$500,000: Price of VAAP Cheating?

A Patrick County jury this week awarded $500K to former Stuart Elementary principal Muriel Waldron. 

As the newspaper reports, the case involves alleged false statements in Waldron’s performance evaluation.  The meat of the case, however, was Waldron’s claim that she was removed as principal because she refused to cram kids into the VAAP (a SOL alternative for students with “significant cognitive disabilities”) to boost the school’s SOL scores.

The good taxpayers of Patrick County now can look forward to the possibility of (federal?) lawsuits by the parents of the kids who might claim their children were misclassified in order to cheat on the SOLs.

We have some data that may speak to the situation.  Here are the reading and math pass rates for the Patrick County elementary schools and the state by year.  According to the paper, Ms. Waldron was removed in 2015.  Note the remarkable improvements at Stuart in 2016 and at some other schools a year earlier.



Note: The school rates are for all grades; the state rates are averages by grade, which should be quite close to the average by students for the three grades.

Unfortunately, there is no indication that the State Department of Education Superintendent Protection has done or will do anything to prevent this kind of abuse.  For example, we know that a Superintendent who admitted to packing a different test for handicapped students in order “to assist schools in obtaining accreditation” was merely required to write a “corrective action plan.”

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Carver But Not Walker

The Feds have just named seven Virginia schools as National Blue Ribbon Schools.  They choose the schools based on performance on standardized tests or for “closing achievement gaps.”

This year’s list included Carver, selected as [search for Carver] an Exemplary High Performing School.  Indeed, Carver was the best performing elementary school in Richmond this year and the sixteenth best school in the state.

The list did not include Maggie Walker.  Indeed, the list never [search for Walker in all years] has included Maggie Walker.  Yet Walker was rated tenth best public high school in the nation in 2014 by the Daily Beast.

But, you see, Maggie Walker is a “program,” not a “school.”  So the scores go to high schools in the students’ home districts, albeit those students do not attend those high schools.

Never mind that it has a school board and is accredited as a “school” and has a four-year program and grants diplomas to the 100% of its students who graduate.

Do you suppose the feds know that VDOE is lying to them about the SOL scores of our local high schools?  Do you care that VDOE brokered this corrupt deal so the local Superintendents would let their bright kids go to MLW without lowering the SOLs of the local high schools?  Do you wonder that VDOE manipulates other data (see this and this for some introductory examples; as soon as Bacon’s Rebellion gets its server back up, I’ll add some other links here)?

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Maggie What?

The Times-Dispatch reports this morning that US News & World Report ranks Community and Open 9th and 10th in Virginia based on college readiness.

First place in the state is Fairfax County’s TJ (actually located in Alexandria!), a Governor’s School

Absent from the list is Maggie Walker, also a Governor’s School.

“What?” you say!  Maggie Walker is a public high school for high-ability students, issues diplomas to its graduates, is governed by a school board comprised of representatives from twelve local school systems, and is accredited as a “school.” 

But VDOE says it’s a “program,” not a “school.”  (While Governor’s School TJ in Alexandria is a “school.”)

AND, since MLW is not a school, the SOL scores of its students are reported to the high schools in their home districts [note: old document; today Pearson surely reports the scores directly], albeit they do not attend those schools.

Do you suppose the feds know that VDOE is lying to them about the SOL scores of our local high schools?  Do you care that VDOE brokered this corrupt deal so the local Superintendents would let their bright kids go to MLW without lowering the SOLs of the local high schools?

BTW: The Daily Beast has better information: In ‘14 they ranked MLW #12 public school in the nation.

State Department of Cheating Protection

We have seen that a former Latin teacher in the Roanoke County school system alleged wholesale cheating on non-SOL high school tests in the system.  And we have seen that the President of the Board of Education responded, in essence, that RCPS is doing something about the cheating and, besides, the State can’t do anything.

So, of course, I filed a Freedom of information Act request with VDOE for the underlying public records.  The response: A collection of emails and drafts of the Cannaday letter but no report of an investigation.

