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Superintendent on Carver SOL cheating scandal: ‘Our students did nothing wrong’

RICHMOND, Va. – Speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras reacted to a two-month investigation by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) detailing allegations of cheating at Carver Elementary School.

"This report is deeply troubling,” said Kamras. “It presents abundant evidence of what amounts to cheating by a small group of adults over several years at Carver Elementary School."

The 34-page report details the actions of five teachers, who assisted children during SOL testing in ways not consistent with state policies.

"I want to be clear, our students did nothing wrong,” said Kamras. “They were merely following the instructions of the adults responsible for them."

Kamras says there's been long standing suspicions surrounding irregularities in SOL testing at the school.

Investigators who spoke with multiple students admitted teachers helped them correct wrong answers during the most recent round of SOLs.

One student reported that a teacher would smile at them if the answer was correct and would frown if the answer was wrong, according to the report.

Some student statements included in the report includes:

  • “Ms. Lacy checked our answers. If she smiled at me, I didn’t have to check it, but if she frowned, I knew I needed to check it.”
  • “Ms. Davis told me to push review and go back to the first question. If I got it wrong, Ms. Davis told me to try again. She couldn’t give me the answer, but if it was right, she told me to go ahead.”
  • “Ms. Cotman would check your work. If I got it right, she said go to the next one.”
  • “I was stuck on one, and Ms. Burgess showed me how to do it.”
  • “Mr. Johnson doesn’t help. He tells me if it’s right or wrong.”

Precious Elliot says her fifth-grade son, who has autism, was one of the 16 children interviewed by school and state officials in June.

"Right now, I’m really sad. I’ve been crying," said Elliot.

"I had no idea and after I found out he said yes they interviewed him and they asked him questions like ‘Did the teachers give them answers?’ ‘Did the teachers tell him the answers?’ or take the tests for them."

Jason Kamras

Elliot says her son denies he was helped.

She says despite several calls and letters to several school leaders, she's received few answers.

"I definitely feel it was a targeted investigation."

But Kamras is standing behind the report and reassuring parents who are confused and hurt.

"Cheating is unacceptable. Full stop, said Karmas. “Above all, my administration will be one of integrity which means doing the right thing when no one is watching."

Here's is the full statement released by Kamras Monday:

“The report is deeply troubling. It presents abundant evidence of what amounts to cheating by a small group of adults on the SOL examinations for the past several years at Carver. To be clear: our students did nothing wrong; they merely followed the instructions of the adults responsible for them.

To safeguard the integrity of our testing processes across the division, I have asked Dr. Tracy Epp, our Chief Academic Officer, to convene a working group of teachers and principals to provide recommendations about both policy and practice in time for the Spring 2019 SOL testing.

I’m under no illusion that doing so will be easy. It’s going to require us to confront biases and stereotypes head-on; to provide more and better support to our students and teachers alike; to be bold and innovative; to fiercely advocate for more resources, and to be unrelenting in the face of challenges ahead.

Every one of our students, from every single neighborhood and every single family, has the capacity for greatness. It is our collective responsibility to create the conditions that will allow that greatness to shine. And that is exactly what we will do.”