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Test score decline - what do you think?

As the Notebook and Newsworks reported Thursday, preliminary results of the 2012 PSSA tests show declines after 10 years of increases, with the biggest drops occurring in schools under investigation for possible cheating and in the lower grades.

Most of the 53 schools under investigation showed sharp drops.

Across the District there were 72 schools where scores in both subjects were within 6 percentage points of last year's results, a more typical and predictable rate of change from year to year. Just two of the 53 schools under investigation fell into this category.

However, most other schools, not just those being investigated, did show declines in one or both subjects. At about 20 schools, scores went up.

Last school year saw the imposition of new security measures and testing protocols -- in Philadelphia, students could not be proctored by their own teacher. But those weren't the only changes that might have affected test results.

Due largely to precipitous reductions in state aid and the end of the federal stimulus, cuts to school budgets were relentless. Changes were made in the middle of the school year. Gifted programs, special ed, programs for English language learners, tutoring, summer programs, common planning time for teachers, instrumental music, were all cut -- on top of reductions to school operating budgets. Progress in reducing class size, especially in the lower grades, was halted. 

How would you explain the drop in test scores? Do we now have an accurate picture of how well Philadelphia students can perform?

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Comments (76)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 17, 2012 7:02 pm

Philadelphia schools were set up to fail. When the state and even it's own District started imposing ridiculous changes to testing, it made it a very hostile testing environment for the students. Anytime you make a rule saying only Philadelphia students have to test with different teachers (when the rest of the state can test with their teachers), and you have strangers in your classroom in and out during the entire testing time, it sets the students up for failure. As a teacher in one of these identified schools, I feel as though we were set up, partially by our own District to fail. Our students felt as though they were being watched and the teachers felt uncomfortable as well. The pressures that this test brings is out of this world! I am just not sure how this test can even be considered "standardized" when Philadelphia's testing conditions were completely different than the rest of the state!

Submitted by J.J. McHabe (not verified) on August 17, 2012 7:22 pm

You can say that again!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 17, 2012 9:22 pm

Why weren't tests stored at different schools to prevent principals, vice principals and their literacy/math leaders from changing the test sheets? Who is more likely to change answers: a teachers with 20-30 some witnesses in the classroom or the administrators and literacy/math leaders who had access to the tests when nobody else was around?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 17, 2012 11:01 pm

As a "literacy leader," I never had access to the tests. The tests were kept by the testing coordinator. Administrators obviously had access.

That said, there were a small number of schools where tests were changed. The vast majority of changes occurred during testing. Teachers proctoring tests helped students. I was a proctor and witnesses it by other proctors. I informed the principal and was told, in not so many words, s/he didn't want to hear anything. So, teachers who were warned about low test scores helped students take the tests. (It is easier with math than reading - one problem at a time versus based on a reading passage.) I'm sure there were other teachers who looked at the test and then "retaught" what was on it in the afternoon. I witnessed this at a magnet school.

Now that we will be evaluated based on test results, the pressure for false success will increase.

Submitted by Gayle Robinson (not verified) on August 20, 2012 9:01 am

They set this up so they would have more reasons to close schools.This was only done in Philadelphia...Restore the funding and this would not happen.. They are destroying Public education..

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on August 20, 2012 6:00 pm

Gayle--And it's ALL to make the already rich, richer at the direct expense of the urban areas where these vulture types foist themselves. Nutter, of course, is part of this not just Corbett. Anybody past the age of reason, can look at the facts and see them as they are. It's not complicated and it's not going to stop until WE stop it.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on August 20, 2012 3:48 pm

Ditto--Say it again and gain--set up to fail.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on August 17, 2012 8:25 pm

I think that these test score declines show how fragile of a measurement test scores are. They are clearly easy to manipulate, especially when there is not close supervision. I think that these issues with cheating are one reason why it is dangerous to try and use test scores to evaluate teachers. Read more about the problems with using test scores to evaluate teachers in "Problems with the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers" at http://www.epi.org/publication/bp278/. Clearly, the state needs to use a better metric for measuring student performance. However, such an evaluation system would likely be more expensive and it seems that many in the legislative and executive branches are reluctant to fully fund public education.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on August 17, 2012 10:24 pm

I, too, believe that the drop in the scores for the lower grades has quite a bit to do with the fact that students could not test with their own teacher. This holds true for schools that did not participate in the cheating. We were given less that 10 SCHOOL days of notice that we could not test our own students. The little things that homeroom teachers know about their students help make the testing environment more comfortable for students. They are not official accommodations, but are ways kids need to de-stress during the very stressful testing week. When we announced the new testing regulations to our 7th and 8th graders (this was announced only about 10 days before the test, remember), they were very upset. We were able to talk them through it and process it together, but I believe the younger kids (especially grades 3-5) were negatively affected by it. Even some of our middle school kids had a hard time with it. One of my very bright, but very hyper and irritable students had a little freak-out on the first day of testing and was almost removed from the room. Should this student have been able to handle his/her situation? At age 13, perhaps, but the fact remains that the freak-out would never have happened if I had been in the room. Ideally, we want kids to be able to eventually take tests like SATs, LSATs, MCATs, and GREs no matter who the proctor is, but remember, those tests are voluntary and taken by subsets of highly motivated, older, and mature students. PSSAs are forced on kids, and they need a comfortable environments in which to take tests.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 17, 2012 11:41 pm

It sounds like teachers had been cheating but then stopped after they found out they were under investigation.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 18, 2012 6:42 am

Some teachers assisted students during testing - the protocols for testing were strictly enforced in 2012. (Before 2012, there were often questions about the protocols but I don't think anyone at the regional or district level cared to enforce them). There were some schools were there was an intentional effort, apparently by administration, to change scores - I have no idea how many. So, many people were involved in the "sin of omission."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 18, 2012 11:11 am

Your analysis us the correct one. Drops have nothing to do with changing testing proctors.

Submitted by Pseudonymous (not verified) on August 20, 2012 8:25 pm

I know that there was a different culture surrounding testing this past year. I only ever saw one person engage it what was clearly, unequivocally "cheating" in the most serious sense but there were many things that a lot of people thought of as acceptable coaching that were suddenly called "cheating."

