I earlier quoted Scott Adams for the notion that “whenever you have large stakes, an opportunity for wrong-doing, and a small risk of getting caught, wrong-doing happens. . . . When humans can cheat, they do.” That certainly is what we’ve seen wholesale in Atlanta and in Virginia on the VGLA.
If Adams is right, it would not be a surprise to find a fire beneath this smoke. In any case it will be interesting to see whether VBOE, which is supposed to supervise the public school system, conducts an investigation.
Here is the letter:
Dr. Billy K. Cannaday, Jr.
Virginia Board of Education
P.O. Box 2120
Richmond, VA 23218
Dear Dr. Cannaday:
I am writing you on behalf of over twenty former and current students including faculty at Hidden Valley High School in Roanoke County Public Schools (RCPS), who are extremely concerned about cheating on non-SOL testing on school-issued laptops, which has been a chronic problem since 2007.1 Unfortunately, cheating is not only a widespread problem at Hidden Valley High School, but throughout RCPS in grades 8-12.2
I taught Latin at Hidden Valley High School from 2011 to 2013. Despite informing the administration in November 2012 about cheating on school-issued laptops, nothing was ever resolved. Over ten of my former students informed me after graduating in June 2015 that cheating at the school actually had worsened in the past two years. Many of them described the cheating as “nuts,” “rampant,” and “out of control.” I informed Al Bedrosian of the Board of Supervisors in October 2015 and Fuzzy Minnix of the School Board in November 2015 about my concerns, but nothing was resolved. So I addressed the School Board on March 24, and again nothing was resolved except a vague promise by Jeff Terry, the Chief Information Officer, to update and secure Blackboard next fall (Gregory). I also addressed the Board of Supervisors on April 26 upon the invitation of Al Bedrosian, but unfortunately they do not have any oversight of the school district.
I believe that RCPS is in violation of Standard 7 (C) (3) of the Code of Virginia, which states that “the standards of student conduct and attendance and enforcement procedures [are] designed to provide that public education be conducted in an atmosphere free of disruption and threat to persons or property and supportive of individual rights” (§ 22.1-253.13:7).3 There is no question that RCPS currently has adequate “standards of student conduct” in place for academic integrity. According to Policy 7.11 or the Roanoke County Student Conduct Code, Rule 9 states that “students are expected to perform honestly on any assigned schoolwork or tests” (RCPS Current Policies SERIES 07: Students). Rule 9 (A) states that “students shall not cheat on a test or assigned schoolwork by giving, receiving, offering, and/or soliciting information” while Rule 9 (E) further states that they shall not “use technology for any unauthorized use” (RCPS Current Policies). Likewise, according to the Student Handbook of Hidden Valley High School for 2014-15 the honor code’s goal is “to maintain a high level of integrity, to strive honestly in all endeavors, and to perpetuate an atmosphere of trust between peers, students, and faculty” (2).4
Unfortunately, the central office of RCPS and the administration at Hidden Valley High School have total disregard for realistically enforcing these policies and rules when students take an online non-SOL test or quiz on school-issued laptops using Blackboard. It is extremely easy for a student to cheat without getting caught making the “enforcement procedures” in Standard 7 (C) (3) almost meaningless. The problem is that students have complete access to both their hard drives and the internet during an online test, and it is impossible for a dedicated teacher to watch fifteen or thirty laptop screens and also look for traditional cheating such as crib sheets and smartphones. Students can easily right click on Google, access the Snipping Tool, copy and paste answers, hide a cheat sheet, email passwords, etc. and most insidiously program a key to perform screen captures of an entire test or quiz to a Google server without the teacher ever knowing it. This testing environment is the direct opposite of state-mandated SOL testing which requires a lockdown browser and other needed software in order to prevent digital cheating.
Standard 7 (C) (3) clearly states that “public education be conducted in an atmosphere” “supportive of individual rights” (§ 22.1-253.13:7). RCPS has violated the “individual rights” of honest students who obey the rules or “standards of student conduct” (§ 22.1-253.13:7). The honest students are at a distinct disadvantage in competing against the dishonest ones in terms of lower GPAs, lower class ranking, and less academic awards, which also negatively impacts college admissions, scholarships and grants. There is a de facto system of academic apartheid between the honest students and the dishonest ones or cheaters in grades 8-12 throughout RCPS, thereby negligently allowing a non-level playing field and creating a negative “atmosphere” of learning. Like Major League Baseball players in the 1990s until 2005 during the steroid era, many honest students ask themselves if they should cheat in order to get ahead academically while the dishonest students never ask themselves this question. This is a moral dilemma every honest student faces during the academic year at Hidden Valley High School and all the other county schools in grades 8-12.
In addition, Standard 7 (C) (3) states that “public education be conducted in an atmosphere” “free of disruption” (§ 22.1-253.13:7). Not only is cheating both academically disruptive and morally wrong it also teaches bad “citizenship” by negative example for irresponsible and NOT “responsible participation in American society,” which is both a violation of the public trust and Standard 1 (C. 1) (e.) (Code of Virginia. § 22.1-253.13:1).5 RCPS should not be teaching its students to be emulating such notorious “cheats” as Lance Armstrong, Mark McGwire, Lenny Dykstra and Alex Rodriguez, not to mention Swiss banks, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen. Lastly, cheating certainly does not “foster public confidence” in RCPS, which is one of the five “accreditation standards” of the “public education system” in Virginia (“Regulations Establishing Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia” (8VAC20-131) 3).
