Beware Their Cheating Hearts

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In 1998, the first year of SOL testing, only 2 percent of Virginia’s schools received full accreditation. This year, the State is bragging that 98 percent of Virginia’s schools are accredited. What they don’t tell you is that both the State and the schools cheated to get those scores.

This article is the first of a multi-part examination of the cheating that underlies this “progress.”

Part I: Stealing Scores from the Governor’s Schools

Earlier this year, Carol learned that SOL scores of the students at the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School are not reported at Maggie Walker; the scores are reported at the high schools in the students’ home districts.  The same thing happens at the Appomattox Governor’s School.

In short: VDOE is manipulating the data (and the AYP and accreditation processes) by giving the SOL scores of full time students at Governor’s Schools to schools those students don’t attend.  As Carol put it, the State is “rewarding the Superintendents for letting some of their smart kids get a decent education.”

In Fact, They Write Down the Procedures.

Responding to a Freedom of Information Act request, VDOE produced an undated document titled “Maggie L Walker Governor’s School; Administration and Reporting of Standards of Learning End-of-Course Scores.”  VDOE said the document is part of the Maggie Walker Administrative Manual. This document says that Maggie Walker personnel administer the SOL tests and then sort the answer sheets for pickup by the divisions (implicitly the “home” divisions) of their students.  Then, “[t]he individual division testing coordinators place the Maggie L. Walker students’ answer sheets among their division’s answer sheets and send them to be scored . . . .”  After the scoring, Maggie Walker calls the home divisions to ask about the scores.

Did you get that: The individual divisions hand carry the answer sheets back from Maggie Walker so they can claim the SOL scores of the Maggie Walker students. When Maggie Walker wants to know how their kids did, they have to call the high schools those students are not attending to request the scores.

Happy Superintendents Are More Important than Truth

So what could be the actual reason for this institutional mendacity?  Perhaps, as Carol suggests, it is to obtain a free boost to the scores in order to improve the schools’ chances to avoid Adequate Yearly Progress problems under the No Child Left Behind Act.   For sure, this misrepresentation of the scores will have that effect.

The paper trail at VDOE admits as much. The minutes of the August 31, 1990 Planning Committee (planning to create the Governor’s School that now is Maggie Walker) mention the concern of the Assistant Superintendent at Colonial Heights about “test scores.”  Mind you, this was nine years before the SOL’s; the scores in question were predominantly from the SAT.  The Committee noted:

As far as the concern with the test scores being lowered, the Committee also stated that they could make the decision that the students’ SATs could be counted at the home schools.

Nowadays, of course, it’s SOL‘s even more than SAT’s but there you have the bald admission that Carol had it right: They are “rewarding the Superintendents for letting some of their smart kids get a decent education.”  As if those kids somehow belonged to those Superintendents.  So we have a corrupt system for corrupt reasons.  Welcome to Virginia!

Violating the Law to Manipulate the Data

In the process of deceiving the public and the federal government VDOE also is violating Virginia law.

The Virginia regulation at 8 VAC 20-131-300.C.1.b says that a school will be rated Fully Accredited when its eligible students meet the pass rate [specified].” The regulation at 8 VAC 20-131-5 defines “eligible students”:

“Eligible students” means the total number of students of school age enrolled in the school at a grade or course for which a Standards of Learning test is required unless excluded under the provisions of 8VAC20-131-30 F and 8VAC20-131-280 D relative to limited English proficient (LEP) students.  (Emphasis supplied.)

Unless the State uses a different kind of English than the rest of us, “enrolled in the school” means enrolled in that high school, not off at the Governor’s School.  Thus, using scores of students not “enrolled in the school” to boost the high schools’ scores is flatly unlawful.

Not to mention that it also is a bald lie.

We are left to wonder whether the federal government knows that Virginia is sending it falsified data.

Next Month: Handicaps that disappear after the eighth grade.

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11 Responses to Beware Their Cheating Hearts

  1. Larry G says:

    ” While three are full-day programs, fulfilling all requirements students need to graduate, most are part-time programs. Students in these schools spend a portion of their day at the Governor’s Schools but rely on their high schools to provide other programming required for graduation.”

    As far as I can tell in looking at sites like SchoolData Direct, the Governor’s schools are not treated as separate entities.

    It is an interesting issue though – although – I’m not sure I’d ascribe overt cheating to it. Within schools are also baccalaureate and other kinds of special programs also.

    Besides, isn’t the testing for standard reading, science, math courses anyhow and chances are that most kids get the basic courses at the home schools anyhow?

    I’m not sure this is a legitimate issue… and I’m a big supporter of NCLB, SOLs and NAEP proficiency standards.

