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Two principals are first Philly casualties of cheating probes

By Dale Mezzacappa and Benjamin Herold for the Notebook and NewsWorks on Apr 3, 2013 11:55 AM

In the first fallout from Pennsylvania’s nearly two-year-old investigation into possible cheating on state standardized tests at 53 Philadelphia District schools, two city principals have surrendered their administrative credentials

Barbara McCreery, who oversaw astronomical test score gains in 2010 at Communications Technology High in Southwest Philadelphia, was alleged to have “violated the integrity and security of the PSSA by erasing and changing student answers, creating an answer key and manipulating student data."

Lola Marie O’Rourke, former principal of Locke Elementary in West Philadelphia, faced similar allegations, including that she directly provided answers to students.

The surrendering of their credentials by the two administrators represent "an acknowledgement of responsibility of misconduct,” said Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) Press Secretary Tim Eller.

“The department's focus is to ensure the integrity of the state assessments,” he said. “These individuals surrendering their certificates is indicative of the department's commitment to prevent these activities from occurring."

Neither McCreery nor O’Rourke will be able to serve as a principal again in Pennsylvania. Both will retain their teaching certificates, but neither will be able to teach in the Philadelphia School District. O’Rourke also surrendered her "letter of eligibility,” which would allow her to be a superintendent.

“The School District supports the recent actions taken by PDE and believes that there must be severe consequences for adults that have violated testing integrity protocols in schools,” said District spokesman Fernando Gallard in a statement.

McCreery and O'Rourke are the first Philadelphia educators to face sanctions in the city’s ongoing cheating scandal.  

Neither returned calls for comment.

McCreery was removed as principal of Bok Technical High School on Wednesday, according to Gallard, ending a 38-year career in Philadelphia schools.

O'Rourke left the District at the end of  August and now works as an administrator in the Trenton public schools.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education first began looking into adult cheating on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams in fall 2011, after the Notebook and NewsWorks reported on a 2009 analysis commissioned by the state that showed statistically improbable test scores and patterns of suspicious “wrong-to-right” erasures at dozens of schools across the state. Based on suspicious statistical patterns from 2009, 2010 and 2011, a total of 53 District-run schools and three city charters have been under investigation, as well as several other charters and districts around the state.

Eller said Wednesday that the state’s investigation into 11 so-called “Tier One” schools, being led by the state's Office of Inspector General, is ongoing. Private law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP received $750,000 to help with the probe. Eller would not comment on whether more educators would face disciplinary action.

Gallard said that the District's investigation into 20 so-called “Tier Two” schools, which has included more than 450 interviews, will be completed later this week. A general summary of findings is expected to be released later this month. The District is relying on pro bono assistance from the law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP.

Twenty-two “Tier Three” schools, many of which were found to have signs of adult cheating in multiple grades, subjects, and years, have not yet been subject to any investigation.

Both District veterans

McCreery, who has been with the District since 1975, became principal of Comm Tech in 2003.

In 2010, her last year at the school, 11th-grade proficiency rates in math at Comm Tech jumped 40 points, to 70 percent proficient. In reading, proficiency rates jumped 22 points, to 75 percent proficient.  

But McCreery was transferred out of the school at the end of the year. She spent two years filling in at other schools, mostly on special assignment. 

After McCreery departed, signs of cheating at Comm Tech disappeared. Test scores at the school plummeted 38 points in reading and 45 points in math.  

Saliyah Cruz, McCreery's replacement as principal of the school, told NewsWorks and the Notebook that it quickly became evident that the school's inflated test scores had distorted the entire educational program at Comm Tech.

"I don't think the kids got the supports they needed," Cruz said.

In August 2012, the District installed McCreery as the new principal at Bok, despite the suspect scores. The District was aware that the state had already launched an investigation into possible cheating at Comm Tech during her tenure. This year, she has been making a salary of $142,724.

Lola O'Rourke, meanwhile, is now listed as an administrator in the department of curriculum, instruction, and assessment in the Trenton Public Schools.

A 13-year District veteran, O'Rourke was principal of Locke Elementary in West Philadelphia between 2009-10 and 2011-12.  In her first two years at the school, PSSA scores at Locke rose 29 percentage points in reading and 27 points in math.

A state analysis later found evidence of suspicious erasures in student test booklets in both years, however. In 2011, Locke was flagged in both reading and math in grades 4, 5, 6, and 7.

In 2012, after the more stringent test security measures were put in place, Locke's PSSA scores dropped 42 percentage points in math and 32 points in reading.

