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Former Bok principal surrenders credentials in cheating scandal

Melton is the seventh principal punished in cheating probe.

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

Arthur "Larry" Melton, the retired principal of the now-defunct Bok Technical High School, has become the seventh Philadelphia principal to face official punishment as a result of a probe into widespread PSSA test cheating in the Philadelphia School District.

Melton, who was at Bok for a decade, surrendered his teaching and administrative credentials in July, according to a state website that reveals disciplinary actions against educators.

The notice of action states that he "violated the integrity and security of PSSA testing for multiple years."

From 2010 to 2012, the year that stringent test protocols were put in place, test scores at Bok, which closed in 2013, fell precipitously, especially in math.

In 2010, 71 percent of Bok’s students tested proficient in math, compared to 45 percent in 2011 and 26 percent in 2012. Reading proficiency rates dropped from 53 percent to 36 percent to 32 percent.

Last year, the testing coordinator at Bok, Ronald Paulus, surrendered his teaching credentials for two summer months, a lenient penalty that sources told the Notebook at the time probably meant he was cooperating in the investigation.

In May, Robert Manning, the former principal of Elverson Military Academy, surrendered his credentials.

In April 2013, principals Barbara McCreery and Lola Marie O’Rourke surrendered their principal credentials. In January of this year, the School Reform Commission voted to terminate three other principals: Michelle Burns, Deidre Bennett, and Marla Travis-Curtis.

The state attorney general, Kathleen Kane, has brought criminal charges against Evelyn Cortez, the former principal of Cayuga Elementary, and four of the school’s teachers: Jennifer Hughes, Lorraine Vicente, Rita Wyszynski, and Ary Sloane. Prosecutors and witnesses have described a blatant and defiant culture of cheating in the school. They have been ordered to stand trial.

All the Cayuga educators have been terminated by the District. Sloane, at the time, had moved on from Cayuga and was principal of Bethune Elementary.

Besides the Cayuga teachers and Paulus, a former Elverson teacher also surrendered his credentials in connection with the scandal.

The state began a statewide investigation of test cheating in 2011, after the Notebook drew attention to an unreleased Department of Education report that showed statistical anomalies in 2009 test scores — such as high numbers of wrong-to-right erasures — and the Inquirer reported on teachers alleging cheating at several schools, including Cayuga.

The state conducted analyses of 2010 and 2011 scores. Ultimately, 53 District schools and three charters in Philadelphia were targeted for further investigation.

The state is investigating some of the schools and the District is investigating some. The District can take its own disciplinary actions, through the use of reprimand, suspension, or termination. In some cases of more egregious violations, it recommends that the state take further disciplinary action, for instance, by revoking the educator’s credentials.

Regardless of the weight of statistical evidence, cheating can only be proven through eyewitness accounts or confessions, so pursuing disciplinary actions against educators is a very long process.

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