Pennsylvania School Officials Investigating Standardized Testing Abnormalities

Shannon Turgeon, News Editor

School officials in Pennsylvania are currently investigating if testing irregularities are the result of cheating. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the result of this investigation could cause multiple teachers to lose their certifications.

Over 140 educators were cited by the state for misconduct during an investigation that looked into cheating on standardized tests. The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, or PSSAs, are used to gauge whether or not schools are complying with the No Child Left Behind Act. Eleven of the ninety schools that are under investigation are in Western Pennsylvania.

All of the educators who were cited must undergo a review by the Professional Standards Practices Commission.  This review could determine whether or not their licenses will be revoked, as written by the Pittsburgh Tribune- Review. “Cheating is never acceptable… we take that very seriously,” said Michael Crossey, who is the President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

An in-depth study of the 2009 PSSA scores initially prompted an investigation. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the scores showed irregularities that are linked to statistically implausible changes in scores, participation, and pencil erases. State Education Secretary Ron Tomalis then ordered another analysis of the 2010 and 2011 PSSA results. The findings of this investigation have yet to be released.

Educators who are caught cheating face many punishments, ranging from disciplinary action to invalidating test scores. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that in this case, criminal charges are unlikely because teacher salary is not tied to student performance in Pennsylvania. A former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, stated that “It’s an enormous pressure cooker. Federal law mandates to close schools, people could lose their jobs… and some are making terrible, terrible mistakes.”

John Pallone, the superintendent at the New Kensington-Arnold School District, stated that the 140 citations is “an alarming number.” Pallone’s district was one of many that was flagged in the PSSA analysis.

Michael Josephson, an ethicist, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he felt the citations were not surprising because cheating by positions of authority has become part of our culture. “It mirrors student behavior. One half of students admit to cheating on an exam in the last year. There have to be sanctions that make it clear this won’t be tolerated,” he said.