If you thought the scandal of the Alexandria school principal weeding out weak students from the Standards of Learning (SOL) exams was bad, you ain’t heard nothing yet. In a superb piece of investigative journalism, Cherise Newsome with theVirginian-Pilot has exposed SOL-gaming in Norfolk that was more grotesque by far.
To improve SOL testing scores, Norfolk educators yanked marginal students out of second-semester classes so they could repeat the first semester — and avoid taking the SOL. Educators justified the practice on the grounds that students needed the remedial teaching (which they undoubtedly did). But Katz uncovered plenty of evidence that school administrators were motivated by a desire to improve SOL scores.
Norfolk principals and senior administrators told The Pilot that no students were moved just to avoid testing, but one Lake Taylor High teacher disputes that. The teacher – along with one other and a former administrator at different schools who shared similar accounts – spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution.
The Lake Taylor teacher said educators were told to make sure there was a defensible reason for pulling kids out ahead of the exams, buying the school more time to improve its accreditation. Lake Taylor hasn’t been fully accredited since 2012-13.
“We were encouraged to make the student fail,” the teacher said. “So even if a student had a D-minus, we were told to make sure to give them something to bring them down a little bit, and don’t provide opportunities for them to make it up because you want them to remain failing so they can repeat first semester.”
Targeted students would take the second part of the SOL course during the following fall. So their schedules were out of order, and they didn’t remember what they had learned, the teacher said: “It didn’t fix any problems. It was just a bad solution.”
Claudia Sweeney, a former Lake Taylor High counselor who retired three years ago, backed up that account. Teachers feared for their jobs and did what they were told, she said. …
The Pilot interviewed a half-dozen students and parents who said the schedule changes put them behind on requirements and caused some to miss out on a standard diploma. The students, including some with special education plans and others who had been on an honors track, provided schedules and transcripts showing they took SOL classes out of order or repeated them.
The practice of “recycling” students does have a justification. As former Granby High School Principal Ted Daughtrey said: “We picked, targeted certain students with certain averages to come back to first-semester classes. … We’re talking about kids that can’t add or subtract positive numbers. They’re just very far behind. So to expect them to be successful in Algebra I in a year is a pipe dream.”
True enough, a child who cannot add or subtract positive numbers has no business taking an Algebra I class. But that begs the question: How did those children get promoted to the Algebra I class in the first place? Why wait to take remedial action until they reached a grade where they took the SOLs? And, if it’s the students the administrators care about, how does it help to enroll them in the second-semester class the following year?
Then Daughtrey spills the beans:
“The picture I’m trying to paint is, if we had left those kids in there like we had in the past, they would have penalized us, not because we weren’t working but because they weren’t coming to school and doing what they needed to do,” Daughtrey said.
When asked what he meant by “penalize us,” he said, “We might not have met the 70 percent pass rate for state accreditation.”
Bacon’s bottom line: Please note: There is nothing illegal with any of this. That’s the real scandal.
Moreover, I cannot imagine that Alexandria and Norfolk are the only school systems in Virginia where SOL gaming is going on. What’s the next shoe to drop? At what point do we recognize that we have an endemic problem, especially in schools with large numbers of disadvantaged, low-performing students? Whose interests are being served by the SOL gaming — those of the students or of the school administrators?
— Hat tip: John Butcher)
(This article first ran in Bacons Rebellion on September 12, 2016)
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