State Department of Superintendent Protection

On June 7, I posted a letter to the President of the State Board of Education from a former Latin teacher in the Roanoke County system alleging cheating at one or more schools in that system.  That teacher, Robert Maronic, averred “widespread” cheating and claimed to have informed the administration of the problem in November, 2012, the Board of Supervisors in October, 2015, and the School Board in November, 2015.

On June 24, Maronic received a reply (reproduced below) from the President of the Board of Education.  Let’s analyze that letter.

Thank you for your letter detailing concerns with the Roanoke County Public School system.  I appreciate you [sic] taking the time to contact the Virginia Board of Education.

Just from the first sentence we know this letter is Bad News: President Cannaday characterizes allegations of wholesale cheating as “concerns.”

The [Roanoke County Public School] division informed the Department that it is taking measures to address this issue and is working with outside support to combat this challenge.

So, the Roanoke County division admits to some or all of the allegations: 

  • It is taking unspecified “measures.”
  • Those measures will “address,” but perhaps not eliminate the cheating.
  • The division is “working” with outsiders to “combat this challenge.”

What this does not say is that the Roanoke County School Superintendent has eliminated the cheating and fired the people responsible for it.

Pursuant to the Constitution of Virginia, the Board of Education determines and prescribes the Standards of Quality for school divisions, and the supervision of schools in each school division is vested in the local school board. 

Hmmm.  Let’s look at authority:

  • Va. Const. art. VIII, § 4:  The general supervision of the public school system shall be vested in a Board of Education . . .
  • Va. Code § 22.1-65:  A division superintendent may be assessed a reasonable fine, suspended from office for a limited period or removed from office by either the Board of Education, upon recommendation of the Superintendent of Public Instruction or the school board of the division for sufficient cause.

We need not parse the scope of “general supervision” to understand that the Roanoke County Superintendent is responsible for what happens in his system.  Either he knew of the cheating and needs to be fired for not dealing with it, or he did not know of the cheating so he needs to be fired for incompetence. 

And Cannaday is President of one of the two Boards that can do the firing.

As the Roanoke County Public School division is working to comply with all Standards of Quality, further intervention by the Board of Education is not necessary or authorized.

“Working to comply” has a nice, bureaucratic ring to it.  Unfortunately it is content neutral as to the real issues: What, exactly, was the extent of the cheating?  Who was responsible for allowing it?  Have all those people been fired?  What steps has the Superintendent taken to assure the public that the cheating is stopped and will not be restarted?

As to further intervention (Huh?  Where was the first intervention?) not being authorized, we have the President of the Board of Education that can fire the local Superintendent uttering a bald lie.

Dr. Billy K. Cannaday, Jr.
President

Did you get that, peasant?  You’re dealing with DOCTOR Cannaday, not some uncredentialed bureaucrat. 

More to the point, DOCTOR Cannaday’s degree is in educational administration.  If DOCTOR Cannaday had paid attention while acquiring that degree, Va. Tech would have taught him that hiding behind a misstatement of the law, in preference to doing his job, is not something a competent educational administrator would do.

If I may step back from the snark for a moment: This letter is written in what Peggy Noonan calls the “horrible bureaucratic nonlanguage people in government revert to when they don’t want to be understood.”  Entirely aside from the shocking misstatement of the law and the appalling refusal to deal with a cheating scandal, the letter sends the message that our education establishment cannot (or will not) write clearly and in good English (I trust you caught the absence of the plural with the gerund in the second sentence). 

For sure, Cannaday did not draft this awful document; some bureaucrat in VDOE wrote it in the Mother Tongue of the bureaucracy.  But Cannaday signed the thing and, thus, is stained by it. 

I used to hold VDOE and VBOE in high regard.  Looks like I am a slow learner.

 

PS: I have asked VBOE for the documents that underlie this scandal.  Stay tuned.

 

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Has Roanoke Joined the Cheaters Club?

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.

