Pennsylvania says most schools will be cleared of cheating accusations

Liz Goodwin

Pennsylvania school officials say most of the 89 schools in the state that were flagged for potential cheating will be cleared of wrongdoing.

Data coding errors and jumps in school enrollment will explain away many of the anomalies flagged in the $183,000 analysis, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. The state review found high erasure rates or improbably large jumps in scores on 3rd through 8th and 11th grade math and reading tests in 2009.

Philadelphia school district leaders say they haven't found any evidence of cheating in the 28 public schools flagged for testing irregularities by the state report.

"What we have is very vague allegations against schools," district accountability employee Daniel Piotrowski told the Notebook blog, which first broke the story about the possible cheating. "As of now, we don't have the type of data to really start an investigation knowing that there is going to be more information coming in a month or so from [the Pennsylvania Department of Education]."

The district will continue to look into 13 of the schools that were named for testing irregularities. The other schools have adequately explained to them why their test results were flagged, the district says. Enrollment changes and small clerical errors were the culprit, they say. Seven city charter schools that were also flagged conducted their own investigations and cleared themselves of wrongdoing.

Testing experts told USA Today in April that high erasure rates or statistically rare test score gains over the space of a year should be investigated thoroughly so that no suspicion remains. Interviewing teachers and examining students' classwork to see how it matches up to their test performance are two ways to ensure no cheating occurred. Atlanta's school district cleared itself of cheating allegations before state officials came in and accused 178 principals and teachers of cheating. On the other hand, such investigations can be expensive, and Philadelphia, like many districts, is facing a budget crunch.

The Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board argues that more investigation is merited. "It is depressing that city and state officials don't seem too eager to get to the bottom of the scandal," the group opined. "With students set to return to their schools within a few weeks, it is important to clear the air as to whether some teachers and principals are at all guilty."