NEW ROCHELLE, NY — In what can only be described as a massive failure that brings into question the legitimacy of hundreds of diplomas issued by New Rochelle High School in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, a special investigator hired by the school board in 2019 has concluded that every aspect of the APEX Learning Credit Recovery Program did not meet fundamental requirements of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education.
The foundational failure of the entire Program makes previously reported efforts to manufacture or inflate grades and boost graduation rates look like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic as school administrators attempted to cheat on test scores for ineligible students improperly registered for invalid courses.
The New Rochelle High School Credit Recovery Program did not include required certified teacher involvement with students enrolled in Apex credit recovery course offerings during the period 2014 through 2018. The approval process for student participation in the The NRHS Program was not compliant with the Commissioner’s Regulations. The decision to grant credit to student who completed just 65% of a course was deemed “not consistent” Commissioner’s Regulations.
Among the other findings, from 2016-2017 school year, Apex tests were not administered in a manner that preserved the security of tests or academic integrity; students were enrolled in credit recovery courses without prior failed attempts at such coursework as required under Commissioner’s Regulations; students enrolled in the same class sections as students from prior school years; students enrolled in the same class sections as students from other Houses; students were enrolled in the same course twice; students began coursework in one school year and completed such coursework the following school year; there was incorrect information regarding the teachers in the records.
In what should have been a large red flag, no failing grades or unsuccessful attempts were documented for any of the Apex credit recovery courses offered. Instead, incomplete and unsuccessful attempts by students in the Apex system were designated as “withdrawn” so that no one ever failed an APEX Learning course.
In contrast to a prior investigation, the investigator was able to sustain a Whistleblower allegation that a student was allowed to graduate despite not earning a high school diploma.
The APEX 2018 investigation found Shadia Alvarez entered 212 “overrides” or grade changes for 32 students, primarily to raise a grade, raise a grade from failing to passing or to create a new grade where none existed before, by making “entries and changes to students’ records in violation of NRHS grade-change practice and without any consistent, comprehensible or valid explanation”.
The APEX II investigation found a staggering 982 overrides for 98 students using APEX Learning during the period August 1, 2014 through July 31, 2018 with a massive spike once Alvarez was named Apex Coordinator. A 500% increase in overrides (i.e., grade changes) and 300% increase in students given overrides.
From 2015-2016 to 2016-2017, there was a jump from 23 overrides to 760 overrides and a jump from 2 students to 62 students. That number could have been far higher as most overrides were entered on or after June 1st of each school year but by June 1, 2018 the APEX 2018 investigation was already underway. 68% of overrides in 2017 were on or after June 1 whereas in 2018 just 2% overrides were on or after June 1.
All of this was based on a massive increase in the use of APEX Learning. In 2014-15 there were just 20 course completions. In 2015-2016 there were 70 course completions. That figure almost tripled once Alvarez was in charge, going to 199 course completions in 2016-2017 and 200 course completions in 2017-2018.
Between 2014 and 2018 there were 54 course completions for which no Time Spent (00:00) was recorded by the Apex system and for 15 of such 54 courses, the student Enrollment Date and Completion Date are the same. Each suggesting credits towards graduation were fabricated out of whole cloth. For the remaining 435 courses completed, the Time Spent per completed course ranges from 2 minutes to 81 hours and 15 seconds.
The report documented instances of students being enrolled in a course in one school year then completing the course in the following school year and students being enrolled in the same classes they were enrolled in for prior school years. The exact figures were redacted.
After operating in secrecy for more than a year, and stonewalling on the release of records for more than six months, the New Rochelle Board of Education capitulated Wednesday to efforts by Talk of the Sound to obtain the results of two new investigations by a law firm hired in March 2019 to initially re-open the 2018 investigation into the improper use of APEX Learning to inflate or manufacture grades, grant credits for incomplete or non-existent course work and grant unearned diplomas but later to investigate the original investigation itself.
