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Arrests imminent in cheating scandal, sources confirm

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 7, 2014 07:38 PM

Sources have confirmed that an unknown number of Philadelphia educators have been told to turn themselves in Thursday in connection with a criminal investigation by the state attorney general into cheating on standardized tests in Philadelphia schools.

The imminent arrests were first reported Wednesday evening by the Inquirer.

The criminal investigation and charges are the latest developments in a statewide cheating probe that began in 2011. The Pennsylvania Department of Education ultimately called for investigations of likely cheating at 53 District schools in Philadelphia and three city charters. 

The PDE investigation was triggered after the Notebook and NewsWorks asked for any forensic analyses of results on state standardized tests and received one for 2009, the latest year for which a study had been done. The Inquirer had also written detailed accounts of cheating at Roosevelt Middle School.

The state analysis showed, among other irregularities, that dozens of Pennsylvania schools had a statistically improbable number of wrong-to-right erasures in their answer booklets, which suggested tampering by adults.

Subsequently, PDE did similar analyses for later years and, based on the finding, hired an outside law firm to help with a non-criminal investigation into cheating in several districts. In Philadelphia, PDE divided the 53 schools into three tiers and told the District to investigate most of them itself, which it did -- and continues to do -- with the help of pro bono private lawyers.

But these investigations have plodded along for more than two years without subpoena power or the ultimate hammer of criminal charges and the potential of losing one's pension. The attorney general convened a grand jury and started a criminal investigation much later.

The existence of such an investigation came to light in January 2014, just days after District officials updated the School Reform Commission on the results of its non-criminal probe.

They said that 138 Philadelphia educators had been implicated -- 69 from 14 so-called Tier 1 schools investigated directly by PDE and another 69 in 13 of the 19 Tier 2 schools investigated by the District. The SRC terminated three principals as a result of the scandal.

Since then, there have been no public announcements by the District of any disciplinary actions taken against other educators, such as termination, suspension, or lesser sanctions. Although some teachers have been fired since, no reasons have been given publicly.

Although the state discloses disciplinary actions taken against educators, it does not draw attention to them. One must monitor a website set up for that purpose for information. No state disciplinary actions involving cheating have been posted in 2014. 

In sheer numbers, the scope of the cheating scandal in Philadelphia rivals that of Atlanta, where more than 140 educators, including then-superintendent Beverly Hall, were implicated and 35 have faced racketeering, fraud, and other charges. Prosecutors accused Hall of creating a culture that condoned cheating in the name of raising test scores by any means necessary. 

The Atlanta investigation proceeded very differently than it has here. There, the state pursued criminal charges from the start. 

Philadelphia sources have said that, without subpoena power, it had been difficult to get people in schools to talk about what really happened and for investigations to gain traction.

"Once you have admissions and statements and have the threat of perjury, the investigation goes easier," said one source with knowledge of the probe. "Once you have criminal prosecutions, there goes pensions. ... We can’t touch pensions -- that requires criminal convictions."

The source added: "It is easy to revoke certifications after convictions and plea agreements, but starting from the civil side is hard, and the process was very long."

In the wake of the probe, PDE imposed stricter rules on testing, and PSSA scores in many of the flagged schools, District and charter, plummeted. Scores dropped in many schools across the state.


