Former Philadelphia Principal Arrested in Cheating Probe

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Former principal at Alain Locke Elementary School Lolamarie Davis-O’Rourke was arrested by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office for manipulating public records, forgery and criminal conspiracy.

The 43-year-old, who hails from Williamstown, New Jersey, is the third ex-principal and eighth Philadelphia educator accused and charged during an ongoing test tampering investigation conducted by Attorney General Kathleen Kane that attempts to restrict widespread cheating within the district and other areas in the state.

“This type of public corruption in our education system deprives children of opportunities for learning. It undermines educators’ abilities to evaluate progress and set a course for our children’s successes. This Office will continue to hold accountable corrupt school employees who put their own interests ahead of those of students in the classroom.”

The press release mentioned that Davis-O’Rourke was the school’s principal from 2009 to 2012, during which she allegedly changed answers on the PSSA to raise test scores. She influenced students to correct their answers and rewrite their responses and also switched the locks to a storage room that held stored test booklets so that only she and the building engineer could access them.

Furthermore, she was also charged for making her staff correct wrong answers and facilitated a student to return to Locke elementary after being transferred out with the reason of taking the PSSA in “a favorable testing environment” (as stated by the jury), writes Martha Woodall of Philly.com.

Teachers had to provide Davis-O’Rourke with information on individual student performance and to identify those who had the potential to improve their PSSA scores; also called “bubble students”.

Upon receiving the case, the Office of Attorney General by the Pennsylvania Department of Education passed it on to Senior Deputy Attorney General James Goldsmith and Deputy Attorney General Michelle Laucella of the Criminal Prosecutions Section for prosecution in Philadelphia.

The grand jury also noted how the percentage of high PSSA test scoring students dropped dramatically across the majority of grades and subjects after the district enhanced monitoring of PSSA testing anomalies.

Data Recognition Corp, a Minnesota company that designs the structure and marking of the PSSA exams, identified that the 2011 erasure patterns at Locke were unnatural and highly improbable – less than 1 in 100 million.

Along with Davis-O’Rourke, the state has previously charged former educators at Cayuga Elementary, and Bok and Communications Technology High Schools. The seven Philadelphia educators arrested are still awaiting trial, writes Mike DeNardo of CBS Philly.

Enforcing strict testing protocols in 2012 have reflected in a sharp drop in average test scores across the state.