Target: Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis
Goal: Demand that Philadelphia school principals associated with cheating receive disciplinary action, not promotions
Improved standardized test scores at poor urban schools should be a reason to celebrate, but in Philadelphia, where a number of district elementary and high schools have seen a marked increase in “proficient” and “advanced” scores on Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) exams, celebrations have given way to suspicions. And rightly so—reports have found that these rags-to-riches schools have suffered from adult cheating. Evidence collected by Philadelphia news source, Newsworks, shows that while under the direction of seemingly wonder working principals, many of these schools documented an alarming amount of “wrong-to-right” erasures on test sheets, a sign of adult cheating. Yet despite the signs, these principals were promoted, and in their absence, test scores at their past schools plummeted.
Strawberry Mansion High School, located in North Philadelphia, serves as a tragic example of this troubling trend. More than two-thirds of Mansion students scored a “proficient” or higher on their 2009 tests, a remarkable achievement considering the following three years would see the reconstitution, conversion, or closure of nine neighboring high schools due to chronically low test scores. Are Mansion students simply smarter than their peers? Perhaps, but evidence points elsewhere. While serving as principal, Lois Powell-Mondesire may have seen an impressive jump in test scores, but that jump was mirrored by a staggering number of “wrong-to-right” erasures on both math and reading tests. In 2010, Powell-Mondesire left Mansion to accept a promotion that earned her six figures a year, and both Mansion’s test scores and “wrong-to-right” erasure marks dropped noticeably.
Strawberry Mansion High School is but one example of suspicious correlation between principal tenure, increased test scores, and high “wrong-to-right” erasures within Philadelphia schools. And while a statewide probe is ongoing, no conclusive results have been found—adult cheating is a notoriously difficult crime to prove beyond a doubt, and investigations can be long and tedious. But the statistics may speak for themselves, and it is clear what stands to be gained from such methods: a higher salary, a greater reputation, and continued school opening. But in the end, it is the students who lose, and as another school year begins with no changes made, it may soon become clear just how much.
Demand that Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis take immediate action to ensure principals and administration associated with adult cheating are prevented from causing further harm to Philadelphia students.
Dear Secretary Ronald Tomalis,
Evidence suggests that some recently promoted Philadelphia principals encouraged cheating to improve standardized test scores at their elementary and high schools. A significant rise in “wrong-to-right” erasure marks on test sheets correlate with these dramatically improved test scores, and both erasure marks and high scores have been found to occur under the supervision of certain principals. After accepting promotions and leaving their schools, the percentage of both test scores and erasure marks dropped noticeably.
Adult cheating such as this does terrible damage to the success of Pennsylvania’s students. While I am aware that there is an ongoing investigation, with the beginning of a new school year, I encourage you to take swifter action to bring potential criminals to justice and ensure a high standard of education throughout Pennsylvania.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: faungg via Flickr