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Corruption


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In 2005, the State will withhold accreditation for Oak Grove Elementary School and will list that school as "did not make AYP" under the No Child Left Behind Act.  We can't know whether there is a problem with student performance because we don't have any SOL scores for '05.  We don't have the scores because of massive cheating by the school staff.

This is a sordid story, summarized below and set out in full (albeit in sterile, bureaucratic prose) in the State report.

As the State tells it, the Oak Grove principal decreed that the kids were to mark the 3d and 5th grade SOL answers in the test booklets, not on the answer sheets.  Then school staff then would to transcribe the answers to the answer sheets.

The SOL testing procedures allow this practice only in special cases such as special education students whose study plan ("IEP") calls for the measure. 

For instance, the test examiner for the Third Grade English test (Caution! 5+ MB download.  Note: Link is to the current Manual; the '04 Manual no longer is on the Web.) must read the following instruction to the students:

Remember to mark your answers in the English: Reading section of the answer booklet only.

In contrast, the transcription procedure for disabled students is set out in Appendix C, (Caution! 5+ MB download.  Note: Link is to the current Manual; the '04 Manual no longer is on the Web.) Guidelines for the Participation of Students with Disabilities in the Assessment Component of Virginia's Accountability System: In a two page list of example accommodations available for disabled students, p. 76 of the 3d Grade Manual includes, "student marks booklet and teacher/proctor transfer answers to answer sheet."

Despite the bureaucratese of the Manual, the instructions are perfectly clear: Students mark their own answer sheets unless a disability (or other specific condition, such as limited English proficiency) justifies allowing the kid to mark the answers in the test booklet.  Even then, p. 20 of the Manual (Caution! 5+ MB download.  Note: Link is to the current Manual; the '04 Manual no longer is on the Web.) requires that a second school official verify the transcription and that the school retain the test booklets until the scores have been returned from the State and verified.

To the State Education Department's credit, they revised the Examiner's Manual for '06 to remove any chance of ambiguity.  For example, the 3d grade English manual says at page 24:

5.2.3 Test booklets and answer documents
Each student must read the questions from the test booklet and enter her/his answers in the separate answer document in the appropriate sections. Students may write in the SOL test booklet, but only responses marked on the answer document will be scored.

The wholesale use of the special transcription accommodation at Oak Grove produced some curious results:

  • In sixteen cases, students had blank answers in the test booklets but correct answers in the (supposedly transcribed) answer sheets.

  • In sixty instances, two or more answers were marked in the test booklet but only one was marked in the answer sheet.

  • One teacher's class accounted for 26% of the transcription anomalies.  In that class, 106 of the "errors" transmuted an incorrect answer on the test booklet into a correct answer on the answer sheet, while twenty-two answers went from correct to incorrect and ten from incorrect to incorrect. (Am I a cynic to wonder whether the teacher was too stupid to know the right answers for the twenty-two and ten?).

  • Another teacher's class accounted for 22% of the transcription anomalies.  In that class 98 transcription "errors" turned an incorrect into a correct answer, ten answers went from correct to incorrect, and six went from incorrect to incorrect. (Same question as with the previous teacher, eh?).

  • A number of test booklets showed erasures and other changes of the students' answers.  Indeed, one test booklet showed seventy-six instances where an answer had been erased and the correct answer had been circled.

This is not the end of the story.  The State's interviews of teachers and proctors at Oak Grove produced reports that:

  • The assistant principal instructed teachers to examine the students' responses and, where they found incorrect responses, direct the students to reread the test items.

  • Staff members were encouraged to point out unanswered questions to the students.

  • A staff member, encouraged by other faculty to do so, pointed to students' incorrect answers and then pointed out the correct answers.

  • The school did not train the staff who transcribed the test answers.

  • The school did not seriously attempt to verify the transcribed answers.

  • The school did not provide the "in depth" training that is required by the State for staff who administer the SOL tests.

The State concluded that the testing at Oak Grove was subject to multiple irregularities and violations of State testing procedures.  As a result, the State decreed that the tested grades at Oak Grove will not receive an SOL score for the spring 2005 test administration "because the [State] could not determine the students' actual responses to the SOL test questions."

The State further demanded that Richmond take steps to "ensure" that the irregularities and violations reported at Oak Grove not be repeated.  The State also announced that it will select schools for audits and monitoring of the 2005-06 SOL testing.

Is This a Cover-Up?

Interestingly, the State did NOT announce any further auditing or investigation of the 2005 SOL testing in Richmond.  The State took this "don't ask, don't tell" approach despite the earlier evidence of corruption in the Richmond system.  From this we can infer that either

  • The recordkeeping requirements are so lax that the State is unable to audit the 2005 testing at the other Richmond schools; or
  • The State thinks that past cheating by staff is all right, so long as nobody reported it; or
  • There is no reason to think any other Richmond school fell prey this year to the same temptations that led to the rampant corruption at Oak Grove.  But they just might next year, now that they know how to do it.

In any case, we also can infer that the State is avoiding its duty and authority to provide "general supervision" of the Richmond schools and to seek "all available civil remedies for breaches in test security and unauthorized alteration of test materials or test results."

Governor: Are you going to stand around and dance the funky chicken or are you going to tell your people to do their jobs?

In the meantime: The Richmond school administration only discovered that the scores had been transcribed; their investigation did not reveal the wholesale cheating the State discovered.  They did not report the transcriptions to the State until the press started calling.  Then Richmond started with a cover-up

To their credit, on Oct. 7 the School Board fired the Principal; from the news report it appears that the Ass't. Principal and the two teachers most egregiously involved have resigned.

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Last updated 04/01/12
Please send questions or comments to John Butcher