Pa. looking into possible cheating on state tests

“Their scores, response pattern, and number of erasures were aberrant, from a statistical probability perspective,” the report states. “This does not imply that the school or student engaged in inappropriate testing activity.”

The Philadelphia schools are willing to investigate the cheating allegations, but spokeswoman Jamilah Fraser said in a statement that such probes are difficult because of teacher turnover, student transience and the vagaries of memory.

The district has received about 10 to 15 accusations of breaches in test security in each of the past three years, and a few have been substantiated through internal investigations, Fraser said. Alleged violations could range from “low-level” offenses, such as failing to cover materials during a testing period, to more serious ones.

She also noted the district has a “very robust test monitoring protocol.” Approximately 75 percent of schools, including charters, receive unannounced visits to random classrooms during PSSA testing, Fraser said.

In Connellsville, interim Superintendent Tammy Stern said she was a high school principal during the 2009 exam period. She heard nothing about cheating at the time.

“I’m not aware of any problems or improprieties,” Stern told The Associated Press.

Lancaster district spokeswoman Kelly Burkholder said discrepancies in student enrollment and attendance led to the flags for three schools cited in the report.

“Our flags are not a result of testing impropriety but a result of our highly mobile population,” Burkholder said.

Hazleton officials were not available for comment July 12.

It’s not clear how often forensic audits were conducted under the previous administration, Eller said. The July 2009 report refers to that being “the first year of data forensic analyses for the PSSA.” A Data Recognition Corp. spokeswoman declined comment.

Eller noted the department’s 2010 budget had no money for audits, but that Tomalis has ordered them reinstated for this year.

Democratic state Rep. Michael McGeehan, of Philadelphia, said in a statement that he met last weekend with a group of Philadelphia teachers who alleged cheating at their school.

On July 12, he suggested that Tomalis create a “whistleblower hotline” for educators to report allegations of wrongdoing without fear of retaliation.

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