Now I have a copy of a letter from a former Roanoke Latin teacher to the President of the VBOE, alleging wholesale cheating at one or more Roanoke schools.

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.
President
Virginia Board of Education
P.O. Box 2120
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 225-2924
BOE@doe.virginia.gov

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.

Sincerely,

Robert Maronic

 

Notes

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.

 

Works Cited

“Bill Tracking (Chapter 474 ) – 2008 Session Legislation.” Bill Tracking – 2008 Session of the VA General
Assembly. Web. 17 May 2016.
<http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?081+ful+CHAP0474>.

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.
http://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title22.1/chapter13.2/section22.1-253.13:1/

Code of Virginia.
§ 22.1-253.13:7. Standard 7. School Board Policies. Web. 14 May 2016.
http://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title22.1/chapter13.2/section22.1-253.13:7/

Gregory, Sara. “Roanoke County School Board Approves 2 Percent Raise for Teachers.” Roanoke Times.
24 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.
http://www.roanoke.com/news/education/roanoke_county/roanoke-county-school-board-approves-percent-raise-for-teachers/article_3e91756d-b9f9-5bef-83fd-60ed6e5f5bfd.html

Hidden Valley High School: Student Handbook 2014-2015. Roanoke County Public Schools. Web.
12 May 2016.
http://www.rcps.us/hvhs/documents/student_handbook.pdf

“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.
http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/roecnty/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=9XY22D71C86A

“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).
http://www.doe.virginia.gov/boe/accreditation/regulations_establishing_soa.pdf

Smith, Tanner. “Cheating Continues to Plague Acadmic [sic] Careers.” Titan Times. Hidden Valley High
School [Roanoke], 2 May 2013. Web. 13 May 2016.
<http://www.titantimes.org/news/2013/05/02/cheating-continues-to-plague-acadmic-careers/>

Has Norfolk Joined the Cheaters Club?

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.

Now we heve the Virginian-Pilot seeing what looks like the smoke of cheating fires: In the course of a report of attempts to learn whether failing students are being withdrawn from courses where the SOL is mandatory, the paper obtained enrollment data from all the Hampton Roads divisions except one.  Norfolk said it couldn’t retrieve the data.  In the face of an incoherent push back from the Norfolk Superintendent, the Pilot stood by its story.

The state’s SOL pass rate data may speak to this situation.

As a first look, here are the averages of the pass rates for the five subjects reported, expressed as the differences between the division averages and the state average.

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Norfolk was on a failing path and it stumbled badly on the new (non-VGLA) reading, writing, and science tests in 2013.  Then, mirabile dictu, it recovered dramatically.

Hmmm.  What about the pass rates for the individual subjects? 

The reading data show the hit from new tests and the subsequent recovery.

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The math pass rates show the effect of the new tests in 2012 and an even more dramatic recovery.

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The writing and science pass rates also show big hits from the new tests in 2013 and remarkable recoveries.

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The history and social science data show a dismal pattern broken by a remarkable jump in 2015.

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You get to draw your own conclusion from this.  I have one I’ll share: I’ll bet you a #2 lead pencil that the State Department of Data Suppression will not look beneath all this smoke to see if there is a bonfire of cheating.

The VGLA Cheating Monster Lives!

As we have just seen, VDOE is concealing participation rates for the VAAP in a manner that raises the question whether some divisions are abusing the VAAP process to boost their scores.

We earlier saw that VDOE ignored rampant abuse of the VGLA until the General Assembly waved a red flag.  VDOE’s response to the new law was to eliminate the VGLA, except for the reading tests in grades 3-8 for Limited English Proficient (LEP) students. 

Unfortunately, it appears that even those remaining VGLA tests are being abused.

