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State has taken over probe into 2009-11 tests at Wagner Middle School

By Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner on Jan 9, 2013 06:50 PM
Photo: Nat Hamilton for NewsWorks

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has taken over the probe into possible widespread cheating on state tests at Philadelphia's Wagner Middle School in 2009, 2010, and 2011.

The investigation had previously been the purview of the School District of Philadelphia. District spokesman Fernando Gallard confirmed the switch, saying the state informed the District of its plan at the end of September. No reason for the change was given, Gallard said.

A state-commissioned analysis found extremely high numbers of "wrong-to-right" erasures at Wagner in multiple grades and subjects in all three of those years. District Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon, now on sabbatical, was Wagner's principal in 2009.

Wagner was originally designated a "Tier 2" school, to be investigated by attorneys from the law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, which has been providing pro bono services to the district since last May.

Superintendent William Hite said recently that the District is "close to wrapping up" those investigations and that educators found to have cheated could soon face discipline.

The state Department of Education has given no timetable for completing its investigation of 11 so-called "Tier One" schools -- plus now Wagner.

Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller would not confirm that the state has assumed control of the Wagner investigation.

Wagner is also under scrutiny for more recent allegations of adult cheating on state tests.

Last month, NewsWorks and the Public School Notebook reported that Hite had reopened the District's investigation of cheating reports on the PSSAs at Wagner in 2012. Multiple eyewitness accounts of serious testing violations at the school by trained test monitors were minimized or ignored, and the District omitted key information about the alleged infractions in its report to the state. One of the monitors was subjected to a disciplinary hearing. The other was fired in July.

Findings from that investigation are expected sometime this month.

This article was produced as part of a partnership in coverage of the Philadelphia schools between WHYY/NewsWorks and the Public School Notebook.

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Comments (22)

Submitted by Gerri (not verified) on January 9, 2013 7:53 pm
I can top that. Cheating was witnessed by many at Pollock School in NE Philly for several years from the late 90's to the mid 2000's. It has been reported that several staffers were involved in running a well oiled cheating machine. Witnessed was a massive changing answer sheets assembly line, unbelievable amounts of heavy "coaching", ignoring time constraints and other rules, running writing clinics during open ended essay test...and the list goes on. This information was reported to state investigators. Teachers, administrators and support staff were implicated. Pollock School rocketed to the top of the PSSA scores during those years. It was all crooked folks.
Submitted by Benjamin Herold on January 9, 2013 7:36 pm


I'd be interested to talk with you more about this comment.  Please feel free to contact me off line.

Ben Herold

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 9, 2013 8:37 pm
Just by the comment, it is clearly this person has a thing against Pollock as PSSAs are not timed tests.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 10, 2013 4:01 pm
In the earlier days of administration, they were timed.
Submitted by tom-104 on January 10, 2013 12:37 am
Once again the state is interfering in Philadelphia's business. Can the state Education Department be trusted to investigate cheating when they do things like this?:
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 10, 2013 4:30 am
Who is suppose to monitor Phila. when the top leadership is corrupt? Granted, top leadership in some local charters (e.g. Chester Community, Walter Palmer, Imhotep, etc.) also is corrupt. Is the threat of an investigation enough to stop the cheating?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 10, 2013 7:20 am
The top leadership is controlled by the state through the SRC.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 10, 2013 9:21 am
I agree. This is the PDE whose methods for calculating AYP were rejected by USDE. Why do we trust that they can conduct a cheating investigation? The state should solicit an independent investigation. Ben --will PDE release official findings from their investigation? The unfounded cases deserve to be publically cleared and the public deserves to know how cheating occured in the other cases. The public should not accept anything less than transparent documentation of this investigation.
Submitted by Benjamin Herold on January 10, 2013 9:51 am


Thanks for the question. 

Neither the Pa. Department of Education nor the School District of Philadelphia has indicated in what form their findings will be released.

Worth noting also that there are 22 "Tier 3" schools at which serious signs of possible cheating were found in 2009-11; investigations at these schools have not yet begun.


