Students at Richmond’s George W. Carver Elementary School will have to take the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests this year after the discovery of “potential irregularities” with testing procedures, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.
Carver, which has the third highest SOL scores in the Richmond school district (and the highest for any school dominated by students from poor households), had been touted as a success story. However, writes the T-D:
In an email to the Richmond Public Schools community, Superintendent Jason Kamras said Tuesday afternoon that division officials consulted with the state Department of Education after learning of possible problems at the Leigh Street school, which earned National Blue Ribbon Award honors in each of the past two years from the U.S. Department of Education.
“Based on their initial exploration, it is clear that, in some instances, standardized procedures for testing were not followed,” Kamras stated. …
School system spokeswoman Kenita Bowers said “this matter is still being investigated” and declined further comment. Bowers did not say how far back the irregularities go, but did say that the issue impacts all SOL tests taken at Carver this school year rather than just some.
Bacon’s bottom line: This news is sad, sad, sad, and profoundly dispiriting. Carver Elementary offered a glimmer of hope for a school district that otherwise has performed dismally. The school seemingly proved that a dedicated administration and teaching staff could achieve success despite the overwhelming challenges of teaching kids from the poorest neighborhoods. In the 2015-16 school year, 98% of Carver students achieved advanced or proficient in their English SOLs. That compared to 59% for Richmond students as a whole and 79% for the state, according to the Virginia Department of Education school quality profile.
The stellar SOL scores tumbled back to earth in the 2016-17 school year, matching statewide averages, but still outperformed other Richmond schools by a wide margin.
Hopefully, we’ll find that our high estimation of the school does not change. Hopefully, students will re-take their SOLs — without “irregularities” — and perform as admirably as they did last year. But given the reputational blow-ups of inner-city school success stories in Petersburg and Alexandria, one is justifying in fearing that the high test scores were the result of cheating and/or manipulation.
Data made available through the Virginia Department of Education school quality profile for Carver does not inspire confidence. First, as alluded to above, test scores fell significantly between the 2015-16 school year and the 2016-17 school year — far too much to be attributable to a sudden decline in teaching quality. One can conjecture that something changed in the way the SOL tests were administered to make manipulation more difficult.
Another reason to question the results is the extraordinary performance of Carver Elementary students with disabilities.
While Carver students as a whole out-performed their peers in Richmond schools and state schools, those classified as disabled out-performed their peers by mind-blowing margins. Either Carver has cracked the code on teaching disabled students or… it has been aggressively manipulating test results.
If irregularity-free SOL tests result in a second round of plummeting student scores, we will have an undeniable scandal on our hands. Someone will have to be held accountable. This will prove to be an acid test for the new school superintendent, Jason Kamras. The new test scores will be public, and we should find out soon enough.