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Amid signs of cover-up, Hite orders new probe into alleged cheating at Wagner

By thenotebook on Dec 19, 2012 01:38 PM
Photo: Nat Hamilton for NewsWorks

by Benjamin Herold, for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner

The head of the Philadelphia School District has ordered a fresh investigation into possible cheating on state standardized tests at Gen. Louis Wagner Middle School in March 2012.

The move by Superintendent William Hite was prompted by new evidence that Philadelphia school officials ignored a test security monitor’s eyewitness account of widespread test security violations at Wagner.

Hite’s decision came after NewsWorks and the Public School Notebook obtained hundreds of previously unreleased emails and memos about the administration of the 2012 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) exams at the school.

The documents revealed that on consecutive days in March, test monitors Uma Jayaraman and Daniel Piotrowski each reported that Wagner teachers were improperly helping students on the exams, along with numerous other infractions. A third monitor also documented problems at the school the same week.

Instead of following up on Jayaraman’s allegations, the District subjected her to a disciplinary hearing. District officials then omitted information about what Jayaraman witnessed at Wagner from a formal report filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

NewsWorks and the Notebook reported in October that District officials dismissed or minimized most of Piotrowski’s allegations without benefit of a formal probe. Piotrowski was fired in July.

Though Wagner was already under suspicion of cheating in 2009, 2010, and 2011, senior District officials responded aggressively to complaints made by principal Maya Johnstone and other Wagner staff, who sought to discredit the testing monitors.

Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon, who was Wagner’s principal in 2009, helped coordinate the District’s response to the cheating allegations at the school.

“It’s very disturbing,” said Robert Wilson, the Georgia attorney who helped lead the widely heralded 2011 investigation of test cheating in Atlanta public schools.

“You have to be concerned with the possibility there was a cover-up going on.”

'Their merry (cheating) ways'

In a statement, District spokesman Fernando Gallard said the new probe at Wagner is to be completed by the end of this month.

“The School District will amend its report to the [state], as necessary, upon conclusion of the investigation,” said Gallard.

The PSSAs are administered each spring to every Pennsylvania student in grades 3-8 and 11. The results are used to determine whether schools meet their federally mandated performance targets. In Philadelphia, PSSA scores are also used to guide a wide range of high-stakes policy decisions, including which schools should be closed.

Fifty-three District schools, including Wagner, are part of a statewide investigation into possible cheating on the exams in years past. An analysis commissioned by the state Department of Education found that student response sheets at Wagner in 2009, 2010, and 2011 were riddled with extremely high numbers of “wrong-to-right” erasures — a telltale sign of adult cheating.

As a result, Wagner was one of 13 schools under extra-tight security during the 2012 exams in March.

Jayaraman, an assessment development coordinator for the District, was assigned to the school as a test security monitor.

On the first day of testing, she reported in an email to Piotrowski, her supervisor, that she had witnessed widespread violations at Wagner.

“Of the 10 teachers I monitored, I can say that there was just ONE ... who did not try to help the students,” Jayaraman wrote. “All the others, including the test coordinator ... tried to freely help them.”

At the time, Jayaraman had been monitoring PSSA exams for at least five years. She had been training other central office staffers on how to monitor for at least four years.

But staff members Wagner complained almost immediately that she was interfering with their administration of the exams. In response, Jayaraman’s superiors removed her from the school and replaced her with another monitor.

Late that night, Jayaraman emailed her report to Piotrowski. She argued that the staff complaints against her were a pretense to “get me out of there.” She then detailed the numerous violations she had witnessed at Wagner:

  • Teachers helping students on the exams.
  • Teachers providing calculators on prohibited sections of the test.
  • Teachers locking their classrooms from the inside while students were taking the test.
  • Students sharing scratch paper notes on an open-ended test question.
  • Prohibited materials on classroom walls.
  • Teachers allowing students to engage in prohibited activities when they finished the test early.

Jayaraman also reported information suggesting possible past cheating at the school:

A [special education] student in another room with a part-time teacher kept asking her to give the answers. When the teacher said to her that she should be doing on her own, the student said last year, [redacted] gave the answers and she just bubbled it. I have the student’s name.

Jayaraman and Piotrowski each declined to comment for this story.

But the documents make clear the conclusions that Jayaraman drew about Wagner.

“Basically, this school has done whatever they felt like for too long, and the status quo is being challenged,” she wrote to Piotrowski.

“I am writing all of this to make you aware of the goings-on and that they should not think they can go about their merry (cheating) ways since I am out of the way.”

Information kept from the state

The types of violations reported at Wagner by Jayaraman are “par for the course in schools where cheating is rampant,” said Wilson, the Georgia investigator.

She wasn’t alone in reporting them.

On Tuesday, March 13, Piotrowski replaced Jayaraman as the test monitor at Wagner. That night, he reported more violations at the school.

Piotrowski’s list ranged 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.

Piotrowski also reported an even more serious violation: a “teacher coaching students on responses.”

In an email, he informed principal Maya Johnstone that the District’s Office of Accountability would launch “an investigation into the testing procedures at Wagner.”

Later that week, a third trained testing monitor, Jeffrey Robinson, reported mostly minor testing problems at Wagner. Robinson also reported that he believed Johnstone had illegally recorded a conversation with him without his consent.

