August 12, 2022

Adobegate: Texas shows Florida the path forward on test cheating

Governor Rick Scott likes to emulate Texas Governor Rick Perry’s business and tax policies among other things. However, he and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart should take a page from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Michael Williams.

In response to TEA’s failure to accurately monitor and detect the cheating allegations in El Paso, TEA Commissioner Michael Williams plans to create an investigative division within the TEA staffed by personnel with investigative and/or prosecutorial backgrounds to investigate future allegations of test cheating.

Given the size of Florida, the enormous stakes in our current high-stakes testing environment, and the recent events concerning Adobegate at Miami Norland Senior High School, Florida should either task the FLDOE Office of Inspector General with investigating allegations of test cheating in conjunction with local offices of inspector generals in Florida and/or create a similar investigative division within the FLDOE as TEA Commissioner Michael Williams is planning.

Thus far, the FLDOE Inspector General has declined to investigate Adobegate as indicated by the response he gave me in a letter dated February 6, 2013.

The FLDOE IG Mike Blackburn states, “School districts are not subdivisions of the Department of Education, and we do not possess general supervisory control over the decisions of local school boards within areas allotted to them constitutionally.”

State law says differently:

“Office of Inspector General.—Organized using existing resources and funds and responsible for promoting accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness and detecting fraud and abuse within school districts, the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, and Florida College System institutions in Florida. If the Commissioner of Education determines that a district school board, the Board of Trustees for the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, or a Florida College System institution board of trustees is unwilling or unable to address substantiated allegations made by any person relating to waste, fraud, or financial mismanagement within the school district, the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, or the Florida College System institution, the office shall conduct, coordinate, or request investigations into such substantiated allegations. The office shall have access to all information and personnel necessary to perform its duties and shall have all of its current powers, duties, and responsibilities authorized in s. 20.055” §1001.20 (4)(e), Florida Statute.

So far, the investigation by the Office of Inspector General for Miami-Dade County and by Miami-Dade County Public Schools has been limited to two teachers and fails to address the financial payouts caused due to the test cheating.

The Miami-Dade OIG Final Report stated that, “Miami Norland has benefited in the form of attaining a higher school grade and may have received financial compensation or other benefit resulting from its high pass rate on the industry certification exams” (page 13).

With the assistance of cheating, Miami Norland’s school grade went from a “C” for the 2010-11 school year to an “A” for the 2011-12 school year.

As a result, over $230,000 of combined federal and state incentives were paid out to the teachers at the school.

The total federal funds (SIG, RTTT) given out due to a grade influenced by cheating was $100,560; the total state funds per the Florida School Recognition Program was between $130,000- $140,000; the total overall combined federal and state incentive funds were $230,560- $240,560.

Each teacher at Miami Norland Senior High School received $1730.41 from all three payouts. If our school filched close to $250,000, which it did, imagine the total cost if other high schools were involved (ETO and non-ETO) – it most likely would be in the millions.

Per an email I sent to personnel in the FLDOE on January 18, 2013, the state and federal payouts could have been prevented, but FLDOE failed to act.

As I explained in a related article, the FLDOE could have prevented these payouts if they would have assigned Miami Norland Senior High School and “I” for “incomplete” until the resolution of the investigation akin to the case of North Miami Senior High School; regardless, the FLDOE’s $230,000+ lapse of judgment was caused by the cheating facilitated by the teachers, and perhaps persons unknown, at Miami Norland Senior High School.

This aspect should be investigated as well

The financial ramifications in terms of payouts to teachers at Miami Norland Senior High School, and possibly other high schools where this may have happened, of taxpayer-subsidized federal and state financial incentives demand a complete investigation of these and related events, and the FLDOE OIG should be fully involved as over $130,000 of state funds were paid out to the faculty and staff at Miami Norland Senior High School from the Florida School Recognition Program due to the school grade (a state process) being influenced by test cheating.

Besides Texas, California has taken an aggressive in this area by stripping five Los Angeles area schools of their school grades that were influenced by cheating.

The FLDOE has known about Adobegate since the summer of 2012 but has yet to move in this direction.

Thus far, by failing to address the school grade and the resulting federal and state payouts, the message has been that cheating is OK and that it pays.

Failure by the state to act, and lack of leadership by state officials to investigate Adobegate and future instances of test cheating, will be detrimental and costly to the citizens of Florida and the message to school districts, teachers, and students would be that cheating is OK but just don’t get caught doing it.