One of the most obvious of these being that if a student left an entire page blank, you could give them back the book and say that they forgot a page. Most other standardized tests specifically tell proctors to check for completion of all parts of the test, and suddenly common-sense things like this were cheating.

We were told not to ever look at a booklet, not to ever speak to an individual student. I used to walk the room saying "You're doing great" to everyone, remind them not to get frustrated, general things like that. Can't do that anymore. Students put essay answers on the wrong pages (oops, I must have accidentally seen a test booklet) and we couldn't remind them to check directions and make sure they were using the test form correctly.

All of those things meant that in the name of "cheating" we turned the PSSA into a test of familiarity with the test booklet, ability to turn pages properly, ability to function normally under stressful circumstances (for a 3rd grader, a new teacher who won't talk to you is pretty stressful).

Add that to the reduction in actual cheating since the end of the Ackerman era, and there you have it. I think it's a 50/50 split in ADMINISTRATORS who were no longer cheating and teachers who had to stop doing common-sense "cheating" like pointing out skipped pages.

Submitted by Linda K. (not verified) on August 18, 2012 1:07 am

Add to it the impossibilty that NO CHILD will be left behind and they all will be on the proficient level in both reading and math.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 18, 2012 1:57 am

How about a greedy teachers union that cares more about lining their pockets with taxpayer money than they do about actually educating the students.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 21, 2012 9:51 am

Greedy teachers union??? Im sorry that we refuse to give up our hard earned salary and benefits to save a school district that refuses to fund schools appropriately, give teachers enough resources to get the job done and who does not support teachers with enough professional development and growth opportunities. Every teacher in Philadelphia stays on the job because they know how much they are needed. We make more than $10,000 less per year than our suburban counterparts who do not deal with even 1/8 of the issues with see with the children of Philadelphia. I am sorry that certain unions had to give up so much to keep their jobs. We are paying for the mistakes of too many people who abused their power in the SDP. Do not call me greedy because I work hard to earn every penny of my salary and benefits that I do not pay extra for. I have put my health and safety in danger at work on numerous occasions. My average salary with good benefits is the least that the SDP and the City of Philadelphia can give me for what I have given them and the children that we serve.

Submitted by tom-104 on August 18, 2012 6:53 am

You got up in the middle of the night to say that? No wonder you can't sleep.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 18, 2012 6:20 am

The explanations given so far seem to imply that changes in proctoring procedures acount for much of the drop in test results. At best, I would say it was a contributing factor but other factors must have also played a role in the drop. The question is, what other factors do we want to publicly acknowledge could also explain the drop in scores?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 18, 2012 7:14 am

At the high school level, only one grade is tested - 11th. The cohort of students in grade 11 from year to year is not identical. Yes, the loss of funding for common planning time, loss of teachers, after school tutoring, etc. may have had an impact. A bigger factor is it is a different group of students. This is not an excuse - it is a reality.

In "empowerment" schools, there was extreme pressure to improve scores. I know some teachers/proctors provided too much coaching/teaching during testing. At at least one school on the "cheating" list, a plan was created with administration to review what was on the PSSA before the test. (The PSSA was available a few weeks before the test.) Some teachers don't consider this "cheating" - they consider this "teaching during testing" or "preparing for the test." I don't consider "coaching" during testing or reviewing the tested items before the appropriate. Students, especially by 11th grade, need to learn part of the game of education is taking standardized tests. Unfortunately, the students also know the tests have no baring on them - they don't need to "pass" to graduate. For some students, it is very difficult to get them to spend weeks taking a test that "doesn't count."

With the Keystone exams, each test is one, 2 - 2.5 hour test. This will help with motivation. By 2017, the students have to pass the test. (They will have 3 tries and, if they fail, a project.) While no standardized testing is ideal, I rather prepare students for a test based on a course of study, have them take it on one day, and have it matter for something other than "AYP."

The other issue the SDP / SRC has to acknowledge is that at the high school level we have an extremely tracked system. Besides magnets and special admits, there are charters which we know screen students. (Just look at the CHAD, Mastery, Freire, ETC. applications!). So, the neighborhood schools have a lot more to do to prepare students for the tests.

With the Keystone, once a student takes a course (e.g. Algebra 1), and passes, the score will follow the student and be calculated for the school's AYP when the student is in 11th grade. Will charters and magnets/special admits be "dumping" students who don't pass the tests in 9th and 10th grade (9th may also be biology and 10th English)? Will the magnets / charters / special admits "grab" the students who pass to boost their AYP? Call me cynical but as teachers we will be evaluated by our student scores starting in 2014. This could be the nail in the coffin for neighborhood high schools if the SDP / SRC don't monitor what happens.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on August 18, 2012 8:49 am

Just look at all of this ridiculousness which is a direct outcome of high stakes testing. The test and punish mentality is destroying our sense of propriety and our sense of reality.

I assure you the new Keystone exams will also be riddled with error and unfairness.

High stakes testing is fatally flawed from its inception and has done more harm than good. It has never worked in the past. It will never work in the future and cannot possibly yield fair and valid results.

What is really sad is that it is destroying our sense of community and doing the right thing for children. Look what we are doing to our children.

There are appropriate uses of standardized tests and there are inappropriate uses of standardized tests. What we see here is the worst possible use of standardized tests.

Almost all of the comments here are very perceptive and right on the money. I admire you all for having the courage and fortitude to speak the truth about what is going on.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 18, 2012 9:13 am

The Keystone tests will be "riddled" with problems BUT, I much rather prepare students for a test based on course content (Alg. 1 and Biology) than the randomness of the current test. Unfortunately, the reading test will change very little. It will be very difficult to prepare students who come to 9th grade with reading levels between 3rd - 6th grade, the average in neighborhood high schools, for an high school reading test. It triply difficult for English Language Learners who are just learning English. Nevertheless, the Keystone is a 2 - 2.5 hour test - not 4 days of testing for reading, 4 days for math, 3 days for writing and 3 days for science. We spend 4 weeks administering the PSSA, we will spend 3 - 4 days administering the Keystone.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on August 18, 2012 9:55 am

True. We will have to wait and see their validity and reliability.

