Every fifth-grade student at Richmond’s George W. Carver Elementary School passed the state’s reading test in 2016.
Then they left the school the next year, going to Albert Hill Middle School, where they again took the state’s reading proficiency test. Just 37 percent of that same group of students passed that year.
It’s not just reading — math scores fell from 94 percent passing at Carver in 2016 to 38 percent passing at Hill in 2017.
“Our students did nothing wrong,” Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said in a letter to the school community Monday. “They merely followed the instructions of the adults responsible for them.”
The Virginia Department of Education found that test scores at Carver, the Leigh Street underdog success story, were inflated thanks to a cheating ring led by the school’s principal and put into application by a core set of teachers.
The department’s release of its findings Monday has sent shockwaves throughout the Richmond education community, providing evidence that an outlier case of high student achievement from a high-poverty population was a fraud.
“I’m just so angry that adults did this,” said School Board member Linda Owen, who represents the 9th District. “It’s unfair to our kids.”
The state Education Department’s report focused on this year’s test administration but also looks at the school’s past successes.
Nearly every third-grade student passed the state reading test in 2016, for example, while the city average was 60 percent.
One third-grade student at Carver achieved a score of 516 on the third-grade reading test in 2016. The student’s score got even better in fourth grade, climbing to 542.
Then they transferred to another elementary school for fifth grade. On that year’s SOL reading test, they scored a 278.
Standards of Learning test scores range from 0 to 600, with scores below 400 considered failing, 400-499 being proficient and 500-600 being advanced.
There was no single way that teachers cheated.
One third-grade teacher, Nicole Lacy, helped when a student raised their hand and would tell students to check their work if they had the wrong answer, according to the report. In another situation, a student knew that if Lacy smiled at them, they didn’t have to check their work, but if she frowned, “I knew I needed to check it.”
A fourth-grade teacher, Valencia Davis, gave students hints and helped them understand words, the report said.
The five teachers named in the report did not return requests for comment. Neither did former Principal Kiwana Yates, whom the report describes as the architect of the cheating ring.
Yates would tell an assistant principal at the school, Fay Joyner, which teachers she wanted administering tests, the report said, and those teachers would receive special travel and money for classroom materials along with first crack at overtime opportunities, among other things.
If the teachers didn’t do enough to help students pass their tests, they were removed as test examiners, according to the report.
The 39-year-old who led the school to national, state and local acclaim remains employed by the district and the five teachers are still listed as employees on the RPS website.
The School Board meets Monday and could remove the employees from their positions, something the school’s former School Board member said should happen.
“If what I’m reading in the report is accurate, they should have been immediately separated from employment,” said Kim Gray, who now sits on the City Council.
Kamras has declined to publicly comment on their employment status, saying it’s a personnel matter. School Board Chairwoman Dawn Page also declined to comment Monday night.
“Now that we can unequivocally call testing irregularities for what it was, i.e., cheating, we have a responsibility to every child in RPS to hold those responsible accountable and to ensure that none of our other schools have any similar lapses in ethics,” said Jonathan Young, the 4th District School Board representative.
Yates was removed from her post as Carver’s principal, a position she’d held since 2012, after the school district received the state’s preliminary findings. Tiawana Giles, previously an assistant principal in RPS, is leading the school on an interim basis.
Giles, Kamras and other school officials were in attendance Tuesday night at a meeting to reboot the school’s Parent-Teacher Association.
Mariah White, the previous head of the unofficial organization, stepped down between the initial announcement of the state’s investigation and the release of the report. Conversation was limited at the meeting to the future of the PTA, including discussion on ways to boost membership and raise money.
“The parents are angry and they have lost trust,” White said Tuesday night. “The trust is going to have to be built up.”
Another community meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Carver, where Kamras is expected to answer parent questions.