Philadelphia Standardized Test Scores Drop Significantly Following Improved Security Measures

Following the implementation of unprecedented security measures to fight cheating, 2012 standardized test scores in Philadelphia dropped significantly across every grade level, KYW reports.

This decline on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) test scores reverses a nine-year upward trend. The tests are used in determining whether students in third through eighth grade and 11th grade are performing at grade level.

Overall, scores fell nine points in math -- from 58 percent to 49 percent of students scoring at “advanced” or “proficient” -- and seven points in reading -- from 52 percent to 45 percent.

"This is the new level that we're going to measure kids by. Because it's very clear from the data that we've seen, that it's been elevated -- artificially elevated -- for the last couple of years," state education secretary Ron Tomalis told the station.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that all but two of the 53 city district schools and all three charters under investigation for extremely high rates of wrong-to-right erasures on test answer sheets showed declines in reading and math. In addition, 17 district schools and two charters saw their passing rates drop at least 30 points from the previous year.

Results show that only 33 schools made Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law, down from 110 schools the previous year. Of those schools, almost half are special-admissions schools that enroll only academically talented students, reports the AP.

Policy changes put in place in Philadelphia and Hazelton school districts and three charter schools prohibited teachers from administering the exams to their own students.

At 11 district schools under a state probe, the tests were locked away prior to being administered.

“We are going to make sure that those materials are quarantined and not accessible to the school level personnel until the testing occurs,” Philadelphia school district spokesman Fernando Gallard told KYW in March.

In addition, the state education program brought on Temple University president David Adamany as a “testing integrity advisor” to oversee the new security standards and report back to the School Reform Commission every month.

Arlene Ackerman, the city’s former schools superintendent who left her post in August 2011 following a tumultuous tenure, told the Inquirer in an email that she was “saddened” to hear of the test-score drops. She went on to say that millions were invested in teachers, counselors and school-support services during her tenure — much of which has since been cut — so the decrease in student achievement is unsurprising.

But current district superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said, “some of these results raise immediate alarm, obvious alarm. There have been such dramatic drops from one year to the next."

Philadelphia isn’t the only city confronting far-reaching standardized testing improprieties. A widespread systematic cheating scandal across at least 44 Atlanta public schools uncovered last year led to 10 of the accused educators being terminated through the tribunal process, and over 100 more being forced into early retirement or resignation.

Elsewhere, a forensic report released this past June found cheating among three Washington, D.C., schools on the 2011 District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System (DC CAS) standardized test.

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