“There was a set of major, major red flags regarding this particular school,” Wilson said. “A full and complete investigation should have taken place.”

Here is how Philadelphia school officials responded:

Fran Newberg, who, at the time, was the district’s deputy for accountability and educational technology, overturned Piotrowski’s determination that a full investigation of possible cheating at Wagner was warranted.

Newberg dismissed Piotrowski’s most serious allegations as “unfounded,” based on a “preliminary survey” of the situation that did not include any formal statements or interviews. A Wagner staff member disputed Piotrowski’s claim that he heard a teacher coaching students on the exams.

Newberg also praised Robinson for his “professional judgment” in declining to report the recording incident to authorities. Robinson’s report of testing issues at Wagner did not receive any official follow-up.

In a statement, District spokesman Gallard acknowledged that officials never took action on Jayaraman’s report. He also said the District “inadvertently omitted” information about the violations Jayaraman witnessed from the formal memos that it filed with the state Department of Education.

Gallard seemed to blame the lack of follow-up on the monitors.

“When observations of alleged testing integrity infractions were properly documented and forwarded, the Office of Accountability did take immediate action,” he said. “It appears, however, that a list of observations by one of the testing monitors assigned to Wagner was reported to only one former administrator within the Office of Accountability and was not forwarded.”

Wilson compared the District’s defense to those offered by school officials in Atlanta and elsewhere.

“I’ve heard every excuse under the sun as to why [a district] didn’t do this or that,” he said.

“It’s a simple question: Do you want the truth?”

A 'jail cell type environment'

During the administration of the 2012 PSSA exams, nearby Roosevelt Middle School was also under extra-tight security due to suspicion of past cheating. That same week of March 12, both Piotrowski and Jayaraman served as test monitors at the school.

“They were very professional,” said Roosevelt principal Cassandra Houston. “We welcomed their support, their guidance, and their clarity.”

The District’s top test security monitors got a different reception at Wagner.

Staff members at the school swiftly launched an aggressive campaign against Jayaraman and Piotrowski, writing to the top education officials in the city to allege “unprofessional” behavior by the monitors and a “jail cell type environment” in their school.

The complaints began within hours of Jayaraman’s arrival at Wagner, when Johnstone apparently contacted Karen Kolsky, then a District assistant superintendent.

The next day, with Kolsky’s help, Johnstone and her assistant principal filed a formal written complaint about Jayaraman with the District’s Office of Accountability.

On Wednesday, a Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) staffer followed up with a similar complaint, sent to Kolsky and Nixon, the chief academic officer.

On Thursday, Wagner testing coordinator Melody Alegria and an unidentified Wagner teacher both sent emails of complaint to Nixon, members of the School Reform Commission, and other senior District officials.

And on Friday, Johnstone, unhappy with the third District monitor assigned to her school, directly emailed SRC chair Pedro Ramos “to request an outside and impartial monitor for the remainder of the testing period.”

Through her attorney, Johnstone declined to comment for this story.

Alegria and numerous other Wagner staff members either declined to comment or did not respond to interview requests.

But the documents obtained by NewsWorks make clear their concerns.

 

“The entire staff at Wagner feels they are being spied on,” wrote the PFT staffer in his email to Kolsky and Nixon.

Some Wagner teachers’ complaints were about districtwide policies established to rein in the cheating epidemic. Like many educators across the city, Wagner staff members were upset with the new state mandate prohibiting Philadelphia teachers from administering the exams to their own students.

“[Students] have definitely been placed in an uncomfortable and stressful situation, which absolutely will have an impact on their results,” wrote one unidentified teacher in an email to Ramos, Nixon, and others.

Others complaints were specific to the monitors working at Wagner.

Alegria wrote to Nixon and the SRC about “strangers creeping and peering” at students during testing.

The unidentified Wagner teacher wrote to senior District officials that Jayaraman’s actions as a monitor “appeared to be done intentionally to intimidate our students.”

And in her formal complaint, Johnstone wrote that a special needs student complained to her directly about Jayaraman attempting to interview the student during the exam.

A different type of investigation

Though senior District officials never formally probed the allegations of cheating at Wagner, they responded to the complaints from Wagner staff by holding an investigatory conference — commonly known as a disciplinary hearing — for Jayaraman.

Newberg and Kolsky had already agreed such action would be necessary by lunchtime on the first day of testing at Wagner. Nixon later ratified their decision.

Eventually, the District determined that Wagner staff’s complaints about Jayaraman “were not substantiated,” Gallard said.

But the documents obtained through Right to Know show that Nixon, Newberg and Kolsky repeatedly prioritized the concerns of other Wagner staff members over the reports of the District’s most highly trained testing monitors.

Nixon was involved despite her connection to Wagner. During her last year as principal at the school, Wagner’s test results were flagged for suspicious erasure patterns and statistically improbable score gains.

In an email sent on the morning of Thursday, March 15, Nixon seemed to acknowledge that she had a potential conflict of interest, writing to Kolsky and Newberg that she was “recusing” herself from the situation because she was formerly Wagner’s principal.

But that came after Nixon asked Newberg and Kolsky to investigate Jayaraman.

Nixon’s recusal also came after she sent Jack Hamilton, her special assistant, to the school.

