NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Doh! We had got it right the first time based on the T&M invoices. The much anticipated investigative report on abuses of Apex Learning’s credit recovery says Shadia Alvarez manually entered grades into the Apex Learning system 212 times for 32 students on 40 courses, this according to a source who was reading to us from the report itself. We apologize for the error, our original source had heard the figure “200” and understood that to mean 200 students not 200 grades. Our newest source was actually reading from the report.
This source 100% confirmed our reporting that Maria Nuñez will be cleared of allegations from 3 New Rochelle High School Art Department teachers we reported upon previously.
We are also told the report paints a grim picture of Shadia Alvarez which will sound familiar to anyone who has read the investigative reports by the New York City Department of Education OSI/SCI on Alvarez as a woman unable to keep her story straight. Confronted in June with the spreadsheet put together by T&M she offered shifting accounts of how and why grades were entered into student records apparently unaware that the Apex Learning system records every keystroke by every logged on user. Without providing precise details, our source says Alvarez offered various explanations that blamed anything from computer error to human error due to overwork. At one point she portrayed the 212 grades she entered as the result of inadvertent grade entries but the process to enter a grade requires multiple steps that make accidentally adding a grade entirely implausible and certainly doing so 212 times statistically impossible.
One very interesting comment from this source refers back to a Freedom of Information request made by the Journal News in June. Most of the request was denied on the grounds that “internal emails and memos are exempt under FOIL as intra-agency communications”. The only problem with that is the Journal News FOIL request did not ask for internal emails and memos, it mostly asked for written policies including policies that one would expect are made available to students and parents (i.e., public records).
Here is the article and a cleaned up version of the list of records sought by the Journal News:
Few Apex documents produced from New Rochelle schools after public records request
Our new source says the reason that many of the items described in the Journal News FOIL request regarding policies and procedures were not provided is not because they are exempt from FOIL but because they do not exist.
So, backing into this, our source is really saying that the New Rochelle Board of Education does not have these policies which covers the following items on the lohud list:
- Written policies for Apex on earning a credit and credit recovery
- Written policies on eligibility to use Apex for credit recovery
- Written policies on earning a credit using Apex
- Written policies on when and how students should take exams
- Written policies on when courses should be locked to ensure students complete assignments
- Written policies on when the lock can be overridden, and who has the authority to override
- Written policies on when assignments are or are not are completed online
- Written policies on completing a course
On that last point, we have been told by various sources over the past two years there were effectively no policies on how long students were were allowed to re-take quizzes, tests and exams. By default, students who failed could retake assessments three times before they were “locked out” of the system but that a teacher could override the lock out so the student would get another three tries and the process could be repeated indefinitely. This does not sound academically rigorous.
The lack of a written policy on criteria for who could take a course would go a long way towards explaining why we reported on May 7th that there were students who were enrolled at the high school but only took Apex courses online and why Holly Gruskay said on Facebook that her daughter took an Apex course due to a scheduling conflict. This is not credit “recovery” but straight up online learning - not making up for a class a student failed but substituting classroom instruction for online instruction via Apex with little or no teacher interaction and no proctors or even assurances that the student getting credit for the class is the one completing the quizzes, tests and exams. This sounds a lot like a “credit recovery mill”.
The lack of a policy on when and how students can take exams would explain reports that students sat on the floor outside house offices to work collaboratively on assessments, that a baseball coach was given an administrative login, that students were paid to take tests for other students and that students were taking tests outside the school network and on their personal computing devices and doing so without proctors. Given this there is no way to be certain of the integrity of any Apex grades given to students or Apex credits on their transcripts which translates into serious questions about diplomas issued to students with Apex credits on their transcripts.
Considering this in the context of actions by Alvarez where 212 grades were manually entered without any sort of policy on why or how means 212 grades were changed with little or no justification or supporting documentation like a grade change approval form like what is used for courses taught by actual teachers in real not virtual classrooms.
The issue is that these were online courses with online tests where Alvarez manually added grades the implication being that the students did not take the tests at all, that the score was blank and Alvarez manually entered scores. In other words, she was manufacturing grades out of thin air.
The lack of policies on locking and unlocking courses would explain why a baseball coach could unlock a course or why a student could take a test an unlimited number of times.
The picture that emerges is one where high school administrators including the building leadership, house principals, the guidance counselors and teachers were jamming kids through Apex whether they did the work themselves, whether someone else did it or whether no one did it and grades were simply manufactured, all to pump on the graduation rates. It would be interesting to compare trend data on graduation rates and use of Apex courses under Reggie Richardson’s watch, broken down by cohort and racial and ethnic groups.
If you have any more information or especially a correction like the caller today call Robert Cox 914-325-4616. Again, we regret the error on 200 v 32, it is a big error but we are doing the best we can in the absence of the actual report which in our view should have been released two months ago.