An interesting point which supports your ideas is that when we had our reading program back at UCHS in the 70's and 80's, we gave a Metropolitan Achievement Test as a pre and post. We used the MAT6 Form B as half of our final exam and compared our results to their pre test, the MAT6 Form A. We also gave the Stanford Diagnostic Reading Test as half of our mid term exams.

Just for the record: We never ever even dreamed of cheating on the tests and never ever even did test preparation in any way. The setting was safe and secure for our students. It was non threatening and supportive.

We believed our test scores were valid and reliable measures of student growth in reading comprehension ability.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 18, 2012 11:47 am

In the 1970s and 1980s they were not "high stakes" for either teachers, students or schools. No one was threatening to privatize or charterize Univ. City or any other school. (I admit, I am not old enough to know but this is my assumption of the 1970s and early 1980s.) The tests you list were more diagnostic. They were to provide information to modify, improve, and/or change instruction. The PSSA, and Keystone, will never be returned to students. Once the students take the test (and now, with the Keystone, pass), it will never be looked at again for that student. We will come up with a variety of ways to help students take objective tests and complete the open ended components but... they aren't tests to "inform instruction."

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on August 18, 2012 4:19 pm

You raise a good point. Since students don't have access to their PSSA test booklet after they take the test, there is no way for them to learn from taking the PSSA.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on August 18, 2012 5:46 pm

You are right for sure. I submit, however, that a credible system of student and school assessment would contain valid and reliable assessments given to students each and every year. And that those asessments could easily be designed to "inform, modify, improve or change instruction" or the practices within a school or school system.

The test results would follow the student so we could assess growth in reading ability and actually analyze one idicia of the value of alternative school structures -- such as charter schools, renaissance schools, and charter operated schools, etc.

I love this discussion because it is exactly what we reading specialists at Uni did every morning before school even started -- we passionately debated the best practices to meet the needs of children who we cared about.

You know, back in the good ole days.....

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 19, 2012 12:48 pm

The Keystone Tests are going to be a one or two year experiment that will go away really quickly. Why because the kids in Lower Merion and Radnor will do terribly on them and God knows these little darlings are perfect and the uproar from their parents will kill the tests. Certainly cannot be Junior's fault!!!

Just like a small percentage of students pass the New York State Regents Exam a small number of Pennsylvania Students will pass because the tests are on all the sujects the kids were supposed to learn in High School and the Standards in High Schools are so low that the grades will not be good.

Now if we had the Keystone self-esteem test or Keystone you at least tied test it would be a success.

I give the Keystone tow years tops.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 19, 2012 9:11 pm

Not true -- Lower Merion and Radnor parents can pay for tutors. This is the suburban version of "cheating." Don't think that the powerful will not find a way to keep their advantage in the new system.

Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on August 20, 2012 6:19 am

You don't know much about the NY Regents Exam. 76% of NYC students passed English and 69% math in 2011. (69% passed the US history - a 3% drop from 2010; 69% passed Living Environments (bio) in 2011 - a 5% increased from 2010). Students have to pass to graduate. So, the pass rate isn't great but it certainly isn't a "small percentage." The Keystone should potentially be better than the PSSA if they are aligned with a course of study. Obviously, it depends on who creates the course of study. At this point, the Curriculum Dept. in Philly has created nothing for science and social studies courses. We shall see if the English and math are aligned with the Keystone (Common Core Standards).

Submitted by Pseudonymous (not verified) on August 21, 2012 6:02 pm

Empowerment Schools straight do not have science classes in middle years. Maybe now we'll have to go back to a real curriculum?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 21, 2012 9:27 pm

K-8 social studies was thrown out of "empowerment schools" before they became "empowered." It is a huge disservice to the students.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 19, 2012 8:04 pm

High stakes testing caused the cheating and fraud that has been uncovered? What happened here is criminal. This was more than a charade for the State. People were given raises and promotions under the pretense of increasing the test scores and achievement of their students.

Submitted by HS teach (not verified) on August 19, 2012 8:08 am

I agree that scores depend on the cohort a lot. Our scores actually dropped in 2011. This year everybody was predicting that the scores will improve, just because our 11th graders were brighter.

Submitted by Joan Taylor on August 18, 2012 11:37 am

Sadly, all of us in the SDP bear the shame of this cheating scandal. I keep biting back the impulse to say to people that I didn't cheat and that my school isn't on "the list." I am sure there are teachers whose schools are on "the list" who feel as defensive as I do.

I don't know what accounted for the drop at some schools. I'm sure that teacher presence was a factor in many classrooms. I know that I was relieved when a strict and effective teacher was made the monitor of my advisory. My kids would not have done as well with a teacher who was less on the ball as they tested.

I monitored a fairly difficult class, and I was exhausted at the end of each session. I didn't know the kids, and even though they weren't on their worst behavior by a long shot, they were still kids who needed constant management. I will teach these kids this year, and I'm sure that it will be much easier to manage them once I know them as individuals than it was in the testing situation.

With all the extra fuss about test scores this year, I'll bet many teachers doubled down on their efforts to teach explicitly to the test in spite of the fact that this work is as boring as all get out, and I can't imagine that they got much bang for their buck.

But...there's no getting around the fact that a lot of cheating has gone into our scores. There are many factors involved here, along with huge chunks of massive hypocrisy, starting at the top and filtering down. Of course, the people at the top have more plausible deniability than those with their hands on the actual tests. They will be able to tsk, tsk and act shocked and remain closed to honest discussion of the problems we face in our classrooms.

I've taken a lot of BS from the SDP over my many years because I've been outspoken. It has been painful, and sometimes debilitating to tolerate. Surviving the SDP with dignity can be a wrenching ordeal. Maybe this will change...If we really face up to what this cheating scandal has come from, maybe we can do better, for ourselves as adults who work in this environment and for all the kids we teach.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on August 18, 2012 11:31 am

Thank you for your honesty. My goal is to retire - eventually - with as much integrity as possible. In the School District of Philadelphia, that is a significant goal. I agree who tests students matters. When a teacher has a relationship with his/her students, s/he is able to provide encouragement, which is not cheating, to keep working, keep trying, and remind students that "they can do it!"