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Comments (41)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 12:35 am
I can't help but to feel sorry for all of them. I am not condoning any poor choices made but no one goes into teaching with the intent to cheat. I wonder what type of culture must have existed at these schools for those educators to risk everything. The irony of this being teacher appreciation week is not lost on me. How sad for the children, the families, the educators and our entire school system.
Submitted by Ken (not verified) on May 8, 2014 5:43 am
I just can't feel sorry for them. I hear you....I am sure the culture at some of these schools was over the top. I'm sure the pressure was intense. I'm sure some good people make some terrible choices. However, they cheated and made an awful situation even worse for us at schools that didn't cheat. They could have found ways to report the cheating or at least not cheat themselves. Many, many educators have been under similar pressure and avoided cheating.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 8:54 am
Exactly. I've seen enough principals asking teachers to engage in unethical situations that from the beginning I've prepared myself to say no and lose my job or get forced out of my school. The funny thing is the district doesn't care. They have no whistle blower protections. They don't want to know when principals cheat. They don't want to know that what happened at CAPA is happening other places right now. That cheating happened on the Keystones with proctors giving answers. That mass cheating of students isn't punished because it will look bad for the school. Teachers should be able to safely report this and the district should take these things seriously... but they don't care.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 10:09 pm
They don't even want you to report serious incidents, it "looks bad for the school." Do it anyway.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 12:46 am
The good thing is they will have a trial who will hear all the evidence. Praying for the accused and their families.
Submitted by gloriaendres (not verified) on May 8, 2014 8:47 am
Having trials is an excellent way to expose all the shenanigans under a strong light. That many teachers do not automatically cheat for the fun of it. They do it under pressure from superiors. Ackerman like Rhee in D.C. made threats to close schools and fire teachers if scores did not go up. And please do not ever say that there should have been more whistle blowers. Look what happened to whistle blower Hope Moffett. She was put on suspension, abused and slandered. She eventually dropped out of the profession. Like Cassandra who warned of the Trojan Horse, the punishment for pointing fingers can be severe. The proper solution to all test cheating is to end high stakes testing. It truly is a colossal waste of time. It is invalid, does not accuraely measure anything and the scoring method is arbitrary and capricious.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 8, 2014 8:13 am
Exactly on all points. It can not be said any more clearly than that. "The proper solution to all test cheating is to end high stakes testing. It truly is a colossal waste of time. It is invalid, does not accuraely measure anything and the scoring method is arbitrary and capricious. And yet the powers to be go along with the "myth of dramatic gains."
Submitted by gloriaendres (not verified) on May 8, 2014 10:56 am
Thanks, Rich. You have many times articulated the fallacy of the whole testing regime. But who listens? If doctors complained that a certain screening method was harmful to their patients, people would pay attention. But when educators call attention to the fiasco that is standardized testing, they are dismissed. Besides being a waste of time, it is a colossal waste of money. What are the statistics on test publishing profits for companies like Pearson? How many billions? With the yoke of high stakes testing season lifted for the year, students are now indulging in what they should have been doing all along: science fairs, social studies projects, end of year concerts, plays, gardening. In other words, real world, experience based learning. Meanwhile, those unfortunate educators who sacrificed their integrity to make superiors happy or to keep their jobs, will now have their professional and personal lives ruined. All over a hoax.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 10:38 pm
The reason people "don't listen" Is because we are afraid to acknowldge the Obama adminstration's role in all this (Duncan and the DOE) for fear of "bashing the President". When people relaize this is not a "Republican issue" then you're on better ground. The opt out movement has done wonders for this issue.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 21, 2014 8:56 am
Sorry to say the big test got its strength during G.W. Bush with No Child Left Behind.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 12:02 am
Now we see the results of Ackerman's reign of terror! The huge budget deficits and bank loans she left us to build up charters and Promise Academies are hitting us at the same time.
Submitted by Annony (not verified) on May 8, 2014 3:49 am
Why only one principal? Ultimately, the principal is in charge and set the tone / climate in the school. Even if the principal didn't directly participate, he/she knew what was happening. They can't claim "see, hear, and speak" no evil.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 7:34 am
This is system-wide and pervasive. A principal at a magnet school (CAPA) made up fake classes and got caught, exposed, and removed by concerned parents. Other principals do the same thing daily (yes, even at magnet schools) but parents either don't know are OK with it because their child gets credits. No knowledge, no learning, but credits. Test cheating?? This is so minor compared to the crimes that are being done every day. People like this are cheapening the value of a diploma, even from Philadelphia's "best" schools. The system is a hollow shell and all of the teachers and parents and students who have their eyes open know it. Those who can are fleeing.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on May 8, 2014 8:22 am
