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So far, 23 educators have been disciplined by the state for test cheating

Three years ago, Pa. officials said 140 educators faced discipline in the investigations launched in 2011. The new administration says it cannot report how many cases are still in process.

By Dale Mezzacappa and Paul Socolar on Dec 8, 2015 02:41 PM

The state Department of Education (PDE) has provided a list showing that 23 educators statewide have so far been disciplined in connection with adult cheating on the PSSA tests as a result of investigations that started in 2011.

Philadelphia educators make up just over half of those sanctioned, and they have faced the harshest penalties.

Officials will not say how many more cheating cases are still in the pipeline.

While details about the state's inquiry into cheating are still sparse, PDE has also clarified the process that triggered its ongoing scrutiny of nine Pennsylvania districts where testing irregularities were found. These include two charter schools in this area: Chester Community and Imhotep Institute Charter Schools.

Of the 23 sanctioned educators, 12 were from Philadelphia District schools. One other had worked in Philadelphia Electrical & Technology Charter School in Center City.

Another, as reported by the Notebook last month, was a nine-year employee of Chester Community Charter School who, state databases show, served as a teacher, testing coordinator, assistant principal, and principal.

Other educators sanctioned were from a variety of districts across the state, including the cities of Erie and Reading. There were a few Philadelphia-area districts involved, including Quakertown and Penn-Delco.

Using state data, the Notebook has assembled a chart detailing the 23 disciplinary cases, their outcomes, and their locations.

Not included on the state's lists are five criminal cases involving educators that are going to trial in Philadelphia court.

Process can take years

The state disciplinary actions, which can take a long time to wend their way through due process, started showing up in 2013 on the PDE website set up to publicize sanctions taken against educators. That year, state education officials sought additional funds to clear a backlog of 500 cases of teacher misconduct for all reasons.

Since 2013 there have also been several cases of reciprocal sanctions imposed against educators working in Pennsylvania schools for cheating-related offenses committed in other states.

Five PSSA cheating cases with 2015 settlement dates were posted in recent months. The state changed its process in September, requiring that all actions go through the Professional Standards and Practices Commission. Before, PDE could impose a penalty on its own.

Cases involving PSSA cheating make up a tiny fraction of state actions against educators; most are for offenses such as inappropriate contact with students and behavior that resulted in criminal charges. 

None are reported publicly until the investigations are complete and the penalties are imposed.

All the Philadelphia educators involved, except for one who received a two-month suspension over the summer, surrendered at least some of their credentials. The two who worked in the local charters had their licenses suspended for multiple years.

Outside of Philadelphia and the two area charters, most of the penalties were far more mild – public reprimands and temporary license suspensions for periods as short as three days.

The statewide cheating probe began after the Notebook and NewsWorks revealed the existence of a forensic analysis of 2009 test results that revealed multiple irregularities, including statistically improbable numbers of wrong-to-right erasures. A statewide investigation was launched.

In 2012, under the administration of former Gov. Tom Corbett, a PDE spokesman said that it was pursuing disciplinary actions against 140 educators statewide in connection with the cheating scandal. But the Corbett administration did not provide an update on the status of those complaints before leaving office last winter.

Confidentiality concerns

Current PDE spokesman Nicole Reigelman declined to confirm that number or give any further information about how many other disciplinary actions are in the pipeline.

"The number of complaints that were filed is confidential," she said, "as the process is confidential, if and until professional discipline is imposed. PDE’s current administration cannot address why prior administrations provided those numbers."

So there simply is no way of knowing how many more cases involving individual educators may come to light as a result of the state disciplinary process.

State officials say an active investigation of cheating continues only in Philadelphia, which is now entering its fifth year. Nine other districts and charters, including Chester Community Charter, are in what the state calls "open/watch" status, with continued close scrutiny of their testing procedures. 

The "open/watch" label could cause confusion because the state also describes the cheating investigations in these nine districts and charters as "closed."

Reigelman said that the difference between these nine and other districts where the investigation has concluded is the ongoing monitoring.

In an email, Reigelman explained that open/watch status means “An investigation was conducted but the local education agency (LEA) failed to come to any conclusions relating to the high number of students with a high number of wrong-to-right erasures on their tests. PDE then mandated that test administrators could not administer a statewide assessment to their own students or proctor any students alone. Additionally, PDE added the schools to a list of schools to be monitored during future PSSA administrations.” 

The districts in open/watch status were also investigated by the state, Reigelman said, "and open/watch letters were issued after PDE’s investigation concluded." 

