Please Join Today!
view counter

New cheating concerns at Philly school met with 'baffling' response

By the Notebook on Oct 23, 2012 04:04 PM
Photo: Nathaniel Hamilton for NewsWorks

In March, the head of the Philadelphia School District’s test security program reported more than a dozen violations of testing protocol at Wagner Middle School. Effective in July, he was fired.

by Benjamin Herold, for WHYY/NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner

In the spring, amid vows from Philadelphia school officials to stamp out adult cheating on state tests, students at Wagner Middle School sat down to take the 2012 exams.

On March 13, the second day of testing at Wagner, the head of the School District's test security program reported more than a dozen testing violations at the school.

Among the infractions that Daniel Piotrowski said he witnessed was a teacher coaching students on how to answer test questions.

The same week, at least one other monitor also reported testing infractions at the school, which is in the city's West Oak Lane section.

At the time, Wagner already had been targeted for investigation based on signs of cheating in years past, including 2009, when the District's chief academic officer was the school's principal.

The reports of fresh violations at Wagner presented the District with an immediate test of its new commitment to take cheating seriously.

Here is how the District responded:

  • Piotrowski and at least one other monitor were removed from Wagner after reporting possible violations.
  • District officials never formally interviewed either the monitors or Wagner staff.
  • District officials dismissed some of the monitors' most serious complaints based on a "preliminary survey" of what happened at the school.
  • District officials overturned Piotrowski's judgment that a full investigation at Wagner was warranted.
  • The District waited seven months to file a formal memo to the state Department of Education about what happened at Wagner.
  • District officials omitted pertinent information from that memo.

Effective in July, Piotrowski, then the District's executive director of accountability and assessment, was fired. Neither he nor the District would comment on the circumstances of his termination.

This account of the events at Wagner is based on documents and interviews with sources who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.

A 'baffling' response

The District's response was highly questionable, said one national expert on educator misconduct.

"It's baffling to me why [the District] would not have responded more aggressively to a report of this nature," said Phillip Rogers, the executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC.)

In a statement, the District stood by its response to the cheating complaints at Wagner.

"The Office of Accountability, Equity and Compliance oversaw this entire process according to protocol and procedure," said District spokesman Fernando Gallard.

"There is no room in our schools for any adult involved in cheating."

High stakes, a troubled history

Each spring, students across Pennsylvania in grades 3-8 and 11 take the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams.

Their scores are used to determine whether schools meet federally mandated academic performance targets. In Philadelphia, the test results also guide a wide range of high-stakes decisions, including which schools should be closed or converted to charters.

Last February, NewsWorks and the Public School Notebook jointly reported that a statewide investigation into possible cheating on the exams had widened to include 53 traditional public schools in Philadelphia.

Among them was Gen. Louis Wagner Middle School.

In a state-commissioned analysis of PSSA results from 2009, 2010, and 2011, Wagner was one of dozens of schools across Pennsylvania found to have highly suspicious patterns of "wrong-to-right" erasures on student response sheets – a telltale sign of adult cheating.

Penny Nixon, the District's current chief academic officer, was the school's principal in 2009.

In 2010 and 2011, Wagner was led by its current principal, Maya Johnstone.

As a result of its past problems, Wagner was one of about a dozen schools put under extra-tight security during the 2012 PSSA exams. Johnstone and other school officials were not allowed to open boxes containing the tests without a monitor present.

Although some complained that the new testing regulations were unfair to Philadelphia students and schools, the School Reform Commission backed the measures, calling them necessary to "ensure that PSSA test administration is conducted with integrity."

Daniel Piotrowski was the architect of the District's rigorous new approach. A six-year District veteran, he had overseen the development of new testing protocols and the training of roughly 100 monitors for this round of the exams.

By March 2012, Piotrowski had emerged as the public face of the district's response to cheating. That month, he was profiled by the Philadelphia Inquirer for his work.

An urgent email

On March 13, Piotrowski was at Wagner to act as a monitor. He spent the day securing testing materials and observing classrooms.

That evening, Piotrowski emailed Johnstone at 9:49 p.m. His message began:

"I apologize for the late hour of this message, but after reviewing my notes from monitoring today and consulting some experts, I feel compelled to write to resolve some of the issues at Wagner regarding PSSA administration.

"Due to the level and number of violations witnessed at Wagner, the Office of Accountability will start an investigation into the testing procedures at Wagner."

Piotrowski outlined 13 definite and four possible violations of procedures that he said he had witnessed at the school. His list included everything from teachers allowing students to use calculators on prohibited sections of the math exam to the test coordinator improperly leaving secure test materials in the school's main office.

Taken together, the list "ranges from sloppy practices to serious infractions of accepted testing protocols," said Rogers of NASDTEC.

The most serious claim in Piotrowski's email to Johnstone was that he had witnessed a "teacher coaching students on responses."

