Manipulating SOL Scores in Norfolk

If you ever entertained suspicions that statewide gains in Standards of Learning test scores were illusory, news from Norfolk provides more confirmation of your cynicism: In the first year since the district said it stopped pulling struggling students out of classes, reports the Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk has seen a drop in math test scores.

Norfolk administrators told the School Board last week that preliminary results indicate the district’s overall passing rates in high school math fell between 3 and 12 points. In two courses, the passing rates fell below the state’s minimum standards. …

Two years ago, The Pilot’s investigation found staff at all five of the city’s high schools were removing students from courses mid-year if it looked like they would perform poorly on the state tests required for those classes – a practice commonly known as “recycling.” In other cases, students with failing grades were incorrectly marked absent to excuse them from testing.

The practice was common during the 2014-15 school year and continued to a lesser extent into the 2015-16 school year, a state Department of Education investigation found.

This development follows news that the remarkably high pass rates of Richmond’s star elementary school, George W. Carver Elementary, was the result of systematic cheating by teachers administering the tests. Last year, the Virginia Department of Education discovered cheating scandals in Petersburg and Alexandria.

VDOE deserves credit for compelling Norfolk schools to enforce the integrity of the SOL testing regime. But it needs to re-examine previous assertions, based upon statewide aggregation of test scores, that show incremental-but-steady improvement in SOL performance. A  slew of scandals in inner-city school systems calls into question claims that African-American students are making small but consistent gains compared to other racial/ethnic groups.

While the system of public education appears to work reasonably well for whites and Asians, it has failed spectacularly for inner-city African-Americans. Admittedly, educating students drawn disproportionately from low-income families afflicted by absent fathers, chronic financial instability, and child abuse and neglect is a special challenge. The question is: Are these school systems reformable? Or should Virginia be more proactive about  providing alternatives — charter schools and vouchers — that allow African-Americans an escape hatch?

If you’re looking for real institutional racism (as opposed to fabricated racism), it’s staring you in the face.

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15 responses to “Manipulating SOL Scores in Norfolk”

  1. I’m missing it. “absent fathers, chronic financial instability, and child abuse and neglect”, how is that racism by the schools?
    I think the question remains is how can the state be expected to control the home life of kids and parents (who are supposedly responsible adults)?

    1. I would call it a form of racism when schools are run to advance the interests of teachers and administrators at the expensive of African-American students. The Virginia educational system is one of the most restrictive in the country when it comes to providing charter schools, voucher schools and other escape hatches for African-Americans who can’t afford to pay for private education.

  2. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    The blanket statement that public education is failing all students in certain localities, or all students in certain social categories, is just rhetoric with no evidence. What we have here are two instances where the high priority placed on these tests has led people to yield to temptation and either game the system by not testing low performers or outright cheat by directing kids to the right answers. Some people at Wells Fargo were cheating us, too, but the bank is still in business. Shall we condemn the banking system, Jim? Your argument is fallacious on its face.

    Education is hard work, a life-long process. It doesn’t start at Kindergarten, it doesn’t start with pre-K, it starts immediately post natal. By age 3 many things are getting set in stone. Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher, but other adults can serve the same role. I’m very familiar with a group of people who are in these homes every day, working with parents who are highly motivated to see their children ready for school both academically and physically. I don’t buy the white privilege B.S. but I very much see the wealth privilege effect, in my own children.

    Both Richmond and Norfolk have thousands of graduates in recent years going on to college or careers or the military. They should spend more time celebrating those successes, probably. For anybody – white or black – to assume that a child in a low-income, single parent household is ineducable is a tragic mistake. It is a form of waste. But it can be a self-fulfilling prejudice once the children themselves accept it.

  3. “The blanket statement that public education is failing all students in certain localities, or all students in certain social categories, is just rhetoric with no evidence.”

    You’re right, there is no evidence that inner-city schools are failing “all” students. They’re just failing most students. Do I really have to recite the average SOL scores for inner-city school systems?

  4. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I certainly will accept “too many” or “a significant percentage”, but won’t agree that most are failing, and those who are it is not always the fault of the school system. Take it from this husband of a great teacher, with 40 years of observation – some families or kids are just screwed up beyond help, even in great economic circumstances. I’ve been pretty upset with the RPS for fudging on attendance requirements, for example, but my starting premise is with the right expectations these children can succeed. I fear you start with a different premise.

    1. My premise also is that with the right expectations, even children from the poorest, most dysfunctional families can succeed. It’s been proven over and over. The problem is that they are not succeeding often enough. When we see evidence of the teachers/administrators rigging SOL test scores in Richmond, Petersburg, Norfolk and Alexandria, it makes me suspect that the teachers/administrators have something other than the best interest of the children in mind. This is a sign of dysfunctional organizational culture.

  5. djrippert Avatar

    If I falsified results at my job I would be terminated for cause. There would be no questions asked nor any excuses accepted. Moreover, if I falsified financial results in a material way my employer would not only fire me but would turn the matter over for prosecution.

    Are these cheating teachers and administrators at least being fired?

