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One-third of District schools had pattern of suspicious erasures

By Benjamin Herold on Jul 11, 2011 11:31 PM

[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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Comments (22)

Submitted by enuf already (not verified) on July 12, 2011 11:25 am

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.

dang philly.....somebody got carried away... must've had a big eraser. i don't think i've ever seen that many zeros! what do you call that number? it's about 26 zeros more than 100 trillion!

Submitted by Inspired_Apple on July 12, 2011 3:05 pm

hahaha, I love how even the news reporters & state are still weary about just coming out and reporting SCHOOL DISTRICT CHEATS ON TEST SCORES. WIDESPREAD PROBLEM PERPETUATED BY EMPLOYEES AFRAID OF LOSING THEIR JOBS AND FAILING THEIR STUDENTS!

No, you can't report that. Instead, let's just say, "I'm not saying you cheated, cheated. I'm just saying there's a 1 in a 100 *trillion* chance you DIDN'T cheat."

Hey Philly, there's a 1 in 1 trillion chance that the "unprecedented" test score rise was due to CHEATING. ----> can we please, please start to ADMIT OUR ERRORS and REBUILD OUR SCHOOLS?!

<3 always,
The Collective Voice of Philadelphia

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 12, 2011 6:20 pm

AYP and NCLB are ridiculous standards. They're a set up for disbanding Public Schools and moving to Charters to make corporations richer and to hell with the poor kids.

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on July 12, 2011 3:04 pm

I want some statistical analysis done on the frequency of right-to-wrong erasures and its association with higher rates of prescribing Paxil to traumatized teachers.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 12, 2011 6:14 pm

True--It's always the teachers' fault, always.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 12, 2011 6:09 pm

Teachers aren't the only adults in the building capable of altering answer sheets and no one is cheating just for fun. Until we seriously look at and address the caustic test-driven, pressure heavy culture that has taken over our public school system cheating is the least of our worries. Testing is meant to be about accountability, but we need to make sure that we are holding the right people accountable for the right things, for things that actually matter. As long as teachers are being judged by arbitrary test scores and schools are being punished for failing to jump through specific flaming hoops people are going to cheat. Period.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 12, 2011 6:52 pm

Of course you are right. I personally think it's a set up by the corporate types to dismantle Public Ed. and bring in Charters to make the rich richer and the poor dead, all under the guise of reform.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 13, 2011 6:37 am

It happened this year at Mansion under current Principal Dr. W. Students were 'guided' during the test. As a former Assistant Regional coming to a school that had high test scores, sure he had to maintain the status quo. Those who work there know what I'm talking about... Go ahead investigate

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 13, 2011 1:20 pm

Cheating starts at the top -- starting with Dr. Ackerman.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 13, 2011 1:09 pm

There's only one problem - Martin Luther King High School is missing from the list. Of course there were no erasure flags because the principal had students brought to an office to "work" with coaches on "figuring" out the right answers first and then completing the open - ended responses in the test booklet. What a joke! More investigation needs to be done. This school district is a mess and our students are paying the price for it.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 13, 2011 10:05 pm

Aren't we all thrilled that teachers should comprimise their contracts while the Queen gets offered lifetime medical and annual retention bonuses and takes credit for "improved" test scores. Our MAyor and Gov are asleep at the wheel.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 14, 2011 12:22 am

I agree with this comment. She gets the goods while the teachers get the slack. She has been sitting on her throne way too long!!!! .....mayor Nutter and Governor Corbett...wake up and no more fears..