    I think a more interesting report would be to compare Va SOL standards to NAEP standards or compare Va to Mass standards. Only 1/3 of Va kids are rated proficient by NAEP but 2/3 are rated proficient by our SOLs.

  2. Bob Warren says:

    I should be no surprise that the public school leadership is gaming the system to look as good as possible. They were terribly embarrassed by the early results and immediately sought to modify the SOL system and change the appearances. From my perspective, little has really changed – and this means that the only solution is to allow parents to use vouchers for their children. The rise of homeschooling and the substantive statistics showing that the public education system is failing ought to bring real and fundamental change to the way in which this public monopoly is given such control over students and parents.

  3. Nancy Carwile says:

    I cannot speak for the full-time Governor’s Schools you cited in the article, but the participating school pay “tuition” to the Governor’s Schools for the students who attend. Report cards grades are sent to the high schools in each instance, and as far as I know, the students graduate from their home high school, not from the Governor’s Schools. As I said, this is true for the part-time Governor’s Schools, and I cannot speak for sure for the full-time Governor’s Schools. But along that same line: don’t the high schools get credit for students who take AP classes? Who take classes at local community colleges? It seems to be that if a school district offers opportunities to take college, AP, and Governor’s School classes, that those students are being given those classes through the home school’s efforts. So why shouldn’t the home high schools count their scores with other SOL scores? Now, if a student, on their own time and money, took a class in, say, US History at a local college, that might be a question. But it still seems to me that they should all take the SOLs. After all, that is a quality check on the college or Governor’s School class as well as on the high schools: Are these advanced students learning the content that the state requires? So I think maybe “cheating” is the wrong term. Because every school, no matter how rotten, has students who succeed on the testing through their own capacity rather than the school’s….that’s just life. And the SOLs are designed to make sure that required classes offer appropriate content; not, as in my day, teaching 1/2 the algebra or history text and giving full credit for that algebra or history course.

  4. Larry G says:

    Vouchers for schools that don’t have to meet SOLs. Now that sounds like a grand idea.

    How about we do this. The voucher school refunds every penny of the voucher if the kid does not pass the SOLs?

  5. Bob Warren says:

    It is truly tragic that the American success story, built by trusting individuals to do what is best for themselves and their families, has now been perverted to the point where individuals are distrusted and the government with its education bureaucracy looked at as savior. Let’s face it, the SOLs are a government approach to solving a massive governmental failure. How about we try something like trusting the parents to do what is best for their children – and that means letting them chose not controlling their choices. From my perspective, the more requirements the government places on schools, the worse they seem to get because so many of the requirements are simply counterproductive or even dangerous to the needs of children, their families and society at large.

  6. Chris Braunlich says:

    While it would be hyperbole to suggest that all schools are “cheating,” the reality is that Ms. Wolf and Mr. Butcher have exposed a dirty little secret that almost certainly deserves further discussion and exposure.

    I was a member of the Fairfax County School Board back when the Standards of Learning exams first began to become meaningful, and a dialogue began with the school system’s leadership over which school a student’s SOL scores would be counted in.

    Like the Governor’s School program, ours was a mixed bag of full and part-time programs: Students attending an elementary or middle school’s full-time Gifted and Talented (GT) or Special Education Center might come from another base school. Students in the county’s professional technical academies would be bused for only a half day from their base school.

    Not surprisingly, schools with a GT Center wanted those high-performing students counted in their base scores – those with more challenged Special Education Center students did not. The reverse was true of the students’ base schools.

    As I recall, the compromise was that a student’s scores were counted in the school in which he or she were taught the subjects in which they were being tested – generally, part-time Academy students in their base schools; full-time Center students in the school where their center was located.

    I don’t know how Fairfax handles it now, but that seems as reasonable a way to handle the Governors School issue as any other – and the issue ought to be addressed by the state Board of Education. After all, the SOL exams are not just a measurement of student performance, but also of school performance – and a school shouldn’t get the credit for a student it doesn’t actually teach.

    That would mean Maggie Walker and Appomattox Regional School for Arts and Technology students would get counted in the Richmond and Petersburg test scores.

    Of course, it might also have another side effect: I’m betting high performing students may find that their own school system suddenly less interested in paying the tuition necessary for them to attend Maggie Walker and Appomattox, since there would no longer be the quid pro quo of having student scores counted in their base school.

    Chris Braunlich
    Vice President
    Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy

  7. Larry G says:

    ” How about we try something like trusting the parents to do what is best for their children – and that means letting them chose not controlling their choices. From my perspective, the more requirements the government places on schools, the worse they seem to get because so many of the requirements are simply counterproductive or even dangerous to the needs of children, their families and society at large.”

    just one small problem. when you want my tax dollars for education – I want results and I also don’t want to pay for the welfare and the prisons for the parents who won’t make sure their kids are educated.