The 2015 student achievement reports show VGLA pass rates for 23 divisions.  Fifteen of those 23 divisions (65%) show zero participation.  The average VGLA score is fourteen percent higher than the reading SOL score.  More particularly:

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Here we see the reading VGLA pass rates of those 23 divisions plotted vs. the SOL pass rates.  The red line shows the ideal: VGLA pass rate same as the SOL pass rate.  The dotted line is fitted to the actual data and the R2 shows only a modest correlation between the two scores.

There are two interesting features here:

  • The VGLA pass rates are remarkably higher than the SOL rates; and
  • The difference decreases as the division has less need to boost its scores, i.e., with increasing SOL pass rates.

Redrawing the graph we see:

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The gold line shows the difference between the fitted and ideal lines.

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 earlier on the VGLA. 

And here we have VDOE again hiding data, with the remaining data consistent with cheating.  Should we suspect that VDOE is again hiding evidence and overlooking cheating?  In light of VDOE’s track record of hiding and manipulating data and ignoring wholesale cheating (see this and this and this and this and this and this), the answer is obvious.

————————————

Here are the data for the 23 divisions, sorted by VGLA/SOL ratio:

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Requiem for the VGLA

I have written at length about Richmond’s abuse of its students with disabilities in order to improve SOL scores.  The 2015 data help complete a post mortem on that outrage so here is one last set of data.

Starting in 2005, VDOE allowed the divisions to offer a home-brewed (and, most importantly, locally graded) alternative test for students who could perform at grade level but whose disability interfered with taking the written SOL tests, the VGLA

You might reasonably think that only a few kids in any division would need that accommodation.  In fact, the use of the VGLA mushroomed.  One teacher quoted her director for the reason: “My dog could pass VGLA.”

In 2009, the Superintendent in Buchanan County admitted he had “encouraged to use of VGLA as a mechanism to assist schools in obtaining accreditation and in meeting AYP targets.”  Instead of firing that Superintendent for flagrant cheating and child abuse, VDOE merely required him to write a “Corrective Action Plan.”

Indeed, despite having a computer full of data showing abuse of the VGLA in Richmond and elsewhere, VDOE remained deliberately ignorant of the problem until the introduction of HB304 in the 2010 General Assembly, requiring a specific justification for every child taking the VGLA.  At that point, the State Superintendent became “concerned” and VDOE promulgated new math tests (2012) and reading tests (2013) that eliminated the VGLA except for some ESL students.

The new tests were tough; they reduced pass rates in most divisions. 

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The disappearance of the VGLA also had a dramatic effect on the pass rates for students with disabilities.  The effect in Richmond was even more dramatic.  Data here are pass rates.  The red curve is Richmond students with disabilities divided by the state average of students with disabilities; the blue is the same ratio for students without disabilities.

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Here we see Richmond’s students with disabilities outperforming their peers statewide(!), while Richmond’s students without disabilities underperformed.  Then came the new reading tests in 2013 and Richmond’s students with disabilities had the locally-graded VGLA snatched away and replaced by the same test everybody else was taking.  The Richmond students with disabilities suddenly underperformed their peers statewide by even more than Richmond’s students without disabilities were underperforming.

The math scores show the same effect.

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The important, and shameful, outcome here is that no division Superintendent and nobody at VDOE went to jail or even was fired.  After the General Assembly put up a big Stop sign, VDOE merely changed the system.  And the bureaucrats in Buchanan and Richmond and, doubtless, elsewhere who were violating the public trust were left to think up new ways to abuse the children in their care.

And the kids who were harmed by this cynical and disgraceful episode were left to fend for themselves.

Your tax dollars at work.

“Educator” = “Criminal”??

The Wall Street Journal this morning headlined “Eleven Atlanta Educators Convicted in Cheating Scandal.”

The story reported that eleven of twelve former administrators, principals, and teachers were convicted of racketeering for their participation in a conspiracy to cheat on their students’ standardized tests.

Looks like the WSJ couldn’t think of a better word than “educator.”  They might have said “former public school personnel.”  “Criminal” would have been even more compact.

For sure, calling those people “educators” was a slam to all the decent folks who work in the public schools.