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 14, 2011 11:03 am

Some of this cheating pre-dates Ackerman. At the Edmonds school it was well known that they were cheating. No one in a position of authority cared. In fact I believe this school won awards for cheating!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 30, 2011 2:54 pm

That last line about winning an award for cheating breaks me up. You are funny but not as funny and sad as this whole messed-up way of trying to teach and test kids with standardized tests.
Let's go back to the good old days when a kid would and could only learn if he was self motivated and taught himself. A teacher can only do so much, after that it's up to the kid and his parents. And even with that, there is no solution to this problem - and never will be. Some kids are smart, some average and some just can't learn and need more help than any system can ever provide. If a kid can't self motivate, he's got problems.
When it comes to learning, all men are not created equal and trying to find a common denominator for standardized tests is presently impossible. If this wasn't the case, a lot of cheating on tests in general would go away.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 22, 2011 8:17 am

The PDE is going to do its best to avoid finding out how widespread the cheating is, which is cheaper than admitting we need to spend some money to do better for our kids.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on July 22, 2011 9:28 am

Yes, the PDE has a stake in saying that its test is valid, reliable and credible. It is not and any clear thinking person with even minmal knowledge of the issues with standardized tests knows and understands that.

However, Tomalis and Corbett are all for the high stakes testing and using them to judge schools and their teachers, That is a misuse of standardized tests. They are good for the initial screening of students. A low score is a red flag that the student needs remedial help and support. That can only be determined by trained professionals who have more valid diagnostic instruments.

As amalgamated data, test scores can only give us a general sense of how well our studets read or do math. It tells us little about the cause of poor performance. In Philadelphia, the test scores are more a result of our academic stratafication policies.

In other words, we have "academic segregation" in our district. That reality is crystalized when we look at our high school scores. The select schools do well and the comprehensive high schools who teach everyone and anyone who walks through their doors, do not do well. It is a game of who gets the best students.

I expect the PDE to "rationalize away" the stark reality -- their test scores are invalid and largely fraudulent.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on July 22, 2011 10:22 am

The "academic segregation" or district wide tracking, especially at the high school level, is the "elephant" in the room many don't want to discuss. Vallas doubled the number of high schools by creating small high schools with admission requirements. (The exceptions were the Kensington schools and Olney which is not becoming a charter.) High schools without any admission requirements struggle more with test scores because, in general, the students who scored well in 3 - 8 are at more selective schools. This is compounded by the growth of charters who are also adding to the district wide tracking.

It would be much more beneficial - to students, teachers, parents and schools - if we looked at student growth on standardized tests versus grade wide scores. One group of 11th graders is not the same as another group of 11th graders - especially in neighborhood high schools. "Dips" in scores also happen in magnet schools but they aren't low enough to get attention. Now that Ackerman has gotten "rid" of Gratz, Olney East/West and Audenreid to charters, the percentage making AYP will increase. The High School region under Wayman will also see improvement next year because so many other high schools with low scores are now "promise" academies. It is all a numbers game played by PSD leadership which has nothing to do with student learning. The leaders take credit for improvement and blame and trash on teachers if scores decrease. As a teacher, it is debilitating. As a parent, I need to know how my child is doing - I don't need to know what is happening with their peers.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on July 22, 2011 10:26 am

Exactly! You are right on point with what you say here.

We need to have an open and honest discussion of what the test scores mean and how to validly measure student growth.

To do that though, we need to have what is known as an "open climate" for such dialogue. That does not exist at this time in our district. That is sad to me because it diminishes what we can do for children....

Submitted by Online Diploma (not verified) on July 23, 2011 2:36 am

Great post, you have pointed out some superb details, I tell my friends this is a very fantastic website thanks

Submitted by Magnitude (not verified) on August 4, 2011 9:06 am

That horrifically high number (a one with 40 zeros) would actually be "ten duodecillion."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 23, 2014 2:55 am

Some people say it is the abuse of standardized tests, the author of the initial screening to good students, and mark out those low-scoring students .. In fact, students need help, counseling and support, only by trained professionals people to determine, because they have effective diagnostic tools to determine this.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 23, 2014 2:43 am

I think you're right, I personally think that this is another type of public morality dismantle And these new blog rules only make the rich getting richer, while the poor more poor, which for reform , the accumulation of wealth is just a pretense.

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