By Ashleigh Costello
PHILADELPHIA – Two principals from the Philadelphia school district have resigned from their positions and forfeited their administrative credentials following an investigation into a possible cheating on state tests at 53 city schools.
Barbara McCreery and Lola Marie O’Rourke are the first Philadelphia educators to face sanctions in the city’s ongoing scandal, according to The Notebook.
Pennsylvania Department of Education Press Secretary Tim Eller said their surrender represents “an acknowledgment of responsibility of misconduct.”
“The department’s focus is to ensure the integrity of the state assessments,” Eller said. “These individuals surrendering their certificates is indicative of the department’s commitment to prevent these activities from occurring.”
Both women will be barred from serving as principals again or teaching within the Philadelphia School District, but will be allowed to retain their teaching certificates. O’Rourke also forfeited her “letter of eligibility,” which would allow her to be a superintendent.
This is close to being proper punishment, but their teaching certificates should be taken away as well. Cheaters have no business in any classroom, in any role, ever.
District spokesman Fernando Gallard said the district fully supports the actions taken by the Philadelphia Department of Education.
“[T]here must be severe consequences for adults that have violated testing integrity protocols in schools,” said Gallard.
The PDE began investigating allegations of cheating on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams in 2011, after a 2009 analysis commissioned by the state showed statistically improbable test scores and patterns of “wrong-to-right” erasures at dozens of schools across the state, reports The Notebook.
Fifty-three Philadelphia district schools and three city charters have been under investigation, as well as several other charters and districts around the state.
McCreery, who has been employed by the district since 1975, became principal of Communications Technology in 2003. In 2010, her school’s proficiency rates rose dramatically.
Eleventh-grade rates in math jumped 40 points, to 70 percent proficient, while reading rates jumped 22 points, to 75 percent proficient, according to the news site.
After McCreery departed the school at the end of that same school year, test scores dropped 38 points in reading and 45 points in math.
Despite a state investigation and suspicions of cheating, the district hired McCreery as the new principal at Bok in 2012. Her annual salary was listed $142,724.
O’Rourke, a 13-year district veteran and former principal of Locke Elementary in West Philadelphia, faced similar allegations of tampering with state test scores. Between 2009 and 2011, PSSA scores at Locke rose 29 percentage points in reading and 27 points in math.
After more stringent test security measures were put in place in 2012, Locke’s PSSA scores dropped 42 percentage points in math and 32 points in reading, according to the news site.
O’Rourke is now listed as an administrator in another school district.
The PDE has filed complaints of cheating against 140 educators across Pennsylvania.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan told The Notebook that many of his members have been questioned by both city and state investigators, but none have been notified of any potential actions against them.
“There’s no excuse for cheating,” Jordan said. “However, in the environment of the high-stakes testing going on in this country, unfortunately people are making some very, very foolish decisions.”