There are many ways in which teachers - at schools which were tagged for "cheating" and school which are not - could have "helped" students during testing. I assume the most common was giving some instruction during testing. Yes, this violates the testing protocols and some of tried to bring it to the attention of administrators. Some administrators chose not to listen. If test answers were altered or changed outside of testing periods, that had to be coordinated by or through administrators. Those of us who proctored tests didn't have that kind of access - nor desire, I assume. The other "cheating" could have been teachers who saw what was on the PSSA before or during the test, and went over materials with students. Some may not consider that cheating but that is the ultimate "teaching to the test."

As you wrote, those in power from 440 to regional offices, are ultimately responsible for creating an environment that rewarded "by any means necessary." Since I am not an administrator I never attended the Ackerman, Driver, Nixon, ETC. annual "banner" event to honor principal who made AYP. The stream of magnet and special admit schools went to the podium. The elementary schools with much lower SES (Penn Alexander, Greenfield, Meredith, Loesche and many others in the far Northeast paraded with their banners. Meanwhile, those of us in neighborhood high schools were told to get scores up at every walk through, PD, and "pep rally."

I hope there is time for teachers to sit and reflect on what we are doing and why. Unfortunately, the powers that be will bang us over the head to get "scores" rather than learn with children and students and do our best to provide them with the skills, ideas, character traits, generous hearts and inquisitive minds needed to find joy - and opportunities - in their lives. That certainly doesn't happen through the drill and kill, scripted, "stay on task" school environment of test prep - whether conducted by 440 or Mastery.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on August 18, 2012 10:44 pm

Unfortunately, encouraging reflective practice and critical inquiry does not seem to have been a major priority of the District over the last several years, even though reflection is, from my understanding, crucial for good teaching. Reflection is crucial for many jobs in which the employee must cater his or her practice to novel people and situations.

Submitted by Joan Taylor on August 19, 2012 9:09 am

Reflective practice and critical inquiry take time. Time is money. I can either spend 45 minutes thinking about a lesson--not duplicating, not grading papers, but thinking--or I can be "teaching" 33 kids. The brass prefers to gloss over think time, and as there are only so many hours in a day, for most teachers duplicating materials and grading papers are the top priority. It's the sad but simple fact.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 18, 2012 11:03 am

Our students fail because most kids have been brought up never having read a book. They have never seen a parent read a book. They are taught to do as little as possible to get by and never never snitch on anyone no matter how deleterious the offending behavior is. Yet teachers are supposed to overcome years of bad or no parenting and produce good test scores. Anyone wonder why they cheat? Are the suburban teachers so much better or do they get better parental support??? Education is not a secret technique only known by a few. It starts with stable engaged families and we Philadelphia teachers do not have that ingredient and we are excoriated for the kid's bad scores. But God forbid we blame the incredibly bad parenting that routinely occurs in most parts of Philadelphia. You do not know how many times I have been told by a mother that her 16 year is a grown and she has no control whatsoever over the little darling.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on August 18, 2012 4:13 pm

You are over-exaggerating the situation. Even in the poorest neighborhoods, there are many decent parents involved with their child's education. It's also important to realize that poverty can undermine parent engagement because parents are working all the time, parents don't have a car, can't afford extra tutoring, etc. Some parents are terrible, but these parents are the minority, not the norm. I did reading enrichment with a couple of elementary school children at a neighborhood school in a low-income neighborhood in West Philadelphia. One was read to a little bit at home, the other was never read to at home. Neither had library cards. One had perfect attendance, the other had pretty good attendance. One came from a single parent family, one from a married family. One did decently in school, the other did very well in school. There are many nuances at high-poverty schools. Not every child does poorly, comes from a single parent home, is violent, doesn't know how to read. As a society, we tend to focus on the negative when it comes to education, especially when speaking about inner city kids (Black and Latino/a children). At this school, I can guarantee you that all of the children had read books, even if they were struggling readers.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on August 18, 2012 4:47 pm

even if SOME were struggling readers.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 18, 2012 5:01 pm

Yes there are some struggling readers. But our PSSA scores taken as a whole were in the bottom 10% of the state and they will be lower if administrators cannot erase answers to improve the student scores and get themselves promoted to a 440 job. We cannot really compete because the PSSA is a reading and math test the really tests the socialization of kids. The more involved the kid's family is in the American dream the better he they do. The more isolated from mainstream America the worse. It is really a good predictor of future success even if the thought is not popular.

This is not going to change not matter what incantations the SRC decides the teachers must mutter everyday. The problem is a lack of a family structure and a family pushing the kid to do what every successful family knows is good for its kids. At my school there were three report card conferences and a total of 8 parents showed up, That is not eight each time rather eight people over three different dates and on one date no one came. At my son's suburban high school you have to make appointments and then wait because so many people show up. Yet the students failure is always the teacher's fault. Is that reality or the rose colored glasses view of liberal hopefulness. If we do not criticize bad parents maybe they will get off the coach and parent?

That is a slim reed of hope to base an educational policy on.

Submitted by Education Graduate Student (not verified) on August 18, 2012 8:54 pm

You seem to take a blame the victim mentality instead of acknowledging the institutional and historical racism and classism at play as well as the realities on the ground. How much time have you spent in inner city Philadelphia apart from the time at your school? Do you realize how isolated so many of these people are from "mainstream" America? Socioeconomic and racial segregation has a lot to do with the condition of schools in Philadelphia. There are many people who can't afford to live outside of the hood. Consider the reasons why some neighborhoods are so segregated, e.g. redlining, white flight, middle class blacks and Latino/as leaving, absentee landlords, etc.

You acknowledge that "We cannot really compete because the PSSA is a reading and math test the really tests the socialization of kids." The majority of Black children in Philadelphia grow up in neighborhoods where the predominate dialect is African American Vernacular English (AAVE). AAVE is a perfectly legitimate dialect from a linguistic standpoint although many in our society regard it as "broken" English, which it is not. Middle class white children speak a dialect that closely resembles Mainstream American English (MAE). MAE is seen as a more legitimate dialect because it is the language of power, however it and AAVE are linguistically equal. Linguists regard all languages as equal.

