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District to release report on cheating investigation at 19 schools

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 22, 2013 06:24 PM

The Philadelphia School District plans to release a report on its investigation of adult cheating on standardized tests in 19 city schools that will give a sense of the scope of the problem and say how many educators will face disciplinary charges. But the report, which will be released within the next three weeks, will not name names, sources have told the Notebook.

Sources indicated that infractions were found at most of the 19 schools. These 19 represent one of three groups of schools identified for further investigation through statistical anomalies, such as high numbers of wrong-to-right erasures on answer sheets that forensic analysis found would be virtually impossible to occur by chance.

Altogether, 53 District schools and three city charters were flagged for investigation, with the state dividing them into three tiers. The state itself is investigating 12 Tier 1 schools, where the evidence was strongest. It told the District to probe the 19 Tier 2 and 22 Tier 3 schools.

The District’s investigation of the so-called Tier 2 schools was primarily conducted pro bono by attorneys from the law firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius. Two partners and more than a dozen associates from the firm have been working for more than a year and provided a report of findings at each school. They interviewed 550 people and logged some 5,000 hours, said District spokesman Fernando Gallard.

The District has not yet decided whether it will release the individual school reports, Gallard said.

The state Department of Education has made no public accounting of its findings regarding its investigation of the 12 Tier 1 schools, which is now nearly two years old. Sources said that infractions were also found at most of those schools and that proceedings to revoke or suspend educators' credentials, which only the state can do, were initiated against a score of them. State officials have said that over 100 educators were being targeted statewide.

The District’s summary of its investigation into the 19 Tier 2 schools will likely include the number of teachers and the number of administrators who have been identified for potential disciplinary action, disclose how many still work for the District and how many have resigned or retired, and indicate how many are working elsewhere, including in charter schools. It will also describe the nature of the infractions.

Sources said that the District has either started or will soon start disciplinary proceedings against educators who have been implicated. But it is unclear how it will make such actions public. And it is also not determined whether any except those who have had the most severe penalties lodged against them – termination by the District and/or the revocation or surrender of their credentials – will ever be known. In the most egregious cases, the District could terminate an employee and file a complaint with the state to revoke his or her credentials.

The state publishes the names and actions against all educators who have been disciplined by the state on a website set up for that purpose, along with the reason for the action. The District releases the names of terminated employees at each School Reform Commission meeting, but generally gives no reason.

Short of termination, District sanctions against educators can range from suspension to letters placed in the person’s file.

In general, the District does not announce details of disciplinary actions against educators. This situation, however, is presenting officials with a dilemma.

“We don’t want to take steps out of ordinary process to name people,” said one District source. “There are other ways for names to become public, including the state website when certification is suspended or on the list from the School Reform Commission where individuals are being fired.”

At the same time, said another source, the goal is “to identify cheating, make sure people are punished, and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Employees have the right to contest disciplinary actions taken against them. Initiating a state complaint or internal District proceeding does not mean that the charges will stick and the sanction will be carried out. 

It will be awhile before it is known against how many people sanctions are actually carried out. And it is still unknown whether the District will make public a tally or other details about disciplinary actions that are taken.

“That’s been the holdup all along, the issue about naming people,” said a District source.

During the course of the probe, attorneys often interviewed people several times, according to people close to the investigation. It was sometimes difficult, they said, to crack a school’s culture and get people to say what happened. Determining the truth in these cases and who did what is not easy. In a few cases, the investigations were inconclusive because witnesses by and large would not cooperate.

“People not affiliated with this are wondering why it is taking so long,” said one person with knowledge of the investigation. The goal, this person said, is to “do it right. The worst thing that can happen is … the charges don’t stick. That sends the opposite message to the field: Here’s the way get around charges.”

But with reputations and careers at stake, it is important to be certain of the information before taking action against someone.

So far, two District principals have had surrendered their credentials or had them suspended temporarily by the Pennsylvania Department of Education as a result of its investigation into the 12 Tier 1 schools. This means that any others who received educator misconduct letters from the state are likely contesting the actions, or haven’t come to agreement on a sanction.

Sources told the Notebook that one of the principals still under investigation is Arthur “Larry” Melton, who retired from Bok Technical High School. Bok was one of dozens of schools whose scores plummeted in 2012 after PDE instituted stricter test-taking protocols. It is one of 24 schools that the School Reform Commission voted to close down this year.