Based on his report back to Nixon, Hamilton appears to have talked extensively with Wagner staff, but not with Jayaraman or Piotrowski.

His conclusion?

“I get a sense the school is being cheated out of their desire to perform well,” Hamilton wrote.

Nixon, who is now on sabbatical, did not respond to a request for comment.

Newberg likewise sought primarily to accommodate Johnstone’s concerns.

On multiple occasions, she communicated directly with the Wagner principal to assure her that the test monitors would be investigated.

In response to a request from Johnstone, Newberg also apparently directed one of her test monitors to break protocol and file his report from the school directly with her, instead of Piotrowski.

On Friday, March 16, Newberg went to Wagner.

According to her correspondence, the purpose of her visit was not to look into the cheating allegations reported by her own test monitors, but to “calm and reassure” Wagner staff and “follow up and get a statement from the teacher who filed a complaint about [Jayaraman].”

In the District’s prepared statement, Gallard cautioned that “not all actions taken by the District in connection with testing integrity infractions were communicated through electronic mail.”

He also noted instances where Johnstone, the principal, was responsive to the monitors’ requests that minor testing violations be addressed on the spot.

Based on Wilson's experiences in Atlanta and elsewhere, though, he said it seems likely that Philadelphia has two sets of problems on its hands.

“There are potentially major problems with cheating on tests at this school,” he said. “You may also have an administration that may not really want to get to the truth.”

Superintendent Hite did not take the helm of Philadelphia schools until months after the spring 2012 testing at Wagner was complete.

The forces of self-preservation

Tim Eller, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, declined to comment on possible penalties for school districts that submit faulty reports regarding cheating allegations.

Eller said that the state “welcomes efforts to ensure that evidence is gathered and facts are reported.”

In Philadelphia, Hite has directed the District’s Office of General Counsel to lead the new investigation at the school.

In the District’s statement, Gallard said Hite has also requested a “full review of the test monitor reporting process in order to strengthen procedures for the 2013 PSSA testing period.”

All of it is expected to be completed by the end of December.

“To do this in three weeks and do it right, you probably need at least five, if not eight, people working that one school full-time,” estimated Wilson.

The strength of the new investigation, Wilson said, will depend on the independence of the general counsel.

“Are they trying to please the bosses, or are they trying to get the job done?” he asked.

In Atlanta, said Wilson, investigators were given free rein. They had up to 70 people at time working on the probe. And they had subpoena power.

The Atlanta probe ultimately proved that hundreds of educators had cheated on state tests -- and that district administrators there had altered or destroyed key documents relating to the investigation.

Wilson said a thorough, independent investigation is necessary to counteract officials’ tendency toward self-preservation.

“There are all these forces at play who want to say, ‘Oh, [the cheating] didn’t really amount to much,’” he said, citing school boards, district and school administrators, teachers, and the business community.

“But if we are cheating children in their education process, we are cheating the future of this country,” Wilson said. “And if you aren’t concerned about that, then your head is simply not screwed on straight.”

This story was reported as part of a partnership in education coverage between WHYY/NewsWorks and the Public School Notebook.

