By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A Philadelphia elementary school principal and four teachers were accused of conspiracy and other charges on Thursday, the first criminal counts filed in a test cheating scandal in city schools, authorities said.
The educators perpetuated "a culture of cheating" on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests for five years, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane said in a statement.
They are accused of changing student answers and providing test answers to students, the statement said. Kane said an investigation began in 2011 after authorities noticed suspicious test results and when the cheating stopped in 2012, students' scores dropped dramatically.
Earlier this year, 15 staff members at 19 schools were disciplined as part of the investigation, which Kane said is continuing.
The problem of cheating on standardized tests will not be resolved while teachers are under pressure for scores to be high, said Jerry Jordan, head of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
"We must address the current test-and-punish culture that dominates public education and puts many teachers in the position of fearing for their careers and professional reputations," Jordan said in a statement.
Principal Evelyn Cortez and two teachers were charged with corruption, perjury, tampering, forgery and criminal conspiracy. The two other teachers were charged with tampering, forgery and conspiracy.
(Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Grant McCool)