Carver Elementary loses national Blue Ribbon award

Ronald E. Carrington | 11/29/2018, 6 a.m.
Richmond’s George W. Carver Elementary School is no longer a national Blue Ribbon school. The U.S. Department of Education announced ...

Richmond’s George W. Carver Elementary School is no longer a national Blue Ribbon school.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Tuesday that it was stripping the school of the national award given to the school in 2016 for academic achievement.

The action followed a state investigation earlier this year showing that the school’s exceptional student achievement results were because of a system of cheating used by the former principal and several teachers to help students on state Standards of Learning tests.

The Leigh Street school was one of only seven in the state and 329 in the country that received the national honor two years ago.

Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said he supports the federal agency’s decision to revoke the award and will follow the department’s direction to remove any reference to Carver receiving it.

School Board member James “Scott” Barlow, whose 2nd District includes Carver Elementary, expressed disappointment at the revocation, but added, “It doesn’t change our mission to provide a nurturing and impactful educational environment for all of our children.

“We can’t lose sight of that in the aftermath of the investigation,” Mr. Barlow continued. “Despite the trauma that the Carver community has experienced, our students, teachers and families are resilient, and the school is still moving in a positive direction.”

In late July, the Virginia Department of Education issued its finding that Carver students had received inappropriate help on tests from teachers, resulting in a higher percentage of students passing SOL tests than might have otherwise been expected.

The VDOE report included investigators’ interviews of students who said they were helped when they raised their hands with questions. Investigators found that some of the teachers monitoring the testing indicated to students whether answers were correct or incorrect or provided a student with assistance if a question created confusion.

The percentage of Carver students passing SOL tests had trailed state averages before Kiwana Yates became principal at Carver in 2012. Under her leadership, the pass rates began to climb dramatically. The results led Ms. Yates in 2015 to nominate Carver to the U.S. Department of Education for a Blue Ribbon, the top national educational award.

In 2016, Ms. Yates went to the awards ceremony in Washington and received an engraved plaque spelling out the significance of the award. Carver was the only Richmond area school to receive the award.

Ms. Yates was ousted in June, and an interim principal was brought in, before the release of the embarrassing state report alleging that she organized and led a cheating ring to enable the school to show high rates of student success on the SOLs. In one year, 100 percent of students at Carver were reported to have passed reading tests, for example. Ms. Yates officially resigned in August, along with five teachers.

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program was created in 1982 to honor schools that have achieved high levels of student achievement or made significant improvements in closing the achievement gap among student subgroups.