Some children have parents who also have mastered Mainstream American English (MAE), but some have parents who have not mastered MAE. Of course all children need to learn MAE because it is "money talk" and the language of power in this country. However, some children have an easier time mastering MAE in reading and writing because of what they speak at home. This is fine, it just means that schools need to provide assistance, as we do for ELLs, for children who speak other languages and dialects. Imagine if the PSSAs were written in AAVE...who do you think would have the advantage?

Regarding parent teacher conferences, what time were these conferences? Many adults in low-income communities work long hours or multiple jobs to make ends meet. Many rely on SEPTA. I know this because I also rely on SEPTA. Is there child care for the conferences? What if the parent has other children and has no one to watch these children? Has the school told the parents of the importance of the conferences? Were there reminder phone calls? How well is the school engaging the parents and communicating with them?

I'm not trying to make excuses, but rather acknowledge realities that you have not acknowledged in your post. Unfortunately, many of the worst performing schools serve students who don't make it into charter schools or whose parents can't afford private school or don't know about applying to different charter schools. Thus, often the children with the least engaged parents often end up in the same schools.

In addition, how much per student does your son's district spend per child? I would guess it probably spends more than Philly. The fairest way to fund education would be to collect all property taxes into one pot and distribute them according to need. This would allow for fairer funding.

Submitted by Linda K. (not verified) on August 18, 2012 8:25 pm

Thank goodness you are paying attention, apparently some of our co workers do not bother to even read the stats on their own schools...how many of the responders here know the lnumber of kids at their schools? the poverty rate? the suspension rate? the reading and math levels for any group beyond the classes that they teach? [if they even know the levels of those classes?]

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on August 18, 2012 8:39 pm

I'm a teacher and I often can not make my children's report card conferences and back to school night because I have to work. Should I miss my students conferences/back to school night, and get in trouble from administration, or should I attend my children's back to school night/conferences? I try to communicate via email but unfortunately not all of my children's teachers are professional enough to return or at least acknowledge an email. So, I guess I am a "deadbeat" single parent.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 20, 2012 10:21 am

That is why you are given three personal days a year. I have never missed a back to school night for my children. As a teacher, you do not work at night. There is really no reason to miss these important events.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on August 20, 2012 12:03 pm

Back to school nights are at night. Since I teach in Philly and my children go to school in Philly, they are at the same time. How can I be at two or three places simultaneously? If you know how, I'd appreciate knowing your trick. If I take a personal day when I have report card conferences, I can not meet with my students' parents. My children's report card conferences are at the same time. Again, how are you at two or three places simultaneously? Or, do you, like far too many Philly teachers, live in the suburbs or have your children in private schools and therefore the times do not conflict?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 20, 2012 2:59 pm

Unless your children go to the school in which you teach, the back to school nights are not the same. All schools do not have the same back to school night schedule. You can schedule your conferences on two days and take a half day on the third day, then meet with your children's teachers at that time. There are always ways to work it out. I have never had a teacher not accomodate me and I have never not accomodated a parent. And yes, my kids go to Philly schools.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on August 20, 2012 3:41 pm

This year, like last year, all of my children have the same back to school night - Sept. 20. I have back to school night Sept. 20. You are fortunate to have children in such accommodating Philly high schools. I have not been so lucky. Some teachers, like myself, are willing to stay after school , talk on the phone and/or email. Not all Philly teachers will do anything outside of the contractual schedule.

My initial point was to stop parent bashing and judgement of parents. You have continued the bashing and judgement.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 18, 2012 11:04 pm

Maybe you are missing my point.

The PSSA is completely unfair to my students because they have poor family structure and probably bad preparation. Hardly any student I teach is reading at grade level. Reading starts at home and if you do not read for pleasure and information there is not much even a teacher of Socrates stature can do to help you.

Most of this failure is not the students fault but these kids are going to be competing against better prepared kids from every country between the USA and China and it will be a an unfair contest but that is how it is. Society has written off these kids and really does not give a damn. Yet it does not even try to help them in meaningful ways. The PSSA is not helping most Philadelphia Students.

The SRC is making things worse by taking the top 30% out of every public school and sending them to special admit or charter schools. Think what would happen to any organization if the top 30% are removed. It gets more inefficient and suffers not a 30% decline but maybe a 50% decline. Yet the decline is the teacher's fault. My High School once produced famous scientists and other leaders. Am I and all my colleagues just stupider than the teachers who were here from say 1930 to 1960? Yet the news media and everyone ese blames the lazy teachers, I suspect I work several hundred times harder on classroom management than my predecessor from say 1950. Maybe he got to devote more time on teaching but he had an administration that could never even conceive of tolerating the behaviors that happen everyday in a Phildelphia High School.

What the SRC is creating is an Educational Apartheid program where the top 30% is catered to and the bottom 70% is starved of resources and hope. Our present course will result in more and more unqualified high school graduates who cannot succeed in the vastly more competitive market of tomorrow.

It is not the kids fault. I do think it is the parents and the district's fault. Making tired excuses about poverty and busy parents etc will not pay the bills of this kids after graduation. Society does not care and the future it going to get harder and more competitive. We need immediate literacy and other training so they have some chance of making a living.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 19, 2012 12:39 pm

You Know Linguists are hiring very few people so even if they think all dialects of English are equal.

MacDonalds and very other business wants someone who speaks English like Tom Brokaw. This is an economic fact and it you speak a isolated dialect of English you will never succeed in the mainstream. This is fact not politics or anything else.

Submitted by HS teach (not verified) on August 19, 2012 8:13 am

Do you know if they teach phonics in those days? Do they have students memorize arithmetic facts and multiplication tables? As a high school teacher, I am flabbergasted at how unprepared my students are on these basics. And this is no parents' fault. I think that we are little too often point fingers at the parents. Yes, we are at disadvantage compared to the rich suburban districts, and our jobs are the the hardest. This is why we need to fight for equitable funding, and social equality and justice in general (I would like to see our union do more about it), look for ways to engage parents. But also, we need do some soul searching ourselves. Are we doing everything we can? Are we holding our students to the highest standards? Sometimes, all it takes is change in the attitude. Too often I hear in my school: "Our kids cannot do that". I was told that I should not make my students memorize anything, because "they don't like to memorize". This view seems to be pervasive throughout the district, and, my guess, is partially responsible for the low test scores.

