Investigation of Exam Cheating Winding Down in Pennsylvania

The investigation of standardized test cheating in Pennsylvania is slowly winding down, the San Francisco Gate reports. For the past 17 months, education authorities have been looking into allegations of misconduct in the administration and grading of state reading and math tests, and now only the Philadelphia school district and two charters that operate in the city are still awaiting the release of the findings and notification of any possible sanctions.

Officials targeted test results obtained between the years of 2009 and 2011, and more than 48 districts and charters were under the microscope. Specifically, there was a question about an abnormally large number of wrong-to-right erasures on student exam papers, a situation similar to the one that triggered a mass cheating investigation in Atlanta, Georgia.

Although eventually 30 districts were cleared of any wrongdoing, evidence of tampering was uncovered in another 15.

“What we were seeing was not student work,” said Carolyn Dumaresq, the state’s deputy secretary for elementary and secondary education.

She stressed that in most cases, the misconduct was isolated to a single building or grade level within a district.

“There are a lot of professionals out there who were administering the test appropriately,” she said.

Although the problem might be considered isolated, still more than 140 professional misconduct complaints were filed against staff members at targeted schools. If allegations in the complaints are proven, offenders are faced with losing their teaching certifications.

Because pin-pointing the villain has proved tricky, especially in schools where access to test papers and answer sheets is not tightly controlled, districts themselves were ordered to conduct investigations, mete out punishments and tighten procedures governing the administration of state exams. Of the 15, 6 submitted altered plans that were accepted by the state education authorities.

Among the districts with acceptable plans, local officials meted out discipline: A principal in Berwick and a teacher in Big Beaver Falls were each given 10-day unpaid suspensions, and several reprimands and warnings were issued in Bethlehem and Scranton. Also in Scranton, a teacher was suspended without pay with intent to dismiss. School board vice president Nathan Barrett, who would not elaborate on details of the case, said at a recent board meeting that he supports the recommendation to fire the employee.

The investigation was kicked off thanks to the efforts of The Notebook, which uncovered and publicized the details of a 2009 forensic report which pointed to a high likelihood of cheating due to the number of wrong-to-right erasures. The Notebook is an independent news organization which includes the Philadelphia schools in its beat.

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