SOL Hanky Panky in Patrick County

SOL reading pass rates for Patrick County elementary schools. Stuart Elementary can be seen in red. Image source: Cranky’s Blog

After butting heads with Patrick County school Superintendent William D. Sroufe, Muriel Waldron, a principal of Stuart Elementary school in the mountain hamlet of Stuart, was removed from her position in 2015. A key source of contention was her administration of programs for treating children with cognitive disabilities.

When children are found eligible for special education, they are exempt from taking the Standards of Learning (SOL) test and placed in the Virginia Alternate Assessment Program (VAAP). Sroufe’s gripe with Waldron was that she failed to ensure that Stuart Elementary teachers applied the participation criteria properly. Waldron contended that the superintendent wanted her out because her reading of the policy was depressing average SOL scores.

After getting canned, Waldron alleged that Stroufe had libeled her, and sued for damages. Last week a Patrick County jury awarded her $500,000 in damages. Here’s how the Martinsville Bulletin summed up the underlying issues:

Waldron’s lawyer contended that significantly more students at Stuart Elementary have qualified for VAAP since Waldron was reassigned, arguing that Patrick County Schools wanted more students to be placed in VAAP in an effort to get schools’ test scores up on state measures. Sroufe’s lawyer and some school system officials denied that.

However, Karen Wood, formerly Patrick County Schools’ director of the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS) program, testified that in late March or early April 2015 she overheard an office conversation in which she alleges Patrick County Schools Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Cyndi Williams expressed to Special Education Director Ann Fulcher that there were not enough students in VAAP in Patrick schools, especially at Stuart Elementary School. Wood alleged Fulcher then told Williams that she would see what she could do.

Williams denied ever discussing with anyone the possibility of moving students into VAAP as a way of getting schools’ test scores up, and she said no Patrick schools have improved their accreditation statuses by moving students into VAAP.

Patrick County elementary schools SOL math scores.

John Butcher, author of Cranky’s blog, got wind of this story and did a little checking. Regardless of who said what and who was telling the truth, one thing can be verified for certain. After Waldron was removed, Stuart Elementary showed a dramatic improvement in its SOL scores.

Is it possible that school administrators thought some Stuart Elementary students really, truly needed to be classified as having cognitive disabilities? Or were Patrick school administrators gaming the system for the purpose of bolstering SOL pass rates?

That’s hard to say. But between the testimony and the statistics, I share Butcher’s suspicions that Patrick officials were trying to stack the deck. I just can’t say for certain without more data. It would be helpful, for instance, to compare the percentage of children with cognitive disabilities at Stuart Elementary with that of other elementary schools, as well as elementary schools statewide. Was Stuart Elementary an outlier? Was Patrick County an outlier?

Patrick certainly would not be the only school district that has tried to game the SOLs. The bigger question is whether the public education system has any accountability. Will the school board dig deeper? Will the Virginia Department of Education take a closer look? Or will the educational establishment just look away?

Butcher thinks accountability might come from the legal system. Writes he: “The good taxpayers of Patrick County now can look forward to the possibility of … lawsuits by the parents of the kids who might claim their children were misclassified in order to cheat on the SOLs.”

Update: Children with learning disabilities are not “placed in” the Virginia Alternate Assessment Program (VAAP), as I wrote. Rather, the program is used to assess students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, Charles Pyle with the Virginia Department of Education informs me. Most special education children take the SOL tests, he says, although some may take alternate tests if determined to be appropriate by their IEP teams.

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11 responses to “SOL Hanky Panky in Patrick County

  1. I think Cranky should rename his blog to ” Hey, LOOKEE.. I just found another stinking dead Mackerel!

  2. Weeellll I’d have to ask someone I know who is out there in Patrick County and been out there for years. They are a top 10 graduate school person, I don’t think a lot gets by them.

    They also have a nose for people slinging the poop.

  3. re: ”
    I just can’t say for certain without more data. It would be helpful, for instance, to compare the percentage of children with cognitive disabilities at Stuart Elementary with that of other elementary schools, as well as elementary schools statewide. Was Stuart Elementary an outlier? Was Patrick County an outlier?”

    agree…

    Cranky is pretty good at slinging that data…. if there actually is something more than an outlier…

    I bet somewhere is the bowels of DOE and Richmond Schools there is a doll with pins in it … named Cranky

    • All of these questions can be easily answered by visiting the VDOE website. In fact, good journalism would have been looking at the data first. But I’ll do it for you…

      Stuart ES has not had ANY students identified with Intellectual Disability in the bast 4 years. They have only had students with Speech and Language Impairments and Specific Learning Disabilities.

