Principal Instructed Teachers to Alert Only Parents of Failing Students of Right to Opt Out of State Tests

Student Testing Jason LenhartAP
Jason Lenhart/AP

A Virginia elementary school administrator who was named 2016 Distinguished Principal of the Year has reportedly been disciplined after he allegedly instructed his teachers to contact the parents of students who were unlikely to perform well on the state’s tests to remind them of their right to opt their children out of the test.

An investigation conducted by the Alexandria school district found that Principal Brandon Davis of the Cora Kelly School for Math, Science, and Technology allegedly told teachers in the spring to call parents of children who would not likely pass the Standards of Learning (SOL) state exam to inform them of their right to opt their children out.

As the Washington Post reports, three dozen parents subsequently pulled their children from the SOL exams, even though no parents had done the same in the prior year.

According to the report:

The move, which meant those students’ scores would not be considered for state accreditation purposes, probably artificially inflated the school’s overall performance and masked the fact that some students were not performing up to standards. It also means the data used to evaluate the school is potentially flawed and presents evidence that a new Virginia law allowing students to opt out of tests without it affecting a school’s rating could compromise the ability to assess schools.

Helen Lloyd, director of communications for Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS), tells Breitbart News that the details of the incident are in a report filed with the state but “unavailable publicly online.”

“Staff was asked to identify students who may not do well on the SOL test and contact parents of these students regarding their right to refuse SOL testing,” Lloyd adds. “The division’s quantitative data review of available historical SOL assessment results where parent refusal letters were received confirmed that 21 of 36 students had historically, on average, fallen in the 425 scale score range or below.”

An original news story in the Alexandria Gazette Packet reported Davis’ statement about the incident, released Tuesday, July 19. In his statement, however, he gives no indication that he only asked teachers to contact parents of low-performing students to inform them of their right to opt their children out of the SOL exams:

On May 11, 2016, information was shared with the superintendent suggesting irregularity with the pre-testing process at Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology.

On May 12, 2016, the superintendent ordered an investigation into this information, which was carried out from May 12 through May 16, 2016. The matter was immediately reported to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). Additional discussions occurred with VDOE throughout the process.

The investigation found that an irregularity had occurred prior to Standards of Learning (SOL) testing. I asked staff to inform parents of 37 third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students that they had the right to opt-out of state testing in line with state procedures.

I only asked staff to share the information that came as part of the state’s 457 announcement allowing students to opt-out of testing, which came out via the Office of Accountability. My error was not inquiring as to how this information should have been shared with parents, and only contacting 37 parents with the information.

My actions did not affect the subsequent SOL testing procedures at Cora Kelly. The testing procedures that were followed were in line with procedures set by the state and ACPS.

Corrective action was taken by Central Office as soon as the irregularity came to light, prior to the start of SOL testing. The school division personally contacted each of the parents of the students involved and no student went into the testing period without the opportunity to participate in the tests. Further, the school division had additional staff from the Office of Accountability participating in the monitoring of SOL tests at Cora Kelly during the testing period.

During this period of investigation, ACPS actions were transparent, accountable and followed procedures set out by the state at all times. I have also been open and transparent at all times throughout the process.

As a result of this, ACPS took appropriate disciplinary actions. I will ensure that I check with the division prior to dissemination of public information in the future.

I wish to stress that I did not do anything that I perceived was intentionally wrong at the time. I did not place my opinion on anybody. I apologize for the impact my actions have had on ACPS.

According to the Post, Lloyd said Davis had been disciplined.

“ACPS regrets that this happened,” district superintendent Alvin L. Crawley said Thursday. “ACPS believes the principal exercised poor judgment, and we took the appropriate actions as a result.”

Davis was named Virginia’s 2016 Distinguished Principal of the Year, according to the ACPS website in March. Davis, the district says, is the “first elementary school principal in Alexandria to win the award in the 33 years since its inception.”

“He was acknowledged by the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals (VAESP) for his role in putting Cora Kelly on the map by building student success and meeting high-performance targets at a school with a 87 percent free and reduced school lunch rate,” ACPS said.

While many parents across the country have found their right to opt their children out of state tests has been challenged by state and school district officials, Shane Vander Hart, writing at Truth in American Education, says, in this case, “What’s abusive is when a school selectively chooses students they think will fail and then tells those parents about their opt-out rights.”

“All parents and students have the right to opt-out, not just the ones who will help boost a school’s scores by missing,” he continues. “This principal’s concern was not about his students who struggle with standardized assessments. His actions were not taken in order to take on a high stakes testing culture. No, he did what he did simply to pad his numbers.”


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