According to the School District all successes at schools the result of strong leadership by the principal. Yet all cheating occurred in a vacuum in which the principals and higher ups had no knowledge. Much like the Captain Renault at Rick's Cafe, the SRC is shocked that there is gambling going on. But it touts its tainted successes as real. The Perp walk ratio should be 5 principals to each teacher but I suspect the opposite will occur,
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 11:46 am
stop with 5 principals to each teacher.....that makes no math sense. A school has one principal and numerous teachers. Of course more teachers than principals will get caught. And, yes...more principals should have gotten caught.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 8:45 am
"Test cheating?? This is so minor compared to the crimes that are being done every day." Man, that is a loaded line designed to absolve people. 19 years I have taught, every year they tell you not to cheat on the PSSAs. You have in services where they have told you what is an is not permissible. Everyone knows you should not cheat, its on you if you break that rule. And of course its not minor. Tell that to the student who will now not receive extra services because adult cheating resulted in a proficient score. Tell that to the schools lowest on whatever stupid index the SDP is using, resulting in them become Renaissance schools, while other schools inflated their scores through cheating. Can we just agree cheating is wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong and stop excusing people's actions. For every cheating educator, there were 100 who also were under terrible pressure but did not cheat....because cheating is wrong!!!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 8:06 am
And...yes...more principals should probably have been busted....but that doesnt excuse the teachers for being part of this.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on May 8, 2014 10:56 am
Does not excuse anybody. But who created the climate? these teachers should not have listened to the administrators spouting the district line of success at all costs and oh by the way if you get caught we don't know you. Who touted the 500% increase in the scores at places like Roosevelt in one year?? If you thought about that is not even rationale. Especially since the science scores which did not matter and where not changes remained the same. Yet this was not a persuasive program of the SDP???
Submitted by Annony (not verified) on May 8, 2014 10:11 am
When is Stephanie Ressler being indicted? Her cheating crusade brought the applause of Ackerman and disbelief by anyone with a brain.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 10:33 pm
Hall in Atlanta was honored by the President (before her fall from grace). Agree about Ressler
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 2:42 pm
It kills me to admit that you are right. Five teachers at my wife's school are heading for the hills at the end of the school year - and three of them are first-time teachers! My wife mentored these ladies and she is so disgusted by the meltdown of the SDP that she has gotten physically ill over it. Will there be enough people with the right teaching credentials who are so desperate for work that they'll agree to teach in an impoverished urban district that's in freefall? Such a move would certainly cripple - if not outright destroy - their future opportunities to teach in better districts. It's a colossal sacrifce to ask anyone to make, and the atmosphere of this district is so incredibly toxic, it may just be TOO much to expect. As brutal as this school year has been, I suspect that it will, in retrospect, seem like a cakewalk compared to what's coming next year and beyond. Given recent legislative developments across the U.S., I am certain that I will never see the pension I have been working toward these past few decades - or perhaps just a sliver of it. So what is left to keep my wife and myself in front of Philadelphia classrooms? The horrifyingly tragic answer: not one damn thing.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 4:55 pm
What is left to keep you here? These precious young people. That is what keeps me here.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 21, 2014 8:32 am
Me too. I teach for the kids and the communities they come from.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 8:40 am
Forgive me if I am misreading the article, but it appears that at least 27 schools have been found to be involved, in some way, in the cheating scandal. 138(?) teachers have been indicated as being involved. How is it possible that only 3 principals have been charged? And we are consistently being told that the principles need more power at their schools?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 8:24 am
The three principals have NOT been charged. They are currently suspended without pay according to their paperwork from the district. All three principals won their unemployment hearings due to the district not having any witnesses or non credible witness in one instance. The "three" have a dynamic attorney who wiped the floor with the district representatives at the hearings. The district botched their investigation (Morgan Lewis report) that's why no one else have been terminated. The state is doing this to tier 1 schools and when it's all said and done I believe the tier 1 schools accused will be found not guilty. People in Atlanta are getting back their jobs left and right. Stay tuned.
Submitted by Annony (not verified) on May 8, 2014 9:59 am
Penny Nixon? Stefanie Ressler? Evelyn Cortez? If these administrators aren't found guilty, no one should be found guilty.
Submitted by Ken (not verified) on May 8, 2014 11:46 am
