I have been told the RSD and LDOE are actively covering up cheating on student test scores so I have embarked on a quest to discover the truth. My quest is ongoing but I have learned some things from evidence presented to me and responses I’ve had to my Freedom of Information Requests to the LDOE. I’ve gotten no response from RSD, which has been defined in numerous cases as a non-juridical entity incapable of suing or being sued. They are legally considered a part of LDOE, but they have a separate e-mail system and LDOE does not appear to supply any information on their behalf. Nifty Catch 22 or a violation of state law, you be the judge.
The court noted that both the Department of Education and the State
Board of Elementary and Secondary Education are a “body
corporate” under the Louisiana Revised Statutes. Id.; La. Rev.
Stat. 36:642 (Department of Education); La. Rev. Stat. 17:1
(Board of Elementary and Secondary Education). The court also
noted that while Louisiana Revised Statute 17:51 “makes a parish
school board a ‘body corporate with power to sue[,]’ [t]he
statute authorizing the RSD (La. Rev. Stat. 17:1990) contains no
equivalent language . . . .” Id. at 357-58. For these reasons,
the court held that “the RSD does not function independently of
the DOE and BESE as it is not a body corporate capable of being
sued or suing directly.” Id. at 358.
Moreover, RSD’s organizing statute clearly states that RSD
“shall be administered by the state Department of Education,
subject to the approval of the State Board of Elementary and
Secondary Education.” La. Rev. Stat. § 17:1990(A)(2). This
power structure further contrasts RSD with parish school boards,
which “must comply with State laws . . . [but] are autonomous
political creatures that are separate and distinct entities
providing the framework for education in their respective
parishes.” Hamilton v. City of Natchitoches, 903 So.2d 1247,
1250 (La. App. 2005). Here, however, RSD is by statute an
“intermediate educational unit” that is not capable of selfadministration.
La. Rev. Stat. § 17:1990(B)(1)(a). Accordingly,
the Court finds that the RSD is not a juridical person capable of
suing or being sued under the Roberts analysis. See Adams v.
Orleans Parish Recovery Sch. Dist., No. 11-30751, 2012 WL 612777,
at *1 (5th Cir. Feb. 27, 2012)(noting that “RSD is not an entity
that can sue or be sued”).
(For any lawyers out there seeking to bring a case against RSD, make sure you bring your case against LDOE or your case will be dismissed too.)
To be clear, I do not have conclusive evidence of cheating at this time but I do have evidence that no investigations were made and reprisals were made against the teacher who reported this situation. My case is steadily building and this will be but the first of several articles revealing what I’ve learned and continue to learn.
The case, as it was presented to me, is as follows:
In the Spring of 2011 Mary D. Coghill Elementary, an RSD direct run school headed by principal Aisha Jones and overseen by John White when he was superintendent of RSD, reportedly pulled as many as 70 3rd through 8th graders out of their classes during Spring testing to have teachers read the test aloud to these students in small groups. A partial list of the alleged proctors of the small group read aloud students with student counts was provided to me and is displayed below.
This 70 student figure amounts to about 20% of their total students tested.
Prior to this pullout, teachers were asked to provide lists of their students who could likely pass the LEAP and iLEAP tests if the tests were read to them. Each teacher was reportedly required to supply this list to the main office, and these students were subsequently removed from their classes during test time for the purpose of having tests read to them, rather than reading the test and answers themselves. This is what is called a testing accommodation. A small percentage of students classified as Section 504 (under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1973) are defined as handicapped by a mental or physical limitation that does not rise to the level of being defined as disabled or requiring Special Education services. In a typical school around 7% of students will be classified as 504. These are students that are diagnosed with a recognized medical diagnosis such as ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, minor vision impairment not classified as blindness, emotional disturbance, or a broken/injured llimb with a recovery time longer than 6 weeks, etc.. Additionally these students must have been classified as having trouble in school over an extended period of time as a result of their handicap as evidenced by low grades. Students cannot have A’s and B’s and be defined as section 504. They cannot simply be classified as 504 because they have low grades or struggle in school without a specific diagnosis. Typically these are students with below C averages or who have been held back one or more years in school to qualify as 504 students, and these students would have an associated IAP (Individualized Accommodation Plan) [not to be confused with an IEP for SPED students] that would list accommodations needed such as more time on tests for dyslexic students, or larger print for vision impaired students. Of the very small percent of students classified as 504 (which is a subset of students who have a specifically diagnosed disability) only a small percentage of those would require tests to be read aloud to them perhaps dyslexic students but not students with ADHD. If you know anyone with ADHD, which is one of top 504 diagnoses, you understand why that would never work.) Additionally, these accommodations would need to have been defined on a student’s IAP before the test, students would receive these accommodations from their teachers throughout the year on all other tests. These accommodations would have to be notated on the tests booklets that were submitted to our testing company. Those scores and testing accommodations then end up on test files at the Louisiana Department of Education, if they are notated. In this case, and perhaps many other across RSD and the state, these accommodations were not notated, they were not provided to students throughout the year, and these students were never identified as 504.