Regina M. Cafarella, an attorney with the Law Offices of Douglas A. Spencer, conducted both investigations, as well as a separate investigation into the loss of instructional hours at the district’s two middle schools. Spencer invoices refer to the two Apex investigations as Apex I and Apex II.
The APEX I investigation concluded that at least one student was granted an unearned high school diploma.
The APEX II investigation concluded that the APEX Learning Program was a complete sham from inception in 2014 to the termination in 2018 after Talk of the Sound exposed Shadia Alvarez as a corrupt administrator from New York City who was overseeing a corrupt credit recovery program in New Rochelle.
There have been 3 APEX Learning Investigations for the New Rochelle Board of Education. T&M Protection Services conducted the APEX 2018 investigation. The Douglas A. Spencer Law Firm conducted two investigations: Apex I and Apex II. The three investigations took place over an 18 month period, from May 2018 to November 2019 with a two month gap in January and February 2019.
The total cost of the three APEX Learning investigations, so far, is $192,261.53.
Based on invoices seen by Talk of the Sound, the total cost of the T&M Protection Services was paid $131,607.53 for the APEX 2018 investigation. The Douglas A. Spencer Law Firm was paid $32,032.00 for the APEX I investigation and $28,622.00 for the APEX II investigation.
APEX Learning was the the online platform through which New Rochelle High School offered online courses and credit recovery to students during the period 2014 through the conclusion of the 2017-18 school year, according to the APEX I report which also noted APEX Learning was “also utilized as a means for providing AIS, unit recovery, instructional support to students, as well as online course offerings to ‘homebound’ and College-level students during the period 2014 through 2018 and prior.”
Below follows a summary of the three reports with the caveat that the Spencer invoices and reports were heavily redacted making detailed, comprehensive reporting (deliberately) impossible.
THE APEX 2018 INVESTIGATION
The 2018 investigation came about as a result of reporting by Talk of the Sound on May 7, 2018: “over the past two years, serious questions have been raised about the use of the Apex Learning Credit Recovery Program to artificially inflate graduation rates at the high school and whether students are properly completing work to quality for credit recovery…computers used for credit recovery are left “unlocked” so that students can complete “closed book” tests with their books, notes and other material on hand. Students have access to the exams at any time and can work on them from home. There is no way to know that a particular student completed their own work. Worse, in some cases, credit recovery is not being used to recover credit for a class but rather in lieu of taking the class. Some house principals have students that are only enrolled in credit recovery classes.
Later that month, new allegations surfaced in Talk of the Sound regarding complaints within the Art Department that a student improperly earned a half-year course credit for an independent study project and, in a story in the Journal News, that partial records for three students showed poor, incomplete or non-existent work for three art and music classes where students received perfect scores and full credit for the courses in the Apex Learning system.
T&M Protection Services was hired in May 2018 to investigate the three sets of allegations from May 7, and two on May 23. In the final report released in December 2018, T&M claimed they could not substantiate the allegations in the two May 23 news accounts but were able to substantiate all of the allegations contained in Talk of the Sound’s original story on May 7, 2018. In their report, T&M looked at just one independent study course completed by one student over a one month period; a handful of written assignments by five students from the 2015-16 school year that may or may not have been submitted for a grade in the Apex Learning system; and grade changes entered into the Apex Learning online program during one ten month period by just one of several Apex Coordinators.
T&M limited its’ investigation to just these three topics because the purpose of the investigation was not to investigate credit recovery abuse or Apex abuse. T&M was hired to look only at what had been published in the media. Requests by T&M to go beyond the information contained in the three media accounts was denied by outside counsel working for the school district.
