The Cranky Taxpayer
PASS the Corruption
The documents in the Education Department suggest a remarkable level of corruption of the Governor's PASS program in the Richmond schools and an even more remarkable level of tolerance in the state Education Department.
To begin at the Beginning:
The Partnership for Achieving Successful Schools (PASS) is built around a Memorandum of Agreement ("Memorandum of Agreement" is bureaucratese for "unenforceable bargain") between the PASS schools and the state. As to the 9-weeks testing in the PASS , this document requires that the school division “ensure the security of the nine-weeks’ test item data base by protecting the items used in the nine-weeks’ test from access and use by teachers on unit tests.”
On March 26, 2004, James S. Heywood, the Director of the Office of School Improvement in the Virginia Department of Education wrote, regarding the 9-weeks testing in PASS schools during 2002-03:
So, at a minimum:
It gets better.On March 6, 2003, Mr. Heywood had written the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Deputy Superintendent of the Richmond Public Schools about "The Need to Bring Richmond City Nine-Weeks’ Tests into Compliance with the PASS Agreement":
Follow this link to see the entire memorandum.
The Litespan and the Flanagan tests used in Richmond in 2002-03 are commercially available SOL preparation tests. Regarding the Flanagan tests, Richard L. Williams, Jr., the Testing and Data Systems Manager in Richmond, wrote a TWIMC letter that says:
In short, these are commercial tests for measuring the kids' progress in learning the material. Of course, if the teachers drill the kids on the actual test questions, the tests don't measure anything useful.
Richmond signed the PASS Memorandum of Agreement that requires it to "ensure" the confidentiality of these materials and protect them from use by the teachers. Disdaining that promise, the Richmond school staff "aggressively" used the test questions in the classroom, "as encouraged" by RPS. And now we have the state saying that use was "unknowing."
Please note the contradictions embedded in this morass: Richmond agreed to protect the materials but encouraged their aggressive use in the classroom; the Richmond school system encouraged the teachers to use confidential materials in the classroom but that use was unknowing. Whew!
The effect of this cheating was clear enough that for 2003-04 the state developed a statewide 9-weeks testing regime that, it says, is administered with the same security as the SOL tests. Apparently the effect was not clear enough to the corrupt Richmond system, however: in the test administration memo for this year, the state's Mr. Heywood wrote (highlights mine):
In short: That kind of cheating is self-destructive but the state is not going to police it, even though many of the teachers want to do it.
After seeing a draft of this page, the Education Department responded on April 8:
That earlier email said:
Ms. Brandon is the Deputy Superintendent in Richmond who refused to produce the documents regarding this situation. Mr. Heywood is free to believe her if he wishes. If she had a document that isolated this problem to a single teacher I would expect to have seen it some time back.
Moreover, a single instance is not consistent with Mr. Heywood's discussion of Richmond's "aggressive" use of the tests and RPS' encouragement of that use. Neither is it consistent with Mr. Heywood's later memorandum discussing "the repeated requests . . . of many teachers . . . to see the items in advance and wanting to have access to the test items so they can teach the items… as they did with Flanagan or Edutest." (Highlights added). "Many" teachers cheating on the testing is not the same as a single teacher.
I leave it to you to decide why the Education Department would say "the department operates in accord with the governance provisions of the state constitution and the state code." Of course the Government is bound by State law. But nowhere in Virginia law does it say that the Board of Education, which has authority to exercise "general supervision of the public school system" must ignore blatant cheating by the teachers in Richmond. Especially when that cheating takes place in the Governor's PASS program that is designed to help the most wretchedly ineffective schools.
In sum, we have some or all of the Richmond PASS schools cheating on a test where the cheating cannot help them and probably will hurt them, and we have them looking for further opportunities to cheat. Not the students, mind you, the school staff! And we have the State saying that the school division was obliged to ensure the confidentiality of the test materials but that the "aggressive" use of those test materials for practice, as "encouraged" by RPS, was "unknowing."
This situation cries out for an investigation and, probably, for the transfer of a number of school officials to duties that better suit their talents.
As I point out elsewhere, the state has refused to give me the reports they have sent to the Governor. We can only hope they told him that Richmond has been embarrassing him by gaming the PASS system (and, thus, further failing the children and citizens of Richmond). For sure, the Department has not told the Board of Education about the scandal in Richmond, at least not on the record (see the minutes for 10/16/02, 1/6/03, 5/28/03, and 1/7/04).
The state has been helpful about producing documents other than the reports to the Governor. The Richmond school administration, in contrast, robustly stonewalled my request for information. Unfortunately, the Richmond school administration's preference for concealment flows straight from the leaders of the School Board.
You might join me in wondering how often the school staff who would cheat on the practice tests (aggressively) (as encouraged by RPS) might do the same thing on the SOLs.