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” blanket statements” about “failure” and “racism”.

    yep… stinky rhetoric at it’s worst… it solves nothing and just incites more ignorati responses like turn these kids over to charter/voucher/non-public – but no.. let’s not hold them to the same standards of transparency/accountability.

    What you’d find out if you really wanted to know “why” is that schools (of any kind) are not going to be able to “fix” these problems with academics alone and the bigger question is who do we task with fixing problems that stem from poor/bad parenting from parents who never themselves got a good education and instilled that ethic in their kids – like most reasonably educated parents often do?

    Don’t blame the public schools for this problem unless you truly think non-public schools will “fix” it AND they will be held to the same standards that public schools have to meet.

    What do we really accomplish when we frame the problem the way this commentary did?

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Wonder if Norfolk will do the same. There really can be no other answer. If you cheat you are unfit to be employed at the place where you cheated.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    These schools that are primarily populated with poverty-level people of color are basically nightmares for the Administration as well as the teaching staff.

    You can go to a lot of places – like Henrico – that have dozens of schools located in their demographically prosperous neighborhoods and the SOLs are largely “okay” but even in a place like Henrico with many good SOL – the very same school administration that presides over the schools with “good” SOLs has a good number of not-so-good schools that serve demographically poor neighborhoods. So the very same school administration is operating both kinds of schools… good SOL schools and bad SOL schools.

    No teacher in their right mind is going to take a teaching job at the “poor” schools if they can get a job at the “good” schools. It’s just human nature and the reality is -no matter how good a teacher you are – you cannot “fix” what is wrong at the poor schools… you’re lucky to survive and not get blamed for bad SOLs..etc..

    So who actually staffs the “poor” schools and what do those folks do -often out of desperation – in doing SOL testing?

    Sure -we can fire them – and probably should -but where does that leave you in hiring replacements? Do you think you’re going to attract high quality candidates – when they know the school has problems and teachers get put in untenable situations where leaving or cheating are the only real choices?

    The folks who are throwing stones here… sorry… we already got a bunch of folks that do that… we need folks who really want to deal with the issue.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Given the seemingly intractable problems of educating children from disadvantaged homes in Virginia … why would anybody try to limit vouchers, charter schools, etc?

      The current system is failing and has been failing for decades.

      Time to try something new.

      You criticize Republicans for failing to have a viable alternative to Obamacare. I think that’s fair. What’s your alternative to a statewide school system with too many schools mired in failure? More of the same?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Over and Over and Over – I have supported other schools – private, charter,choice, etc – with one proviso – they have to be held to the same standards that we are holding the public schools to.

        Otherwise – what have we solved?

        Like I said – it’s easy to condemn the public schools.. and say we should turn it over to non-public but then when we say “same standards” ..those same people advocating that – run away and just want to blame.

        That’s not really wanting to fix it.

        Remember – we’re not talking about ALL public schools -statewide (in fact, Va ranks 6th nationally) , it’s mostly the ones that serve lower-income/poverty neighborhoods. Do you really want to turn them over to non-public schools with no accountability?

        So again – what is the solution? Blaming teachers and schools for not being able to successfully teach these demographics is the cowards way out if you won’t require ANY school – public or non-public to meet the same standards.

        1. djrippert Avatar

          Of the 6,939 charter schools in the USA Virginia has 9. Across the USA, enrollment in charter schools has risen from 1.2m 10 years ago to 3.1m last year. The rest of America sees the promise of charter schools. Why doesn’t Virginia?

          Let’s be honest Larry – nobody in Virginia is making an effort to try the charter school approach – regardless of required accountability. Why? Because our utterly worthless General Assembly has their hands as deeply in the teachers unions’ pockets as Dominion, Altria, Omega Protein, the realtors, the developers, etc.

          As for being rated #6, that’s from Forbes. USN&WR says #12, USAToday says #14. While that may be somewhat impressive Gerald Baliles has calculated that Virginia’s “rural horseshoe” would rate dead last in public education if it were a state. The rest of Virginia would be #2. Now, you may say that it’s unfair to segregate the rural area of Virginia and view it separately. However, Vermont is a top performing state for public K-12 education and it biggest “metropolis” is Burlington with 40+ thousand residents.

          Outside the urban crescent Virginia’s public education system is failing and failing miserably. This despite a geyser of money coming from NoVa and (less so) from Richmond and Hampton Roads to elsewhere in the state for education. The schools are so bad that Virginia ranks 31st nationally in the percentage of the population with at least high school equivalency.

          It’s time to try something new. Where are our General Assembly members with a proposal for accountable charter schools in Virginia? They are at Bookbinders chowing steak and swizzling expensive wine with the campaign contributions they got from the teachers’ unions.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    Teaching kids that live in economically depressed circumstances with parents that also do not have good educations is not the same as teaching kids who live in good economic circumstances with parents who are well educated and counsel their kids 24/7 on the importance of getting a good education – as well as the qualities needed to get a good job and hold it.

    This is not a “teaching” or “education” issue if you think about it.

    The military is one of our few institutions that teach the qualities that public schools do not normally…. discipline, good work ethic, trust, do what you say, reliability, etc.. Poverty kids don’t know these things but the problem is if they don’t get a basic high school education – even the military don’t want them.

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