Missing the Forest for the Trees

By October 30, 2015, we had already informed NCVPS teachers and executives of numerous significant problems with the APUSH course including the following:

  • widespread technology issues rendering portions of the course (such as the formative quizzes) unusable
  • post-assessment test questions that were vague and/or had no correct answer
  • post-assessment test questions on material not covered in the course
  • post-assessment test questions incorrectly coded (accepting a wrong answer as correct or vice versa)
  • post-assessment test question explanations that either contradicted the preferred answer or were blatantly wrong (for example, saying that a reading passage for the question contained a certain quotation when no such text existed in the passage)
  • post-assessments that did not provide adequate time for students to complete the assessment, and had not been tested for time prior to exposing them to students
  • lack of live or recorded instruction by teachers in the course
  • a policy decision preventing teachers from uploading recorded lectures to the course even if they wanted to
  • lack of instruction in historical thinking skills, as recommended by the College Board
  • failure to adhere to the College Board’s APUSH requirement for discussion based instruction: “teachers should provide time in their instruction for classroom discussion and collaborative learning activities”
  • failure to adhere to the course syllabus promising “students will work in groups discussing and framing answers to the essential questions”
  • reading assignments for the preferred American Pageant textbook that point to sections which do not exist in the text
  • PowerPoint notes intended as part of the course that were missing throughout the first quarter
  • arbitrary post-assessment grading/re-take/remediation practices that change from module to module
  • plagiarism by the APUSH course developers of essentially all of the educational content provided as part of the online course experience

To suggest that NCVPS took no actions in response to the issues we raised would be inaccurate.  For example, students were given credit for numerous faulty assessment questions that the teachers agreed were unreasonably vague or improperly scored, and the American Pageant textbook references were fixed (by assigning whole chapters to read rather than sections in addition to assigning students to read the plagiarized material).  Teachers were required to hold live review sessions for students, but only to answer student questions, not to teach.  However, in general, NCVPS staff and executives insisted that the APUSH course was not in need of significant remediation, and that the technology situation would be better the next year after NCVPS migrated to a new learning management system.  When we asked for “an explicit plan by NCVPS to fix this course, including details of what will be fixed, by whom, and when, with periodic updates to assess progress” on October 30, 2015, our request was ignored and the issues we raised reduced to a “missing citation”.

Even though NCVPS executives lied to us about the changes they were making in the APUSH course, again giving credit where due, they did in fact revise all of the content in the course at a cost to taxpayers of about $20,000 (although they also destroyed evidence of the plagiarism in the process, which is likely illegal).    NCVPS appears to have eliminated the unlicensed use of content from sites such as course-notes.org and historyteacher.net in the APUSH course, but perhaps not in other courses.   All NCVPS staff were required to take copyright law compliance training, although complying with these laws was already a key job responsibility for every teacher and course developer.  Of course, none of this happened until we provided proof of the plagiarized content in the course.

Some might consider this an effective response to our concerns, but we do not.  Two-thirds of all students who take the NCVPS APUSH course still fail the AP exam.  The course still has no live or recorded lectures, and extremely limited opportunities for students to learn from each other suggested by the College Board.  No one at NCVPS has been disciplined for major breaches of ethics, and likely illegal conduct, that cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.  As far as we know, nothing has been done to identify similar issues in other NCVPS courses, although our public records requests have uncovered evidence of plagiarism in at least two other NCVPS history courses.  The broken culture at NCVPS which allowed this misconduct to occur in the first place, and refused to deal with it honestly after the fact, remains in place to the detriment of students throughout the state.  The problems with NCVPS persist and, therefore, so do our calls for an investigation (we first made on August 20, 2016 for those following along).