In his message, Piotrowski identified the teacher and suggested the teacher be removed from giving the test to students:

"I would like to reiterate my suggestion that [the teacher] not continue to administer the PSSA this year. At a minimum, both [Wagner assistant principal Yvette Benning] and I witnessed [the teacher] talking to the class with language that was neither the assessment nor test administration material. Although I cannot confirm absolutely that [the teacher] was providing answers, [the teacher's] actions were clear violations of PSSA policy, District safety policies, and Wagner's test administration plan."

The message from Piotrowski to Johnstone is contained within the thread of a longer email exchange. First, Johnstone forwarded Piotrowski's message to Benning, her assistant principal. Then, Benning responded to Piotrowski, copying in multiple other recipients.

In her message, Benning disputed part of Piotrowski's report, arguing that the teacher he cited may have been reading test questions aloud to special education students, a permissible accommodation under the testing guidelines:

"I stated repeatedly to you that I did not hear anything inappropriate as we were standing outside of [the teacher's] door. ... In the future, if you are going to refer to statements made, please make sure that you are restating the facts."

Benning, Johnstone, and Piotrowski all declined to comment for this story.

Monitors removed

Rogers of NASDTEC said the scope, severity, and source of the reported violations at Wagner should have provoked a swift, strong response by the District.

"Never should a report of a trained observer be dismissed if they have documented that there is cheating going on," he said. "For some [of the reported infractions,] I would think a serious third-party inquiry would be warranted."

At Wagner, Piotrowski was removed from monitoring the testing at Wagner shortly after reporting violations at the school, according to sources.

Documents and sources indicate that a second monitor who reported testing infractions at Wagner on a different day that week was also removed from the school.

"Monitors are sometimes moved based on administrative decisions and scheduling needs," said Gallard, the District's spokesman. Gallard said that Piotrowski was reassigned from Wagner to accommodate a media request to meet with him at another school.

In response to the complaints of testing violations, District officials chose not to formally interview or take statements from either Wagner staff or the monitors who reported infractions there.

Instead, Piotrowski's boss, Fran Newberg, received informal briefings from the monitors and conducted a site visit at Wagner, an approach Gallard described as consistent with District protocol.

At the school, Newberg, the District's deputy chief of accountability, led what District documents alternately describe as a "debrief" with Wagner staff or a "preliminary survey" of the situation.

Based on Newberg's efforts, the District concluded that two of Piotrowski's allegations were unfounded, including his claim to have witnessed a teacher improperly coaching students.

The District backed Benning's version of events regarding that teacher. District officials also cited the possibility that the teacher Piotrowski cited may have been reading test questions out loud to special ed students, which is permitted.

"The allegation that a test monitor witnessed a teacher using 'language that was neither the assessment nor test' was reviewed and found to be inconclusive," Gallard said.

Through Newberg's review, the District substantiated 11 other infractions reported by Piotrowski. The District concluded that those problems "had been addressed immediately by [Wagner] principal and staff."

Piotrowski's superiors rejected his judgment that a formal investigation should be launched.

Varying responses

District officials handled differently a single reported violation at an unnamed elementary school, also reported in March 2012.

According to the District's investigation report at that school, obtained through the state Right to Know law, teachers alleged the school's testing coordinator had improperly arranged for students to complete missing sections of a test they had already taken.

That school was subjected to a full investigation involving both the District's Office of General Counsel and Office of Accountability. Signed statements were required from two teachers at the school, and formal interviews were conducted with three teachers and the school's testing coordinator.

In its four-page report submitted to the state, the District explained in detail the results of its inquiry, including why officials ultimately concluded that there was no wrongdoing at the school.

Gallard said the District responded more aggressively at the elementary school because the violations were reported after PSSA administration had concluded. The timing of the complaint, said Gallard, left "no opportunity for the Office of Accountability to visit the school and conduct a preliminary survey to dismiss, substantiate, and/or address the allegations while the testing was still in progress."

All told, testing violations were reported at 27 District schools in 2012.

Only the elementary school cited above was formally investigated.

Twenty-five other schools were reported for mostly lesser infractions, such as posters left on classroom walls. At these schools, the District's Office of Accountability pointed out the observed infractions to school staff. In some cases, officials held an informal conference with the school's leadership team. In summary memos sent to those schools and copied to the state in late August, principals were encouraged to more thoroughly train staff on the "do's and don'ts" of PSSA test administration next year.

That was the treatment given to Wagner.

Information left out

District officials waited until October to file their memo from Wagner.

Gallard attributed the seven-month delay to staffing and leadership changes at the District.

The memo ultimately submitted by the District excluded the two allegations by Piotrowski that had been deemed unfounded: "Teacher coaching students on responses" and "Improper materials on walls in classrooms."

