Principal, 4 teachers arraigned in test cheating scandal in Philadelphia School District (PHOTOS)

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- An elementary school principal and 4 teachers have been arraigned in connection with a test cheating scheme in the Philadelphia School District.

Suspended principal Evelyn Cortez and teachers Jennifer Hughes, Lorraine Vicente, Rita Wyszynski and Ary Sloane were arraigned overnight at Philadelphia Police Headquarters in Center City.

The arraignment came after all five turned themselves Thursday to face charges resulting from a grand jury investigation.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said over the course of five years, the group changed answers, provided test answers to students and improperly reviewed test questions before administering Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) standardized tests.

All those charged are either past or present employees at Cayuga Elementary School in the Hunting Park section of Philadelphia.

Evelyn Cortez, 59, of Lenape Drive in Dresher, Pa., was the school principal. She was escorted out of the building last Friday in connection with a separate school district investigation not related to the cheating scandal.
The four teachers charged are:

Jennifer Hughes, 59, of Peachtree Lane in Jeffersonville, Pa.
Lorraine Vicente, 41, of Palmetto Street in Philadelphia
Rita Wyszynski, 65, of Old Newtown Road in Philadelphia
Ary Sloane, 56, of S. 2nd Street in Philadelphia

Those instructions were allegedly broadcast over the school's public address system.

Investigators also allege that during testing, Cortez entered classrooms, looked over students' shoulders and tapped students' booklets to indicate they needed to change an answer.

In addition, the grand jury found that Cortez publicly reprimanded Cayuga Elementary School teachers who did not engage in PSSA cheating, as well as students who did not want to change their answers or incorrectly answered test questions.

Read the grand jury presentment

The grand jury presentment also alleges that teachers were encouraged to take PSSA tests home with them to familiarize themselves with the tests before proctoring students.

A grand jury found that after the cheating stopped in 2012, the percentage of students who scored well on the tests dropped dramatically, authorities said.

The School Reform Commission, an appointed board that oversees the district, in January fired three high school principals and announced plans to discipline dozens of teachers and administrators following an investigation into cheating.

"Cheating robs children of a good education and hurts kids and families," Attorney General Kane said in a statement. "The alleged misconduct by these educators is an affront to the public's trust and will not be tolerated."

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.

All five of the suspects have been suspended with pay.

News of the scandal has sparked an outrage. Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers says the union would not provide legal assistance for those charged.

"There is no place for cheating when it comes to educating children. We do not condone it and we will not support it," said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

A statement released by the Philadelphia School District on Thursday reads in part:

"The School District strongly supports the actions taken by the Attorney General and PDE& The five individuals criminally charged today were immediately suspended from their current duties pending a disciplinary conference to be scheduled in the near future."

The defendants were being asked to surrender to police Thursday morning. One defense lawyer involved in the case did not immediately return a message. It was not clear if the other defendants had lawyers.

Kane's office is also investigating cheating allegations involving other schools in Philadelphia and around the state, her office said in a news release.

In recent years, test cheating scandals have broken out in Atlanta, Nevada and other districts around the country, as public officials link school and district scores to funding and vow to close schools that underperform.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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