    If you think we’re doing fine – you’re sadly mistaken

    this is where we are:
    OECD/PISA Study:
    Reading Literacy

    1. Finland
    2. Canada
    3. New Zealand
    4. Australia
    5. Ireland
    6. Korea
    7 United Kingdom
    8. Japan
    9. Sweden
    10. Austria
    11. Belgium
    12. Iceland
    13. Norway
    14. France
    15. United States

    this is where Virginia’s kids score on reading proficiency:

    Grade 4 Reading Proficiency (%) 38

    compared to Massachusetts = 49%

    when you advocate abandonment of testing – and you think you can do a better job of educating your kids (and you might) – you are dooming them to higher taxes for welfare and prisons for the other kids who will not get a good education.

    there is a reason why we call it “Public Education” and we take from you and me 70% of my personal property taxes and about 40% of my state income taxes.

    as long as you want to take that money – it comes with strings – and those strings are that I want that money spent to produce people who will grow up to be able to be self-reliant and to pay taxes and not be in welfare nor in prison.

    and note – all these other countries have the govt directly involved in education also – in fact most of them have national curricula and national testing to make sure their kids DO get a GOOD education.

    I just cannot understand those folks who oppose that approach… .

    If you want to see the U.S. lose out even more to world jobs then kill the SOLs and let parents decide what to teach their kids.

  8. Larry G says:

    I don’t think it’s cheating per se though it would be better to be more clear about it.

    But the other thing here is that what the SOLs are testing are for basic competencies and I would assume that anyone who qualifies for Governor’s School has already attained or shows clear progress towards attaining those competencies – and in all but 3 cases – would have obtained that knowledge at their “home” schools – where – by the way – ALL of their records are kept and also where they still continue to take other “encore” courses and participate in other school activities.

    I have mixed feelings about the Governor’s Schools in terms of using resources. I’m not opposed to having programs for the gifted – unless they come at the expense of resources for the kids who need more help to maintain grade-level competencies.

    The reason that NCLB came about – is precisely because – our schools – at some parents urging were, in fact, leaving some kids behind by prioritizing funding to the kids they thought would “make it” which, if you think about it is a really cruddy way to think about a child with an average IQ and through no fault of his own but because of disadvantageous economic or parental circumstances – we institutionally write them off…

    the sad reality is that for about 30% of the kids – they don’t have the advantages that the other 70% do. They come from broken families, or dysfunctional circumstances and even though they have the necessary IQ’s to make it – they can’t do it with the standard curriculum.

    and the really bad part about leaving these kids behind – is this – your kids will pay higher taxes to provide them with the things they cannot afford and your kids will pay the Department of Corrections to take care of the others – and the biggest state agency in Virginia is.. bigger than VDOT – guess who – that’s right – the Dept of Corrections.

    We were the very first country in the world to go from parents teaching kids – to a public education system – because we knew that kids would receive inferior educations from most of the parents.

    why we get to this point in time and decide that public education is a “failure” is revealing to me.

    We’re a “failure” in the country that created the first public education system – because we now are ranked 15th and worse in the world. Public education didn’t fail in these countries. Their kids are growing up and getting those competitive world jobs that our kids cannot qualify for.

    the better question is why have WE failed public Education in this country?

  9. GottaSpeakOutNow says:

    If you think it is “cheating” to count SOL scores of students enrolled in Governor’s schools in their home district then what do you call it when they also count the scores of students in regional or private schools who were placed there due to behavioral issues, emotional issues, or significant learning issues? Those scores, which are often low, are also counted toward the home district’s AYP and SOL accreditation status. It does not seem like cheating at all to me since the home distirict was responsible for laying the groundwork for the student’s need for accelerated learing in high school.

  10. Carol Wolf and John Butcher says:

    Many thanks to all who have responded to “Beware Their Cheating Hearts.” I appreciate the points raised in your comments and the time you spent reading the article and responding to it. I realize that this situation strains credulity. Initially, I could not believe it when I first heard whispers about it from incredulous parents and teachers. But, when my son, now a junior at Maggie Walker, first asked why his school is not listed in the U.S. News and World Report as one of the “Top High Schools in the Nation,” I told him that20I didn’t know, but that I would be happy to find out.

    I honestly believed that it had to be a simple oversight, one that could easily be explained and corrected. After all, everyone knows that Maggie Walker is an excellent school with plenty of national honors to prove it. I also saw getting an answer to my son’s question as the perfect opportunity to dispel a persistent rumor that was so preposterous that I thought it had to be one of those Richmond Public Schools “urban myths.”

    Boy, was I ever wrong. After several conversations with people in positions to know — and thanks to a couple of Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by my friend, John Butcher — I managed to obtain some facts. As we all know, facts are indeed stubborn things which inevitably give rise to more complicated questions.

