No wrong answers left behind

Adam Jablonowski | Contributor

Staffers at Cayuga Elementary School in Philadelphia were ordered to do whatever they had to do — even cheating — to get better test scores, according to sources.  Principal Evelyn Cortez reportedly met with teachers days before the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), a yearly standardized test, to make sure the message was clear.

After failing to meet the standards of the Adequate Yearly Progress test in 2007, a measurement of the No Child Left Behind law, Cayuga Elementary underwent a monumental turnaround. Since 2007, the school has repeatedly achieved solid test scores.

In 2009, the fourth-grade reading scores increased from 53 percent passing to 89 percent, and math scores noted a larger increase from 39 percent to 84 percent passing.

In return, Cayuga Elementary was awarded with an increased budget and a broader range of curricular and extra-curricular options. Teachers, staff, parents and students, however, say the high scores were achieved by cheating.

When asked about the issue, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Cortez said, “I disagree with these allegations.”

A state review of the 2009 test results revealed signs of coercion. The review noted a suspicious pattern of erasures on Cayuga’s fourth-grade reading tests, the odds of the pattern occurring naturally are greater that 1 in 100 million.

The staff of Cayuga Elementary allegedly cheated in several ways: Teachers gave students answers, encouraged students to read questions out loud, and allowed for special accommodations for disruptive students to complete their tests.  After, the test administrators were even seen to be changing answers in student booklets.

Before the tests, the students were instructed by Cortez to write the answers on scrap paper first, then check them with teachers before marking them in the testing booklet, the staffers said.

“The announcement was made over the loudspeaker to the whole school: ‘Students, do not bubble anything in on your books. When your teacher gives you approval, then you may put it in your book,'” one teacher disclosed to the Philadelphia Enquirer.

When asked about the incident, Daniel Piotrowski, the district’s executive director of accountability and assessment, replied, “They [teachers] are not allowed to give any help on the test. Period. The only things that they can do is read aloud portions of the math assessment.”

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