The Executive Summary outlined the general findings of T&M’s investigation based on interviews and review of relevant documents, explains T&M’s investigative strategy, details the investigation into each of the two allegations, and offers conclusions and recommendations. It also lists the individuals interviewed by T&M and the dates on which those interviews took place. There is a 121-page appendix which includes material from 2015-16 such as student answer sheets and drawings sent to Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne by teacher Anthony Stirpe (the same packet sent to and reported on by the Journal News), a “spreadsheet” containing the 212 grades entered into the Apex system by Apex Coordinator and New Rochelle High School House Principal Shadia Alvarez and various other exhibits. T&M’s main finding was that Alvarez had changed or manufactured 212 grades for 32 students on quizzes, tests and exams during the 2017-18 school year. The school board moved to terminate her employment on the day the report was released to the public on December 4, 2018.
THE APEX I INVESTIGATION
Apex I appears to be an investigation into allegations made by a whistleblower in January 2019, a few weeks after the T&M investigation was made public. According to New York State Education Department records seen by Talk of the Sound, the whistleblower approached then-school board president Jeffrey Hastie who, in turn, referred the person to the New York State Education Department investigators who had been monitoring the situation in New Rochelle since May 2018, and begun their own investigation in December 2018 after a leaked copy of the T&M APEX 2018 report was published by Talk of the Sound. In March 2019, the school board hired the Spencer law firm to conduct investigations into the Whistleblower complaint as well as a separate investigation into the loss of instructional hours at the two middle schools which resulted in the departure of former Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Joseph Williams last summer.
Although the exact nature of the investigation remains hidden through what appears to be excessive and unwarranted redactions, Talk of the Sound interviewed the Whistleblower in December 2019. That person provided a list of the allegations provided to Cafarella: (1) Director of Guidance Gregg Sloane agreed to give administrative access to the Apex system to the parents and a coach of a student-athlete which Shadia Alvarez then granted. With administrative access to the Apex system, the parents and coach could unlock units in Apex courses. With no teacher proctoring assessments or unlocking new units there was no way to know who was taking the tests. The student-athlete took 3 courses a day at the high school and 6 courses online via Apex; (2) New Rochelle High School Night School Administrator Maureen Maire sent an email with an attached Excel spreadsheet in 2018 which listed course credit “swaps” for regular courses and Regents courses she was entering into the eSchools system where students who took a course at night school or summer school were credited with having taken a different course. A similar list was sent out annually. Francis Curley, the Director of Guidance at New Rochelle High School, and former IT Director Shanit Halprin were aware of Maire’s 2018 course credit-swap email; (3) Shadia Alvarez changed grades in Apex well beyond the grade changes cited in the T&M Apex report; (4) a student who should not have graduated was allowed to do so after former New Rochelle High School Principal Reggie Richardson called NRHS Guidance Counselor Laura Foster to say he was going to let the student walk in the graduation ceremony despite not earning a diploma; (5) A student took the same Regents Exam twice but was given course credit for another class based on the second exam; (6) credit was given for Regents Exams that were never taken; (7) no one at the high school understood how to operate Apex beyond granting administrative access. During an interview by Cafarella, Former Registrar Barbara Hassett alleged (8) a school official would repeatedly submit the same document seeking to get a student additional course credit for physical education. Hassett said this person would submit identical documents two or three or four or five times and was denied each time.
The Spencer Apex I report is about 90% redacted – making an understanding of the investigation and its conclusion all but impossible based solely on the report. In addition, the Spencer invoices for the investigation are similarly redacted so there is no information about the actual work done by Regina Cafarella, the Spencer investigator, or what precisely the board, and by extension the taxpayer, actually paid for or whether the work was actually done.
Former New Rochelle High School Registrar Barbara Hassett told Talk of the Sound in December 2019 she was never interviewed by T&M Protection Services but the District was invoiced for the cost of an interview of Hassett in 2018.
The Spencer engagement letter hiring Cafarella, seen by Talk of the Sound after a Freedom of Information request, redacted the “SCOPE OF REPRESENTATION” section. Following an appeal to Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo in February, she agreed the engagement letter was improperly redacted and granted the appeal, in part. The unredacted version of the Spencer engagement letter was so vague as to be meaningless, stating, “The Firm will provide legal services in connection with a confidential special investigation(s) the scope of which to be determined by the Board of Education.”