In addition to the troubling statistical evidence at Locke, a source familiar with the cheating investigation at the school said the District also received anonymous tips about testing improprieties during O'Rourke's tenure.

More to come

PDE has filed complaints against some 140 educators from other Pennsylvania districts where cheating was found to have occurred.

Efforts to sanction educators in Philadelphia, though, have proceeded slowly.

Robert McGrogan, the head of the Philadelphia principals' bargaining unit, said he could not say how many more administrators may have action taken against them. While union members are entitled to union representation at any disciplinary hearings or investigative sessions, the loss of credentials and licenses is ultimatley between the individual and the state, he said.

McGrogan said that he sat in on hearings or sessions for administrators in just about all the schools that had been under investigation.

"This will be far from done," McGrogan said. "I don’t know how many more will be coming, I really don’t know." 

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said that many of his members had been interviewed by both city and state investigators, but none had been notified of any potential actions against them. 

"There’s no excuse for cheating," Jordan said. "However, in the environment of the high-stakes testing going on in this country, unfortunately, people are making some very, very foolish decisions."

The disciplinary actions became known just a day after 35 Atlanta educators, including former superintendent Beverly Hall, surrendered to authorities after being indicted on various criminal charges growing out of what so far has been the biggest cheating scandal in the country.

This story was reported through a partnership in education coverage between WHYY/NewsWorks and the Notebook.



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Comments (37)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 3, 2013 8:40 pm
Where is the list of the 53 schools under investigation?
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 3, 2013 10:52 pm
Where is the coverage of cheating at Chester Community Charter School? We all know that Corbett's ties to Vahan Gureghian let CCCS off the hook. Where is the coverage of charters in Philadelphia where cheating occurred? It seems unfair to focus all of the coverage of cheating on the SDP when cheating has occurred elsewhere. Education Grad Student
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2013 3:43 am
Imhotep (up for renewal) and PET (Phila. Electrical and Technical) are both Tier 1 on the list. Yes, ALL schools / administrations need to be exposed!
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2013 4:07 am
Walter Palmer Charter School - they were allowed to "check themselves" by the PA Dept .of Ed. They also have expanded their "seats" at a great cost to the School District. They need to be investigated by an outside entity!
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on April 4, 2013 9:41 am
Exactly, as long as this obvious multi standard approach continues, nobody should trust anything that's said by anybody in "power." I have never seen such clear cut and overt abuse and so far, the courts have allowed it to continue. Needless to say, people like Nutter who are obviously complicit in all this, want it to continue.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 3, 2013 11:27 pm
I worked in a HS that had just been named as a top school in the STATE, so when I arrived I was puzzled. Name of school - Strawberry Mansion- THREE times the principal was called downtown for cheating abuse and mangaed to side step it. Before it hit the fan A. Ackerman had bumped her up to leadership role in Promise Academies. Defintiely should be investigated (had her dept ppl stay after school and "work on'' the tests..The teachers were seriously hesitant but she was an autocrat who would transfer you in a heartbeat with no remorse.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2013 3:03 am
Strawberry Mansion test scores plummeted after Lois Mondesire was promoted. There was no more test cheating machine in place! Mondesire also received bonuses under Ackerman. Strawberry Mansion was one of the first schools in Philly where very high test scores were questioned. We don't need a few "token" loss of certifications (which is basically a joke for someone retiring or moving to a promotion in another state). Besides Mondesire having her people "work" on the test, students who were expected to score higher were tested in a separate area and given "supports."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2013 2:01 pm
This comment is very obviously from someone who has limited knowledge of how things worked at Strawberry Mansion. Yes, the principal was demanding, what strong leader is not? Yes, the test scores rose, what kind of preparation was in place? Yes, the principal was moved (not promoted) and yes, the scores did drop (before the principal left. If the goal of "dept ppl stay after school and "work on" the tests" was to make AYP, it was a poor job because AYP did not happen despite all of the efforts. Look at things through a clear lens rather than the lens of a jaded student, employee or parent.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2013 2:06 pm
Nice try but St Mansion was legendary although not alone. People who know things are not jaded, they're just are more aware. Let's benefit from knowledge not hide from it. Ok?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2013 4:41 pm
OK? Yes, it is OK to not look at the facts, not follow the true data and not look at the lack clarity that exists! Cheating is cheating but where it is not warranted - leave it alone. Our children would be better served by focusing on the climate and culture of high stakes testing and the implications of that rather than focusing on 1 person who may or may not have done something wrong. Just because The Notebook prints it does not mean that it is true!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2013 5:07 pm
People who WERE/ARE involved need to be brought to light and sweeping it under the rug is not helpful. In the big push to hold teachers accountable let us not forget those who run the ship. Given that I was there "the facts" are what they are. If we don't hold people accountable it will keep happening. Beverly Hall in Atlanta was well compensated for what she did, is it the right thing to just move on?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2013 5:53 pm
This story was also featured the Huffington Post, so I supposse it had some validity other than local converage. I think with some of these folks it's time to pay the piper.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2013 2:44 pm
Strawberry Mansion? read it here
Submitted by High School Teacher (not verified) on April 4, 2013 10:28 am
According to McCreery's own web site, she is "a luminary in her field. . . Helping Students toHelping Students to Exceed their Academic Expectations Good riddance to her and the culture of cheating.
Submitted by Joan Taylor on April 5, 2013 9:05 am
If she spelled "luminary" correctly, I think we've got to give her props.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2013 1:17 pm
53 other schools?? Who? Where is the entire list?
Submitted by Paul Socolar on April 4, 2013 3:36 pm