Comments (84)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 19, 2012 3:49 pm
So, when will heads rolls? Kolsky, Newberg, Johnstone? Nixon already was given a pass. The Ackerman/Nixon administration has no integrity.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 19, 2012 3:53 pm
Sounds as if the political machine that protected Penny for a long time, has now decided to throw her under the bus. You win some, you lose some.
Submitted by LS Teach (not verified) on December 19, 2012 5:26 pm
I believe Kolsky, Newberg and Johnstone still work for the SDP....is this correct? They need to be forced to take a leave of absence...their actions were blatantly unethical.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on December 19, 2012 5:57 pm
You mean Penny Nixon may not return to the district after she procures that Penn degree. What will we do without her?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 19, 2012 9:17 pm
Bringing Penny Nixon back into the SDP is like letting a robber back into the bank they just robbed. Dr. Hite needs to order more probes of cheating throughout the district as well. While removing these principals during the investigation. Russell Conwell Middle School principal, Dr. Tamara Smith need to be added to this long list of covering things up while cheating through intimidation. This is what Penny's people do.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 7:43 am
This is personal with you and Dr Smith and every time you post an attack on her it shows your jealous, angry and bitter. It's sad your mad because your not her and never will be her or have what she has. I hope you do some self examination over the holiday break and realize your own happiness can only come from within and all her blessings come from above.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 6:47 pm
Staff has no reason to lie about Dr. Tamara Smith. Dr. Smith should be ashamed of herself. Conwell Middle School has gone down, down, down under her leadership. Whatever her above may be, its not helping the students, parents nor staff - just keeping her employed with the SDP with a salary above $100,000.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 9:10 pm
Is that you Mrs. Mesi? lol
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 21, 2012 6:12 pm
It is miseable toxic PFT members like you that give educators a bad name. If it is so bad, grieve your principal. If not, focus on improving your hateful self. Maybe a career change would be best. Put your energy into your classroom and not into trying to undermine someone without any clear examples of how this principal is making your school go "down". Your perception that it is going down is likely due to the fact the spineless former principal is not there to let you do whatever you want, which was surely not much. That is why he was forced by his superiors to retire.. Wake up! Everyone outside of your school knew the former principal did nothing, knew nothing and let that school nose dive. I suspect you liked the good old days. Well they appear to be over based on your hateful language directed at your current principal. Good luck!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 23, 2012 12:44 pm
Madame, When are you going to get the message? The parents, students, teachers, and the community do not want you! Once again, Penny Nixon and Dr. Ackerman forced out the former principal and appointed you against better judgement. The majority of the school commuity know that you will never be as good or respected as the past principal. Maybe you are a good accountant, but a poor administrator of schools, because you did the same things at Sheridan West Academy. You burned the place down with your gasoline attiude. The school community at Conwell just need to stand up and say to Dr. Hite, Dr. Smith needs need to go! I would think the best thing to do is step down, before you are forced out, because it looks like this isn't going away.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 23, 2012 5:31 pm
I am NOT your boss nor do I work at Conwell with you. Thank God by the way. You obvious are not in the know about your former lame boss. He got rid of himself because he was a buffoon who knew zero about education. Your worship of him and your solecism speaks volumes about you. You need to get out as soon as you can. Dr. Hite has no tolerance for toxic employees as noted in his recent community meetings. Your toxicity will be remediated sooner or later.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 28, 2012 5:56 pm
Typical administrator move, attack the poster. Learn the difference between the homophones "your" and "you're" if you want to be taken seriously. How did you ever get into administration?
Submitted by ab (not verified) on December 19, 2012 5:14 pm
read
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 19, 2012 7:36 pm
There are many questions I still have after reading this article. If the school was rampantly cheating as the article/ monitors claim, why was testing still allowed to continue? Why is the only "expert" in the story from Georgia? If the testing monitors provided the professional development in the district for testing why were the teachers so unprepared? Even the "citations" aren't clear, what activities were the students doing after the test that were inappropriate? And most importantly where are your reports on the charter schools and other schools that were at a higher tier of suspicion than Wagner?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 19, 2012 8:21 pm
Wagner is in the top tier for cheating. Apparently, the cheating pattern started under Nixon and was continued by her hand picked successor - Johnstone. We have been given proctor instructions for years. The administration and teachers at Wagner chose to blatantly violate testing protocols. The cheating gave Nixon her ticket to the top. Sadly, her co conspirators like Kolsky, Newberg and Johnstone remain.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 8:45 pm
Wagner was not in the top tier for cheating.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 31, 2012 11:47 am
Yes, there were several schools involved. Where is the accountability. Then the SDP gives these people a slap on the wrist, then a PROMOTION!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 19, 2012 7:22 pm
Hey, Notebook Staff, What happened to the emails that were up earlier?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 19, 2012 7:34 pm
Sad to see the PFT on the wrong side on this issue. As a building rep. and a union activist, this is incredibly disappointing.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on December 23, 2012 12:01 am
Out of curiosity, can you state exactly what PFT's position on the issue is? From this article, it seems that PFT's position was that teachers felt like they were under constant surveillance. Is this correct? What stance do you wish PFT would take. Thanks, EGS
Submitted by Mister Tibbs (not verified) on December 19, 2012 7:01 pm
Except for the notion of self-preservation, it's hard to believe that amongst the group of alleged cheaters that one person in the group did not say, "Let's just follow testing protocol and adhere to the process of being monitored." Where was the sensibility of the group? How do professional adults follow each other down a crooked path? It seems they even encouraged each other to engage in a letter writing campaign to discredit the monitors. Worst of all, used students to make excuses to explain why they were so angry and appalled. Most surprising of all is that a top administrator (chief, executive deputy) did not give the directive to the principal to follow testing protocol, without exception, along with policy related to being monitored. The ball could have stopped rolling at this juncture. Where is the moral imperative that comes with leadership? Why not just follow protocol and stay under the radar? Why bring all this negative attention to an already messy situation? Every school in the district is monitored and has to follow mandates, procedures and protocol related to testing. The testing protocol is the same every year, in every school district, across the state. So why should it be different for Wagner’s staff. And, now the superintendent is charging the District’s Office of General Counsel to lead the new investigation at the school? Seriously?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 19, 2012 8:11 pm
Yes, amazing that the adults at Wagner Middle are so unethical and incompetent. The PFT once again stood with the teachers who make our name mud.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 19, 2012 9:05 pm
Penny's style of intimidation, supported by Ackerman.
Submitted by Bob Pollock (not verified) on December 19, 2012 8:28 pm
Pollock School in NE Philly has been reported to PA Department Of Education Investigators to be heavily "coaching" and generally not following any testing rules for years. It was reported that it was pretty much a free for all with the mission to bring in the best scores as possible. There were numerous Pollock staff reported to be in on it all the way to the top. One report details an open-ended essay section for a specially assembled remedial group being run as as a writing clinic with students lined up at the teachers desk for mandatory critique before turning in the test - a blatant testing rules violation. One witness reasoned that proctors could erase and re-bubble multiple choice sections, but needed student's handwriting on essay questions so they very heavily coached that portion of the test with the low performing students. Several detailed reports have been filed against Pollock for cheating as far back as the year 1999. They have been accused of running a well oiled cheating machine for years. For the icing on the cake, someone reported that an "acting" assistant principal would unusually assemble all of the answer sheets in her large office and allegedly would doctor tests and do massive erasures and bubble filling; as opposed to honest schools who would collect answer sheets and each classroom sealed up in a large envelope. No wonder they stayed on top for so many years. If Pollock could so easily get away with these bad behaviors for so long, it stands to reason that they were not alone. It has been speculated that proven cheating staff at Pollock will be the first to be 1- Fired, 2- Prosecuted and 3- Have their pensions revoked. I'll believe it when I see it.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 19, 2012 9:48 pm
The two staff members mentioned in the article are two of the most courteous and professional people I ever had the pleasure to work with during my time at SDP. It is a shame that their professionalism has not been rewarded, or even acknowledged. They have been let down by their leaders and are owed an apology from Dr. Hite on behalf of the district.
Submitted by Anonymous 62 (not verified) on December 19, 2012 11:26 pm
I agree...Uma and Dan always give good answers and support...sad. everyone else is not to be trusted...they change position on a whim...poor kids suffer
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 19, 2012 11:50 pm
I meant Uma and Jeff, but oh well.
Submitted by Geoffrey (not verified) on December 20, 2012 9:11 am
Uma is well known for her kindness, decency and expertise. Those who tried to throw her under the bus should be deeply ashamed.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 9:21 am
Agree. Does anyone know why Piotrowski was fired but Nixon was allowed to take a "sabbatical?"
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 6:58 pm
You mean the Uma who tried to interview a child DURING TESTING? Such a professional. Those emails are very interesting. I read ALL of them, not just the highlighted areas.
Submitted by Benjamin Herold on December 21, 2012 10:34 am

