Charges filed against Philadelphia principal and teachers in cheating scandal

TESTING: The principal and four teachers at Cayuga Elementary School have been charged in cheating scandal.

By Maura Pennington | Watchdog.org

PHILADELPHIA — A principal and four elementary school teachers in the School District of Philadelphia were charged Thursday for their alleged involvement in a standardized test cheating scandal.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who announced the charges, said the five individuals were “allegedly perpetuating a culture of cheating” during a period of five years.

“The alleged misconduct by these educators is an affront to the public’s trust and will not be tolerated,” Kane said.

Evidence was presented before a statewide investigating grand jury that Evelyn Cortez, Jennifer Hughes, Lorraine Vicente, Rita Wyszynski and Ary Sloane, all of Cayuga Elementary School in North Philadelphia, allegedly changed student answers, provided answers to students and improperly reviewed test questions prior to administering the test.

The standardized test in question is the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSA, which is used to measure not only student achievement, but also a school’s effectiveness in helping students reach proficiency. Assessments in reading and math are given to third through eighth grade students and 11th graders. Students in the fifth, eighth and 11th grades also take writing tests. Science tests are given to fourth through eighth graders.

Individual student scores go to the schools to assist educators. Aggregate school scores are provided to the district and state.

Cheating — by the teachers and administrators, not students — is suspected to be widespread in Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania’s inspector general has been investigating cheating at 11 Philadelphia schools, while the school district itself has been looking into 19 schools, with probes pending at 22 others. Cheating was found at 13 schools, and 69 current and former employees were implicated in district investigations.

The School Reform Commission fired three principals in January in light of the district’s findings.

Cortez, Cayuga Elementary’s principal, is accused of entering classrooms and tapping students’ booklets to tell them they needed to change answers. One witness said Cortez told her to place her fingers by the correct test answers, the attorney general said in a news release.

A directive was broadcast over the school’s public announcement system for students to record answers on scrap paper instead of in the test booklets so teachers could review the answers before submission.

The grand jury also accuses Cortez of reprimanding teachers and students who did not engage in cheating.

After the cheating stopped in 2012, the percentage of students who scored advanced or proficient on the PSSA at Cayuga, which goes from kindergarten to fifth grade, dropped across all subject areas. In 2008-2009, almost 84 percent of students passed the reading assessments. In 2012, that number was down to 25 percent.

Cortez, Vicente and Hughes face felony charges of :

  • One count of corrupt organizations.
  • One count of perjury.
  • One count of tampering with public records or information.

Other charges include forgery, tampering with records or identification, and criminal conspiracy.

Sloane and Wyszynksi are charged with tampering with public records, forgery, tampering with records or identification and criminal conspiracy.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard did not return calls Thursday morning, but Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham tweeted that he had stated all five educators were “immediately suspended from their current duties pending a disciplinary conference.”

Contact Maura Pennington at mpennington@watchdog.org and follow her on Twitter @whatsthefracas.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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