Gallard said that a separate "summary report," also sent to the state on Oct. 3, contained information about these allegations, as well as the District's response.

Gallard confirmed that neither the memo on Wagner nor the "summary report" mentioned the infractions observed by other monitors at the school. Nor did either document mention that Piotrowski and at least one other monitor were removed from Wagner after reporting long lists of infractions. Gallard said neither omission should be considered unusual, given the nature of the reports.

Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Timothy Eller did not respond to multiple requests for comment or clarification on the state's policy regarding reporting testing violations.

Gallard said "the District stands by its report and believes it accurately describes the findings of the test monitors at Wagner Middle School."

What's happened since

On Aug. 16, the School Reform Commission voted to terminate Daniel Piotrowski.

His firing was officially effective July 14, according to the SRC resolution.

In September, the District announced that Penny Nixon was taking a yearlong sabbatical as chief academic officer, effective Nov. 1. Officials say her sabbatical was approved to enable her to concentrate on her doctoral studies. They say this move had nothing to do with the Wagner situation.

On Sept. 21, the state Department of Education released the results of the 2012 PSSA exams, attributing statewide score drops to less cheating than in years past.

The percentage of students scoring proficient or above at Wagner fell 24 points in reading and 28 points in math from 2011.

The District remains responsible for investigating possible cheating on state tests at Wagner in 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Officials have said the findings from that probe should be available by the end of this calendar year.

This story was reported as part of NewsWorks' partnership in education coverage with the Public School Notebook.

UPDATE: Listen to Benjamin Herold discuss the story on WHYY's NewsWorks Tonight



Click Here
view counter

Comments (88)

Submitted by LS Teach (not verified) on October 23, 2012 6:03 pm
Any quotes or comments from teachers at Wagner?
Submitted by Darryl (not verified) on October 24, 2012 10:30 pm
This post is in fact a good one it helps new the web viewers, who are wishing for blogging.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 7:40 pm
Does any of this surprise anybody who has dealt with Penny and her girls??
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 9:45 pm
Obviously you never have. Penny Nixon is a great person who is dedicated to public education, and to children. If you don't know that, then that's on you.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:50 pm
You must be one of Penny's girls.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:00 pm
Not sure what "her girls" actually means. I can't say that I have been afforded any tangible reward as a result of working with Penny. However, I will say that I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with someone as inspiring and decent as Penny Nixon.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:04 pm
Penny---Stop already.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 5:59 am
Sorry to bust your bubble, Penny Nixon doesn't read nor respond to anything written in the Notebook, she's too busy doing positive things (getting her doctorate from an Ivy League school). It's amazing all the comments that are written without any type of proof. Penny is far removed from Wagner. If I read correctly, it was stated Dan "thought" he heard something. The door was closed. This would not be permissible in a court of law. You can't convict a person from what you "thought" you heard. The sad part is the commentators have no clue when Penny put in for her educational sabbatical nor do they know the higher ups at 440 do NOT want her to leave. Everyone just keep making negative comments about the PSD, soon it will be charter and you will all be out of jobs.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 8:39 am
This comment obviously coming from an insider at 440 speaks volumes about the attitudes at 440 toward public schools and public school teachers.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 26, 2012 10:41 am
This is what I was about to type verbatim. Good post.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 8:28 pm
Hopefully Penny and her girl Maya go down together. Cheaters and schemes. I hope the school reports all of the cheating they witnessed.
Submitted by Paul Socolar on October 23, 2012 8:56 pm

