators.

Sources also told the Notebook that the state attorney general has opened a criminal investigation and issued subpoenas.

The scandal, uncovered when the Notebook obtained a forensic analysis of 2009 test booklets that was conducted by the testing company, showed that dozens of schools statewide had statistically improbable results. Those included abnormally large numbers of wrong-to-right erasures on answer sheets.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education did erasure analyses of 2010 and 2011 results as well, and began investigating several school districts and charter schools. In Philadelphia, 53 schools with suspicious results were divided into three groups. The state conducted the probe in 14, including three charters, and told the District to investigate the rest.

The state found evidence against 69 educators in its probe, while the District found evidence against another 69 at the first 19 schools that it looked into.

Of those 19 schools, 13 were found to have cheating behavior, evidence at three was inconclusive, and another three were cleared. School names have not been released.

Of the 69 educators implicated in the District’s investigation, 40 are still employed, while 29 others have left the District.

Superintendent William Hite said he was “committed to ridding our system of adults who participated in this type of behavior.”

Robert McGrogan, head of the administrators’ bargaining unit, said that he believes that parts of the investigation, conducted largely by pro-bono attorneys, were done “in haste” and that some implicated educators would have solid grounds for appeal.

After the state put strict test protocols in place at all Philadelphia schools, test scores dropped precipitously at many in 2012. Statewide, PSSA scores also fell.

The state has offered few findings from its investigations in other districts and charters and has sanctioned only a few educators.

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