We’ve all heard the miracle stories about tough-as-nails principals taking the reins at a failing public school and turning it around in a matter of a few short years. How did they do it? we ask, amazed, and they respond with something akin to “hard work, and perseverance, and appealing to the kids, they’re our future,” etc. They cover all the talking points, mention all the buzzwords, tug at all the heartstrings, and we “aww” and give ourselves a collective pat on the back, because gosh darn it, inner city schools can be helped, after all.
Unless, of course, that principal is full of crap.
Arthur Melton, now in his 70’s, is just one of over a dozen Philadelphia-area principals caught in a test cheating scandal in 2014. The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, otherwise known as PSSA, measures individual school success through the testing of students in language arts, math, and science.
When Melton took the helm at Edward W. Bok Technical High School (known simply as “Bok” to locals) in 2005, the school was vastly underperforming, with less than 5 percent of students attaining grade-level proficiency in the above-mentioned subjects. In 2010 – a mere 5 years later – 71.1 percent of students met math proficiency standards, and 53.1 percent met language arts standards as measured by the PSSA. Turns out it was Melton’s tweaking that was responsible.
During an interview, Melton confessed to using an answer key to personally alter test results among students that were, prior to testing, determined to be “on the cusp” of passing. Later at his trial, he insisted this was not true. Witnesses never testified to have seen Melton tampering with exams, so he was convicted on “mere speculation,” which is appeal argued, but the conviction was upheld Monday, along with 12 months’ probation and the revocation of his teaching and administrator credentials.
Upon removing these practices from the school, Bok’s test scores predictably were back down close to where they’d been before Melton’s interference. Edward W. Bok Technical High School was finally closed in 2013, leaving its nearly 900 students, 96% of whom were minorities, to find elsewhere to attend school.
While more than 12 Philadelphia principals have been implicated, there is evidence to suggest that this is way more widespread, with more than 50 schools across Philly alone that have been flagged for cheating on standardized tests.