PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A city principal and four teachers perpetuated a culture of cheating on standardized tests by changing student answers, providing answers to students and improperly reviewed questions prior to administering the tests, prosecutors said in announcing charges against the five.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane said Thursday that the defendants are accused of "perpetuating a culture of cheating" on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests over a five-year period. A grand jury found that after the cheating stopped in 2012, the percentage of students who scored well on the tests dropped dramatically, authorities said.
The School Reform Commission, an appointed board that oversees the district, in January fired three high school principals and announced plans to discipline dozens of teachers and administrators following an investigation into cheating.
The educators worked at Cayuga Elementary School in the Hunting Park section of North Philadelphia. Charged were principal Evelyn Cortez, 59, and four teachers: Jennifer Hughes, 59; Lorraine Vicente, 41; Rita Wyszynski, 65; and Ary Sloane, 56. Cortez lives in the suburb of Dresher and Hughes in Jeffersonville. The other three are from Philadelphia.
The defendants were being asked to surrender to police Thursday morning. One defense lawyer involved in the case did not immediately return a message. It was not clear if the other defendants had lawyers.
In recent years, test cheating scandals have broken out in Atlanta, Nevada and other districts around the country, as public officials link school and district scores to funding and vow to close schools that underperform.
In Philadelphia, the Cayuga teachers were encouraged to bring the exams home to familiarize themselves with the tests, and teachers and students who declined to cheat were reprimanded by Cortez, state officials charged. When the exams were administered, Cortez allegedly went from room to room, sometimes tapping students' booklets to get them to change answers.
Cortez, Vicente and Hughes are charged with felony racketeering, records tampering, perjury, forgery and criminal conspiracy. Sloane and Wyszynski are charged with records tampering, forgery and criminal conspiracy.
"Cheating robs children of a good education and hurts kids and families," Kane said in a statement. "The alleged misconduct by these educators is an affront to the public's trust and will not be tolerated."
Kane's office is also investigating cheating allegations involving other schools in Philadelphia and around the state, her office said in a news release.