The first link in the story is to the list of 53 schools.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2013 1:52 pm
The list of Tier 1, 2, and 3 schools was in the Notebook sometime in September. Here' s a list I saw published. e following schools have been placed in Tier 1: Bok, Cayuga, Clemente, Communications Technology, Emlen, Forrest, Frankford, Locke, Martin Luther King, Northeast and Roosevelt. Roosevelt is the school where the cheating scandal first hit. It is also thought that the schools listed in this tier may end up receiving sanctions. The schools listed in Tier 2 will be investigated solely by the school district and with the help of the Morgan, Lewis & Bockius law firm who is donating their time pro bono. Schools in this tier were discovered, through a state analysis, to have a lot of erasures where answers were changed from wrong to right. Apparently this is bad. The following schools have been placed in Tier 2: A.B. Day, Cramp, Fulton, Huey, Kearney, Lamberton Elementary, McClure, McDaniel, Mitchell, Olney, Patterson, Penn Treaty, Philadelphia Military Academy at Eleverson, Pollock, Randolph, Strawberry Mansion, Tilden, Wagner, Welsh, and Willard. The schools listed on Tier 3 are probably the ones that officials have the least amount of concerns about and will be receiving reviews about erasures as well. These schools aren’t necessarily on the state’s radar, but they’re being watched all the same. The following schools have been placed in Tier 3: Bridesburg, Catherine, Childs, Conwell, Decatur, Disston, Edmunds, Furness, Heston, Houston, J.B. Kelly, Kensington CAPA, Leeds, Loesche, J. Marshall, T. Marshall, Munoz-Marin, Pepper, Rhawnhurst, Richmond, Rowen, and Sullivan.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2013 4:27 pm
So let's see, neither M.SH. Stanton nor Beeber Middle is on this list but they may well be closing anyway ??
Submitted by ANNONYMOUS (not verified) on April 4, 2013 4:36 pm
There seems to be connection between school closings and cheating allegations. Wagner will get more students. Roosevelt is staying open. (The principal was already given a more plumb position by Penny Nixon. The former principal is at Wilson MS). Strawberry Mansion is staying open. Does this mean the SDP does not take the allegations seriously? To only take an administrators administrative certification is a slap on the wrist - if that. If someone is allowed to retire with a full pension, what does s/he care? If someone is given a promotion if a neighboring state, what does s/he care? We are left to pick up the pieces.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 4, 2013 4:04 pm
Yes, another example of politics as usual. Imhotep of all places remains open with clear and obvious cheating from pillar to post but Beeber and M.H. Stanton, 2 schools playing by the rules so to speak, are on the plank waiting to be pushed off. Only in Philly, could this crap play out for all to see but nobody ready to stop it.
Submitted by Anonymous#1 (not verified) on April 4, 2013 5:15 pm
M Hall Stanton has been playing by the rules all along while politics and corruption are allowed to run rampart. Stanton was recommended for closure by a sham organization created by the sister of SRC member Sylvia Sims. Quibila Devine submitted a proposal that Stanton close & Duckery remain open & the SRC followed her recommendations not even waiting for an official vote for Duckery. It's a sham fraudulent proposal bs proposal because Quibila Devine listed supporters that had no idea she used their names!!!! Such as State Senator Shirley Kitchen, Shariff Street, Temple University, Rep Jose Miranda, City Council President Darrell Clarke and numerous other people and organizations that never read her proposal or gave her permission to use their names!!!!!! I am outraged that this type of fraud and corruption is allowed to persist without any checks and balances of the SRC. If I submitted a proposal that Stanton stays open and list President Obama and Arnie Duncan as supporters do you think the SRC would go for it???? The SRC turned a blind eye because she is Sylvia Sims sister and a former SDP administrator. So Duckery stays open and Stanton is on the chopping block. The biggest question now is which of Sylvia Sims and Quibila Devine's relatives works at or goes to Duckery. Wether your school is closing or not you should be outraged at the flim flam circus of the SRC.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 4, 2013 7:58 pm
I agree and that's my point; the whole thing is a circus, concocted for the "reformers" and the pols to make money off the poor and what else is new?! Who doesn't know the agenda is to refurbish and "sell" the closed buildings to charters, all under the guise of helping kids. Right!!
Submitted by center65 (not verified) on April 4, 2013 10:26 pm
you should definitely testify at the hearing on monday
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 5, 2013 11:54 am
That would be career suicide in this corrupt system.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 7, 2013 5:21 am
M.Hall Stanton and Pratt also had a better annual report than Duckery. Stanton made 14 out of 24 of it's targets for 2011, Pratt made 19 out of 24 targets and Duckery made 8 out of 23 targets. They should have been the school to close. Their principal is weak and she filed a fraudulent response along with Ms Devine citing Temple as a supporter knowing full well that Temple walked away from managing Duckery due to poor leadership and continuous declines in test scores.Shame on the lazy and incompetent SRC for not comparing the data.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 7, 2013 8:12 am
The SRC is not incompetent though likely lazy. They will do exactly what the shot callers order them to do. You give them too much credibility when you call them incompetent. They're puppets, Heather/Feather even looks like she just fell off the lap of a ventriloquist. You can still see the strings.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 7, 2013 8:13 am
The SRC is not incompetent though likely lazy. They will do exactly what the shot callers order them to do. You give them too much credibility when you call them incompetent. They're puppets, Heather/Feather even looks like she just fell off the lap of a ventriloquist. You can still see the strings.
Submitted by Anonymous#1 (not verified) on April 7, 2013 8:20 am
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2013 5:28 pm
The SDP didn't bring the charges, and they surrendered their certifications rather than face whatever fate awaits them legally. It's not just a queston of whether the schools would stay open, the administrators can easily be found.There may be states where they can work (although without the certification I don't know how) but they can't necessarily live there to collect a PA pension (like in NJ). I don't know if this is considered grounds for losiing a pension, but maybe they gave up the certifications in order to keep the pensions.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 5, 2013 10:00 am