Submitted by Concerned RoxParent (not verified) on August 20, 2012 9:26 am

OMG, yes. Yes a parent of an incoming 4th grader I agree. Last year his class was learning multiplication tables. Instead of just teaching the multiplication tables, they have all these cutsie games and tricks for the kids to learn them. My son "got it", but it was a struggle (and he is an A/B student). Once I had him start writing out the tables (We would do 1 or 2 a night) he "Got It".

Just teach math!

Submitted by Joan Taylor on August 19, 2012 9:37 pm

I wish I could agree with you because I love my inner city kids, but the fact is, I get kids in 8th grade at a pretty decent school who tell me, not at the start of the year but as they get to know me, that they've never finished a book.

Studies show that even among lower class families where reading to children occurs on a regular basis, it occurs for a total number of minutes per day that is swamped by the number of minutes working class, middle class, and upper middle class children are read to. When researchers follow children who are poor, they find on average that kids are read to for literally minutes per year. This includes kids who are never read to and kids who are read to for 30 minutes per day. The kids who are read to for 30 minutes per day are far more likely to be successful in school than those kids who are never read to, but they are less likely to be successful than their peers from higher socio-economic backgrounds. The higher up the socio-economic ladder one goes, the more exposure to reading there is.

Early education should move away from a focus on skills and work on reading extensively to kids, getting kids to improve their stamina for listening attentively and developing a background of information along with appropriate social skills.

We're all meant to be good readers--even very slow kids can read with pleasure and comprehension appropriate books. Exposure is the key, and nothing will achieve that but time spent being read to. Kids can't do this for themselves. When it comes to reading, quantity counts for more than quality. I'm afraid with the new emphasis on "rigor," we're going to provide even less time for kids to immerse themselves in books they actually like.

Submitted by HS teach (not verified) on August 19, 2012 10:05 pm

"Early education should move away from a focus on skills and work on reading extensively to kids"
Just finished "The Academic Achievement Challenge" by J.S. Chall. She cites extensive research throughout 20th Century supporting the idea that acquiring knowledge and skills using traditional teacher-centered approach, especially in the early years, is crucial for the future academic success, and this is even more true for the kids who come from the poor families.

Submitted by Joan Taylor on August 19, 2012 10:26 pm

What does Chall mean by "knowledge and skills using traditional teacher-centered approach"? I'm all for teacher-centered approaches. I worry about substituting reading activities for reading itself.

Submitted by HS teach (not verified) on August 20, 2012 7:01 am

What is meant is direct instruction of reading and math skills and emphasis on learning content and skills, as opposed to the progressive student-centered approach based on student's interests, needs and readiness with emphasis on the learning process and problem solving. In reading it is the phonics versus whole language instruction dispute. Study after study showed the superiority of phonics instruction, especially for the low income children. This is why I was wondering how reading is taught in Philadelphia elementary schools.
Another book that gives some insight on might be wrong with our teaching is "Why don't students like school" by Dan Willingham. He talks about importance of building background knowledge by teaching more content during elementary school years.

Submitted by Joan Taylor on August 20, 2012 8:50 am

Ultimately, you can't have any fluency as a reader without having figured out phonics. The problem with phonics instruction is like the chicken and the egg, however. Which comes first? All kids need phonics instruction, but its success is based on factors like phonological awareness. Kids, for instance, who have never heard nursery rhymes--and there are plenty of them--frequently have trouble hearing the sounds that make words rhyme. They can't accommodate phonics instruction until they have enough practical experience to figure out what that instruction is unlocking. Kids who struggle with phonics need to rely on building a huge sight word vocabulary and working backwards from there to learn the phonics. Hitting kids with poor reading skills with a ton of phonics is usually not successful, not because they don't need to learn phonics, but because they lack the experience to make the phonics make sense. That's why it's so important to read like crazy to kids who haven't been read to at home.

Parents who read to their kids unconsciously do it in the most productive way: they are reading for pleasure, sitting next to their child, sharing their experience of the book, talking and laughing about pictures, and repeating the experience over and over. They may look for letters at some point and talk about sounds, but not until doing so makes sense for their child. Reading instruction in school for kids who start out lagging in their exposure to reading needs to address these deficits.

Programs that teach phonics out of context will work fine for those kids who are going to learn to read no matter what. Any method works for most kids. For kids who have trouble learning to read, teachers have to be more flexible, and for many of those kids, an early overemphasis on phonics puts up barriers to reading. These kids become so slowed down by the rules of decoding that their memories can't retain enough meaning to make sense. Try slowing down your own reading for a couple of sentences to the point of figuring out how each letter sounds and you'll get a sense of the struggle that non-fluent readers go through.

Phonics is a necessary part of reading, and the relative straightforwardness of its rules make it seem like the logical solution to reading problems, but in reality, it's the aspect of beginning reading that presents the biggest barriers to the most struggling readers, and it needs to be carefully addressed.

Submitted by HS teach (not verified) on August 20, 2012 8:03 am

"For kids who have trouble learning to read ... an early overemphasis on phonics puts up barriers to reading."
According to Chall's book, research shows otherwise. I suggest you check it out, as well as her other books in which she specifically summarizes research on teaching and learning to read.

Submitted by Joan Taylor on August 20, 2012 9:01 am

I haven't read Chall in years but have recently read Marilyn Jager Adams, who writes the intro to Chall's 2002 book. I don't think either would endorse Corrective Reading. There is a difference between being teacher-directed and believing that phonics is the answer for many kids with reading problems. I hope there are very few people out there who think kids should be left wandering about trying to figure out how to read without explicit instruction. Of course they should be systematically taught, and of course they should be exposed and immersed in information that broadens their background of experience. My concern remains that for the poorest readers, phonics, sadly, tends not to offer much of an entree into the world of books. It's an absolutely necessary skill, but not the first step. We have a much clearer idea today of how little reading takes place for many kids before school. Marilyn Jager Adams discusses these findings in her writing, and we need to attend to these prerequisite reading skills if we want to make all kids who can be proficient readers proficient.

