Friday, April 25, 2014
Richmond Public Schools officials acknowledge that they have significantly over-reported diploma data to the Virginia Department of Education during all four years that the district has graduated students from the often-touted International Baccalaureate program at Thomas Jefferson High School.

In three years, the program awarded just five diplomas. Meanwhile, RPS incorrectly reported to the Virginia Department of Education that it had awarded 53 IB diplomas.

“That’s a mistake that was reported incorrectly,” confirms Stephen Bolton, a spokesman with Richmond Public Schools, assigning blame for the errors to the administration at Thomas Jefferson High. “The individual schools do the reporting, and obviously a mistake was made.”

The incorrect reports, while they may have originated at the school, were signed off on by Superintendent Yvonne Brandon during each year dating back to 2008. Those reports, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Richmond magazine from the Virginia DOE, bear Brandon’s signature.

Brandon indicated in a recent interview that she was not aware of the reporting discrepancy.

“I’d have to look at that — I’d have to check it,” she said, while acknowledging that the overall IB program “could be better.”

Last month, with a budget battle bubbling over between Richmond Public Schools and Mayor Dwight C. Jones, Brandon announced that International Baccalaureate was among the flagship programs that might face the ax if the city failed to come up with an additional $24 million in funding. The mayor’s task force wound up recommending cuts that spared the program.

RPS leaders frequently highlight the program as important to attracting middle-class families, as well as convincing families of higher-achieving students to remain in the district beyond elementary school.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme uses a demanding standardized curriculum. In order to offer IB diplomas, school districts must maintain a staff of teachers in IB classes who have completed a rigorous training and certification program. IB diplomas are recognized by universities around the world, and the International Baccalaureate itself is a UNESCO non-governmental organziation headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

RPS’ error in reporting was first discovered by Richmond magazine after requesting diploma data for Hanover, Henrico, Chesterfield and Richmond directly from the International Baccalaureate in Switzerland.

In fact, Richmond's IB diploma program may face more systemic issues than simply a failure to report its total number of diploma recipients accurately.

In order to ensure consistency in the diplomas it certifies, IB requires schools to maintain at least one IB-trained teacher in each of six subject-area categories. Four of those categories, math, sciences, English and social studies, are necessary in order to receive a diploma.

But at Thomas Jefferson, the school has gone three years without a permanent science teacher. The school’s former IB-certified biology teacher, Rebecca Moss, whose name was still listed on the school website’s staff directory until yesterday, left at the end of the 2009-10 school year. A long-term substitute hired during the 2010-11 school year left at the end of that year, according to Bolton. Biology is the only IB science offered at the school, and it's a requirement for receiving an IB diploma.

The current teacher, according to Bolton, also is a long-term substitute. He and Rodney Fout, the coordinator for RPS’ gifted programs, confirm that the teacher does not currently hold a state license or a provisional license to teach. A search of the Department of Education's website confirms that the teacher currently does not hold a teaching license or a provisional license in Virginia.

“She does have a degree in biology and for another science,” says Fout, who oversees the city’s two IB programs. “She has been to several different trainings.”

The teacher, according to Bolton, attended IB training in January at a high school in Springfield. Officials with IB, which has its U.S. headquarters in Maryland, said that the training event the teacher attended was not offered directly by IB, and they could not confirm that it took place. The program was not listed in a database of IB's sanctioned training events, but, said one official, “that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

Teachers who attend IB training receive a stamped certificate from IB indicating they have completed the program, according to the official. IB programs are evaluated every five years to ensure compliance with IB's certifying requirements. Richmond’s program faces evaluation within the next couple of years.

Colleen Duffy, a spokeswoman with IB in Maryland, says that maintaining staff who have received IB training “does matter,” and that if a program lacked trained teachers in a required core area of study, “and they were to be evaluated, that would be a red flag.”

Bolton says the district has worked actively to fill this critical gap, indicating that a letter to that effect was recently sent by Brandon to State Superintendent for Public Instruction Patricia Wright “explaining how hard it has been to find an IB-certified teacher” who also is state certified to teach high-school biology.

“Rest assured, we are going to be looking desperately to find an IB-certified and -trained teacher,” Bolton says.

The high-water mark for Richmond’s over-reporting of diplomas occurred in 2007-08, the first year that Richmond reported IB graduates to the state. The district’s numbers that year indicated 25 IB diploma recipients, but numbers supplied by IB indicate just one graduate.

Over the succeeding three years, Richmond claimed eight, 11 and nine graduates, respectively. But statistics provided by IB indicate one graduate in 2009 and three graduates in 2010. IB awarded no diplomas at all to Richmond students in 2011.  

In all, Richmond reported to the state 53 IB diploma earners between the 2007-08 and 2010-11 school years.

Currently, there are more than 300 Richmond students enrolled in IB from grades six to 12, according to the Richmond Public Schools website. Each grade level typically has 50 slots available for students.

Bolton says that the city plans to provide corrected data to the Virginia Department of Education. As of today, the information available on the state department’s website remains uncorrected.

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