by James A. Bacon
As Virginia schools were gearing up for the Standards of Learning (SOL) exams, teachers at the Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology, a high-poverty school in Alexandria, pored over data to determine which students probably would not do well in the high-stakes standardized test. But the effort wasn’t directed at giving those students extra help. Instead, reports the Washington Post:
Principal Brandon Davis allegedly told teachers this spring to call the parents of students who appeared on the brink of failing the exams to inform them of their right to opt out of the tests, according to the investigation. Three dozen parents decided to pull their children from the state Standards of Learning exams; no parents at the school had done so the previous year. …
Davis told teachers “to identify students who may not do well on the SOL test, and contact parents of these students regarding their right to refuse SOL testing.” The students whose parents were contacted had scored 425 or below on exams; a 400 is the passing rate.
The gaming of the system came to public light in a report by the Virginia Department of Education. The VDOE noted that there has been an increase in the number of opt-outs as a result of a new Virginia law.
Arlington County Public Schools Superintendent Alvin L. Crawley expressed his “regrets” for the incident and said that Davis had been disciplined. However, Davis remains principal of the school.
Davis had come under investigation just months after he was named Distinguished Principal of the Year by the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principles after overseeing massive gains in test scores at Cora Kelly, where 87% of the students qualified for free and reduced-price lunches last year. The Alexandria school system posted an article on its website describing how Alexandria principals, staff and school board members feted Davis in a surprise ceremony in March. Stated that article:
Cora Kelly made huge gains across the board in all four subjects in the 2014-15 school year in its Standards of Learning (SOL) results in August. The final accreditation results for Cora Kelly were an 85 percent pass rate in English (11 point increase), 91 percent pass rate in Math (8 point increase), 91 percent pass rate in History (12 point increase) and 73 percent pass rate in Science (9 point increase). This is an average 10 percent increase over adjusted SOL passes from 2013-14.
Bacon’s bottom line: This scandal should generate outrage across the ideological spectrum. By gaming the system, Davis earned accolades he did not deserve while the educational deficiencies of poor children were swept under the rug. Kudos to the Virginia Department of Education for pursuing the investigation.
Now the question is, was Cora Kelly an outlier, or did other Virginia educators game the system as well? VDOE suggests that the number of opt-outs has increased. Well, what are the numbers? Has the number risen to a level where it could skew the results in individual schools, school districts or even statewide?
Let me remind readers what I wrote in reaction to the higher SOL scores reported in 2015: “Higher SOL Scores: Improved Student Achievement… Or Bureaucratic Blarney?” In that post, I highlighted the fact that 2014-2015 results might have run higher because it was the first year in which failing students were allowed to retake the test. I knew nothing about the opt-out law. Under closer scrutiny, the impressive gains in student achievement may be totally illusory.There are currently no comments highlighted.