There's plenty to talk about in this article.  Name-calling does not help the dialogue. The Notebook encourages commenters to keep the conversation civil. 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 9:51 pm
This is slander. Why does the Notebook allow this? You are making accusations about people in a public forum and the Notebook is allowing it?
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 9:49 pm
This is not slander - slander is spoken. It also isn't libel - a written statement. This is a public forum. This story shows that the School District only take cheating seriously at some schools. When the powers that be have a vested interested in the school, then they go after the messenger. The one person with integrity - Piotrowski - was fired.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:54 pm
I am specifically referencing the public comments. Regarding the laws surrounding public comments, it sounds like you need to do some reading.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 11:24 pm
You really don't know the whole story -- and neither does Ben Herold.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:04 pm
We love you Maya. You are an awesome person and anyone who knows you appreciates how much you care about the kids. You are the best! Keep fighting.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:57 pm
Keep fighting for a job given to her by Nixon? Come on.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:38 pm
It's so obvious you don't know her or you would have know exactly what I was referencing. Keep fighting for the kids. Some people don't actually go to work every day and just think about themselves. Imagine that? Teachers actually go into the profession because they care about children.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:21 pm
Ms. Johnstone isn't in her building enough to care about the kids.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:35 pm
I'm not even sure how to respond to that comment because it just doesn't make sense. How does being in the building have anything to do with caring about kids? Not to mention, how would you know how much she is in the building? This is silly.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 17, 2012 6:52 am
Awesome person? Have you met this individual? She is far more interested in her own power and control than the needs of the students.
Submitted by Works with Kids (not verified) on October 25, 2012 9:37 am
These negative comments are so unnecessary and cowardly. Stop throwing rocks and hiding your hands!!!
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on October 23, 2012 8:28 pm
It is pretty easy to know if the teacher in question was testing students with IEPs or not. Special Ed kids are tested separately in small groups--this is done EXACTLY so teachers can read the questions to the kids with IEPs. They should NOT be in the same testing room as kids w/o an IEP. Where is the list of who is testing whom? The testing coordinator should have that, and it should list the people who are accommodating the special ed kids. THOSE are the only people who should be reading questions aloud.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 9:51 pm
If the students with an IEP were taking the modified PSSA, they were taking a different test. Our students who took the modified tests were in separate classrooms. It is highly unlikely that questions were read aloud to a room with students taking two different tests. (Granted, not all students with an IEP take the modified test but the excuse from Wagner's Assistant Principal is not very plausible.) My understanding is that only the math test questions may be read. The reading questions can not be read because it is a reading test.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 9:25 pm
Modified tests count against AYP. Most good schools don't use the modified test for that very reason. A school has a better chance of meeting AYP if the student just takes the same test as students in regular ed.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 9:22 pm
Modified PSSAs (which are discontinued as of 2013) do not take away from AYP. A percentage count for AYP. Many school have some students take the modified tests. That said, if students with an IEP were tested in the same room as students without an IEP, the test questions still should not have been read. The students with an IEP should have been tested separately. Many IEPs call for students to be tested in small settings. So, this may also have also violated the students' IEPs.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 9:22 pm
Your actually not correct on the modified test scenario. It absolutely has a negative affect on a school's AYP if a student with disabilities takes the modified test. And you want to talk about violating a student's IEP? The entire testing procedure for students with disabilities is one big legal violation of their educational rights. How can you have accommodations in every other aspect of your academic curriculum and yet be denied those accommodations when taking the PSSA? If accommodations exist to help a child overcome a disability that unfairly places them at a disadvantage, then can they be considered illegal for the PSSA? It's insane.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 9:31 pm
You are partially right. The modified counts automatically as a basic score for anyone beyond 2% of the school population that take it. The first 2% count as whatever they get. This is done to stop IEP teams from having a disproportionally large number of students take the modified version. So after 2%, it greatly harms the school. At or before 2%, it greatly helps the school.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 26, 2012 10:26 am
All students with IEP's do not take the modified test. I hope you are not a teacher because you are clearly misinformed.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 9:20 pm
Not true. Students in inclusion have the right to choose whether or not they want to test in their regular inclusion class or in a different group. 25% of the students at Wagner are receiving special education services, and nearly all are in inclusion. Every single teacher in the building teaches at least a handful of children with IEPs.
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on October 23, 2012 9:20 pm
It is bad testing protocol to test students who CAN be read to in the same room with students who CANNOT be read to. It would be very distracting for the students who must read themselves. I do believe that the person who said the reading questions cannot be read is correct--if you have an IEP and are taking the regular PSSA, only the Math questions can be read aloud.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 9:57 pm
Teachers in all neighborhood schools have students with IEPs. If students with an IEP were in a room with students without an IEP, the teacher should not have read the math test questions to the students. It violates testing protocols. If the teacher read the reading questions to ANYONE, that violates testing protocols. Amazing that after all the mess, there are still administrators who don't know the rules.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:55 pm
Anyone, IEP or not, can have math test question read (word for word from the booklet) to them.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:57 pm
Yes, but none of the reading test may be read to any student.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2012 3:29 am
This is incorrect. None of the reading passages or questions may be read. NOT none of the reading assessment. If specified in a students IEP (as it is one of the allowable state assessment accomodations), the directions may be read aloud and simplified for that student. There is no hard and fast rule on where students with IEPs should be tested. Those accomodations are, or at least should be spelled out in the student's IEP. With that said, the simplified version of the test does further restrict many of the allowable accomodations because the assessment itself was created to meet those many such needs. If it does not meet those needs, it should not be used. The glaring problem there being that there is no way to know whether it meets those needs until the test is delivered to the student at the time of assessment, LONG after it has been ordered and the school has signed on to be accountable for the results. Further, it is often unclear on the PSSAs where directions which can be read and simplified end and questions which cannot begin. For instance, many "questions" include statements about how to answer that do not specifically reference any content (Number of examples to include, where to find a given quote that should be responded to based on context, etc). Whether or not one or another believes that this is part of the question or part of the assessment is a moot point as there is clearly room for disagreement and no clear policy on how to address situations that do not fit the mold, so to speak.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 9:11 pm
Whose to say that it wasn't a classroom with a small group of students? It doesn't say anything about the number of students in the classroom. It also doesn't confirm or deny whether or not the classroom contained students with disabilities. You are going to see what you want to see. If you want to believe that this school is bad, you will process everything you see, read and hear through that filter. The truth becomes irrelevant at that point.
Submitted by Benjamin Herold on October 23, 2012 11:47 pm

Thanks Kristen for your comment.

