Cheating: Ignoring the Obvious

In the summer of 2017, VDOE investigated an allegation of cheating at A.P. Hill Elementary School in Petersburg.  As a result, Petersburg fired “several” school employees and the Board of Education withheld accreditation of the school “due to testing irregularities.” (pdf at 137)

A cursory look at the SOL pass rates for A.P. Hill raises the question why it took a “tip” to cause VDOE to investigate.

Let’s start with the 3d grade reading pass rates for Hill and the state for both the disabled and non-disabled populations:

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VDOE’s suppression rules hide all of Hill’s disabled pass rates but the one for 2015; that datum is well above the state average.  The non-disabled data tell the tale, however: Between 2013 and 2016, Hill went from a failing pass rate (the accreditation level for reading is 75) to matching the state average for two consecutive years.

The fourth grade data are even more remarkable.

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The fifth grade numbers show both another tremendous increase in the non-disabled rate and one extraordinary datum for the disabled students.

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The math data tell much the same story:

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An alert Superintendent in Petersburg or a competent VDOE would have taken a hard look at that school in 2015. 

There are at least two explanations for what actually happened:

  • “Alert Superintendent in Petersburg” and “competent VDOE” are oxymoronic (we know that is the case for VDOE); or
  • The Superintendent and/or VDOE were/was too happy with those unbelievable numbers to contemplate the obvious explanation.

Closer to home, we’ve seen the same behavior by both our (former) Superintendent and VDOE as to Carver Elementary.  Neither bothered to look behind the phenomenal increases in test scores there, e.g.,

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Unfortunately, Carver is just the tip of an iceberg of uninvestigated, unbelievable pass rate increases in Richmond.  For example:

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Or see Ginter Park, where, as with Fairfield, the obvious VGLA abuse prior to the new tests in 2012 (math) and 2013 (reading) serves as a preview of what has happened more recently:

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That off-scale 2012 disabled datum is a 19% pass rate.  The plummet from the 100% pass rates reported in the previous two years is an example of what can happen when VDOE eliminates the test a school was using to cheat.  But, as you can see, the school found another way to improve the scores.

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We’ll see whether our new Superintendent looks into the remarkable score increases at these and other schools.

ASIDE: We learn from the RT-D that our Superintendent is concerned about the colors of graduation robes and hats.  We can hope most fervently that the colors are a smokescreen to keep the press busy while he looks at the real, massive problems in Richmond’s public schools.

For sure, we’ll all attend our own funerals before VDOE undertakes a systematic look at this issue.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Carver Shines; Superintendent Does Not

Carver Shines

Delving further into the SOL database, I have created a spreadsheet to show the pass rate by year of any of Richmond’s elementary schools and compare it to the division pass rate. 

For example, here are the graphs it produced for Carver

(Recall that the nominal cutoff for accreditation is 75% for English, 70% for the other subject areas.)

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What About Other Schools?

The spreadsheet is posted on OneDrive

To look at a school that interests you, select the subject area, subject, and test level on the Division pivot table and select the school and its subject area, subject, and test level on the school pivot table.  The results will appear in the table below the pivot tables and in the graph to the right.

The graph output will tell you if you’ve selected something, e.g., fourth grade math, for which there are no or incomplete data.  The pivot table selection box will tell you if you’ve selected two or more subjects or tests or schools by saying “(Multiple Items).”  And, of course, both the pivot tables and the graph will tell you if you select different subject areas, tests, or test levels for the division and school.

Are Those Carver Numbers Real?

Those splendid numbers at Carver raise a troublesome question: Is that a terrific principal (she has been there since 2012) or is she running a massive cheating program?

We can get an inference from these data: Notice how the 3d Grade Reading and 5th Grade Science weathered the new tests in 2013 while the other data show hits from the new tests and recoveries later.  Fifth Grade Reading dropped with the new tests in ‘13 and started to recover the next year; 3d Grade Math dropped in ‘12 and took three years to bounce up; 5th grade math dropped in 12 and took 2 years to recover.

This suggests outstanding leadership.  A massive cheating program should have prevented all three drops or, at least, should have produced immediate recoveries.  Leadership is less likely to show immediate, across the board results.

Notwithstanding that happy implication of these data, the question deserves a definitive answer.

Does Our Superintendent Know?

Our new Superintendent has been in the saddle since January, 2014, so he is responsible for the awful division performances in 2015 and 2016.  In light of that, and the remarkable numbers at Carver, I pose the question to him: 

Are they cheating at Carver? 

The matrix below shows the possible answers and, given that the Carver principal still has her job, my suggested responses for each.

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BTW: The answer is available from the Superintendent’s computer.  All he needs to do is compare the middle school performance in the last two years of Carver graduates with students from other elementary schools.  (Hat Tip: The estimable Carol Wolf.)  If those Carver students have been taught well, they should outperform their peers; if Carver has been a cheating factory, its graduates will underperform.

Of course, VDOE could run those data, too.  But we won’t be holding our breaths: VDOE has demonstrated (several times [scroll down 2 paras. to Buchanan Co.]) that it doesn’t care about cheating so long as the numbers look good. 

Your tax dollars at “work.”