Anonymous,

The District determined that the claim by Wagner staff that Dr. Jayaraman had tried to interview a child during testing was unsubtantiated.

Ben

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 21, 2012 12:23 pm
Ben, As were the claims that the special ed teacher was coaching the students while the test monitor listened outside the door. Anonymous
Submitted by Benjamin Herold on December 21, 2012 1:31 pm

Anonymous,

Yes, during the preliminary survey that was conducted, the District found Mr. Piotrowski's allegation that a teacher was coaching students to be unfounded.  The District's Office of General Counsel is now reconsidering the merits of that allegation and others at Dr. Hite's direction.

Ben

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 21, 2012 7:36 pm
One can only hope that the truth will finally come out and be reported in this newspaper.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 23, 2012 8:54 am
I totally agree. Uma and Dan are without question above reproach in their knowledge and intention when it comes to administering the PSSA with integrity. The "allegations" made by the staff at Wagner were all about how they felt. Well, guess what? If you administer the PSSA according to the guidelines, it feels like taking the SAT or Praxis exam. As educators of children, we all FEEL that environment is not conducive for children to do their best BUT, it is what it is. I'm disappointed in the officials that failed to address Wagner's issues in a professional and thoughtful manner. I'm more disappointed in the staff at Wagner for trying to defend practices that are clear violations of protocol.
Submitted by tom-104 on December 19, 2012 9:31 pm
If tests were used as a tool to diagnose and then provide resources to fixing problems at a school, in a classroom, or for an individual student instead of punitively blaming schools and teachers and threatening their livelihood for things that are beyond their control (such as poverty) ... would any of this cheating have happened? It is no accident that it happens in schools with a large population of students that come from low income families.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on December 19, 2012 9:44 pm
Yes, it's called racism 101. Let's blame and punish the poor for being poor. After all, it's all the teachers' fault anyway.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 9:43 am
that is classism unless you are implying that poor people are only of one race
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 3:14 am
district teachers and administration and the pft. now that's a conspiracy.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 8:05 am
Wagner Middle School is an amazing educational environment. As a teacher here, it appalls me that the writer of this article not only has never visited our school, spoken to our teachers, or seen our students successes on a daily basis but feels that it is alright to smear the names of our students, teachers, and principal. Students cannot perform in a testing environment when they feel they will be judged as cheaters no matter what and their scores last year reflect that, not past evidence of cheating.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 10:10 am
Exactly!! This conversation should be about the kids, not the test scores.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 11:05 am
Finally a voice of reason. Good schools, good teachers, and good principals are being slandered to liven up the Notebook gossip.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 2:36 pm
What happened at Wagner is NOT gossip. Its track record of cheating is evident. The administration - going back to Nixon - and staff need to look in the mirror. Rather than take responsibility, the current principal is hiding behind a lawyer and Nixon went "quietly into the night." The fact the PFT got involved is ridiculous. Wagner needs to clean up its act.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 3:05 pm
How many times have you been there? What knowledge do you have to support your claims? Do you have of cheating? How come you didn't report it if you know so much?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 5:44 pm
What do you make of the statistical probability of all of the erasures being 1 in more than a trillion? Apparently Penny should have played Powerball, bc she was more likely to win there than to have the wrong answers all be change to right. It's sad when other schools see a minor drop, due to the complete removal of all resources, and schools caught up in the highest levels of the cheating scandal see a drop of 20 points or greater. How do you explain that? Was Penny God's gift to the PSSA?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 30, 2012 7:43 am
Four Central Office Staff members were assigned to Wagner during the testing period. It is difficult to believe that all would have hidden motives to slander Maya Johnstone and Wagner Middle School teachers. Let us not forget that Penny Nixon, Fran Newberg, and Karen Kolsky had the authority to inform Maya Johnstone and her staff to "follow" all recommendations of the proctors. Ms. Johnstone constantly pushed the envelope before, during, and after PSSA testing and was allowed to get away with it. Fran Newberg, Karen Kolsky and Rosemary Hughes gave Wagner a slap on the wrist, ordered an investigation into Uma's behavior, made proctors apologize for doing their job, and receive promotions. Where is the external investigation into their behavior? Dr. Hite, the only way to move on is to act quickly and remove them from their positions. Unfortunately, Uma, Dan, Jeff and Chris have been unfairly targeted during this cheating scandal. It is too bad that no one speaks of the great work that goes on in the Office of Accountability, now tainted because of this scandal.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 30, 2012 7:21 am
Agree! Penny Nixon set the testing practices at Wagner - Johnstone was her hand picked successor who worked under Nixon. Nixon gave Newberg, Kolsky and Hughes promotions over the summer. Dr. Hite, there needs to be a thorough cleansing of Ackerman/Nixon appointees to rebuilt integrity in the School District. Thanks to the integrity of some members of the Office of Accountability, there is a foundation to build on and expand to other departments.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on December 20, 2012 10:09 am
Yes, you are correct.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 6:39 pm