There is no dispute that the Wagner teacher in question was administering the exams to special education students.

What does seem to be in dispute is whether that teacher was reading questions aloud to the students - a permissible accomodation - or improperly coaching them on answers to questions.

In his initial report, Mr. Piotrowski, the district's leading expert on testing protocols, acknowledged that he could not be 100% certain about what he heard, but still felt confident enough that the teacher was acting improperly to suggest that he be removed from administering the exams.

In her response, Ms. Benning, Wagner's assistant principal, said that because the teacher's classroom door was closed, it was difficult to know for certain what the teacher was saying.

Without the benefit of a full investigation involving formal interviews and statements, the district sided with Ms. Benning's version of events.  

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 11:25 pm
"Without the benefit of a full investigation involving formal interviews and statements, the district sided with Ms. Benning's version of events." This is an important point. What's baffling is NOT that the District sided against Piotrowski, but HOW. No investigations, no interviews, nothing. Why would the District immediately side with Ms. Benning's point of view?
Submitted by Jack (not verified) on October 25, 2012 7:31 am
Your final sentence says it all. We can debate what happened in that classroom behind the closed door until the cows come home. But the bottom line is there is no corroboration of the incident as stated by the testing monitor. Without that corroboration, the story lacks substance and should not have been written or at least should have been delayed until the story could be more fully flushed out. As it is, the story smells. The monitor hears something behind a closed door but does not open the door to see what is happening. He is a test monitor whose job is to monitor the test taking process. Why not go in and see for yourself. He then waits until later that evening to inform the principal via e-mail. If he thought the testing protocols were compromised, why not inform the principal immediately? And why did the PSD really fire the test monitor? And why would a teacher not use the protocols in place when she knew that test montiors were in the building and could walk in at any time? The story as is has more than a few holes in it involving all parties.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 8:53 pm
If you read the 29 page report, it wasn't the principals violating PSSA rules, it was allegedly the teachers. Investigators are trying to link testing coordinators to cheating. Teachers are saying they want no parts of testing or having their names listed as testing a group of children. Soon, no one will want to be the "Testing Coordinator".
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 9:25 pm
The one person with integrity, Piotrowski, was fired. Why was Newburg promoted? Nixon allowed to take a sabbatical? Johnstone still the principal? Sounds like a cover up.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:15 pm
Wow, one article and Piotrowski gets the golden halo? What about the other side of the story? You can't possibly think there isn't another side to this story, right?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 11:49 pm
What's the other side? Piotrowski had it in for Wagner and made the conscious decision to cause all this trouble for himself? Anyone who knows anything knows that filing a complaint about WAGNER will get you into trouble with the big names at 440, yet he did it anyway because he believed in the principals of his job. I feel sorry for anyone in that office that works under Nixon/Newberg.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 9:31 pm
I don't know Penny Nixon, I had not focused on her on her "girls" in previous comments made on other articles about test cheating. But this article infuriates me. I don't know what other inferences one can draw.....this is the tipping point.....the commenters who have repeatedly ripped these people in the past seem to be vindicated. These educational leader cheaters should lose their certificates!!!!
Submitted by rob (not verified) on October 23, 2012 9:21 pm
It sounds like Piotrowski is (rightfully) going to file suit under the whistleblower law. Just another example of how mismanagement is costing the SDP money.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 9:30 pm
You really don't know what your talking about. Not to mention, have you ever considered that there are two sides to every story? Piotrowski is hardly a victim.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:39 pm
Daniel Piotrowski is the only casualty of the Philadelphia School District cheating scandal. Amazingly a Central Office staff member gets fired but principals who confessed to cheating are still employed by the district. Penny Nixon, Fran Newberg, Karen Kolsky and Maya Johnstone were part of the cover-up. There were multiple monitors at Wagner, were they all lying?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:28 pm
You are making some serious accusations, and I'd be careful about suggesting that there is some conspiracy and that people were trying to cover anything up. The article references one monitor. You reference multiple monitors and in doing so, seem to imply that they all had the same experience as Piotrowski. I'm not seeing that in this article.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:54 pm
Let me go ahead and add ED PENN, 9th highest paid employee of the SDP and all of his cheating infractions at Thurgood Marshall and Roberto Clemente. Lots of winners in wonder great teachers all flock to SDP, who wouldn't want to work under these people?!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:07 pm
There are some truly amazing teachers who choose to work in the Philadelphia School District. Despite the lack of respect, lower salary, lack of classroom resources and challenging working conditions, these teachers choose the District because they care about the kids and want to make a difference.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:59 pm
The SRC fired him. Obviously you didn't read the article.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:23 pm
Are you claiming Penny Nixon had nothing to do with it? The SRC is a rubber stamp.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:03 pm