Submitted by Linda K. (not verified) on August 18, 2012 11:18 am

All good points save for the person who wrote about the Teachers Union. What is not said and is an awful truth is that the SDP and all those connected with the educational rules neglect two things:

1) Everyone is not going to be advanced or even proficient. We can not all be Jet pilots, animal trainers, or accountants. These tests are merely indicators of a person's abilty to function on an academic level. Character, morals, and citizenship will never get measured by this. If we need a clue just read the news or check out some of our politicians who have higher education and yet are corrupt.

2) "Regular and special needs students" who may be proficent, basic and below basic will have to go to school somewhere. Any guesses as to where that may be? Well, I will say it. My school. More than likely your school. Oh we can act like we do not see them, can not hear them, and will not recognize them, but we will one way or the other. They will be the people serving you your food at the restaurant and your nursing home. They will be driving the car next to you and sitting on the train in the seat behind you. They may even be the person who calls for help when you fall down or someone tries to hurt your child.

What teachers should do is show respect and offer every opportunity for a child to learn. Many will surprise us all regardless of how they test.

So long as the system supports testing of students and rating them as well as those who teach [and I mean really teach] then this is the way it is and and always shall be.

Submitted by Joan Taylor on August 18, 2012 11:30 am

Well said. Thank you.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 19, 2012 8:26 pm

This whole thing is so sad. I was a teacher at one of the schools indicated for cheating. In fact, my grade was flagged for both Math and Reading suspicious erasures. I can say this, "I never told a kid he had the wrong answer, and I never erased and changed an answer."

I am saddened by this whole thing. I feel like all I did during my time at my previous school is ruined by the fact that someone was changing test answers.

That being said, the huge drop definitely has, in part, to do with the changes in testing. My students were out of control for the entire test because the person who proctored to them could not control the class. The person was also a teacher who didn't care how they did, and kids can pick up on that is a second.

This whole thing saddens me, but I plan on seeing it as a learning experience and working even harder next year.

Submitted by Jay (not verified) on August 19, 2012 10:21 pm

You sound like a reflective and good teacher. Your last sentence is actually quite inspiring.

Submitted by Hayley Dogon (not verified) on August 20, 2012 12:08 am

I know the cheating scandal has rocked everyone here, but could the drop in the scores also have to do with the fact that every support that was given to children in our schools was CUT this past year?Tutoring, SSAs, extended day--all gone.

Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on August 20, 2012 6:52 am

I'm sure the loss of extra supports had an impact but I don't know how great of an impact. There was relief in high schools when there were enough teachers to have 8 period days which allowed for a test prep class for reading/math rather than having to do test prep in English and math classes. This allowed for more authentic and in depth learning in English and math classes. That said, "Empowerment" schools had to still do test prep in all classes (e.g. constructed responses / open ended.) Under Wayman, the weekly open ended in English and math was ridiculous and often a waste of time.

If I had some say over budget, tutoring of small groups of students on targeted skills related to the tests would be helpful. It would need to be after school rather than "pull out" during the day. I'm sure wealthier school districts provide this type of tutoring.

The change in testing protocols also had an impact. In the lower grades, I assume not having one's classroom teacher had an impact. In all grades, teachers providing "support" during testing from reading questions or defining terms on the reading test to explaining a math problem probably occurred more often than people want to admit. I had an administrator at a magnet school threaten us in the mid 2000s if any student's booklet was turned in and all questions were not answered. (It is a test violation to check individual booklets.) The so-called "soft cheating" happened. This was encouraged by administrators who insisted on "active proctoring." In the schools with very questionable results and huge drop in scores, I assume administrators either changed answers and/or orchestrated a system where teachers were told to go over the tests before and during testing. (I believe at Roosevelt, open ended answers were on some boards and students were also taken to the library for "help.")

Whatever happened, this is very painful for teachers who try to teach with integrity and for our students who did their best. Any of the 53 schools will be questioned and all teachers suspect even if it wasn't everyone - which I know is true. Meanwhile, once again, magnet schools are left off the hook. There are "irregularities" in testing protocols in magnets too.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 20, 2012 6:24 am

Does anyone know if anything is going to happen at 440 because of this "revelation?" Will any administrator / higher up be held accountable? The Ackerman effect had an impact on all schools - not just the 53. Will Ackerman's "record" be questioned? (She already got the bonuses). What about administrators who were promoted because of their test scores? Those of us returning to schools in the "notorious 53" will return to a difficult environment. We need to talk about what we know and find out what we don't know. We'll have to consider how our testing protocols could have led to "wrong to right" erasures. We also need to know is administrators were involved in anything (e.g. Cayuga, Roosevelt, etc.) There needs to be transparency versus silence. We owe this to our students, parents/guardians, and ourselves.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 20, 2012 2:33 pm

Oh no, no repercussions for Ackerman, she is off in her new job consulting with her New Mexico school district...which just happens to have gotten a new superintendent, one of Ackerman's cronies from Philly. How surprising, huh?

It's only the teachers that get reprimanded, even though we are following directives from these other people, often knowing it is not good teaching.

Submitted by Linda K. (not verified) on August 20, 2012 1:37 pm

Well, having been in and just released from an Empowement school, I hope that the next directive is to NEVER go back to what I had to do two years ago. It was at that time my 70 minute block scheduled class for art was cut to 30 minutes in that I was directed by my school admin who HAD to follow the SDP 440 Directive that I teacher DI MATH.

Now of course I did it, but really? Some things got me:
1] when the kids came with the books that they had for 3 months I saw they had only done 2 or 3 pages WITH the designated math teacher.[we marached through the book in two months]
2] the books were 10 years old and clearly leftover bargain books
3] the class and I found 3 problems with the wrong answer in the back of the book

I informed my school adm, wrote an email to 440 highlighting the aforementioned and guess what? No, they never responded but then again, it was suddenly NOT required that I teach DI math the next year.