"In some instances, school entities were permitted to conduct internal investigations after the initial round of interviews at those schools concluded. Results of the internal investigations had to be reported to PDE and those results informed PDE’s determination of whether the school entity received an open/watch letter or a closed letter."

Besides Chester Community, these seven districts and one charter are also in "open/watch" status:

Delaware Valley School District
Derry Area School District
Harrisburg City School District
Lancaster School District
Monessen City School District
Hazleton Area School District
Imhotep Institute Charter School (Philadelphia)
Reading School District

 

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Comments (48)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 8, 2015 1:39 pm

Imhotep should be closed anyway. They are recruiting sports players from outside the city just to win ballgames. They cheat there too. 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 8, 2015 8:22 pm

Put Larry Melton from Bok High School in jail. He should lose his pension too.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 9, 2015 5:57 am

The cheating has implications beyond who is punished and who is not punished. In Philly, Ackerman publically praised administrators who had "improvement" in test scores.  Some of these folks, like Penny Nixon, had many promotions.   At the same time, students received less support because their scores were high.  Roosevelt Middle School (now K-8), had very inflated scores because the principal, Stephanie Ressler, conducted extensive cheating on the tests.  One she was promoted to Wilson Middle School in the Northeast, the test scores plummted.  Ressler is still a principal and Nixon is a Vice President for Universal Inc.

There are many adults who have never had to accept responsiblity for the cheating.  Meanwhile, what happend to the students?  

Submitted by Bob Beckett (not verified) on December 9, 2015 7:20 am

They need to also investigate one assistant superintendent who had many schools under her jurisdiction involved in cheating. This assistant superintendent, was recently given a promotion by the Hite administration. Things will never change. When you mess up in this district, you get promoted.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on December 9, 2015 8:09 am

High stakes testing was riddled with immorality and impropriety from its inception and was never about the best interests of schoolchildren. This is a symptom of the immorality of the high stakes testing used today and the insidious purposes for which it is being used.

High stakes testing is a misuse of standardized tests and this is a direct result of their misuses. It has become institutionalized malpractice.

This is clear evidence of its immorality and the malpractice which it has caused. 

Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on December 10, 2015 9:08 am

Totally correct as usual, Rich. The greatest irony in this whole episode is that Congress has now passed a new ESEA law that drops all the high stakes testing installed by NCLB.  They are finally acknowledging the failure of the original test and punish law. 

You are absolutely correct that the immorality was built into the original law. Teachers and administrators who were scrupulously honest found themselves punished, their schools closed, their jobs forfeited and all kinds of embarrassment.  The cheaters meanwhile received bonuses and promotions and many will never be caught.

Immoral only touches the surface of this fiasco.

 

 

 

 

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on December 10, 2015 10:58 am

Hi Gloria! The fact of the matter is that high stakes testing was never about the best interests of children or "meeting the instructional needs of children." It has always been about political agendas, and mostly about "test-punish-privatize-and profitize."

Back in our day, as reading specialists, we used standardized assessments as screening devices for those students who may have reading needs, so we then used "informal assessments" such as "informal reading inventories" to determine if a student actually had reading needs. Standardized assessments, as supposedly objective measures, were also used as pre and post measures, and to conduct school based research.

The degeneration of sound reading practice in our schools and the misuse of standardized reading tests is reprehensible. 

Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on December 10, 2015 11:57 am

Hi, Rich, I am a veteran teacher and recall everything you describe. The school's reading specialist was essential to keeping track of student progress. It was always about authentic instruction and assessment.

I do recall some "experimental" reading approaches like "programmed reading" that really were a waste of time, but then we always returned to the traditional methods. We had decent basal readers that guided our teaching. 

I am grateful that I retired before NCLB started, but I have seen its devastation in the schools where my student teachers practice. It is non stop test prep from September until the spring testing period. 

I am particularly annoyed how they use too much online instruction in what they call "blended learning".  Not only do they want to privatize and profitize, they want to automate as much of the system as possible to cut down on hiring.  I am skeptical of any program that brings outside providers into any school, ....including health centers.....but that is another story.

Always good sharing with you, Rich.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 9, 2015 11:12 am

I think the Notebook should investigate exactly why the Republican legislature and prior Republican led governers office have supported such harsh penalties for Philadephia teachers and not for teachers outside of philadelphia. The pattern is easy to see in this chart. The offenses were similar but the punishments were much much harsher for Philadelphia.  Is this a form of unjust persecution. Everyone that was involved should get the same penalties for the same offenses.  This may need more investigation by the Notebook!

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