The article certainly implies that he is a victim and, of course, it also infers that Nixon used her clout to protect her buddy. The truth is Penny Nixon will not return to the District ever and all thinking people, know it. How many abuses has Nixon orchestrated over the last 3 years and why was she so protected so vigorously?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:31 pm
Again, when you see what you want to see based on limited experiences. There is another side to this story. The Notebook just doesn't have it because unlike Piotroski, not everyone feels its appropriate to address the lives of students in a court of public opinion. No one except the people in that building truly know what happened on that day. Everyone else is just speculating. And, that speculation is undoubtedly influenced by opinions that are absolutely unrelated to a seating chart on the wall shaped like a rectangle, or whether or not a box of calculators was allowed to sit on a table.
Submitted by Rob (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:54 pm
Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't believe this has anything to do with the children. All teachers signed a document stating that they understood the rules of proctoring and would not stray from the guidelines. If someone did not follow the protocol then they could be dismissed. I didn't want to sign it out of principle but I did. Someone from 440 was at every school to monitor the proctoring of the test. It seems pretty clear cut what happend. If you know something more, then perhaps you should share it. I think you are wrong to assume there is some sort of witching gong on. While there may be people who dislike Penny Nixon I have the utmost respect for her.
Submitted by Rob (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:37 pm
I didn't say anyone is a victim. I said that he is going to file suit and that it will cost money. He believes he was wrongfully terminated. If I thought I was fired for volunteering information, I'd sue too.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 11:50 pm
Anyone close to Piotrowski knows he is the victim here. Anything said to the contrary just adds insult to injury.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 11:33 pm
The Notebook certainly didn't consider that there might be more sides to this story. They will be very embarassed when the details do come to light.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 11:33 pm
False. The details of the story not mentioned bring shame to certain higher-ups at 440. You and I are both just anonymous sources, but I just HOPE that time will reveal just how bad the District (or certain 440 employers) screwed this one up. But for those that doubt this story and it's connotations--when has Benjamin Herold led anyone wrong before? He's an experienced journalist who checks his facts. The Notebook is not in the business of trying to make the District look bad--they are in the business of letting the public know of the issues going on with public education in this city. So who to trust--the Notebook? Or 440?
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 10:19 pm
The first round of Keystone tests start in January 2013. Will there be any clarity from 440 on testing protocols? There will be many more high school students tested this year than previous years. The Office of Curriculum has given out NOTHING regarding the Keystones. The Office of Assessment has only given out testing dates. The PA Dept. of Ed. web site has limited information. Hopefully, the staff at 440 won't leave schools hanging waiting for direction. Since they got rid of the one person who tried to enforce testing protocols ( Piotrowski), who is left to oversea testing? Obviously, administrators and some people at 440 can't be trusted.
Submitted by Ken Derstine on October 24, 2012 12:38 am
This whole fiasco shows what a farce No Child Left Behind has been. If testing were done, as originally intended, to evaluate student and school problems, rather than as a punitive way to advance a privatization agenda would any cheating have happened? I believe the Bush administration and right-wing ideologues who had an agenda to privatize all public services used NCLB to discredit the public school system and at the same time are using test scores as a way to close schools in low income areas rather than provide an equal education to those in wealthier school districts. Many of the education policy makers in both the Bush and Obama administration subscribe to the Milton Freedman economic doctrine of privatization developed at the University of Chicago over several decades. "In his 1955 article "The Role of Government in Education" Friedman proposed supplementing publicly operated schools with privately run but publicly funded schools through a system of school vouchers. Reforms similar to those proposed in the article were implemented in, for example, Chile in 1981 and Sweden in 1992. In 1996 Friedman, together with his wife, founded the The Foundation for Educational Choice to advocate school choice and vouchers."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 12:44 am
Dan Piotrowski didn't get fired, he resigned. And, it had nothing to do with Wagner. It's interesting that the article mentions nothing about the charter school CTI issue that resulted in his leaving the District in July. Even if there weren't the charter school issue, why would the District "fire" Piotrowski in July when testing occurred in March?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 12:40 am
I'm sure there is a good reason why he "resigned"--probably the same reason why he isn't commenting about anything right now. The CTI-Charter school issue was clearly used to hang around his head as an excuse to fire him--even though he was not at fault for that issue. He was "fired" in July because he wouldn't keep his mouth shut about the Wagner issue even though he was told to keep quiet.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 10:53 am
Can you clarify what the "charter CTI" issue is?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 6:35 pm
