Amid a statewide cheating probe, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has prohibited teachers in Philadelphia, at three area charter schools, and in one other district from administering their own students' state exams.

State monitors will also be inside those schools during the PSSAs, officials said.

The Philadelphia School District, Imhotep Charter School, Philadelphia Electrical and Technical Charter, Chester Community Charter, and the Hazleton School District are all under investigation for possible cheating on PSSAs.

Department of Education officials have recommended that schools across the state prohibit classroom teachers from administering their own students' PSSAs. But that's not a suggestion for the five - it's a requirement, said Tim Eller, a spokesman for the Department of Education.

"In order to protect the educator from possible allegations of mishandling, and to ensure the security and credibility of the exam, the department believes this is the best approach," Eller said Wednesday.

Security will be tighter across the board, with test booklets, answer sheets, and scratch paper handed out only just before a testing session and collected immediately afterward.

These edicts - particularly the rule against teachers' testing their own students - represent major shifts in policy and require administrators to scramble to redesign testing plans for an exam that begins March 12. Teachers will still administer the tests, but they are prohibited from testing their own pupils.

It also has many teachers in a panic.

Eller said he understood that some teachers believe their students will perform worse if the test is given by someone they don't know.

"In extraordinary circumstances, the teacher is permitted to remain in the classroom, but another proctor would have to join them," Eller said. He said teachers who want to pursue this option should raise the issue with their schools or districts.

Jasselle Cruz, a fourth-grade teacher at Francis Scott Key Elementary in South Philadelphia, said the school was abuzz at the news.

"It's like a slap in the face," Cruz said. "After all this work we've done preparing our children for the test, now we have to turn them over to someone else. We understand that there are schools under suspicion of cheating, but that's not us."

When her students heard about the shift in policy, they were anxious. Cruz suggested they channel their worries into persuasive letters.

The students were polite, but to the point.

". . . It will be better for us if our teachers are there with us because we will be more motivated before the test starts," Anh Nguyen wrote. ". . .Our teacher doesn't CHEAT!"

"We, kids, are like magnets to our teacher. We and our teacher are like a big heart, and if we go apart, the heart will break," wrote Daylen Tep.

Cristina Valenzo-Castro, who signed herself "Sad Student" in a letter written in beautiful cursive, said that if her teacher "was here to give us the PSSA, I would feel more confident on the test. Also if another teacher gave me the PSSA, I would feel like I don't know them."