Report flags possible Philly school cheating

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.