Another cautionary tale
Edison Schools Inc., and the Chester Community Charter School, which educate most of the district's students, have both been cited for testing irregularities that raise questions about claims of improved achievement.
Edison yesterday fired Jayne Gibbs, the principal of Parry Middle School in Chester Upland who was accused by students of giving them answers during state testing last month. The company also said it would ask the state and district to investigate exemplary test results at Showalter Middle School when Gibbs was principal there in 2003 and 2004.
...The fast-growing charter school has attracted attention for its apparent successes - and for the ambitious plans of its management company to expand not only in Chester Upland but also into the William Penn School District. Both districts are in Delaware County.
Edison spokesman Adam Tucker said that Gibbs had been terminated based on a draft report of a school district investigation into the cheating allegations, which neither he nor Chester Upland officials would release.
"The report is not final, but there are enough findings that we believe merit her termination," Tucker said. He said the findings included "misconduct around the April administration of the PSSA at Parry."
...When Gibbs was at Showalter in 2002 and 2003, scores skyrocketed on both the PSSA and the SAT-9, another standardized test that Edison administers. Edison said Showalter was the one school that most eagerly embraced the company's teaching methods. Tucker said yesterday that, based on the report's findings, Edison would ask the state and the district to recheck Showalter's scores, possibly by comparing the test scores of individual students with their grades and their subsequent performance in high school.
"We think a look at Showalter's scores may be warranted," he said, adding that "at the time, we had no reason to believe those scores were not valid, and we don't know if they're not accurate now."
From 2002 to 2003, Showalter's scores jumped 62 percentage points in math and 39 in reading on the PSSA - from fewer than 20 percent of the students being proficient in math to more than 70 percent.
Granville Lash, a persistent Edison critic on the three-member control board that runs the district, said Edison, the district and the state should have more aggressively looked at the Showalter results earlier.
"I have told educators [to investigate] since Dr. Gibbs was at Showalter and getting fantastic PSSA scores that were almost humanly impossible based on the students' educational background and their scores in the past," he said. "But no one at Edison was suspicious of these scores."
At the 1,300-student Chester Community Charter, officials decided on their own to exempt special-education students from the regular tests, even though it was against federal and state rules.
State officials caught the lack of compliance during a review in March, just weeks before the 2005 PSSA tests were to be administered.
State officials inspected student records at the charter school prior to the April PSSAs and agreed to only one exemption, Michael Carricato, a division chief in the Bureau of Special Education, said yesterday. That compares with 16 exemptions taken by the school last year - 18 percent of the 87 fifth-grade students in the testing pool.
Wow. Cheating. Exempting nearly 20% of students. This is progress?