Submitted by rob (not verified) on January 10, 2013 9:40 am
Why would Lewis & Bockius LLP work pro bono?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 10, 2013 12:09 pm
I'm not sure how reliable their investigation will prove to be. It's been said they asked people to speculate on who they think would cheat, they asked people to repeat hearsay and rumors. We all know none of that is reliable when conducting an investigation. They have incorrect information in their files. All this was stated by people who where interviewed by their firm.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 10, 2013 1:37 pm
I am sure there is a quid pro quo attached somewhere and somehow as all of these big politically connected law firms are incestuous. Do they represent the district in other matters and thereby collect large fees? Do they collect fees from representing the Department of Education? Do they contribute to Corbett's campaign and thereby exact contracts? Mayor Nutter's campaign? Are they connected to the PSP? The William Penn foundation? Or have they, like so many others descending upon the district, "all of a sudden" found themselves a dedication to the schoolchildren of Philadelphia?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 10, 2013 9:26 pm
I think it is a shame how much teachers know but can't tell because no one will listen
Submitted by Just Another Teacher Ruining Society (not verified) on January 10, 2013 9:40 pm
This is such a broken record. They spend money on this and meanwhile, schools lose every single resource available to them. I guess this proves that they do have money somewhere. Pro Bono? Yeah right. Someone is making money. This city and all the top people who work in it are horrendously corrupt. But, no one ever wants to talk about that. It's always the teachers. The rotten, cheating, crappy teachers who ruin everything. It's getting so old, so incredibly old. This is starting to feel like an episode of The Wire. It's absurd.
Submitted by Paul Socolar on January 10, 2013 10:39 pm

Since it's been suggested previously by a few commenters that the Notebook's continuing coverage of this issue represents teacher-bashing, it seems worth pointing out now that in other districts with cheating scandals such as Atlanta, principals and other administrators have been implicated and investigated for their role; in Atlanta the cheating investigation extended to the former superintendent of schools. Because of the secrecy around the investigations, we don't yet know who is being investigated here, but there are plenty of indications that the investigation is not focused solely on teachers.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2013 6:53 am
When there is full disclosure from the District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education there will be job losses. Many principals under investigation put in retirement papers only to be encouraged by their union president to rescind. Naysayers, nonbelievers and those tired of hearing about these stories, what if you read confessions from principals, teachers, etc.? Would that shut you up? Let us stop protecting the wrong for the sake of the self labeled righteous. There is no way that we should allow this to go away.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2013 11:45 am
The issue at hand is who can you believe. If one person says they witnessed cheating, how do you know they are telling the truth? Teachers are not the only people accused of cheating. If disciplinary actions are enforced, people will hire attorneys and fight it. The district is going to be slammed with lawsuits and arbitration.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2013 5:57 pm
It's okay, they can always close more schools to pay those costs. They could turn more over to charter schools, which is the hope of the city anyway. Then, they can blame teachers for forcing them to pay extraneous legal costs and ultimately resulting in the need to close schools. Just like it always does, this will play out in a public forum where a bunch of people who don't teach can pass judgements and continue to fuel the overwhelming public perception that teachers are horrible people. The District knows what their doing, as does the city, media and other populations who never go home at night worrying if their students will make it in spite of a system deliberately designed to make them fail. Why even bother anymore? It's such a losing battle.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2013 6:51 am
Yeah, yeah, yeah. For a salary that matches a manger at McDonald's, and an abusive environment devoid of basic supplies, the Notebook continually points out how that the teachers are ruining children and ruining society. We get it. We really get it. We are terrible and we became teachers because we weren't capable of doing anything else. Teacher's deviant nature and incompetence eventually led them to attempt to portray their students as being smarter than they are. 95% of us don't care about this issue. The 5% who do have political or personal motivations. If they were concerned about yet kids, the stories would be written about how our schools do not provide the resources necessary for anyone to be successful. This storyline is sensational and salacious. Meanwhile, in reality, the wheel keeps spinning, more people and resources are falling off and no one investigates that. No one attempts to write a story that truly portrays to the misled public what it's like inside a classroom in Philadelphia. I guess those stories don't have the blood that keeps the mob coming back for more. The truth is too stressful. And how can you sell the story of teachers being rotten if the public actually identifies with their struggle, or God forbid, sees teachers as human.
Submitted by Bill Hangley (not verified) on January 11, 2013 6:41 pm
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 12, 2013 11:52 pm
I was a student at Wagner middle School in 2009 and when we received our scores back I believed everyone got what they deserved. When we received our grades back a lot of students didn't reach proficient or advanced the majority got it and they were the honor student that did their work kept good grades. I just can't see any cheating its strict, great teachers and very organized a lot of they fellow classmates which was 2009 and now 2013 graduates went on to do great things I have a friend who into Yale with a full scholarship I don't think that they will have us work so hard and cheat at the end this CANT BE TRUE
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 13, 2013 12:05 am
You really should learn how to use punctuation. It gives a very bad impression not use it - like are you really telling the truth about your schooling if you don't know how to format your writing?

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