Academic Dishonesty In QCSD Goes Well Beyond Nick Foley

July 1, 2012

The QCSD cover-up of academic dishonesty has taken a dramatic new turn: the presumptive villain could become a hero of sorts to the community he has failed. And other teachers are now coming forward to acknowledge that they, too, have been pressured to graduate students who didn't deserve it.

Superintendent Lisa Andrejko has done everything possible to keep the details of the firing of technology teacher Nick Foley from the school board, and the residents. Last week, this column revealed that Foley was relieved of his teaching duties on June 1, in the middle of the school day, when the administration learned that he had been giving Project Lead The Way students the answers to test questions in his Principles of Engineering class. And the same administration then tried to cover up the scandal, to avoid having to return an award it didn't deserve, for that student performance.

Andrejko hoped that Foley would quietly resign to escape public embarrassment, and reporting of his activities to the PA Department of Education. And, of course, it would also allow Andrejko to keep the reason from the school board, PTLW, and the community. Students would retain the grades they didn't earn, QCSD would shamefully keep the PLTW honors it didn't deserve, and Andrejko would get to preserve her oh-so-carefully crafted image.

But Foley, the apparent villain of this piece, has thrown Andrejko a curveball that may be her strike three. He refused to resign, forcing the board to fire him, which they did unanimously on June 28. But the teachers' union contract gives him the choice of accepting the firing, or demanding a hearing in front of either the school board, or an arbitration panel. Despite the fact that the evidence against him seems overwhelming, since he was turned in by his own students, he has opted to be heard by an arbitrator. Why?

One possibility is that he has no other choice. With word of his actions now on the street after this column broke the story, his chances of ever teaching again are nada. He must hope that a good attorney can attack his students' credibility much like Jerry Sandusky's attorney attempted (unsuccessfully) to do, and persuade the arbitrator(s) that the class somehow misinterpreted his teaching methods. Some of the kids who love him will naively want to keep their grades, and will testify to what a great, misunderstood guy he is. If things break right, he might be able to hang on to his teaching certificate, and make a living in some tiny school in Joe's Elbow, Texas.

Or, he is going to be the hero of this piece, and come clean about QCSD. Andrejko worst nightmare. And the possible culmination of an even bigger scandal that has been brewing here for years.

What Nick Foley did was indisputably wrong. But don't think for a moment that this mess is entirely his fault. He was the fall guy for our administration's All Children Must Graduate policy - a foolish victim of the pressure QCSD has put on all teachers to make sure all students get good grades, regardless of whether those are earned in the classroom.

For many years, educators across the country have been were worried, and rightly so, about the unrealistic requirements of the GW Bush-era No Child Left Behind law. That well-meaning, but impossible, regulation requires every school district in America to have 100% of its 11 th grade students scoring proficient or better on the state assessment testing by 2014. In PA, that is the PSSA's.

Although President Obama has given states a graceful way out, by proposing that high school utilize alternate exit exams, PA has not opted in. And that has left some school districts scrambling to find what they hope will be their own acceptable alternatives.

One of those is QCSD. According to both current and retired teachers, who have come forward after the Foley firing on the condition that their names not be used for fear of retribution, they, and their fellow educators, have been coerced into grade manipulation, and there is intense pressure on otherwise-honest teachers to graduate students regardless of their class performance. And it has been happening for years.

Several years ago, QCSD introduced Standard Based Grading. Basically, students learn at their own pace, in their own way, as long as they reach defined goals by a set deadline. Grading is on a 4-point scale, based on a state standard, rather than the traditional 100 points. The usual comparison with other students is eliminated. Theoretically, everyone could get an A. And teacher comments are as important as the grade itself. There are few deadlines for individual assignments, and unlimited retests are available.

When I first wrote about SBG on January 15, 2009, I ended the column with "So why SBA here? It is possible that by the 2014 deadline for NCLB compliance, those wonderful folks in Harrisburg might accept standards-based report card grades as a measure of proficiency, rather than just the PSSA's. Imagine the pressure that will put on our graders."

We don't have to "imagine" any longer. Multiple sources within QCHS claim that the administration mandated a 100 percent graduation rate this year, and only one student somehow managed not to make it.

That is why so many other district administrators are attending the QCSD seminars on SBG - they will learn about a system that may allow them to control the grades/scores that they can not now control with PSSA's.

And the mandate in QCSD wasn't necessarily an edict to teach better, devote more time to student needs, or be doubly-sure that all lessons were understood. Instead, teachers were changing grades under duress, or having their grades changed by someone else, to insure a higher graduation rate.

In some cases, students failing a class were given a "withdraw passing" grade from that class, and then put in the district's cyber school. And, magically, during the final two or three weeks of the school year, the failing grades would morph into C's, or even B's.

One QCSD student observed "There were some people who I knew for a fact were failing at least one class, who miraculously ended up graduating. And even if 100 percent, or very close to 100 percent, of students graduated, I heard that 90-some members of the class of 2012 dropped out at some point in their high school careers". That would certainly make the class' performance look better. Maybe we should be finding out how much effort the administration really made to retain poorly-performing kids in school, knowing that keeping them might negatively impact our precious statistics.

Director Paul Stepanoff, and former director Manuel Alfonso, brought alleged academic dishonesty to the board's attention back in 2007, asking that teachers be surveyed to learn the extent of the problem here, or dispel the notion if it was incorrect. The teachers union president was in agreement. Stepanoff even offered to pay for it himself. But then-board president Kelly VanValkenburgh nixed the survey "because I believe that we have a policy and procedure in place that allows us to gather the data necessary to address complaints. An anonymous survey does not give us the data to solve a problem."

VV is now vice-president. And those "policy and procedures" she cited have done nothing. The problem is apparently worse than ever. She, and Andrejko, and the board, simply ignore the obvious question of how, year after year after year, one-third of our 11 th graders could fail the math PSSA's, and one-quarter fail the reading, and yet virtually all of them graduate one year later.

Now we know why. And, sadly, we are not alone in our deception. Academic dishonesty, either by students, and/or teachers, and/or administrators, has been the cause of thousands of expulsions from high schools and universities.

Top administrators at the US Naval Academy, West Point, and the Air Force Academy have lost their positions following scandals. Public school districts in Houston, Indianapolis, San Jose, Long Island, San Francisco, and North Carolina, among many others, are dealing with wide-spread cheating. An inquiry by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation suggested that at least 178 Atlanta Public School teachers and administrators had changed student answers on the state competency test, perhaps for 10 years. Philadelphia Superintendent Arlene Ackerman was bought out of her contract last year, amidst a state investigation of 56 city schools for possible cheating on PSSA's.

Now, the QCSD community must deal with the same problems here. Assuming that they are not covered up - again. We can only hope that Nick Foley gives something back to us on his way out the door.