Final note, I am NOT certified to teach Math just ART.
As for 440, I never had a year in the 18 that I spent at my school were there was NO Afterschool and NO Summer school...doesn't the SDP know that repetition is key?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 20, 2012 2:44 pm

Gee...I am just a dumb teacher, but even I can figure that the reason the scores dropped, especially at schools that were caught cheating, is just THAT. They had gotten higher scores because they were cheating. And that is the problem with basing "success" on test scores. There are lots of ways to cheat and get higher scores. That doesn't necessarily mean the kids are more capable. Lots of factors can result in good or bad scores. When will the "experts" learn this?!!

Submitted by ka3kcj on August 20, 2012 4:24 pm

Having just retired in June, I do not know what my srtudents; scores were, nor do I really care. I can't see how the scores would not have dropped since my kids had someone they did not like protoring the test for them. It definitely did affect the seriousness with which they took the test. We don't have a huge cheating problem at the score where I taught since the rules and procedures for security are drilled into us all second semester. I have never cheated on the tests with my class although I do know in the 80's there weree people who cheated on the CAT test - one was our principal who would stand at a student's desk and ask, "Are you sure you want to choose that answer?"

Our students don't do well for a lot of reasons. Some jost have test phobia and will never do well. Some get easily frustrated and can't deal with test for that reason. These are the have-not-yet-been-identified-as-Spec.-Ed kids. Then there are the kids that have been passed into the grade despite having failed the previous year. There are a lot of these kids. They go to Magic Summer School and come out geniuses. I taught SUmmer School one year recently. Talk about rigor - there was none! The whole thing was designed to pass everyone.

Try getting rid of the Do-Nows and scripted curricula and allow teachers to actually teach. Try not promoting kids who don't pass. If you are more than a year behind in math or reading, you have no business getting promoted. Try writing IEPs that mean something and setting goals that will move the kids forward. Try Spec. Ed. classes that are more than 45 minutes for each subject, reading and math. Try restorative practices so that more emotionally or behaviorally needy students learned to do something other than disrupt the class. Try making class sizes 20 or less in Elementary grades. Try funding programs that will help prop up those kids that can't get it in the regular classroom. Hire the staff to go with these programs that support kids. Get rid of Corrective Reading and Math. Allow time to have truly collaborative grade group meetings like we used to have before the budget went south. Replace the "blame the teachers" gang downtown with real educators who understand how to teach. Try holding the charter schools as accountable as you would like to hold us. Prevent the charters from getting rid of kids mid-year for academic or behavioral reasons. They accepted them they should deal with them,

With all the supports that were pulled from the schools, both people and materials/money, is it any wonder the scores went down? CHeating or not, until we restore some sensible practices in the schools, our scores won't go up, that's for sure.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on August 20, 2012 5:24 pm

NCLB was designed for this goal. Now, the charter lie can get even more leverage since the nasty teachers cheated on the tests. There are no accidents !!

Submitted by High School Teacher (not verified) on August 21, 2012 6:37 am

Personally I've been waiting to hear how our district did on PSSA. Now that the scores are in, let's look at how successful 440's drill and kill methods were. Yes elimination of cheating should be part of the equation, but please note that all that "teaching for the test" ended up being worthless. Instead of scores going up or at least holding steady, they went *down.*

We teachers complained bitterly about time lost from teaching critical thinking and instilling a joy of learning. But 440 mandated drill and kill, so that's what we did.

This turned my students off so badly that some stopped coming to school. Many of my brightest students didn't show up on testing days. They hated the boredom, repetition and intellectually insulting process. How do you think this affected scores?

The kids knew it was all about the scores and honestly, they could care less. These tests had nothing to do with their grades or graduation, so why should they put themselves out to go for high scores?

Since 440 claimed they knew better than the teachers how to raise scores, let them take the blame for scores being where they are. We teachers followed instructions even though we knew it was the worst way to teach our kids.

440 and administrators took credit, bonuses and perks for scores going up. Now let them take the blame for scores going down.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on August 21, 2012 7:37 am

The administration will not take the blame, ever. They hired "outside experts" (who were non educators) to create a standardized curriculum, timeline and scripted lessons. They told you what to teach, when to teach it and how to teach it. The administration fostered teaching to the test, teaching the test, over-coaching during the test and outright cheating on the test. Some administrators even just changed the answers behind closed doors.

What we see now is clear evidence that the practices and policies that were imposed upon us by the non educators who have taken over our school system -- do not work.

We also see the lack of validity, reliability and credibility of the high stakes tests that are being imposed upon us. Yet they will still "blame the teachers" who were and are for the most part powerless to do anything about it.

The test preparation pedagogy can not work because that is not how children learn and you as well as most teachers know and understand that. It kills the fun of learning and therefore the desire to learn.

The inconvenient truth is that the high stakes testing and its test and punish mentality has done more to destroy education than improve it. I could write a book on high stakes testing and the harm it has begotten. I would call it the "Great American Fraud."

The sad thing is that it hurts children and is being used to destroy the profession of teaching which our children depend on as their lifeline to Hope.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on August 21, 2012 9:35 am

And I contend that it was designed to do exactly that destroy what's left of Public Schools so the masses will accept the Charter Lie as the savior for the kids.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on August 21, 2012 9:46 am

And I contend that it was designed to do exactly that destroy what's left of Public Schools so the masses will accept the Charter Lie as the savior for the kids.

Submitted by High School Teacher (not verified) on August 21, 2012 9:21 am

440 chose those experts, bought their packages and forced them down our throats. Anyone doing differently faced punitive action.

For these reasons 440 is responsible for the damage they did to the students who learned *nothing* and what they did to staff morale, while having no effect on raising test scores.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 21, 2012 10:24 am

As long as the state can get us to throw stones at each other they can justify dismantling the district. Painting everyone with the same brush, this mass conviction, is extremely prejudicial and dangerous I for one need to see more data. How do the text scores match up to the rest of the school data? Do Benchmark and Predictive scores match the test outcome? How about improvement in Reading and Math levels in the school? Were their fewer children attending Summer School? Was there a change in report card grades? What about staffing? Was staffing stable at theses schools or were there major shifts?
I have questions before convicting anyone who hasn’t confessed. We have been taught to look at multiple indicators. Why aren’t we doing that now?

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