If you’ve ever dealt with the bureaucracy you know that they don’t make a trip to the water cooler without writing a memo to file.  So this means that they intentionally did everything by word of mouth.  Even so, they created a paper trail.

Elizabeth – I am going to review the draft letter with Dr. Cannaday over the next two days while he is here for the Board meetings. Can you give me some notes (either written or verbal) that provide more specifics about who you talked with, what they are doing about the concerns, etc. so that I can share those informally with Dr. Cannaday?

  • Morris replied the same day:

Just in case you need it, here is the contact info for the person I spoke with from Roanoke County Public Schools:

Ben Williams
Associate Director of Testing & Remediation

  • The June 22 Luchau email chain includes a June 20 from Eric Von Steigleder, the Special Assistant for Communications in the office of our Secretary of Education.  He wrote:

    FYI ‐ Mr. Maronic wrote a similar letter to our office as well. With input from DOE and our office, I mailed the attached letter to the constituent encouraging him to work with his local Superintendent as well as his school board to address his concerns.

They didn’t produce the “attached letter” but another email tells us what it said: “I encourage you to share your concerns with your local superintendent’s office as well as your local school board.”

Note: After I posted this, Bob Maronic sent along a copy of the Secretary’s letter.  As the emails predicted:


So there you have it: A concerted effort to NOT create any records, but the records they nonetheless created show that their information base – none dares call it an “investigation” — amounted to a phone call.  Or maybe several phone calls.  And the Party Line, running up to the Secretary: “Nothing we can do about it.”

Well,  let’s look more carefully at their authority.

  • Va. Const. art. VIII, § 4:  “The general supervision of the public school system shall be vested in a Board of Education . . . “
  • 8VAC20-131-50: Graduation requirements for a standard diploma include twenty-two “Standard Units of Credit.”
  • 8VAC20-131-110.A: “The standard unit of credit for graduation shall be based on a minimum of 140 clock hours of instruction and successful completion of the requirements of the course” (emphasis supplied).
  • 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.”

In short, the Board has “general supervision” of the public school system.  In the exercise of that authority, it has specified graduation requirements that include “successful completion” of course requirements.  They can fire the local Superintendent.

Never mind the natural supposition that cheating undercuts the system and should be anathema at every level.  The Board’s regulation says, with the force of law, that “successful completion” of the coursework is prerequisite to graduation.  And, by the President’s own letter, we know that some students in Roanoke County have cheated to complete their coursework.  Even in Richmond, cheating to pass a course cannot lead to “successful completion.”

So we have the Secretary of “Education,” the President of the Board of “Education,” and the Department of “Education” resolutely refusing to deal with cheating and lying about their ability to do so.

Unfortunately, this nonfeasance is part of a pattern:  In 2009 VDOE conducted an investigation of misuse of the VGLA to boost pass rates in Buchanan County.  The County that year had the largest VGLA participation rate in the state, ahead only of Richmond.  The VDOE report said: “The Superintendent stated the he had encouraged the use of VGLA as a mechanism to assist schools in obtaining accreditation and in meeting AYP targets.”  Instead of firing the Superintendent for deliberately cheating (on SOL-equivalent testing!), VDOE required that he prepare a corrective action plan.

The folks in Roanoke County can vote out their School Board for allowing (and, probably, covering up) this cheating.   We cannot vote out our mendacious bureaucrats or our term-limited Governor; at most we can hope the Governor will do his job to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”  For sure, there is lots of room for him to do that in our “education” establishment.

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.

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.



Your Tax Dollars at “Work”

The June, 2016 Post from our Superintendent discusses at some length the results of the current (2017, based on 2016 data) accreditation results.  The VDOE Accreditation page, last updated on Feb. 29, 2016, shows the data from last year but not the current numbers.

Why do you suppose that the Richmond Superintendent had those numbers some time last month but you and I still cannot get them?

Indeed, why do you suppose VDOE could use the SOL data to assess accreditation in June (or before) but cannot use the same data to calculate SGP until Fall [pdf at slide 2]?

Stay tuned while I try to find out. 

In the meantime, consider the possibility that VDOE is, among other things, the State Department of Superintendent Protection far more than the Department of “Education.”