More “Potential Irregularities” for SOL Testing

George W. Carver Elementary

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.

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9 responses to “More “Potential Irregularities” for SOL Testing

  1. This, once again, is a vindication of the need for SOL testing, which has been much maligned lately. How else would systemic problems in a school come to light except through such external testing? How else would manipulation of the external testing scores come to light except through the statistical aberrations identified here? Sometimes results which look too good to be true, are.

    I’m completely in agreement about the need for full transparency, here. Why go to the trouble of SOL testing and then not reveal it fully? Spotting and questioning aberrant results is one thing the public can bring to bear.

  2. Yet another example why we need to free up education in this country. Vouchers, vouchers, vouchers.

  3. Vouchers, Vouchers, Vouchers.
    Complete transparency in testing and learning performance.
    Enforced discipline that assure classroom’s teaching and learning.
    Three tier curriculum classrooms. All teach and enforce social, living, comportment, health, physical and manual skills. Plus all assure after school homework classes. Plus all tiers are also designed to qualify all kids for military service, save disabled. The result should be zero tolerance for learning drop outs in schools.

    In addition:

    Permanent removal of chronic disruptive kids from classroom.

    Independent fully transparent public evaluation is each and every public school. And independent fully transparent non public evaluation of every public school system.

    Plus a new paradigm for revolutionary programs designed to build a healthy and productive culture that supports these kids instead of destroying them. This includes kids unsuitable for normal school attendance, and parents.

    • As I stated above “Plus (we need) a new paradigm for revolutionary programs designed to build a healthy and productive culture that supports these kids instead of destroying them. This includes kids unsuitable for normal school attendance, and parents.”

      Well, well, well, it looks like our formerly corrupt Federal government has finally come up with a new idea (the first since FDR) to really solve problems. For the details see that new program announced this morning by Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of HUD, found at:

      https://www.hud.gov/envisioncenters

  4. I’m completely in agreement with transparency AND accountability for ALL schools – public or voucher.

    Critics make it almost impossible for the public schools to take on all demographic kids to teach then assail them for “failing” or for “possible SOL irregularities”.

    Bottom Line – there is tremendous pressure for the low-income schools to “perform” and the humans in that administrative and instruction chain – usually have folks that when pushed – might try to find ways around the issue.

    But I think the very same thing would happen to a voucher school – required to serve low income kids – and meet SOL standards also.

    I’m not advocating taking away the standards. We must have them. Every other industrialized country on earth has them and almost all of them – routinely clean our clocks on academics.

    So – yes.. I’m totally in favor of “choice” and all “choices” have to be held to the same academic standards.

  5. http://www.richmond.com/news/plus/williams-high-stakes-standardized-testing-is-cheating-the-students/article_16354531-35c6-52ce-a1c4-6aa4e292a7cc.html

    I don’t agree with his ultimate conclusion but Williams’ column includes some additional information from school officials and it sounds like this could turn out to be very bad. If the SOL’s were as difficult as the SAT’s, it might be unfair to put so much weight on them, but the SOL’s are designed to be easy for students who have been diligent up to that point (and for students who have not been advanced without actual success, still all too common). A perfect result won’t be easy but a passing result should be. And eventually in this life you need to be able to pass a few written tests.

    What I am open to changing is the blame placed on the individual teachers for poor results, which might be motivating the cheating (if that is what happened here – it has happened elsewhere.) Evaluating teachers should be based on classroom observation and an element of peer review (unpopular). Teachers know each other very well, and know who is sending up kids not really ready.

    Schools that do not have high expectations for their students and do not hold them to standards are failing first and foremost the students themselves.

  6. I really enjoy the fact that a family’s apparent economic status is an excuse to not teach your children the basics at home. My father was frequently laid off when I was a kid and we ate the actual government cheese and drank powered milk. But my mother would sit with me in bed each night and she taught me to read by the time I was 4. Granted, I happen to have well above average intelligence, but the fact is she took the time because it was important to my family that children would be raised to achieve more than their parents. I can’t imagine being an elementary school teacher who is tasked with teaching children with parents that apparently do not invest time in their children’s future. But no worries: lowering the bar, restorative justice, penalty free truancy, and spending more $$$ will fix the problem.
    Ever wonder why top tier schools have their demographics? Two words… Tiger Moms.

  7. How right you are, hitting the nail on the head. The biggest problem is lack of parents, particularly two parents, particularly a mother and a father, to teach and discipline and inspire and be a good roll model for kids.

    So, absent a mother and father, we are forced to separate out kids who are not learning at school, including not least kids to disrupt classroom or set bad example for other kids simply because they can get away without learning. Hence the whole corrupt system from top to bottom destroys the future of the great majority of the kids, innocents caught in a bad system.

    Hence, we are left with problems like this:

    Please, to understand the suffering and the abuse that our schools today impose on our children, Please see this video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZIfse_bhAY

    How can Governor Ralph Northham sign such a bill?

    Beyond that abuse that these sorts of laws heap on our children, this video also exposes our current society’s refusal to face its social and cultural problems. How instead we desperately seeks scapegoats. And in so doing we allow the rotten system to continue, punishing all its children by its process.

  8. Pingback: Carver By the Numbers – CrankysBlog

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