The insinuation made is that these students who had the test read to them received an unfair advantage over kids who did not. I’ve made numerous inquiries to former accountability, testing, RSD and New Orleans folks and discovered a few interesting things that add some dimensions to this situation.
I have been told that students who do not receive accommodations regularly before the tests do not see improvement according to research:
Accommodations should be routinely applied in the classroom, so that would mean that for all those kids they are reading all of their normal tests aloud as well. This is probably done poorly in a lot of places. When they don’t routinely use the accommodation, research shows the kids don’t benefit from it on the state test.
I was even told a New Orleans school tried this strategy before, but ended up with students scoring worse:
An Orleans school – pre Katrina – There were two warring factions in the school – the new principal and her supporters vs the anti-newcomer squadron. They found out about 504 shortly before testing and during the last week that they could identify a kid as 504, they identified all the boys as having 1 disability and all the girls as having another. Everyone got the “test read aloud” accommodation. The school did substantially worse that year than the year before. Accommodations are supposed to be used in regular classroom assessments. These kids had never been read to.
I was also told that this is not a recent phenomenon but was a common situation in New Orleans even before charters and RSD, because they had so many kids that couldn’t read they needed all the help they can get:
For the 504 question- yes, if it’s Orleans
When I worked in NOPS before Katrina it was common to get as many on 504 accommodations as they could because many kids could not read
I imagine the charters have followed suit
Despite what many ignorant reformers tout or believe, I do not believe New Orleans was a bed or roses before Katrina, nor do I pardon their transgressions. I merely don’t excuse the same corruption after Katrina because it’s “less” or different folks engaging in it, or because you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet reform approach. (For instance, I do not believe RSD can neglect John McDonogh, simply because Orleans parish did after they were given 34 million dollars by the federal government to fix it up, and after John White promised to start renovations 2 years ago on nationally syndicated television while no hammer has been lifted.)
No matter how many statistics come from the Louisiana Department of Education showing the substantial gains in student achievement in New Orleans schools since 2005, there’s a stubborn knot of naysayers who insist that the stats are the result of a conspiracy by a dishonest government and power-hungry reformers.
They seem to mourn the chaotic, inept, even corrupt system of schools that existed before Katrina finally gave state officials an excuse to seize most of them.
Pro reformers, like Dawn Ruth who styles herself a freelance journalist, believe they can misrepresent the opinions of folks they’ve never met or spoken to, and lie about them willy-nilly, and without the barest notion of research, to discredit their opinions. One example of this from her article was trying to dismiss and characterize me as a vengeful former employee by telling folks mater-of-factly, and entirely falsely, that I was “fired” rather than voluntarily quitting after giving my 2 week notice to start my new job and my blog to speak out about the abuse and corruption under John White. (But I digress, that will be a post for later for my new fanclub member.) Unlike most pro-reformers I do not get paid for my opinions or endorsements.
This e-mail from a teacher, “Coach” Frank Buckley says it all. Coach reported the testing irregularities to his superiors, testing authorities at LDOE his superintendent (John White) and the de facto head of LDOE Erin Bendily. For his trouble Coach was retroactively fired back to May. He subsequently filed a whistleblower suit which is still being litigated, although not without plenty of legal maneuvering over proper venue and whether RSD is a juridical body capable of suing or being sued.
When I asked LDOE to provide me any correspondence into investigation of this report I was given this e-mail chain along with what appears to be the extent of investigation conducted by LDOE. They decided to let John White handle it, who chose not to investigate.
Coach Buckley was fired shortly thereafter as part of a reduction in force of one. Him. Shortly after his retroactive firing Aisha Jones apparently immediately advertised for the need for a new teacher. This position was never offered to Coach Buckley, who was theoretically terminated simply as a reduction in force.
The below is from Coach Buckley’s legal filings.
It seems pretty clear to me from my reading of e-mails that no investigation took place and that coach was terminated because he was raising uncomfortable questions. It is abundantly clear from the documents released (and lack of documents released) that John White knew about this situation and did nothing to investigate it despite warnings from even LDOE staff that this looked suspicious. From my conversations with Coach it appears many of his math students that were better prepared did poorer on the math portion of the LEAP test than the 16 students that were removed for tests to be read aloud in small groups. There is no question that Coach should have been notified if those students were 504 students prior to the date of the test. It is statistically impossible that every student he identified as struggling, and only the ones he identified as struggling in his class, were secretly 504 students with an exceptionality that required tests to be read aloud in small groups.