The test coordinator at Bok was Ronald Paulus, who is the only teacher so far to be sanctioned by the state in the probe. While denying any wrongdoing, Paulus had his teaching license suspended for two months during the summer, a lenient penalty that could mean he has cooperated with the investigators. 

Melton did not respond to several messages left at his home. 

PDE hired the law firm of Pepper Hamilton to investigate potential cheating and paid the firm at least $750,000 for the work done in Philadelphia. It also investigated other districts around the state and several charter schools.

The state has told the District to investigate the 22 Tier 3 schools. That investigation will begin in September, a District spokesperson said.

Additional reporting by Monika Zaleska.

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Comments (21)

Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on July 22, 2013 8:34 pm
A joke. I and every other teacher know of people sitting in desks inside 440 who are going to get named and will continue their scam life untroubled by justice. What ever happened to the Chester Charter operator who happens to be Corbett's top contributor? Did not the state let them off with a slap on the wrist?
Submitted by Anonym. (not verified) on July 22, 2013 10:36 pm
Also Walter Palmer Charter School ...
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 23, 2013 1:15 pm
As a former employee at Walter Palmer, I can say for a fact that cheating occurred. Just last school year, the VP took students out of my room a week after the PSSAs were over to "fix" their tests (her words). That place is so slimy that I can't even say I was particularly shocked when this happened.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 23, 2013 1:49 pm
Vahan Gureghian's Chester Community Charter School was let off the hook by Corbett's flunkies. They were suppose to investigate the allegations themselves which lead to no one. Big surprise. What Corbett will have to face is that anyone from Philly accused of cheating will bring this up again and again and this is an election year.
Submitted by Darnel (not verified) on July 22, 2013 8:19 pm
It's about time. All of this foot dragging makes me suspicious. Looks like they are posturing. Most of these folks want to sweep this nightmare under the carpet. The people deserve the truth. Let the chips fall where they may. No matter who goes down.
Submitted by lmm324 (not verified) on July 23, 2013 1:56 pm
Darnel - Like all "personnel matters", it will be kept "confidential" and will be swept under the rug.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 22, 2013 10:32 pm
Ressler (at Roosevelt but now at Wilson MS) - a friend of Penny's and probably the most blatant allegations and cover up by an administrator...
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 23, 2013 7:27 pm
Absolutley and she's one of the principals who had one (or more) people terminated. Wasn't she a testing coordinator there?
Submitted by Veteran of the WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on July 23, 2013 10:28 am
I wonder when they will release the findings of the investigation into "conflict of interest" of the WPHS SAC (refuted by the Education Law Center's findings) that resulted in overturning the SAC's recommendation and District's proposed resolution to have Johns Hopkins work with the school. How long ago was that?....
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 23, 2013 10:14 am
and what about the schools on the list that are now closed?.....good way to lower the numbers of failures.....just make them go away and suddenly the "numbers" improve Linda K.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 23, 2013 11:44 am
And what about the principals who had teachers terminated willy nilly with the union looking the other way?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 23, 2013 12:47 pm
have the accused educators even been notified?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 23, 2013 1:54 pm
It sounds like you're worried. LOL.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 23, 2013 2:03 pm
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 23, 2013 7:52 pm
Why was a bigger deal made of the Atlanta cheating scandal than here?
Submitted by Mo (not verified) on July 23, 2013 7:44 pm
About 80% of their schools cheated. That's a lot more than here. The number of staff involved was pretty large, too. Maybe there's not as much cheating here as people think. Or maybe it's worse than we previously thought. Thing is, not too many people (is it 6 in this district versus 178 in their much smaller district?) have been found guilty.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 23, 2013 9:08 pm
I think the charges were stiffer down there but I could be wrong. I hear that Michelle Rhee has umpteen lawsuits filed against her. I certainly hope something sticks.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 25, 2013 7:38 pm
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Submitted by Amyierfdvh10 (not verified) on December 24, 2013 5:28 am
I am sure that this decision on releasing a report on investigation of adult cheating on standardized tests. It is going to reveal so many truths behind this issue. It is appreciable that you are taking initiative to discuss this topic. Thanks a lot.
Submitted by Caleb (not verified) on March 27, 2014 3:42 pm
Cheating does occur and it will difficult to implement methods to stop it permanently. It all comes down to a personal decision on whether you will cheat or not.

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