What is disclosed in the Apex I report is that the investigation consisted of a review of relevant laws and regulations, searches of the School District’s email system, retrieval of data from the eSchoo/PLUS system, verbal and written inquiries to APEX Learning, and interviews of 8 School District personnel (and that two declined to be interviewed by Cafarella).
Talk of the Sound, based on part reporting believes that the 8 interviews may have been with all or some of the 8 current and former employees identified by the Whistleblower in our December 2019 interview: Former Director of Guidance at New Rochelle High School Gregg Sloane, Former New Rochelle High School, Registrar Barbara Hassett, Former Assistant Superintendent Diane Massimo, Former Director of Guidance at New Rochelle High School Michael Kenny, Director of Guidance at New Rochelle High School Francis Curley, Former IT Director Shanit Halprin, New Rochelle High School Guidance Counselor Laura Foster and the Whistleblower, identified by Hastie as a former employee in the Registrar’s Office at New Rochelle High School. The two who declined to be interviewed may be former New Rochelle High School Principal Reggie Richardson and former New Rochelle High School Football Coach Lou DiRienzo.
If the District eventually releases the names of the interview subjects identified int the Apex I report or anyone comes forward to confirm or deny they were interviewed, Talk of the Sound will update the story accordingly.
The report states that an interview with a male interview subject on July 26, 2019 was terminated because the employee had no union representation and Cafarella became concerned the employee might ultimately be the subject of discipline. Talk of the Sound believes that interview subject to be Gregg Sloane.
Gregg Sloane was promoted to Director of Guidance at New Rochelle High School in 2016. By 2018, he had been removed from that position and given a “make work” job by former Interim Assistant Superintendent Amy Goodman who left New Rochelle in June 2019 and was named Interim Superintendent of Schools in Tuckahoe, New York in December 2019. Sloane retained his title of Director of Guidance until July 2019 when he formally resigned that position and replaced by Francis Curley. He remained on the district payroll until soon after the school board received the Apex I investigation report in December. His last day as a district employee was January 31, 2020.
The section on Findings, Opinions & Recommendations is almost entirely redacted making it impossible to know the results of the investigation from the report provided to Talk of the Sound.
It begins with Cafarella starting “based on all of the information I gathered and reviewed during the course of my investigation, the following represents the undersigned’s findings, opinions and recommendations.” and then lists two issues.
Issue #1 is mostly redacted but broken into five parts under the statement that Cafarella concluded that a student did not meet New York State’s credit requirements for a high school diploma. This contradicts claims by T&M Protection Services in the Apex 2018 investigation report that they were unable to substantiate any instances where a student received an unearned high school diploma. It supports the allegation by the Whistleblower that a student who should not have graduated was allowed to do so after former New Rochelle High School Principal Reggie Richardson called NRHS Guidance Counselor Laura Foster to say he was going to let the student walk in the graduation ceremony despite not earning a diploma. There is no way to know for certain from the report whether the student identified by the Whistleblower is the same student referenced by Cafarella but it appears likely.
Issue #2 is entirely redacted except for the phrase “Findings: I am unable to conclude…”
Cafarella concludes by recommending that “the Board of Education consult with General Counsel regarding any disciplinary action and/or counseling of School District personnel that might be warranted, and protocols that could be implemented to prevent similar occurrences in the future.”
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE T&M INVESTIGATION AND APEX DATA LEADS TO APEX II INVESTIGATION
As part of the APEX I investigation, Cafarella sought information from APEX Learning. She communicated with Rebecca Saunders Ortiz, Director of Client Support, and Bemee Kamana’o, Apex Learning Senior Client Operations Manager. Cafarella reported the information provided by them raised serious doubts about the reliability of the data recorded in the various Apex reports made available by the company.
