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State Report Puts Cheltenham High School on List for Test Scores in Question

An 2009 report commissioned by the PA Department of Education – apparently buried by the Rendell administration – came to light late last week that puts Cheltenham High School (CHS) on a list of schools whose 2009 PA System of School System Assessment (PSSA) standardized test results are under serious scrutiny.

The study, “Data Forensics Technical Report” by Data Recognition Corporation, dated July, 2009, used statistical analysis to look for highly improbable test score gains and suspicious erasure patterns on statewide 2009 test score results. Statewide, 89 schools were identified – CHS being one – and the 40 districts and nine charter operators overseeing them were asked to investigate the tests and report back to the Department of Education no later than August 15. The only other school in Montgomery County to make the list was Spring-Ford Senior High School.

The district would not comment on Monday other than to confirm that they received the report on Friday and would respond to the state by the deadline.

Inclusion on the list “does not imply that the school or student engaged in inappropriate testing activity. The statistical evidence merely suggests that something aberrant or unusual occurred,” according to the report. To reach the list, a school needed at least three “flags” or indicators of statistical concern. CHS had four.

The report gives special attention to the results of its analysis of the the erasures on individual test sheets that changed answers from wrong to right. It says of unexpectedly large numbers of such erasures that “these results may strongly suggest that a testing irregularity occurred in the school.” According to data from the study, erasures are not one of the indicators that put CHS on the list. However, as of this writing, it is unclear which four flags are connected to CHS. PA Department of Education spokesperson Tim Eller told Citizens’ Call that data files on individual schools should be released by the state on Wednesday.

However, Elkins Park School did show up on the erasures list for grade six, although it is not in need of further scrutiny. Lower Merion High School also made that list.

The story was broken but got little play when the Philadelphia Public School Notebook obtained a copy of the study and wrote about it almost two weeks ago. The Notebook bills itself as “an independent voice for parents, educators, students and friends of the Philadelphia public schools.” The Inquirer picked it up last Saturday.

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  1. John Dunphy

    The system is set up for failure. No Child Left Behind, teaching to the test, rewarding administration for higher test scores, and providing more funds for successful school districts is an obvious enticement to “game” the system. This has been an incident waiting to happen for a long time. No one should be surprised.

    • Myron Goldman

      Whenever I hear this response, several thoughts occur to me.

      I hope “Teaching to the test” is not unusual in classrooms. A good test determines if a
      person taking the test has learned what was taught. If the PSSA tests appropriate skills and content, the classroom instruction and the test should be aligned. By the way, don’t teachers teach to their classroom tests?

      If the logic of the writer is followed to its logical conclusion, all tests should be expected to foster cheating, since college admission depends on grades and the latter depends on test scores. One might be reactionary and expect people (both adults and children) to have a sense of right and wrong that eliminates cheating as an option.

  2. Al

    CHS offered seniors (Class of 2010) the incentive of being excused from all final exams if they would apply themselves diligently to taking the PSSA and the school demonstrated significant improvement. They took no finals before graduating.