More than a year after then-state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis vowed to file "well over 100" disciplinary complaints against educators over alleged cheating on state tests, the state has disciplined only five.
The state Professional Standards and Practices Commission has taken action against four in Philadelphia and one in Erie, ranging from a public reprimand to a surrender of some certificates.
It is uncertain whether more cases are pending, but no action has been taken since May in a case involving the administration of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests.
All five decisions were made between March and May of this year. Mr. Tomalis hasn't been education secretary since the end of May when he became an adviser to the governor on higher education.
State education officials never comment on complaints that are under review or acknowledge whether complaints are under review.
State Education Department spokesman Tim Eller said, "The department understands the frustration about the lack of transparency in the process of educator discipline matters involving PSSA infractions.
That lack of transparency, however, is due to statutorily required confidentiality in the process."
A report analyzing irregularities arrived at the state Department of Education in July 2009, but officials said it basically sat on a shelf. It came to light in 2011 when an online publication ran an article about it, triggering Mr. Tomalis to order a closer look that, at one point, put 38 school districts and 10 charter schools across the state under investigation.
The investigation focused on atypical erasure patterns in which unusual numbers of answers were changed from wrong to right on state tests in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Most were initially cleared, but by fall last year, Mr. Tomalis was estimating "well over 100" disciplinary actions would be sought.
In Pittsburgh Public Schools, which was among the 38 school districts under state investigation, spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said the district "complied with all of the requests of [the state Department of Education] and conducted a complete investigation, which culminated with the issuance of two [internal] disciplinary actions."
In November, the district received a letter from the state saying the state "accepted" the district's report and actions.
Asked whether any cases are pending cases against teachers with the state, Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said, "There are no actions in Pittsburgh."
She said, "Our teachers are very well-versed in the rules of testing, and they're extremely well-monitored also."
Mr. Tomalis considered the cheating to be widespread enough to affect statewide test results.
The news release on the 2011-12 results of the PSSA tests state that scores had declined "as a result of the statewide investigation of adults making changes to students' answer sheets on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments, combined with increased testing security measures put into place earlier this year."
Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane said, "I think that was unfair. There was no evidence to prove that."
Of the five educators to receive state disciplinary action, two were principals in the School District of Philadelphia.
Both resigned this year and surrendered their administrative certificates in lieu of discipline but kept their teaching certificates.
In the case of Philadelphia principal Barbara McCreery, the grounds for discipline were listed as "erasing and changing student answers, creating an answer key and manipulating student data."
In the case of Philadelphia principal Lola Marie O'Rourke, the grounds stated were "directing others to review secure test documents, giving answers to students and storing test materials in an unsecure location."
A third case also involved an administrator, Thomas R. Conway, who was an assistant principal at Philadelphia Electrical and Technology Charter High School but resigned in January. The grounds stated were "failing to follow proper procedures related to the handling and storage of secure documents, and by reviewing the assessment for purposes of creating an answer key."
His letter of eligibility, administrative and supervisory, was suspended for three years, beginning April 29.
His teaching certificate was suspended for about six months, from Dec. 14, 2012, to June 30.
The other two cases involved teachers.
In the Erie City School District, teacher Susan Turk, who resigned in 2011, received a public reprimand for "reviewing math problems from the PSSA with her students prior to them taking the test the next day."
In the School District of Philadelphia, the certificate of teacher Ronald Paulus was suspended from June 25 to Aug. 25 because of "allegations that educator failed to follow proper PSSA test administration procedures."
He continues to teach in the district.
The posting on the state Department of Education website indicated what the allegations were but did not specify any findings except to note the certificate actions.
Education writer Eleanor Chute: email@example.com or 412-263-1955. First Published October 14, 2013 8:00 PM