In reviewing the APEX Learning “Course Completions Reports”, Cafarella noted issues with the “Time Spent” data, the the aggregated amount of time once the student launches the course times out logs out or closes the window. She was told by Bemee Kamana’o that when a course is modified or updated, a new version of the course is released and that modifications to courses are not retroactive so that new “classrooms” must be created and students enrolled in order for the new version of the course to be used. Schools have the option to allow the students to continue working in the older version of the course or they may be withdrawn from the older version and re-enrolled in the new version. This information contradicted past statements of school officials and findings in the T&M Report and apparently played a role in the decision to open up the Apex II investigation in August 2019.
THE APEX II INVESTIGATION
The APEX II investigation report begins with Cafarella detailing, for the first time in the records made available to Talk of the Sound, the purpose of her investigation: New Rochelle High School’s utilization of APEX Learning for the purpose of credit recovery.
Cafarella states she was tasked with reviewing whether the Apex Learning credit recovery program was administered in compliance with the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education pertaining to credit recovery, and determining whether any School District employees who performed administrative responsibilities for such Program engaged in misconduct in connection with grading and/or awarding credit to students.
Cafarella states in the report what triggered the New Rochelle Board of Education’s request for an investigation but the reason is redacted. Talk of the Sound believes the trigger was the Whistleblower coming forward in January 2019.
Cafarella, who met with the school board in executive session in August 2019, after she completed work on the Apex I investigation, then states she was charged with conducting a separate investigation (Apex II) into the matter and “reviewing the overall manner in which the Apex Program was administered during the four school years the Program was offered at NRHS (academic years, 2014-2015, 2015-2016, 2016-2017, and 2017-2018)” and reviewing the New Rochelle High School implementation plan for Edgenuity, the new online platform which replaced APEX Learning through which credit recovery is presently offered at New Rochelle High School.
The investigation consisted of a review of relevant laws and regulations, interviews of School District personnel, including retired and current employees who were involved with the Program, review of various records furnished by the witnesses who were interviewed and/or located with their assistance, verbal and written inquiries to Apex Learning representatives, review of extensive data furnished by Apex Learning, and review of the newly adopted guidelines pertaining to credit recovery at New Rochelle High School.
The Apex II report addressed three issues: (1) was the Apex Learning Online Credit Recovery Program administered in compliance with the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education governing credit recovery; (2) did the School District employees who had administrative responsibilities for the Apex Program engage in misconduct in the grading and awarding credit to students: (3) review and evaluate the new Adopted Guidelines Applicable to Online Credit Recovery at New Rochelle High School.
The responses on Issues 2 and 3 are completely redacted. Talk of the Sound intends to appeal these redactions.
Our appeal on Issue 2 will be on the grounds that the public has every right to know if any District employees engaged in misconduct in the grading and awarding credit to students even if they want to keep those names secret. The public should be told whether the answer is “yes” or “no” and, if “yes” then how many employees engaged in misconduct in grading, in awarding credit to students or both. And any other misconduct that may have been uncovered.
Our appeal on Issue 3 will be on the grounds that we cannot fathom any reason that a review and evaluation of a policy document previously to Talk of the Sound under a Freedom of Information request would need to be kept confidential.
As for Issue #1, Cafarella determined that the Apex Learning Online Credit Recovery Program was an absolute sham from day one in every conceivable way. While some parts are redacted the full scope of the failure is readily apparent.
- The Apex Credit Recovery Program at New Rochelle High School was not administered in compliance with the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education, at any point in time, during the years the Program was in operation due to the lack of certified teacher involvement with students enrolled in Apex credit recovery course offerings during the period 2014 through 2018.
The Commissioner’s Regulations require that online credit recovery programs, ensure that the student receives equivalent, intensive instruction in the subject matter area provided under the direction and/or supervision of a teacher who is certified in the subject matter area,” and include regular and substantive interaction between the student and a teacher who is certified in the subject matter area and providing direction and/or supervision.
