Ex-principal: Adult cheating hurts students

Test scores were up sharply at Communications Technology High in Philadelphia. The new principal, Saliyah Cruz, wondered how so many students could score proficient on the state exam while also testing into remedial reading and math. Two years later, an investigation found evidence of cheating by adults, reports NewsWorks and Philadelphia Notebook. Students paid a high price, says Cruz, who quit in frustration.

In 2010, 75 percent of 11th graders at Comm Tech scored proficient or above in reading. That was a 22 percentage-point jump over the previous year. In math, 70 percent of Comm Tech 11th graders scored proficient or above, 40 points higher than the year before.

. . . In both 2009 and 2010, a high number of student response sheets at Comm Tech had suspicious patterns of “wrong-to-right” erasures – a telltale sign of adult cheating.

When Cruz asked the school’s staff why scores had soared, they credited “Study Island,” a computer-based test prep program used at many Philadelphia public schools. Cruz expanded use of Study Island.

Reports generated by Study Island suggested that students didn’t understand the material. Interim tests used to predict PSSA performance pointed to huge score drops. Cruz’s own eyes told her that students weren’t learning.

Her staff resisted her efforts to get teachers to “change their instruction or re-teach content.” After all, the test scores were great.

As a result, says Cruz, students at Comm Tech got a Band-Aid when what they really needed was surgery.

With Cruz as principal, there were no more suspicious erasures. The school’s scores dropped 38 points in reading and 45 points in math.

At the district level, principals were pushed to show rapid gains, Cruz says. Slow, steady improvement was not good enough. Principals under suspicion of cheating have been promoted, including Cruz’s predecessor at Comm Tech, reports NewsWorks and Notebook.

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