RCPS has not been in compliance with both Standards 7 (C) (3) and 1 (C. 1) (e.) in grades 9-12 since 2007.6 When a student takes an online test or quiz on a school-issued laptop, the school district does not provide adequate “enforcement procedures” as described in Rules 9(A) and 9(E) in Policy 7.11 or the Roanoke County Student Conduct Code. Hidden Valley High School has also failed “to maintain a high level of integrity” and other ethical standards as described in the school’s honor code. However, the most egregious violation has been the noncompliance of RCPS with Standard 7 (C) (3), which states that “public education be conducted in an atmosphere” “supportive of individual rights.” This has repeatedly resulted in honest students being at a distinct disadvantage in competing against the dishonest ones in terms of lower GPAs, lower class ranking, and less academic awards negatively impacting college admissions, scholarships and grants. Consequently cheating has also allowed the teaching of very bad citizenship, which is a violation of Standard 1 (C. 1) (e.). There needs to be an immediate external investigation from Richmond in order to ascertain the status of the school district’s state accreditation, and determine who has been either responsible or complicit in this shameful and preventable academic misconduct. The students, parents and taxpayers in Roanoke County all deserve more integrity and better accountability from their public schools.
1. Smith wrote about cheating on non-SOL testing using school-issued laptops and Blackboard at Hidden Valley High School in May 2013: “In a miniature poll of Hidden Valley students, who’s [sic] identities will be kept anonymous, one 11th grader estimated that in a class of 25 students taking a Blackboard test, ten to fifteen would be cheating. Another student, a 12th grader, believes that in the same situation, only two or three students would be cheating. Whichever version is true, students are still cheating on tests.” Smith also wrote, “Most students and teachers agree that it is easier to cheat on a Blackboard test than on a paper test. A 10th grade student said that it was easier to cheat on a Blackboard test because ‘you can switch windows while you are working on a test.’ An 11th grade student said that it is easier to cheat on a Blackboard test because of ‘search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo.’ Some students have witnessed so much cheating that they have become numb to it.”
2. Cheating is truly a widespread problem throughout RCPS. I have talked with over twenty teachers, students and graduates from Cave Spring High School, William Byrd High School and Northside High School since 2011, and all their complaints about cheating on the school-issued laptops are identical to what I was told or experienced at Hidden Valley High School. I have listened to the complaints of one recent graduate of Glenvar High School, and would assume that cheating is just as prevalent there as the other four county high schools. Please also note that RCPS first issued laptops to all eighth graders during the 2015-16 academic year. All seventh graders will be issued laptops during the 2016-17 academic year according to what was discussed at the School Board meeting on March 24.
3. According to “Bill Tracking (Chapter 474 ) – 2008 Session Legislation,” Standard 7 (C) (3) was known as Standard 7 (B.1) (3) in 2007 and 2008 in the Code of Virginia.
4. An updated version of the Hidden Valley High School Student Handbook for the 2015-16 academic year is currently unavailable online.
5. According to the “Virginia Department of Education SOQ Compliance Detail Report [for] Roanoke County” submitted for the 2014-15 academic year, Standard 1 (C. 1) (e.) states, “Essential skills and concepts of citizenship, including knowledge of Virginia history and world and United States history, economics, government, foreign languages, and international cultures, health and physical education, environmental issues and geography necessary for responsible participation in American society and in the international community.”
6. RCPS first issued laptops to all eighth graders during the 2015-16 academic year. The school district has not been in compliance with both Standards 7 (C) (3) and 1 (C. 1) (e.) for eighth graders since August 2015.
“Bill Tracking (Chapter 474 ) – 2008 Session Legislation.” Bill Tracking – 2008 Session of the VA General
Assembly. Web. 17 May 2016.
Code of Virginia. § 22.1-253.13:1. Standard 1. Instructional Programs Supporting the Standards of
Learning and Other Educational Objectives. Web. 15 May 2016.
Code of Virginia. § 22.1-253.13:7. Standard 7. School Board Policies. Web. 14 May 2016.
Gregory, Sara. “Roanoke County School Board Approves 2 Percent Raise for Teachers.” Roanoke Times.
24 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.
Hidden Valley High School: Student Handbook 2014-2015. Roanoke County Public Schools. Web.
12 May 2016.
“RCPS Current Policies SERIES 07: Students.” Student Conduct Code: Policy 7.11. Roanoke County
Public Schools, 13 Aug. 2015. Web. 12 May 2016. See Rule 9 – Integrity.
“Regulations Establishing Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia” (8VAC20-131). VA
Department of Education, 19 Oct. 2015. Web. 12 May 2016. See p. 3 (8VAC20-131-10. Purpose).
Smith, Tanner. “Cheating Continues to Plague Acadmic [sic] Careers.” Titan Times. Hidden Valley High
School [Roanoke], 2 May 2013. Web. 13 May 2016.