Philadelphia Fails to ‘Walk the Walk’ on Test Cheating Talk

It’s been less than six months since district officials in Philadelphia promised to take steps to curb adult cheating on state-mandated standardized tests. This commitment was put into question after the district’s inadequate response to cheating reports during the latest round of state-mandated testing which was administered in March of this year. Even while the [...]

It’s been less than six months since district officials in Philadelphia promised to take steps to curb adult cheating on state-mandated standardized tests. This commitment was put into question after the district’s inadequate response to cheating reports during the latest round of state-mandated testing which was administered in March of this year.

Even while the tests were still being administered, the head of district’s test security program reported dozens of violations taking place at Wagner Middle School. This isn’t the first time questions arose about the integrity of the testing program at Wagner. It has been a target of numerous cheating investigations going back as far as 2009.

This time around, testing security chief Daniel Piotrowski reported seeing coaching by teachers along with other infractions. Later that same week, a monitor reported seeing similar problems during exams. Given an opportunity to walk the “tough on cheaters” walk, the district dropped the ball in a spectacular fashion.

Instead of taking step to put an end to cheating, district officials pulled Piotrowski and other monitors from the school. In addition, 6 months on, no Wagner staff members or faculty have been formally interviewed, while the most serious allegations made by the testing monitors were dismissed after a “preliminary survey.” Piotrowski’s call to open a full investigation into Wagner was either dismissed or outright ignored, and it wasn’t until 7 months after the events in question that the district even filed a memo with the Pennsylvania Department of Education detailing the issues raised by Piotrowski and other testing integrity staff. Meanwhile, the memo also omitted some of the most serious charges leveled by Piotrowski against Wagner.

Mere months after Piotrowski made his reports to the district, he was fired. There has not been any comment on the reasons behind his termination.

Phillip Rogers, the executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Eduction and Certification, called the district’s response “baffling,” saying that he would have expected a more aggressive action in response to allegations of such a serious nature. Still, district officials remain unrepentant. In a statement provided to Newsworks.org, district spokesman Fernando Gallard said that the administrators closely followed the procedures in place for investigation of cheating.

Last February, NewsWorks and the Public School Notebook jointly reported that a statewide investigation into possible cheating on the exams had widened to include 53 traditional public schools in Philadelphia. Among them was Gen. Louis Wagner Middle School.

In a state-commissioned analysis of PSSA results from 2009, 2010, and 2011, Wagner was one of dozens of schools across Pennsylvania found to have highly suspicious patterns of “wrong-to-right” erasures on student response sheets – a telltale sign of adult cheating.

As a result of the investigation, extra tight security precautions were in place at Wagner prior to the 2012 PSSA exams. These measures, however, proved insufficient, as a late-night email from Piotrowski, which detailed suspicions of 17 violations — four of them probable — that were detected by him or his staff over the course of the previous day.

Shortly after, Piotrowski was yanked from Wagner permanently.

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