Five educators accused of changing answers on state standardized tests in an effort of boost the school's scores were arraigned on forgery and other charges early Friday morning.
Fifty-nine-year-old Evelyn Cortez, the principal of Cayuga Elementary School in the Hunting Park section of the city, faces conspiracy, forgery, record tampering and corruption charges for allegedly putting tremendous pressure on teachers to change students' responses on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), review questions prior to administering the test and provide students answers to the exam.
Authorities also charged four teachers, 59-year-old Jennifer Hughes, 41-year-old Loraine Vicente, 65-year-old Rita Wyszynski and 56-year-old Ari Sloane for their alleged involvement in the five year-long cheating operation.
Cortez "blatantly promoted" cheating over the PA system at the nearly 450 student school, according to the office of Pa. Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
She already came under fire due to issues with her work earlier in the school year, prompting school officials to reassign her to Overbrook High School on May 2.
The School District of Philadelphia suspended all five educators until a disciplinary conference next week, according to a statement from Fernando Gallard, the school district's spokesman.
From 2007 to 2012, Cortez, Hughes, Vicente, Wyszynski and Sloane allegedly instructed students to record test answers on scrap paper so their work could be checked, a grand jury investigation found.
Prosecutors said the grand jury found the principal allegedly walked through classrooms during the testing, looked over students' shoulders and tapped their test booklet to indicate the answer needed to be changed.
Testifying before the grand jury, one teacher said Wyszynski admitted she, Sloane and Cortez would at times come into school on Saturday and change test answers, a grand jury report stated.
The high test scores led to accolades from district officials and even a promotion for Sloane, who was a teacher before moving on to administrator roles in 2008.
But the test results and the number of answer changes were statistically improbable, according to the grand jury investigation.
When the alleged cheating stopped in 2012, prosecutors say the school's PSSA scores plummeted across all grades and subjects.
The charges stem from a 2011 investigation conducted by the Pa. Department of Education and state Inspector General, Gallard said. Officials looked at suspicious PSSA results at 11 district schools and 3 charter schools as well as other schools across the Commonwealth.
Cortez's attorney, Matthew Sedacca, told NBC10.com that his client contends "the charges are not true."
Hughes' attorney, Leno Thomas, said his client is innocent. "We look forward to defending in court vigorously."
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Attorney information for the other teachers was not immediately available.
All five educators have a preliminary hearing scheduled for May 19.