Following years-long investigations by both the Philadelphia School district and the state, 138 Philadelphia educators have been implicated in what’s become one of the largest high-stakes-testing cheating scandals in the nation.
Last week the school reform commission fired three district principals, and further disciplinary announcements are expected soon.
The educators allegedly conspired and then acted to improve students’ standardized test scores from 2009 through 2011 by erasing wrong answers and replacing them with right ones.
The district’s first round of announcements concerned educators currently working within the district as principals. A subsequent round will concern those currently employed as teachers and other school staff, and a final round will consist of all those who no longer work for the Philadelphia School District.
Robert McGrogan, head of the union that represents the district’s administrators, says the district is right to punish the guilty. But, he adds, it’s important to acknowledge the high-stakes environment that exists under the No Child Left Behind law, which he says drove the wrongdoing – not only in Philadelphia, but in cities such as Atlanta and Washington D.C.
As a principal during the tenure of then-Philadelphia district superintendent Arlene Ackerman, McGrogan says he and his colleagues were routinely pushed to improve scores.
“One year I remember vividly sitting in the auditorium, and she basically said ‘If you’re incapable of making extraordinary gains at your school, then perhaps you’re not the type of leader that we need,'” he said. “I personally felt threatened, and I think there were a couple hundred other people who felt threatened as well.”
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter did not sympathize with McGrogan’s point.
“Students certainly need to be tested. They get tested across Pennsylvania and across the United states of America. There’s nothing wrong with testing students to make sure that they’re proficient in their work,” said Nutter. “What’s wrong is when adults do the wrong things thinking somehow, wrongly, that they’re doing it on behalf of students. Mostly, they’re doing it on behalf of themselves.”
On Sunday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that educators implicated in cheating are being investigated by the Pennsylvania Attorney General and could face criminal charges.
Since reports of cheating surfaced in 2011, the state has tightened test security at a select group of schools across Pennsylvania, including all Philadelphia District schools.
With the added scrutiny, standardized test scores have dropped both within the Philadelphia School District and statewide.