Five educators working for Philadelphia’s public school system have been arrested and charged for allegedly changing correcting students’ answers on standardized tests. Officials believe educators — four teachers and one principle — took illegal measures to increase students’ scores, including changing students’ answers, requesting students “scribble” answers on paper, and even telling students the correct answers.
When Pennsylvania officials began investing the cheating incident back in 2012, they noticed a sharp decline in the rate of reading proficiency among students who took the standardized test. The percentage of Cayuga students who passed the reading proficiency section of the standardized test declined from 60.3% to 20.8% following the investigation.
According to the grand jury, Evelyn Cortez, 59, Jennifer Hughes, 59, Lorraine Vicente, 41, Rita Wyszynski, 65, and Ary Sloane, 56 were driven to cheat by the promotions and accolades associated with high standardized test scores. Teachers who testified in front of the grand jury said they were often shuffled around based on test performance. Teachers who scored high on their students’ standardized test were given seniority over those who performed poorly. This creates an environment that encouraged teachers to cheat.
“Significant pressures existed for the various schools to increase PSSA performance. When PSSA scores went up, school principals received promotion and accolades. Others avoided demotions and terminations,” wrote the grand jury report. “[they] systemically cheated to increase Cayuga’s test scores by changing student answers, providing test answers to students, and improperly reviewing test questions prior to administering the test.”
One teacher who testified told the grand jury that cheating in the Philadelphia public school system began as early as 2008; however, officials did not begin investigating the cheating incident until 2012, at which point it had likely already affected thousands of students.
Testimonies by teachers at the school during the alleged incident paint a clear picture of what happened between 2008 and 2012. From physically changing students’ answers to shifting teachers around based on test scores, it was an unhealthy and quite possible illegal environment. Another teacher testified that the principle had ordered her to delete surveillance footage of the cheating.
The school’s principle, Evelyn Cortez, is charged with one count felony racketeering, prejury, records tampering, forgery and criminal conspiracy. The four teachers are charged with records tampering, forgery and criminal conspiracy. Cortez’ legal representative said the former principle was “shocked” to hear of the allegations and maintains her innocence throughout the ordeal.