- The District’s system for approval of student participation in the The Apex Credit Recovery Program was not compliant with the Commissioner’s Regulations.
Enrollments were not approved by a school-based panel consisting of (at a minimum) the principal, a teacher certified in the subject area under study , and a guidance director or other administrator.
- The cabinet’s decision to require 65% course completion for passing is not consistent with the section of the Commissioner’s Regulations.
Credit recovery programs must “satisfactorily address the student’s course completion deficiencies and individual needs.” A “one-size-fits-all” approach is at odds with the student-focused and need-based determination required under the regulations governing credit recovery.
- Commencing in or around the 2016-2017 school year, Apex tests were not administered in a manner that preserved the security of tests or academic integrity.
- Some students were enrolled in credit recovery courses without prior failed attempts at such coursework.
- Students were enrolled in the same class sections as students from prior school years (i.e., 2017-2018 Apex students enrolled in the 2016-2017 Physical Education course)
- Students were enrolled in the same class sections as students from other Houses
- There was incorrect information regarding the teacher of record in the files.
- Students were enrolled in the same course twice.
- Students began coursework in one school year and completed that coursework the following school year.
- No failing grades or unsuccessful attempts were documented for any of the Apex credit recovery courses offered (incomplete and unsuccessful attempts by students in the Apex system were designated as “withdrawn”).
Cafarella obtained three key documents from APEX Learning: the APEX Course Completions Report, the APEX Consolidated Activities Report and the APEX Grade Book Audit Report. The reports show that the floodgates on abuse of the APEX Learning Program began in 2016 when Shadia Alvarez was appointed Apex Coordinator by former New Rochelle High School Principal Reggie Richardson.
The APEX Course Completions Report shows data pertaining to all APEX course completions by New Rochelle High School students during the time period of 2014 to 2018, including: the title of the course completed, the student’s course enrollment date, the student’s course completion date, the teacher of record, the Final Grade, the name of the individual who assigned the final grade, the Time Spent by the student, and the percentage of course activities completed by the student.
The New Rochelle High School Course Completions Report from APEX Learning indicates that approximately 281 students completed courses using Apex during the period August 1, 2014 through July 31, 2018, and there were 489 course completions during such time period.
The report breaks that down as follows:
2014-2015: 20 course completions
2015-2016: 70 course completion
20I6-2017: 199 course completions
2017-2018: 200 course completions.
Between 2014 and 2018 there were 54 course completions for which no Time Spent (00:00) was recorded by the Apex system and for 15 of such 54 courses, the student Enrollment Date and Completion Date are the same.
For the remaining 435 courses completed, the Time Spent per completed course ranges from 2 minutes to 81 hours and 15 seconds.
The report also documented the number of instances of students being enrolled in a course in one school year then completing such course during the following school year and students being enrolled in the same classes they were enrolled in for prior school years but all of this data was redacted.
The APEX Consolidated Activities Report was primarily used by Cafarella to cross-check and better understand information reported in the Course Completions Report and the Grade Book Audit Report. The Consolidated Activities Report provides comprehensive information regarding the individual activities completed by students (organized by course, unit, lesson, and activity number) including, for every activity assigned: points earned, points possible, the number of times a student attempted the activity (Activity Attempts), the time the student spent on the activity displayed in seconds (Time Spent Seconds), a description of whether a student completed the activity and if it was graded by a teacher (Score Details), and the name of the teacher who entered the score for the activity in Grade Book if such activity was “teacher entered” and not scored by the computer (Score Awarded By).
APEX Grade Book Audit Report
The APEX Grade Book Audit Report is the record within which all scores earned by students are recorded (by course), inclusive of the scores earned for diagnostics (DIA), quizzes (QUZ), computer scored tests (CST), and final and mid-term examinations (EXM). The report displays all computer-scored activities completed by a student for which the score earned by the student was changed by a teacher, and all computer-scored activities not completed by the student, but which had a score assigned by a teacher.