Wrong. He was fired. Please state facts. In addition, the district and state have not run fair investigations thus far. Why is FS Edmunds only tier 3? Why is the notebook not investigating Corbetts direct involvement in the Sandusky case? Why is secretary Tomalis able to lie, slander, and illegally give leverage to charter schools performance? This is the state of education for minority children who choose to remain in true public schools. If the state, the district, and the media want to help our children, why the continuous hate? Anyone who visits Wagner for a moment knows that great teaching is happening. Know your facts.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 12:29 am
The teachers at Wagner knew there were going to be monitors in the building for a week before they arrived. They arrived three days before testing, so by the time testing rolled around, teachers will quite aware of their presence. Why would anyone try to cheat with monitors walking around the building? Also, If you tell the teachers that they are the only ones who can pick up and return the testing supplies, and a teacher has two testing blocks back to back, then the first testing block isn't going to be able to be returned until the teacher is done with the second one. Thus, while you want to make it seem like the 90 minutes that it took to return a crate is something corrupt, the reality is that one cannot be in more than one place at a time. Thus, you have to decide if you want the crate back sooner than later, or if you want someone else to return the crate. While I know teachers are amazing, they can only be in one place at one time.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 12:06 am
Ben, you know that the teacher you are suggesting to be inappropriate is, in fact, a special education teacher. You contacted the teacher all last week, saying that you would release the teacher's name in this article if the teacher didn't talk to you. Since you seem so bent on trying to find a deviant story at Wagner, I assume that you think Wagner is a pretty rotten place. It's not. It's a fantastic school. The adults working in the building care very much about the students. I would like to cordially invite you to come and visit our school. Come see for yourself.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 6:29 am
The districts formal response to this was written on October 3, 2012 by Hughes (who is she and where did she come from?). The memo leads one to believe that there was more than one monitor at Wagner. Daniel Piotrowski notified Wagner on March 13th about what he witnessed therefore, he would have been forced to send another monitor because his office would handle the formal investigation. It has to be assumed that there were additional monitors present for the duration of testing. If so, what did they see and what do they know? Fran Newberg, Deputy Chief of Accountability and Educational Technology was called in by Maya Johnstone and protocol would have been to inform Penny Nixon. What did Fran Newberg observe to conclude that Daniel Piotrowski's allegations were unfounded? The teacher in questioned should have been reassigned or removed from proctoring. Karen Kolsky was copied on the email. It is hard to believe that she would not visit Wagner. What did she observe? What actions did she take? There is much more to this story.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2012 6:20 pm
Hughes is a director of school innovation and best practices on october 3rd memo it states deputy. If she is a deputy when was that position posted? Why was the memo written by her? What did she have to do with overseeing the monitors?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 1:50 pm
I think this is happening all over, I know our sons test result *cant* be found..meaning it wasn't recorded.The principle said the results were hand wrote in. During an IEP evaluation meeting 5/14/2012 it was stated, written down his scores were *above national avg. This fall when we got reading results back there weren't any on there, they mislead us into signing an agreement to dismiss him From special ed services before his transition period because they knew we worried about state testing. Scores just cant be lost or parents should be able to see the results? Even if they throw them out or at their disgression chose not to use them to close the gap to make AYP! Pisses a person off especially when it has more at stake like a kids rights! Its misleading, and no tests should be able to be thrown out. This is not at wagner but ITs happening ALL over. mn
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 2:54 pm
Does anyone realize the pressure the schools were put under, if they did not do well on these tests the Superintendent would not get her bonus. Think about that.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 4:29 pm
Thanks for the information, Ken, and for trying to raise the level of discussion here.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 6:10 pm
I acutally find it pretty amazing that no matter how many times The Notebook tries to paint a picture of Wagner as a place where cheating was initiated by Nixon and perpetuated by her successor, you have not managed to find one Wagner teacher to corroborate your stories. I would think if cheating were really taking place there would be one Wagner teacher willing to say so. Even on these anonymous comments, not one person who worked at the school who will say they witnessed cheating. Makes me think that maybe, just maybe, the kids actually performed well on the test because they knew the material. Go figure.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 7:59 pm
I agree, that's the case in a lot of schools being investigated. The investigstors cleared the Charter school associated with Corbett. The reason given, the students erased a lot because of the strategies they were taught. This particular charter had extremely high erasure marks. But, the state thinks students of color in urban areas are not cable of performing well and their schools resort to cheating.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2012 8:55 am
Chester Community Charter was NOT cleared. The Pennsylvania Department of Education stated that there was "Overwhelming Evidence of Improper Testing ", they will be closely monitored for the next year. They just were not sanctioned, nor was anyone criminally charged.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 8:10 pm
Wagner's scores bombed in 2012 - down 24.1% to 30.6%. Scores don't bomb that much without shenanigans going on in previous years. In 2012, Nixon and her crew tried to keep Wagner's cheating under wraps. Now, the Notebook has put it on the table.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 10:11 pm