This comment thread troubles me. A little too much feeling sorry for the teachers, a little too little outrage at them for breaking the law. Of course the principals and higher ups are wrong. I wish more people would show outrage at the teachers who help to enable this instead of trying to excuse their actions. If all teachers stayed strong and showed the integrity that most of us did show during this test driven result mania, there would have been alot less cheating. This cheating damaged the innocent. While the scores went up at Cayuga....the same Cayuga students who were at Clemente (the feeder middle school) did not have a rise in their scores. Then the Cayuga students with the amazing test scores would enter Clemente and the teachers are looking at scores that dont match what the student can really do. Worse....their scores go down at Clemente (because, you know, Clemente DIDN'T CHEAT!!!) and then the conversation becomes what is wrong with these Clemente teachers. So thanks Cayuga teachers who helped their principal cheat, you helped to make your fellow teachers look incompetent. So lets stop with the pity for these teachers and understand that this small percent of teachers couldn't do with an overwhelming majority did do.....adminster the PSSAs honestly.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 1:33 pm
Clemente is also suspected of cheating..............please do not throw stones when you are looking out a glass window.
Submitted by Ken (not verified) on May 8, 2014 1:23 pm
Clemente was never suspected of cheating until after 2010...after they made it into a promise academy (ironic huh?) and 95% of the staff left. Cayuga was cheating at least from yes Cayuga was cheating while Clemente was being honest. The fifth grade teachers at Clemente were harassed and made to feel incompetent when those Cayuga inflated test scores went down once reality hit in 5th grade.
Submitted by didi (not verified) on May 8, 2014 9:08 am
The school district needs a third party anonymous hotline to report such wrong doing without fear of recrimination. This is being utilized in many school districts and charter schools and should be required for all.
Submitted by gloriaendres (not verified) on May 8, 2014 10:22 am
We would not need whistleblower protection, if the root cause of the problem were eliminated. End all high stakes testing and that solves the problem. End of story. Testing should be for diagnostic purposes only. Making it high stakes adds a layer that has nothing to do with real education and offers further opportunities to milk the system, with items like tutorial services, test prep materials and all kinds of coaching schemes that cost money and make a profit for the publishers of these products. Really, how long must the educators and students of the public school systems of this country be subjected to this institutional abuse??? President Obama would never allow his own children to be exposed to anything similar.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 11:17 am
I hope they don't forget to charge Ackerman and her minions.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 1:54 pm
Where should they send the arrest warrant for Dr Ackerman? This post makes no sense at all. They AG always tries to trump up charges to have them reduced. Look at the charges levied against Judith Brown, her attorney managed to have them all reduced. The state should have shown such diligence with investigating Sandusky and maybe he would not have been able to commit the number of crimes he committed against children.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 11:35 am
I hope they don't forget to charge Ackerman and her minions.
Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on May 8, 2014 11:50 am
Cheating is never acceptable, regardless of temptation to do so. Every profession has temptations to cheat. There's NO excuse. That being said, these charges sound harsh to me. These are felonies? They're going to be prosecuted under RICO statutes?
Submitted by PatB (not verified) on May 8, 2014 2:22 pm
Think how much worse it could have been without the teachers union, which protected any teacher who chose to be honest. This all happened under Ackerman's purview. We actually had someone from downtown come to our high school for a professional development day; he instructed us on subtle ways to stand over the test takers and help them find the right answers, and how we should immediately change postures and continue walking up and down aisles at the moment the door opened (when an "enemy" observer might enter.) Fortunately we were outraged at this kind of pressure to cheat, and we rejected his suggestions. Should we have reported this to a higher-up, yes, but to whom? It is only through the protections provided by the PFT that any of us could remain honest against this kind of pressure.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 8, 2014 3:30 pm
A house divided will fall. They turned on each other and the two who turned on the principal are also getting arrested. The state is asking for people to contact them with information....sure, go right ahead, you will also be indicted for withholding information.
Submitted by Me (not verified) on May 8, 2014 3:40 pm
No excuses. Any teacher who went along with the principal or the administration is as complicit as they are. There are plenty of ways that they could have handled this without going along with the cheating. I don't agree that testing should be the be all end all to evaluate kids, teachers or schools, but it is the system that is in place right now and until we get changed you have to live within the rules. There is NEVER an excuse for cheating and those saying that the teachers shouldn't be charged should consider turning in their teaching certificates too.
Submitted by robert97 (not verified) on May 8, 2014 4:59 pm
This sounds similar to the fiasco in Atlanta. The superintendant there won awards to student improvements, until it was discovered how she did it. I don't see condoning this behavior by superindendents, principals, or teachers. All these "professionals" should know better. If your boss pressures you to do something wrong, you should blow the whistle and/or quit.
Submitted by Cheryl Wallace (not verified) on May 9, 2014 1:21 am
Is about time the principal of Cayuga final got caught she being doing it for years and always bulling staff and worker in that building to do what she said.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 9, 2014 9:44 am
For everyone who keep mentioning Ackerman who is dead and died of pancreatic cancer shame on you !! Whatever she did wrong, she had to live with it until her death!

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