The notebook is now the daily rag. Yuck!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 30, 2012 1:20 pm
Worried that the Notebook is onto you?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 7:27 pm
It is clear that everyone has not played "track the administrator." See the schools they have led and the scores during their time and then what happens when they leave and go to a new school. It is very interesting. Data is data and there are some very clear trends, especially when they bring their favorite staff with them.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 8:52 pm
Sounds like an excuse. Come up with a better one.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 9:14 pm
So many bitter people on this thread. This doesn't sound like a conversation about education. Sounds like Penny Nixon stole your boyfriend. These unfounded comments decrease The Notebook's credibility. This mess reads like an issue of The National Enquirer. Let the investigators investigate. These fake sleuths need a life.
Submitted by Linda K. (not verified) on December 22, 2012 10:14 pm
I agree....and we all need to add our names to what we say...at least an alias....maybe that would stop some of the silly comments
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 23, 2012 6:08 pm
As a former teacher at McClure, I was astounded when I ran into other former teachers who were surprised that I didn't know about the cheating. It sickens me! I can't imagine what could make an educator, administrator, or other professional cheat. These people need to be rooted out and kicked out.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 23, 2012 8:45 pm
This high stakes testing amounts to entrapment. Schools with many students from low income families are going to have trouble making AYP because of the difficult lives their children have. Place teachers livelihood in jeopardy over things which they have no control and unfortunately some apparently caved in to the pressure. Much of this happened under Dr. Ackerman's reign of terror, which was also a factor. Would this cheating have happened if the tests were used for their real purpose, to diagnose and correct student deficits rather than punitively penalize teachers and schools?
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on December 23, 2012 9:37 pm
The memos indicate Penny Nixon was intricately involved in what occurred at Wagner after she left. Nixon established a cheating environment to the point the teachers apparently lost their judgement. The fact the PFT got involved is ridiculous. Why is the PFT, once again, supporting the problem versus the solution? Schools with years of cheating new leadership. While the testing may be unfair, it is what it is. Challenge NCLB - don't help students cheat.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 24, 2012 3:07 am
I agree that the state test, as it is presently used, is meaningless. But, you go right to the same old lines: 1) the kids are too poor, 2) don't evaluate the teachers' effectiveness. If you don't demand real, measurable progress from children (even poor children), we're wasting money. It's the same for teachers. Whether ayp or some other scale, we need to be able to measure progress.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 24, 2012 1:13 pm
Exactly....what happened to using the data to drive the INSTRUCTION? Instead it is all about the fact that the child SHOULD be scoring here. Well, they aren't. So let's go back and help them get to that point by using time tested teaching methods that previously worked. Teaching to the test does not, obviously. And let's help the child deal with the issues that are preventing them from learning....our kids don't even get recess any more. Maybe they would focus better in the pm, if they got to run around a little bit!! The disparity between inner city and suburban schools is a BIG issue that no one seems to mention.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 24, 2012 3:34 pm
What about the many examples of teachers and students that have defied the odds? They battle the same obstacles yet they found ways to overcome them. You always had individual examples of that but now you're seeing schools that are far-exceeding the norms. It's not all about having equal circumstances. If you take your argument to its logical conclusion you'd advocate neutering the poor. Their kids don't have a chance so why allow them to reproduce?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 24, 2012 4:19 pm
There is nothing "logical" about your attitude that social equality would lead to " neutering the poor." The logical conclusion to your premise is that low income families should pull themselves up by their bootstraps and the grossly inequitable funding of schools by people like Corbett is OK.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 24, 2012 4:00 pm
Pray tell, which inner city schools are far exceeding the norm?! The suburban schools almost always out score the inner city. Let's switch inner city and suburban teachers and see what happens to the test scores. I bet they stay the same. That would mean it is not the teachers. Not sure where you got me saying no reproduction, but I advocate supporting the poor in the same way that suburban kids are supported. Equal materials, curriculum, staff, services, etc. Then maybe we can see test scores go up, although without equal parent involvement, there will always still be a gap. It is the truth that no one knows how to fix.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on December 30, 2012 3:23 pm
I have an idea. Let's give Title I money and the like to the social services institutions rather than the instructional institutions. The evidence is overwhelming that it is not the lack of instruction from our teachers, but the lack of readiness for instruction that is the problem. Those children that "beat the odds" generally have at least one significant adult mentor, and those schools that "beat the odds" generally have supportive families that value education. The instructional institutions, other than a handful of charters, given over 10 years of massive funding appear to have lost the Title I funds in bureaucratic nonsense with little academic gain and even cheating as a result. At least the social services organizations already serve/target the poor or "at risk" families. It seems to me that the intent of the money is right, and that in being correctly implemented, there would result some of the sought after academic gains. A partnership needs to be forged between such enrichment organizations as Settlement Music, educational outreach of organizations as the Philadelphia Theatre Company, YMCA, Fleischer Art Memorial, Mural Arts, ASAP, etc. etc. etc. These aren't resources that "at risk" families will seek out on their own, and I don't see that the school districts are doing this with Title I funds at all.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 24, 2012 11:01 am
