Two former Philly educators plead in cheating scandal

Philadelphia Schools Cheating
The pleas by former Cayuga Elementary principal Evelyn Cortez (left) and former Cayuga teacher Jennifer Hughes marked the first convictions in the test-cheating scandal that resulted in eight city educators being arrested.

Two former Philadelphia School District educators pleaded guilty this week to criminal charges stemming from accusations that they perpetuated a "culture of cheating" on standardized tests, the state Attorney General's Office said Wednesday.

The pleas by former Cayuga Elementary principal Evelyn Cortez on Tuesday and former Cayuga teacher Jennifer Hughes on Wednesday marked the first convictions in the test-cheating scandal that resulted in the arrest of eight city educators.

"We're pleased with the outcome, given the pleas required the defendants to take responsibility for their actions," said Jeffrey Johnson, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office.

Cortez, 60, of Dresher, pleaded guilty to perjury, tampering with public records, and criminal conspiracy before Common Pleas Court Judge Timika Lane.

She is scheduled to be sentenced April 29, Johnson said.

Hughes, 61, of Jeffersonville, pleaded guilty to one count of criminal conspiracy. Lane immediately sentenced her to three years of probation, Johnson said.

Cortez and Hughes were among five educators charged with manipulating student test scores at Cayuga, on North Fifth Street. Also charged with test tampering at the school are three former teachers: Ary Sloane, 57, whose trial before Lane began Wednesday, and Lorraine Vicente, 43, and Rita Wyszynski, 67, both of whose trials are pending.

Also awaiting trial are Barbara McCreery, 63, former principal of Communications Technology High School, and Arthur "Larry" Melton, 72, former principal of Edward W. Bok Technical High School.

The state began investigating irregularities on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exam in 2011 after the Inquirer reported allegations that cheating was responsible for gains in 2009 at Roosevelt Middle School in East Germantown.

A state-commissioned analysis of the 2009 PSSA results also identified suspicious patterns of erasures at schools across the state.

Those charged criminally are accused of changing student answers, providing test answers to students, and improperly reviewing test questions prior to administering the tests. After being arrested, some told investigators they cheated due to the intense pressure to have their schools meet state standards on the PSSA.

"Cheating robs children of a good education, and hurts kids and families. The alleged misconduct by these educators is an affront to the public's trust and will not be tolerated," Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane said when the five Cayuga educators were arrested in May 2014.

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