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One-third of District schools had pattern of suspicious erasures




[Previous updates - Details on erasures; Editor's note]

UPDATE, 7/21: Since the original publication of this story, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has decided that only those schools that were flagged three or more times in a single grade in the summary report prepared by DRC will have their 2009 PSSA results investigated further. As a result, the following Philadelphia schools with flags for suspicious erasures in both reading and math in every tested grade are not under investigation, because they did not have three or more flags in a single grade:

  • Emlen and Forrest elementaries;
  • Barrett Middle;
  • Bok and Communications Technology high schools; and
  • Delaware Valley Charter High

The Notebook strives for complete accuracy and wants to clear up any confusion regarding the follow-up investigations to the 2009 forensic report.

The statewide study that looked for signs of cheating on the 2009 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) exam flagged a total of 88 Philadelphia District schools and 11 Philadelphia charters for highly suspicious numbers of wrong answers that were erased and changed to the correct answer.

All told, Philadelphia accounted for 44 percent of the 225 schools flagged statewide in the 2009 "erasure analysis," which was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE).  

While in some schools the irregularity was limited to one grade and subject, 42 of the District schools that were flagged had suspicious erasure patterns in more than one grade.

Olney Elementary School, a K-8 school, was flagged for suspicious wrong-to-right erasure patterns in both reading and math for every grade from 3rd through 8th.

The state’s report from 2009 examined several additional statistical indicators to identify a narrower group of about 60 schools statewide – including 22 District schools and seven Philadelphia charters – that had multiple improbable test results. But the report’s narrative  gives special attention to the results of the erasure analysis, stating “these results may strongly suggest that a testing irregularity occurred in the school.”

The suspicious results are even more likely to reflect actual testing irregularities where schools were flagged for the erasure patterns in both their reading and math results at every tested grade in the school. Several Philadelphia schools were flagged for suspicious results in both reading and math in every tested grade:

K-8 (6 tested grades)

  • Olney Elementary

K-6 (4 tested grades)

  • Franklin S. Edmonds Elementary
  • Emlen Elementary
  • Forrest Elementary

K-4 (2 tested grades)

  • McClure Elementary

7-8 (2 tested grades)

  • Barrett Middle
  • Roosevelt Middle

9-12 (1 tested grade)

  • Bok High
  • Communications Technology High
  • Frankford High
  • Northeast High
  • Strawberry Mansion High


  • Delaware Valley Charter High
  • Imhotep Institute Charter High
  • Philadelphia Electrical and Technology Charter High

The analysis also tagged several Philadelphia schools with a “threat score”  of 100 – the highest given out in the report – indicating that the odds that the wrong-to-right erasure patterns on their students’ response sheets occurred purely by chance were 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.  


  • Barrett Middle (8th grade math)
  • Olney Elementary (5th grade math and reading, 7th grade math)
  • Strawberry Mansion High (11th grade math)
  • Tilden Middle (6th grade math, 8th grade reading)


  • Imhotep Institute Charter High School (11th grade math)

The erasure analysis also flagged individual students’ response sheets for improbable wrong-to-right erasure patterns.

At Strawberry Mansion in North Philadelphia, for example, 55 percent of the school’s 11th graders had their math response sheets flagged as highly suspicious. Thirty percent of the school’s 11th graders also had their reading response sheets flagged.

The 55 percent of students flagged in a single subject and grade at Strawberry Mansion was the second highest in the state, behind only Nebinger Elementary in South Philadelphia.  There, 59 percent of 4th graders had their reading response sheets flagged for highly suspicious wrong-to-right erasure patterns.  Half of Nebinger’s 4th graders also had their math response sheets flagged.

View the data cited in this report

Editors' note: The 2009 forensic analysis commissioned by PDE and obtained by the Notebook consists of a narrative report giving an overview of the data and methods as well as literally hundreds of data files comprising statistics and technical analysis. The erasure analysis files are just one subset of the overall study. The Notebook continues to review the data and work on presenting it to our readers in detail and in an understandable way.


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