The Notebook can put it on the table, floor or in the trashcan. Without confessions and eyewitnesses you can't convict on erasures alone. You can not go on what people "thought" they heard or saw.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 10:56 pm
So we don't look for the truth because people are so intimated into silence that they won't talk? Change only happens when people have the courage to speak up. Unfortunately, in the SDP, some people are afraid of their own shadows. This is the legacy of Arlene Ackerman and her staff - including the staff from Wagner.
Submitted by Ken (not verified) on October 25, 2012 8:51 pm
"You cannot convict on erasures alone"????? Really?????? That's your defense????? What were the in a quintillion that all of those erasures happened by chance. You don't find that damning?????? If your attitude is really "you cannot convict on erasures alone", please do us all a favor and get out of education!!!!!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 8:53 pm
I am a supporter of the Notebook. I contribute. Paul, this piece is a low ball. As the reporter stated, Piotrowski was at another school and was interviewed - the hyperlink takes you to the Inquirer article where he was in fact interviewed at another middle school being investigated. This has been spun to make it seem as if there was pressure to move Piotrowski and the other staff person from Wagner. NO, it was how things were done due to the few people left in the District's administration to monitor the schools. As a test monitor, I was assigned to a different school each day. Was there someone with hidden nefarious powers that moved me from school to school??? NO, we have over 240 schools, 100 monitors, and two weeks of testing. Do the math. It is also very sad that there is an insinuation that Piotrowski was let go due to his involvement with Wagner. REALLY? And just how did your reporter get the emails and other documents related to Wagner??? Does the secret source have mud to throw? Were the documents mailed by a person who wants to get back at others? If so, who and why? Notebook had an excellent reputation, however the spin in this content is "baffling" as it totally undercuts your future credibility. The KGB could take a lesson on spin from this reporter. Shame on you for putting this before the public.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 8:00 pm
This is excellent reporting. Stop bellyaching that 440 has lost staff - go back to a school and work with students. We had the same monitor show up before the testing and twice during the testing. I assume it was similar at most schools. While "monitoring," she played with her cell phone - yes, very disruptive. She is still at 440. Some folks seem to be able to stay out of the classroom for decades. It certainly isn't skills/contribution. This person complained that she "couldn't" go back to a school and wasn't ready to retire. Too bad!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2012 8:54 pm
Here's another school to investigate - Randolph Skills Center. This school was given more "high performing seats" by Nixon. Their scores in 2012 dropped from 28% to 40%. Check out the scores - Will the SRC have the nerve to close schools with much better scores while expanding enrollment at Randolph?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2012 8:09 am
All schools were put under the same pressure and had the same testing environment forced upon them. However, not all schools experienced huge drops in performance. Add to the mix the fact that the majority of schools linked to cheating experienced the huge performance drops and the picture is quite clear. When we continue to make excuses for adults who cheat and undermine children, the people who play by the rules are truly hurt. Wake up. The teachers at the school aren't going to step up for fear of retaliation and because when the artificial scores were viewed as real, they enjoyed the accolades.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2012 9:14 am
I agree and the fact remains that the people that did not play the cheating game have been silenced. We had a lot of good people in key positions that truly tried to help schools. These people moved schools when they were principals. They never really had a chance to help other principals they were snatched out of key roles after one year. Some have left the district and some have been thrown under the bus because they were not liked by Nixon and her people. It is a shame that we have lost good people like Anna Jenkins who had a proven tract record for improving student achievement. It is a shame that we have lost these people.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2012 7:54 pm
Here is a switch. Anna Jenkins and Penny Nixon are friends. Never thought I would read about someone actually writing a "friend of Penny" is good.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2012 6:17 pm
All schools were NOT put through the same testing environment. Check with other schools and ask them what happened with monitors in their schools during their PSSA testing. I was fortunate to have a PD during that period and learned quite a bit about the testing at other schools - some Tier I, some Tier II. Very informative.
Submitted by Kitty (not verified) on October 13, 2015 4:50 am

Dude Wagner Cheating is not a good thing to discuss better you get imo for pc download for free also to edit photso we have retrica for pc download for free of cost 

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

By using this service you agree not to post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable. We reserve the right to delete or remove any material deemed to be in violation of this rule, and to ban anyone who violates this rule. Please see our "Terms of Usage" for more detail concerning your obligations as a user of this service. Reader comments are limited to 500 words. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

Follow Us On

Read the latest print issue

Philly Ed Feed

Recent Comments


Public School Notebook

699 Ranstead St.
Third Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 839-0082
Fax: (215) 238-2300

© Copyright 2013 The Philadelphia Public School Notebook. All Rights Reserved.
Terms of Usage and Privacy Policy