Fire Linda Wayman!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 25, 2012 3:11 pm
What the heck does Linda Wayman have to do with this post? You are obviously a loose cannon with no direction.
Submitted by Joan Taylor on December 24, 2012 12:01 pm
As a society, we have an odd predilection for protecting the rich. In PA, this is exacerbated by Corbett's essential stinginess and contempt for anyone who can't contribute to his campaign. Research is conclusive in demonstrating that poverty is a significant hindrance to academic performance, but our absurd protection of the rich (and often of the middle class as well) keeps many of the children we teach from reaching their potential. It isn't fair to compare poor children to middle-class children and ludicrous to compare them to wealthy children. Does that excuse cheating on the PSSA? I'm afraid not. As teachers, we are role models for much more important things than scoring well on a test, things like honesty and effort and resiliency in the face of struggle. Those are the qualities that prepare children for meaningful success. We don't need more cheaters in the world, and in spite of the stupidity with which standardized tests are used, we shouldn't validate cheating our way to the top.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 26, 2012 1:31 am
if my friends and i had you teachers none of us would have a degree. we were poor and according to your view we should have been victims. are any of you posters black? latino? from kensington? people cheated because they didn't do their jobs. in order to hide they fact they they had failed these children, they changed answers. it had nothing to do with corbett, the rich, or any other red herring. Incompetence is what it is. i'm for firing all of you. get out and don't come back. your condescending attitudes are worse than racist.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 26, 2012 3:55 am
You have a degree and you don't know how to capitalize? It appears you are not who you claim to be in order to promote a political agenda?
Submitted by Joan Taylor on December 28, 2012 11:25 am
Richard D. Kahlenberg, American Educator/Winter 2012-2013: "Finland--often held out as an education success story--had the lowest degree of socioeconomic segregation of 57 countries participating in PISA." (Programme for International Student Assessment) Saying socioeconomic background isn't a factor in educational success ignores a complicated reality and justifies inequities that, while not harmful to all (evidently not to you) are crippling to many.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 26, 2012 9:22 am
The emails do not reveal much. Most people at 440 in higher up positions are aware of "the right to know" when they write and send emails on the district network. They are not going to incriminate their own selves. Reopening an investigation will probably prove nothing different but to satisfy the Notebook.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 26, 2012 10:22 am
Dr. Hite reopened the investigation - not the Notebook. The glaring violations at Wagner deserve to be reexamine - for the students and families if not the staff who don't participate in the cheating. Johnstone and her supporters, which includes Penny Nixon, have tried to cover up their cheating. Fortunately, a few honest people are trying to stop it.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 26, 2012 11:14 am
This investigation isn't new. Dr Hite was not the person who reopened the investigation. You all only know what you read in the Notebook. Lets see what the "new" investigation produces. Once an investigation has been "unfounded" you can't go back and make an allegation "founded".
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on December 27, 2012 3:56 pm
The truth is this is old news and a DIVERSION from the far, far, far bigger issue of closing 40 schools which will "save" next to nothing and may even cost the district money. Follow the MONEY. Throwing Penny and her girls under the bus now, serves no real purpose. Diversion tactics 101.
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on December 27, 2012 11:05 pm
Exposing the cheating under Ackerman / Nixon is not old news. Until this is addressed, the School District can't move forward without a huge cloud over many schools. Thanks to the Notebook for keeping us informed.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on December 28, 2012 12:16 am
OK Pedro.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on December 28, 2012 9:28 am
Don't you find it curious that everybody everywhere knew the truth about Penny's scores but just now decided to go after her???? Seriously !! They're throwing the people a carrot, a peace offering, while pulling a far more egregious act on the folks.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on December 28, 2012 9:21 am
By the way, when I say Penny, I am including her girls too, of course. NOBODY past the age of reason took any of them seriously as educators but just now, decided to topple that cabal ??
Submitted by Harry Bailey (not verified) on December 28, 2012 5:55 pm
If anyone in the school has ties to Gov. Corbett, the school shall investigate itself. That's what happened in Chester Community Charter.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 31, 2012 8:22 pm
Why are we talking about Wagner. What about other schools where cheating took place. Schools like Marshall and Clemente. All under the horrible leadership of Ed Penn. an in depth investigation should be ordered for his schools. Teachers are being fired at Clemente, but everyone knows they were acting under orders from Edward Penn. check it out!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 1, 2013 7:09 am
Clemente has already undergone an in depth investigation. I'm not sure about Marshall. I am anxious to see what the outcome will be and when it will be announced.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 1, 2013 7:21 pm
