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State slow to provide information on PSSA probe

By Benjamin Herold on Oct 21, 2011 12:32 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and
WHYY/NewsWorks

Pennsylvania's inquiry into suspicious state test score results appears to have slowed to a crawl.

So far, the School District of Philadelphia has received no response from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to a state-ordered internal investigation of 28 schools with suspicious results on the 2009 Pennsylvania System of State Assessment (PSSA) exams.  The report was delivered to PDE in August.

The District has also not received any information related to statewide forensic audits of 2010 and 2011 PSSA results, which were delivered by testmaker Data Recognition Corporation (DRC) to PDE over a month ago.

In addition, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records (OOR) has denied multiple Notebook requests for data and reports relating to potential cheating on state tests.

In July of this year, the Notebook published the results of a “forensic audit” of statewide 2009 PSSA results, which prompted PDE to require districts and charters to further investigate 89 schools across the state, including 28 in the District. State Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis then ordered similar statistical analyses of 2010 and 2011 PSSA results.

PDE released the 2009 audit, along with all its appendices and raw data, at the request of the NotebookIt did not cite any reasons at the time to withhold that report.

PDE spokesperson Tim Eller told the Notebook in mid-September that the 2010 and 2011 analyses had been completed, but would not be made public until those districts and charters that had schools with suspicious results had been notified.

More than a month later, Eller could not say whether that process has yet been completed.

“From the department’s perspective, the investigation is ongoing,” said Eller.

Eller said that PDE was withholding the information because officials did not want school districts to “find out through the media that they were listed in a report.”

He also said there was no hard deadline for the department to notify districts or release the reports.

District officials confirmed for the Notebook that they have not received any information related to the 2010 or 2011 audits.

PDE has also refused to make public internal district and charter reports into suspicious 2009 PSSA results, which were due to PDE in August.

School District of Philadelphia officials said in mid-August that they had submitted their report. During a press event at the time, they said District staff had not conducted interviews at any of the 28 schools they had been asked to investigate. Instead, they re-analyzed the statistical information provided by PDE.  

In a presentation delivered to reporters, the officials detailed some concerns with DRC’s methodology and argued that only 13 of the 28 schools warranted further inquiry. They also said they wanted the results of the 2010 and 2011 audits, as well as direct assistance from PDE, before conducting any further investigations.

District officials said PDE has not responded to the findings in their report on the 2009 irregularities.

Officials at two of the area charters asked to further investigate their 2009 results said they had yet to receive any follow-up from PDE.

In recent weeks, the Notebook has filed requests under Pennsylvania's Right to Know law for the following records:

  • The results of statewide forensic audits of 2010 and 2011 PSSA scores, conducted on behalf of the Pennsylvania Department of Education by test-maker Data Recognition Corporation (DRC).

  • Reports on internal investigations into suspicious 2009 PSSA scores submitted by the School District of Philadelphia and eight area charter schools to PDE.

In denying the requests, Pennsylvania Office of Open Records (OOR) argued that the records are legally exempt from public disclosure because they are part of a non-criminal investigation, among other reasons.

The Notebook is appealing OOR's decisions.

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Comments (7)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 21, 2011 12:08 pm

Just shameful.

Submitted by Philadelphia citizen (not verified) on October 21, 2011 5:00 pm

Not surprising that Corbett's people are dragging their feet on this one. On July 21 Benjamin Herrold reported in the Notebook that the Chester Community Charter Schools (CCCS), one of the largest charters in Pennsylvania, were among the 89 schools across the state that are to be investigted for statistical irregularities on 2009 standardized tests. The same article informed us that CCCS was founded by Gladwyne lawyer/entrepreneur Vahan Gureghian, who contributed more than any other individual donor to Corbett's successful campaign to be governor.

http://www.thenotebook.org/blog/113889/two-pa-largest-charters-part-test...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 21, 2011 11:30 pm

Please don't suggest that crooked politicians and their corporate buddies are at it again. Can't be true, regardless of the obvious facts to the contrary. Can you say, Imhotep ????!! Please, charters in general are money making ventures for the trendy rich who see a gravy train of easy cash coming to the inner cities. The pretext of school choice is thrown out to cover their collective tracks. Only the poor parents are fooled, nobody else and especially, nobody who even remotely understands the business model at work. Think slum lords and you have the picture. As more and more charter school workers begin to voice their concerns in unison, watch what happens and it will happen.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2011 12:10 pm

Yes, Corbett is following the Republican agenda of dismantling Public Ed. so Private, corporate companies can take over and make certain that the poor remain poor. Yes, that lawyer from Gladwynne is a sweetheart by all accounts---a real doozy but money counts, one, last and only. If even 10% of what I've about him is true, he's bad news.

Submitted by Raheem (not verified) on October 23, 2011 12:22 pm

It's not just the Republicans. The Democrats want to privitize, too - they're just not direct about it (see: Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, Arlene Ackerman, Anthony Williams, Dwight Evans). Rhetoric is used to make the dismantling of public schools more palatable.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 22, 2011 12:25 am

Nothing will ever change until there is a moratorium on Charter Schools and the playing field becomes even. They're accountable to nobody but protected by big business and cold blooded "Money Talks" politicians. I am not against Charter Schools or Private Schools but when money is drained from the real public schools, it's wrong especially when there is no accountability nor transparency. By the way, that's by design too so the charters can operate with impunity--nice gig if you can get it. Dishonest and immoral but, hey, money talks........even money designed for the poor and who cares about them anyway??

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2011 1:23 pm

Hi Raheem,

Yes, you are very correct. Obama has been a big disappointment---BIG but I still have hope for him against the big business corporate types. There is NO doubt about the Republicans at all. They're already bought and paid for by the Tea Party mentality.

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