The Grade Book Audit Report indicates that there were 982 overrides for 98 students using Apex during the period August 1, 2014 through July 31, 2018. The data is skewed because (a) the report looked only at overrides for completed courses not for courses where Enrollment Status is indicated as Withdrawn or Active and; (b) while a large percentage of overrides typically occurred on or after June 1st of the school year in 2018 the number was below 2% because by then the T&M APEX 2018 investigation was underway suggesting the 2018 numbers might have been far higher than the 2017 data but for Talk of the Sound exposing irregularities with New Rochelle High School’s credit recovery program.
Overrides are not “typos”. To perform overrides, according to APEX Learning, users must engage in a multi-step process. Users must enter the Grade Book, select the unit they wish to review, review the scores earned for the activities within such unit, double-click on the score he or she wishes to change (or enter, if no score is recorded), enter the new score and press, “save”.
The overrides report breaks down as follows:
2014-2015: 5 overrides for 1 student
40% of overrides were on or after June 1st of the school year.
2015-2016: 23 overrides for 2 students
50% of overrides were on or after June 1st of the school year.
2016-2017: 760 overrides for 62 students
68% of overrides were on or after June 1st of the school year.
2017-2018: 196 overrides 33 students
NOTE: 2% of overrides were on or after June 1st of the school year.
Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo and New Rochelle Board of Education President Amy Moselhi did not respond to requests for comment.
APPENDIX A: CASE STUDIES
The interview summary contained several examples of abuse and fraud in the APEX reports. Keep in mind the 2017 New Rochelle High School Graduation was June 22, 2017.
Consolidated Activities Report (rows 28313 – 28390)
A teacher entered the scores for all written assignments completed by a student; the student completed all computer-scored activities for the first “semester” of the course on line, but the student completed no work for the second “semester” of the course, and all of the overrides performed pertain to the second “semester” work when no work was done.
Consolidated Activities Report (rows 28391 – 28468)
A teacher entered the scores for all written assignments and computer-scored activities, with the exception of the first 7 or so activities which were completed by the student online.
Consolidated Activities Report (rows 12055 – 12102)
An administrator (likely Shadia Alvarez) entered the scores for all written assignments completed by a student, and the student completed no work online (no Time Spent or Activity Attempts are indicated). The Grade Book Audit Report shows the student’s course enrollment date, course completion date, and the dates of the overrides performed are the same (June 21, 2017)
An administrator (likely Shadia Alvarez) entered batches of overrides on June 21, 2017; 54 of the 35 overrides were performed during various hours of the school day, including 10:00 AM, 11 :00 AM, 12:00 PM, and 2:00 PM. 7 overrides during the hour of 9:00 AM on June 21, 2017 and 77 overrides on June 21, 2017 during the hours of approximately 3:00 PM and 4:45 PM.
Consolidated Activities Report (rows 16774 – 16841)
A teacher entered approximately 55 course exams and pre-tests for a student on June 20, 2017; it appears the student attempted four Unit I activities on June 20, 2017.
Consolidated Activities Report (rows 19280 – 19321)
All of the scores awarded to a student in the College and Career Preparation I and II course were Teacher Entered on June 21, 2017 with no Time Spent or Activity Attempts by the student.
Consolidated Activities Report (rows 7407 – 7429)
The same student successfully completed College and Career Preparation I (Time Spent and Activity Attempts are indicated for each of the assigned activities) which is duplicative of approximately one half of the activities required for the College and Career Preparation I and II course. The date of the first grade earned for the student’s College and Career Preparation I course, April 8, 2017 is consistent with the April 6, 2017 enrollment date recorded in the House 1 Apex Log.
Consolidated Activities Report (rows 18749 -18856)
All of the scores awarded to a student taking the Biology Literacy Advantage course were Teacher Entered on June 21, 2017 with no Time Spent or Activity Attempts by the student. The student’s course enrollment date, course completion date, and the dates of the overrides performed are the same. June 21, 2017.