    Fact: U.S. News and World Report doesn’t list it as an outstanding “high school” because the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) doesn’t identify it as “a school” on their website.

    Question: If VDOE does not recognize Maggie Walker as “a school,” then how is it that the “program” is legally authorized to issue diplomas?

    Fact: These diplomas bear the name of Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School of Government and International Studies and NOT the name of the high school where their scores were assigned.

    Fact: RPS and the 11 other districts really do take the SOL scores of students they select to attend Maggie Walker and calculate them into scores of the comprehensive high school nearest the students’ home address.

    Fact: VDOE not only knows about it, but condones the practice.

    Fact: Some may prefer to see this practice with a more genteel term such as “dishonest” or “unethical,” but, bottomline — it is cheating. It is cheating just as surely as it would be if a high school football or basketball coach were to bring in “ringers” from another schoo l in order to win the championship game.

    Fact: The students at Maggie Walker TAKE NO CLASSES in their respective home district schools.

    Fact: To be sure, many students from the region’s top private and parochial schools attend the Governor’s School. These students have never so much as put one foot in the public school nearest their homes, nor have they ever taken an SOL until they arrive at Maggie Walker. Furthermore, the private, parochial and public schools students who attend Maggie Walker ALL receive absolutely ZERO instruction from the public high schools nearest their home.
    Question: Therefore, how is it then NOT cheating to “give” the scores to the school which the Governor’s School student chose NOT to attend and which had nothing to do with the student’s performance because the student never went there?

    “This makes [about] as much sense,” according to one Maggie Walker father, “as a Chevy dealer’s reporting as revenue purchases made from Toyota because the Toyota customer lives closer to the Chevy dealership. The purpose of publishing the collective SOL results of a given school is to see20how that school’s students performed, not to gauge the performance of kids who happen to live in the neighborhood but chose not to attend the school.

    This practice may make VDOE and the districts that send children look “better,” to the NCLB feds in Washington, D.C., but ultimately it hurts the children in the comprehensive high schools and insults the integrity of those dedicated and hardworking teachers who (still) think it is their mission to educate our children and instill the confidence they need to meet and surpass all tests life gives them. As one RPS teacher put it:

    “If you were teaching in one of the high schools and you were told that your “class” would receive the SOL scores of 10 of the top scorers at Maggie Walker, would it bother you to have them included, even though you never taught those children?”

    She was equally offended when told that ALL the districts participate in this fraudulent use of the Maggie Walker SOL scores: “It doesn’t matter how many other districts are doing this. It still doesn’t make it right. It insults me as a professional that anyone from RPS central administration, or from VDOE, would think that I ‘needed’ these scores to make my school and/or students appea r better than they are.”

    Question: Is the misrepresentation of these scores legal? What does this do to the AYP numbers that VDOE is required to report to the federal government? Does it make a difference?

    Fact: For example, in Richmond, John Marshall and Huguenot High School each received more than a 5 percent boost in the scores and number of children allegedly taking the SOLs at their schools. Thomas Jefferson received a whopping 9.76 percent boost and George Wythe received a 2.32 percent increase.

    To be sure, each of the various districts that send students to Maggie Walker claim those students as part of their own ADM count and receive city, state and federal tax dollars for each pupil that is enrolled. These monies are then used to secure slots at the Governor’s Schools. The issue here is NOT THE ADM, but what happens to the SOL scores and what THAT means on both a state and federal level.

    There has to be an honest way of reporting this. It makes no sense whatsoever to represent that these children are enrolled at their respective home “zone” high school, when in reality they are not!
    =0 D

    Surely, the fine minds at VDOE or in the General Assembly can help the Superintendents figure out a way to do this so their gifted students can continue to avail themselves of a more rigorous and academically challenging education. It shouldn’t take a Gubernatorial Decree or an act of the General Assembly to ensure that the data VDOE reports is “reliable.”

    Something has to give. The way they do this now clearly reduces the accuracy that is supposed to derive from the SOL tests and NCLB accountability measures. Proper measurement is a management tool and encourages accountability. This method of measuring and reporting a school’s supposed SOL scores simply insures that the data, which VDOE and the local districts spend a fortune to collect, has very little reliability or usefulness.

    Reducing that accuracy, reduces the possibility that policy makers can reach informed and wise decisions that will help improve public education. If the data are faulty, how can the conclusion be accurate? And, if the schools’ problems are intentionally disguised and distorted, how can we expect to fix them?

  11. Carol Wolf & John Butcher says:

    Stay tuned “GottaSpeakOutNow” for our next report which will explain how the Virginia Department of Education and the local superintendents distort the data and game the system when they report the test scores of the children with behavioral and emotional issues as well as those with significant physical and cognitive disabilities.

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