PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Pennsylvania prosecutors have filed charges against a Philadelphia public school principal and four teachers, accusing them of cheating on standardized tests in the Philadelphia school system.
Officials say the five changed student answers, provided answers to students, and improperly reviewed questions prior to administering the tests. They say a grand jury found that after the cheating stopped in 2012, the percentage of students who scored well on the tests dropped dramatically.
The alleged scandal happened at Cayuga Elementary School, on North Fifth Street near Hunting Park, in North Philadelphia.
The following individuals are facing charges in the alleged cheating scandal: principal Evelyn Cortez, 59; Jennifer Hughes, 59; Lorraine Vicente, 41; Rita Wyszynski, 65; and Ary Sloane, 56.
Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane said today that the defendants are accused of "perpetuating a culture of cheating" on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment ("PSSA") tests over a five-year period.
According to Kane, a grand jury found that Cortez, the school principal, publicly reprimanded teachers who did not engage in PSSA cheating, as well as students who did not want to cooperate.
"She is denying these allegations and we are going to fight them," said Cortez's attorney, Matthew Sedacca.
The grand jury found that teachers were encouraged to take PSSA tests home with them to familiarize themselves with the tests before proctoring students.
Cortez, Vicente, and Hughes each are charged with one count of corrupt organizations, a felony; one count of perjury, a felony; one count of tampering with public records or information, a felony; one count of forgery, one count of tampering with records or identification, and one count of criminal conspiracy.
Sloane and Wyszynski each are charged with one count of tampering with public records or information, a felony; one count of forgery, one count of tampering with records or identification, and one count of criminal conspiracy.
The school district has suspended all five pending disciplinary hearings. DA Kane says the ongoing cheating investigation stretches into other Philadelphia schools, and she expects more charges to follow.
Back in January, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission fired three high school principals (see related story) and announced plans to discipline dozens of teachers and administrators following an investigation into cheating.
An attorney for Cortez said after his client surrendered to authorities today that she was shocked to learn of the charges against her, maintains her innocence, and intends to fight the charges.
Following this morning's announcement, Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter applauded the indictments of the educators, and had stern words for anyone who takes part in cheating on test scores.
"None of us can ever countenance or tolerate cheating under any circumstances," he said. "There is no excuse, there is no acceptability. There can be no compromise on this particular issue."
Nutter said the school district has already tightened up supervision of the testing after the allegations first surfaced three years ago.