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Inquirer Daily News

Archive: July, 2011

POSTED: Monday, July 11, 2011, 7:03 PM

More layoffs are coming for Philadelphia School District teachers Tuesday.  This time, it’s summer school teachers who are getting their pink slips in response to student enrollment numbers that were less than the 28,000 the district planned for.

Spokeswoman Shana Kemp said that on Tuesday, “there will be some righsizing and some movement of teachers.”

Rightsizing as in layoffs?  Yes, Kemp said.

POSTED: Monday, July 11, 2011, 6:38 AM
Roosevelt Middle School - and dozens of other Philadelphia public schools - were flagged in a Pennsylvania Department of Education report meant to identify possible cheating on 2009 state exams.
The “data forensics technical report,” first obtained by The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, analyzed schools statewide for possible test improprieties.  They were detected at about dozens of schools, including Roosevelt and multiple other district schools.
The company that prepared the report noted that schools and students it flagged were not necessarily guilty of anything. “Their scores, response pattern, and number of erasures were aberrant, from a statistical probability perspective,” the report said. “This does not imply that the school or student engaged in inappropriate testing activity. The statistical evidence merely suggests that something aberrant or unusual occurred.”
But this spring, multiple Roosevelt teachers told The Inquirer that they believed a remarkable rise in scores on the PSSA was achieved through cheating.  Roosevelt’s PSSA scores rose 50 points in reading and 52 points in math between 2007-08 and 2009-10.
The teachers say they witnessed numerous improprieties, from test answers written on a blackboard to administrators encouraging teachers to drill concepts they knew appeared on the exam.  The Roosevelt teachers also said they saw administrators giving students back books to they could correct wrong answers.
     Schools were identified for analysis, the report says, “if they had a large change in scale score, percentage of proficient or advanced students, difference between their actual and predicted mean scale score, number of wrong-to-right erasures compared to the state mean, and subgroup participation rates.”
     Roosevelt was flagged for both reading and math irregularities for both grades that attend the school.
     In a statement issued in response to The Notebook’s story, the district issued a statement calling the state analysis “important and useful” but said it never received a copy. 
Each year, the district investigates between 10 and 15 complaints of possible cheating - 15 were received this year, a spokeswoman told The Inquirer.  Random checks are conducted at roughly three-quarters of district schools and charters to check on test security, and the district also provides training in test protocol. 
“We entrust the care of our young people to our principals and teachers and the overwhelming majority of them are hardworking professionals who take on that task with fidelity,” the district statement said. “Until we have reason to believe otherwise, we stand on the integrity of these individuals who educate our students throughout the year.”
    State test scores have risen steadily over the past nine years in the district.
    Responding to questions from The Inquirer, a state spokesman said Friday that the Department of Education could launch a probe into district cheating investigations if they are deemed incomplete.  The district has said that its investigations into cheating at Roosevelt and FitzSimons, another school where a teacher complained of testing improprieties, found that the cheating claims were unsubstantiated.
The district has not yet sent its 2011 cheating investigations to the state, but has said it will do so this week.
     State Rep. Michael McGeehan (D., Phila.) last week wrote to Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis calling for him to release the full Roosevelt and FitzSimons reports.
     McGeehan said he wanted Tomalis to review the district’s investigation.
     “The credibility of our education system depends on reliable and accurate testing of our students,” McGeehan wrote.
    Cheating scandals have rocked the Atlanta and Washington, D.C. school systems recently.

POSTED: Friday, July 8, 2011, 6:34 PM

My education team colleague Susan Snyder joins Philly School Files today with the following report:

The Philadelphia School District has cut one of the companies overseeing disciplinary classrooms in its schools.

POSTED: Thursday, July 7, 2011, 10:44 AM

Prompted by The Inquirer’s report of alleged PSSA cheating at Roosevelt Middle School, a state legislator is calling on State Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis to release the results of a probe into possible testing improprieties.

“I would like to confirm that the investigations of the testing allegations made concerning Roosevelt Middle School and FitzSimons High have taken place and reports filed accordingly,” State Rep. Michael McGeehan (D., Phila.) wrote in a letter to Tomalis.  “If so, please provide me with copies of the findings.  If not, please provide a status of these and any other similar investigations concerning reports of test cheating with the Philadelphia School District.”

In May, my colleague Dylan Purcell and I reported that multiple Roosevelt teachers had come forward to us alleging that a remarkable rise in test scores was achieved through breaches in test security.  The teachers described mutliple breaches, from answers written on a blackboard to senior staff’s encouraging teachers to drill certain concepts they knew appeared on the exam.  The Roosevelt teachers said they also saw administrators giving back books to students to correct wrong answers.

POSTED: Tuesday, July 5, 2011, 12:40 PM

Today is the first day of summer school for students in the Philadelphia School District.

The SLAM program - Summer Learning and More - runs for 18 days in 103 schools around the city.  According to a news release, the district “plans to enroll 28,000 for the 2011 session of SLAM.”

Students attend academic classes in the morning and enrichment classes — dance and other arts, technology, science, and other subjects — in the afternoon. 

POSTED: Sunday, July 3, 2011, 1:40 PM

What is the SRC thinking?

For the most part, the current Philadelphia School Reform Commission plays its cards close to the vest.  Other than occasionally offering comments when voting on a resolution or listening to a staff presentation at an SRC meeting, Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. and Commissioners Johnny Irizarry, Joseph Dworetzky and Denise McGregor Armbrister rarely speak out.

But at a special meeting last week, parent Christine Carlson had an unusual request during the public comment portion.  “I’d like to know what you’re thinking,” she asked Archie and Irizarry, the two commissioners left at the meeting. (A third, Denise McGregor Armbrister had voted earlier by phone.)

POSTED: Friday, July 1, 2011, 9:45 AM

UPDATED, 5 p.m.: My colleague Alia Conley interviewed folks who are leaving the Philadelphia School District today. 

Some were reluctant to talk for fear of repercussions, but others who spoke out had strong opinions about the district.


About this blog

Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham writes the Philly School Files blog, where she covers education in Philadelphia, both in and out of the classroom.

During the school year, you’ll frequently find her hosting live chats about the district on Philly.com.

Please do pass along the scoop about what’s going on at your Philadelphia public school; Kristen welcomes tips, story ideas and witty banter.


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