The SDP will never press charges. They're all in this together-protecting each other and greasing each others' palms. That the PDE permitted McCreery and O'Rourke to merely hand over their administrative certificates is inconsequential; to allow them to retain their teaching certificates is unacceptable; and to draw a pension, UNBELIEVABLE!!! They should be the first of many having all educational certificates "revoked" by the PDE. When they apply to other school districts for better jobs, SDP and PDE should make their reprehensible actions known to the prospective employers. What message does cheating send to our children? Lying and cheating gets you paid or promoted? We have a responsibility to instill high morale values and an unquestionable code of ethics in our children. Let's bring honor back to education.

Submitted by Linda K. (not verified) on April 7, 2013 11:54 am
In order to make your very valiant points reality we also need to: 1] not pass kids who do not know the information in class/standardized tests 2] not hold kids back who pass in class /standardized test 3] not let parents/administrators/other well meaning folks get away with complaining about the grade a child gets based on the work he/she has produced........and change the grade to make the child feel good about him/herself Since we all know that in life there is an exam and we all have to take it at one time or another to get a job and keep it Linda K. Art TEacher
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 8, 2013 1:35 pm
What needs to be focused on is the atmosphere of pressure that high stakes testing creates. When jobs are tied to tests, test scores, etc., it causes people to feel as if they need to do whatever it takes to ensure they maintain their jobs. Also, we ignore the fact that some of these people worked hard to get their students to where they are and to have them succeed.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2013 5:37 pm
The closures are not due to cheating on tests. I don't think a really good reason was GIVEN for the closures aside from the same tired explanations like "underutilzed" which is an expression being used by reformers in other urban areas like Chicago, LA, and DC.
Submitted by Paul Socolar on April 6, 2013 11:25 pm

We reserve the right to delete comments that involve name-calling and personal attacks, and also to ban repeated violators from posting on the site. A number of comments have been removed.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 7, 2013 4:00 am

Emlen and F.S. Edmonds should be in Tier 1. They were flagged in both reading and math in all grades for all three years. In fact, Edmonds was about to be rewarded by receiving the great students from McCloskey. Thanks to the parents of McCloskey for their persistence. They really dodged a bullet.

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