If a student cannot read a test they will not do well on a test. If you read a test aloud to students this gives students who cannot read an advantage other students in other comparable situations would not have. This in and of itself might lead to increased test scores and is also not legal if the children were not properly classified as 504. But reading a test aloud also allows teachers and proctors to emphasize correct answers, intentionally or unintentionally, by changing the tone of one’s voice, tone, facial expression etc. When you have schools blatantly and on a systematic and school-wide basis violating state and federal rules and laws in regards to test administration for personal and professional gain, it is that much more likely to have occurred. (When teachers and principals are retained or fired based upon student performance you build personal and professional gain into the system.)
I was not in those classrooms where tests were read and cannot say one way or the other whether this took place, but it is a possibility. Based on research and past experience, these children should have done no better or much worse than their counterparts without this intervention, however the opposite appears to have happened, and happened consistently enough that based on the report provided by LDOE below, it appears this school, Mary D Coghill of RSD, employs this reading accommodation with virtually every flagged 504 student too.
According to a recently released report in response to a FOIA filing I made last month in 2010-2011 Mary D. Coghill reported to the state that they had 51 students in grades 3 -8 identified as qualifying for 504 services, and all but one student required their tests read aloud and all students required small test group administration (where tests were read aloud whether students needed them read aloud or not.) According to my Coach, who was a teacher who reported this as an irregularity and quite likely indicative of intentional cheating by teachers, as many as 70 students were pulled out of classes, 20% or 1 out of every 5 students taking the LEAP or iLEAP test at Mary D. Coghill. According to self-reported data from Mary D. Coghill to the state, virtually every student identified as 504, every year for which data was reported, had their tests read aloud to them. However if Coach is accurate, the totals may be far higher than this, and certainly not restricted to simply students identified as 504, but any student identified as struggling academically. If this is true, and not a phenomenon confined to Mary D. Coghill, we may be seeing one of the secrets to RSD’s recent modest success. As far as schemes go, this is a pretty good one, and unlike the amateurish cheating scandal in Atlanta, shows a more sophisticated take on cheating the High Stakes testing system with a mind toward eluding detection. However, in order for this scheme to succeed, there would have to be tacit buy-in by those in charge. That would mean the principal as well as the head of RSD at the very least.
In 2011 John White was still relatively fresh on the RSD scene. He may not have known what was going on initially, but when this situation was reported to him directly in e-mail, via phone, in person and to his superiors at the LDOE it would be hard to deny he was aware of this situation and allegations. Unlike charter schools, which have their own boards of oversight, Mary D. Coghill was one a dozen or so direct run RSD schools, directly run by none other than then RSD superintendent John White, now the State Superintendent of Education. John White did not have responsibility for the hundreds of schools he has responsibility for now, just a dozen or so, so you would think he would take a keen interest at any allegation of cheating in his first stint as a Superintendent anywhere. The only significant action that I see taken by RSD was the firing of the teacher reporting the testing issue.
When you cover-up for cheating you are encouraging it. When you punish those who report it, you embolden cheaters and discourage whistleblowers. When you reward those who improve their test scores and School Performance Scores through cheating with renewed contracts and financial incentives and rewards you are violating state and federal laws related to fraud as well as a violation of the False Claims Act. When you assist others in covering up their fraud, you are aiding and abetting fraud, which is also a criminally prosecutable crime. The test score erasure scandal in Atlanta landed many teachers, principals and the superintendent in criminal court as may very well be appropriate here. More investigation is certainly needed and long overdue. I will be releasing more information in the coming days and weeks, however I would recommend the following changes be submitted to the legislature and for consideration at the next BESE meeting.
- I recommend that the legislative auditor’s office heretofore investigate all reported instances of cheating and that the legislature encode this into law. (for charters, RSD, vouchers schools and traditional public schools)
- I encourage a formal investigation into whether federal laws relating to fraud were violated if any federal funds were disbursed as a result of these fraudulently obtained test scores, and reporting the findings to relevant authorities.
- I recommend an expansion of the whistleblower law for greater protections of teachers reporting cheating.
- I recommend an audit of all direct run RSD schools and test scores from 2007 to present with particular care paid to accommodations and relevant IEP and IAP paperwork.
- I recommend tapes be made of tests being read for review.
- I recommend new guidelines be published for when and which accommodations are appropriate and the accommodations being provided are not solely used for high stakes testing. If these kids are really struggling with a disability, it is much more important that children get these accommodations throughout the year to facilitate their actual learning of the material. It is much more important to the children, and the furtherance of their education, that these accommodations be made while they are learning this material rather than just when they are being tested on it once for a school grade.
To be continued. . .
Did you miss me?