      Patrick County had 31 students in the entire county classified as having an Intellectual Disability. This is about 1% of their student population and in line with the national average. Last year the county had 100% of students with special needs participating on SOLS. Implying that scores have gone up because more kids are taking VAAP assessments when the data suggests that NOT ONE STUDENT in the county took VAAP last year, is disingenuous.

      http://bi.vita.virginia.gov/doe_bi/rdPage.aspx?rdReport=Main&subRptName=SpecialEducation

  4. Jim, this is journalism at its best. Thanks for this article.

  5. I’m a little disappointed with the lack of data here despite the heavy implications. Especially considering how readily available this info is on the VDOE website.
    To clarify some things, students who qualify for VAAP should generally make up less than 1% of the student body. In fact, if a division has more than 1% of it’s students taking VAAP assessments, they won’t count as a pass. So artificially increasing students who take VAAP will do nothing to bolster SOL scores and would likely get a school flagged.
    Looking at the data, I question the details of your story. According to the schools VDOE report card, last year not one students participated in VAAP at Stuart ES. BUT when Waldron was principal, 3% of the Special Education students took VAAP (that’s kinda high). Pushing Waldron to further increase the number of students taking VAAP would not benefit SOL pass rates. The bigger take away here, is that last year (when Waldron was no longer in charge) Stuart’s SOL scores went up and EVERY special education student participated in the SOLs. Not one child did VAAP.
    Next time you start accusing schools and county’s of cheating please look at the data first. The VDOE has links to school data available to the public.
    In 2015, when Waldron was still principal, only 24% of SPED students passed reading and 39% passed math (3% didn’t even test). That’s well below the division and state standards. This school was doing a real disservice to our students with special needs. With the new principal, scores have gone up across the board and VAAP clearly has nothing to do with it.

    https://p1pe.doe.virginia.gov/reportcard/report.do?division=70&schoolName=892

    • Thanks for the feedback, Ugly Rock, and thanks for the pointers to relevant data sources. A couple of points…

      First, I did not accuse anyone of cheating. I did suggest the possibility that administrators were gaming the system, but I made it clear that I didn’t have enough data to draw a hard conclusion.

      Second, how do you account for Waldron winning the jury verdict? Seems like the jury bought her version of the story.

  6. re: ” heavy implications. ” – yup..

    based on what ugly-rock provided, it sure does appear that both Cranky and Bacon overshot a little .. when the full data was actually apparently easily available. tsk tsk

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m ALL FOR holding govt “accountable” but of late there are troubling tendencies to use the govt’s own required accountability data – selectively and/or out of context – to then impugn the competence and behavior of govt to what end other than ” more examples of bad govt”.

    looks like ugly-rock did a little “accountability” on folks claiming to be doing “accountability” , eh?

    Stick around Ugly_rock.. There is sometimes fertile ground to plow here!

  7. If you are interested in many truths that exist with the Patrick County school system please venture down to the next school board meeting 9/14/17 5:30 PM. The time and location of this meeting COULD change due to the current uproar of the citizenry. The meeting is currently scheduled to be held at the school board office. I expect the meeting to be moved to the County Admin building next door.

    A current high school teacher recently (exposed through a FOIA request that she personally paid for) HUGE pay increases of central school board office employees of 11.9% to 36.5% while teachers received only a 2% increase. The combined income of 5 central school board office employees is almost ONE HALF MILLION DOLLARS!

    According to 2015 US Census date Patrick County has a population of only 17,923. This census data states the median income is $33,982 while 17% of the population lives in poverty. 44.5% of our students receive Free or reduced lunches.

    Dr. Lock Boyce, a member of the PC Board of Supervisors, offered a meeting with the school Superintendent, Dr. William Sroufe recently to address community concerns. Sroufe adamantly refused any such meeting.

    A few years ago the public sought to oust then superintendent Dr. R. Morris. Many contentious meetings were held as well as public protests, continuous news coverage and parents speaking to the Virginia Dept. of Education at their meetings in Richmond. Morris eventually negotiated a separation with PCPS to the public’s relief.

    The problems with PC schools go way beyond distorting test scores! I won’t even get into the rampant nepotism!

    As a taxpayer, “Here we go, again!” I think we have a better handle on the situation this time. We know what strategies did or didn’t work last time. I’m certain that this guy is looking for a huge buy-out like the last one. But I think we’re a bit smarter this time. He has already cost the school system money with the lawsuit with Mrs. Waldron.

    Y’all can argue the false data. As parents, teachers and taxpayers we live through this dishonest hell. The point is that our CHILDREN and teachers deserve better!

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