Who said teachers are being fired? This is more rumors.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 3, 2013 4:10 am
This is outrageous. This is a disgrace. Uma was sent to Wagner to do her job as a test monitor and she is the one who winds up having to defend her actions. Andy Rosen should also be fired for his role in this scandal. He was the person who suggested that there be an investigatory conference into the recommendation made by the testing monitor. Kolsky, Newberg,Nixon , Johnstone and Rosen were all involved in a coverup of epic portions. How dare they attempt to put all the blame on Uma Jayjaraman. When will their deeds catch up with them?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 4, 2013 12:04 pm
As always The School District of Philadelphia knows how to throw their best workers under the bus or fire them to cover up their wrong doing. I worked with Uma, Dan and Jeff they have always been professional in their conduct. I can guarantee that neither one of these individuals had a bone to pick with Wagner or any other school caught up in the cheating scandal. Their job as District personnel is to report what they saw and heard to their superiors. However, the Chiefs in Command (e.g. Fran Newberg, Karen Kolsky, Andy Rosen and Penny Nixon) decided that they should be the ones investigated because they were seen as the whistle blowers. Kudos to Uma, Jeff and Dan for doing your jobs, If more people would just do their job and stop trying to kiss up to keep their high paying positions we would have a more ethical educational community that is concerned about the academic success of our children and not building their personal bank accounts and resume' In regards to Penny Nixon, she made it very difficult for people to work with her. Prior to her position as Chief Academic Officer I respected her ability to be open minded to the things that were happening in regards to schools and administration issues. However, once she took on her new role I had lost all respect for her as she began to place individuals in positions and schools that were incompetent, rude and misrepresented the District on every level in their professionalism. Everything became about business and standing even taller in the sight of those who she deemed less important. Newberg also someone I respected, however, once in her glorified position as Deputy Chief of Accountability and Educational Technology she began to cut relational ties with valuable employees that believed in her work and wanted to see her move up the ranks. The decision to recommend that Dan be fired (Penny and Fran) and the approval by the SRC was unethical. In addition, to have Uma subjected to an internal investigation is a disgrace to the educational community down at 440 N. Broad St. I hope they all take legal action for the slander and defamation of character. Newberg go back to being you and stop trying to be somebody you are not, it doesn't look good on you. In regards to Rosemary Hughes, you left the District to take on a job in Baltimore because you said that this organization was not for you. However, I guess Baltimore wasn't the place to be either. The decision to hire you back as a Director and now Deputy is very disturbing. While there were two other qualified persons in the Office of Accountability who interviewed for the job was turned down. I wonder why, could it be that Newberg was looking out for one of her own. People should be hired and promoted based on experience and not who you know. The office Human Resource/Talent and Development needs to conduct an internal investigation into their hiring practices. Posting Jobs on the Employment Opportunity website for the purpose of posting is unethical. Most of these heads of departments, regional offices and schools leadership already know who they will get to fill the position. There is a specific clause at the end of each job description that let you know if this job is truly and equal opportunity or they already have a person in mind to fill that position. The clause is; “Please note that not all qualified candidates may be selected for an interview.” This statement is used primarily for job posting that involved position at 440 N. Board St. There needs to be a stop to this practice. People who apply for employment opportunities do it with the hope that their resume will be viewed by the hiring manager and if they have met all of the requirements and qualifications to at least be interviewed. Dr. Hite, I challenge you as a leader to four objectives: 1. Establish real accountability for all of your employees equally. 2. Create an environment that values and respects its employees and the work they do every day (not just teachers and principals but administration staff as well). 3. Foster a healthy environment where employees enjoys coming to work and making a difference in the lives of our youth and children. 4. Promote positive and effective leadership standards in which you will model on a daily bases and require your leadership team to follow; then we will have an organization that is ready to meet the daily challenges and success of our school district head on without all of the bureaucracy. **Please know that Philadelphia is passionate about the academic success of our children therefore we have to stop allowing adult issues to block and hinder the growth and success as a District that we are capable of achieving.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 8, 2013 5:05 am
Dr. Newberg, Dr. Kolsky, Andy Rosen, Penny Nixon and Rosemary Hughes should be terminated immediately for their abuse of power during this investigation. Dr. Newberg and Dr. Kolsky supported Wagner by visiting the school and admonishing monitors. Andy Rosen was consulted and gave the "go ahead" to formally investigate Uma while Rosemary Hughes drafted a letter to PDE supporting practices at Wagner. Rosemary Hughes' short stint in Baltimore and quick rise to power when she returned to Philadelphia is indicative of the hiring and promotion practices within the SDP. Under the previous Deputy of Accountability, Dr. Schlesinger, Rosemary Hughes never moved beyond Senior Research Associate but returned to be promoted twice in a year. However, she should not be singled out. She is not the only individual in the Office of Accountability given multiple promotions and huge pay raises and during the time of fiscal crisis. Dr. Hite, please take a second look at the Office of Accountability.

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