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OPINION: Testing data shows that Carver Elementary is not alone with score irregularities

Carol A.O. Wolf Aug 28, 2018 1:00 AM

If you think the shameful story of fraud and widespread cheating on the Standards of Learning tests at Carver Elementary School couldn't get any worse, you may need to think again.

Testing data released by the Virginia Department of Education concerning the pass rates of Richmond Public Schools show that irregularities are not isolated to Carver. For example, a comparison of the 2017 and 2018 test results at Fairfield Elementary show that scores went from a 2017 pass rate of 76 percent for reading to 38 percent in 2018. The mathematics pass rate at Fairfield went from 77 percent in 2017 to 30 percent in 2018.

Other elementary schools showed declines in their passing scores from 2017 to 2018, but none as dramatic as Fairfield's. The variations in these scores are not proof of cheating by any means, but they are cause for concern.

Since the news of Carver's cheating scandal broke, readers familiar with the investigation and analysis that John Butcher and I have done on our respective blogs have thanked us for being relentless and suggested that we deserve a victory lap for finally exposing the cheating. To those requests, we must politely demur.

We did not devote ourselves to holding officials accountable for praise. Only when the school district steps up and helps the children who suffered harm and humiliation at the hands of these educators, will there be any cause for a victory lap. Once the administrators, principals and teachers who valued glory and personal aggrandizement more than the gratitude and success of their students suffer the consequences of their actions, there will be cause for jubilation and, yes, a victory lap.

It is true that we repeatedly asked questions not only about Carver's performance but about other schools as well. We posted our findings on our respective blogs, gave our data and analysis to past superintendents, current and past members of the Richmond School Board, members of City Council and to various members of the media. 

We weren't the only ones asking questions. The current 2nd District City Council member and former School Board member, Kimberly Gray, asked questions. As did current School Board member Scott Barlow. School Board member Liz Doerr asked, too. But we were the only ones with the data.

To be sure, we might have given up trying to bring daylight to the unconscionable and brazen test scores had we not heard from so many excellent teachers, teachers who make differences in their students' lives on a daily basis, encouraged us to keep digging.

In terms of the 2017 average pass rates, Richmond had the second worst schools in Virginia. In that morass of awfulness, the middle schools stood out: Their performance was even worse than awful. Every middle school teacher I spoke with said the same thing: Some, not all, of the elementary schools are cheating.

Indeed, in 2017, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School had the worst test performance in the state. Both King and Henderson middle school students had single-digit pass rates for seventh-grade math tests for two years in a row. Single. Digit. Pass. Rates. 

To be totally fair, we gave former superintendents Yvonne Brandon and Dana Bedden, and acting superintendent Tommy Kranz, the opportunity to examine our research and reporting. We shared our concerns with them about overidentifying children with disabilities and that it appeared the schools were abusing their scores on the Virginia Grade Level Assessments, another test, to boost their pass rates.

Consequently, when Butcher and I asked questions, Brandon, Bedden and Kranz each smiled politely, thanked us and did nothing.

More's the pity here that had they listened to us or to the elected representatives from the 2nd District, they could have spared the children the pain and humiliation of not passing their Standards of Learning when they transferred to another school or matriculated to middle school. 

To his credit, Superintendent Jason Kamras not only listened to our concerns, he examined our research. But unlike his predecessors, Kamras stepped up and did something about it. He asked the Virginia Department of Education to investigate. A father, a former teacher and veteran of the District of Columbia Public Schools, Kamras has taken a hard stand on this and any other cheating that may come to light:  "zero-tolerance for cheaters."

As former President Abraham Lincoln once said:  "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray." S

Carol A.O. Wolf is a former former associate editor at Style Weekly who served on the Richmond School Board from 2002 to 2008. She writes regularly about the Richmond Public Schools at saveourschools-getrealrichmond.blogspot.com.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.