APPENDIX B: APPLICABLE COMMISSIONER’S REGULATIONS
The APEX II report included a breakdown of applicable Commissioner’s Regulations.
Students in the general education program are required to earn at least 22 units of credit to receive a high school diploma (4 units of credit in English; 4 units of credit in social studies – including a ½ unit of credit in U.S. Government and a ½ unit of credit in Economics, 3 units of credit in science; 3 units of credit in mathematics; 1 unit of credit in languages other than English; 1 unit of credit in visual art, music, dance and/or theatre; 2 units of credit in physical education; a ½ unit of credit in health; and 3 ½ units of credit in electives.
Under 8 N.Y.C.R.R. §100.S(a), as per Section 100.1 (a) and (b) of the Commissioner’s Regulations, a unit of credit is earned by “the mastery of the learning outcomes set forth in a New York State-developed or locally developed syllabus for a given high school subject, after a student has had the opportunity to complete a unit of study in the given subject matter area”. Unit of study is defined as, “at least 180 minutes of instruction per week throughout the school year, or the equivalent.”
Under 8 N.Y.C.R.R. §100.S(d)(S) of the Commissioner’s Regulations, school districts are authorized to offer students who previously failed a course required for graduation, the opportunity to make up incomplete or failed courses and obtain credit. In regard to make up credit programs, also known as credit recovery programs, the Commissioner’s Regulations authorize school districts to select the specific format of the programs through which credit-recovery is offered, and the following differing approaches are listed as acceptable options:
- repeating an entire course;
- taking the course again as part of a summer school program;
- receiving intensive instruction in the deficiency areas of the course; or
- digital learning (online study) that is comparable in scope and quality to regular classroom instruction; provides for documentation of satisfactory student achievement; and includes regular and substantive interaction between the student and the teacher who is certified in the subject matter area and providing direction and/or supervision.
It is within the discretion of local school districts to offer a credit recovery program that differs from the approaches listed above. However, the regulations specifically state that any credit recovery program offered to students must:
- be aligned with the applicable New York State learning standards;
- satisfactorily address the student’s course completion deficiencies and individual needs; and
- ensure that the student receives equivalent, intensive instruction in the subject matter area provided, under the direction and/or supervision of a teacher who is certified in the subject matter area.
The Commissioner’s Regulations further provide that a student’s participation in a credit recovery program must be approved by a school-based panel consisting of, at a minimum, the principal, a teacher in the subject area for which the student must make up credit, and a guidance director or other administrator.
In regard to on line courses taken for credit, §100.S(d)(10) of the Commissioner’s Regulations similarly states, in pertinent part, that school districts must ensure that:
- such courses are aligned with the applicable New York State learning standards;
- such courses provide for documentation of student mastery of the learning outcomes;
- instruction is provided by or under the direction and/or supervision of a certified teacher;
- such courses include regular and substantive interaction between the student and the certified teacher providing direction and/or supervision; and
- instruction satisfies the unit of study and unit of credit requirements in Section 100.1 (a) and (b) of the Commissioner’s Regulations
APPENDIX C: BAD APEX DATA
The APEX I and APEX II reports make numerous references to irregularities with the data provided to Cafarella by APEX Learning leading her to conclude that the nature of the errors and the scope of the errors impacting the Apex data which was examined during the course of this investigation is unknown.
Cafarella stated that she spent a significant amount of time studying Apex data, and revisiting such data as witnesses were interviewed, in an effort to reconcile it with the statements and evidence provided as well as corresponding and spoking with Apex Learning representatives to request clarification as she uncovered inconsistencies and information that could not be reconciled.
The full details of her concerns is contained into the redacted report linked to this article but what becomes clear is that the explanations Cafarella received from APEX Learning did not make sense and even when they sent her “corrected” data it was still inaccurate or otherwise did not make sense. Cafarella was working on the APEX data irregularity issue right up to the weeks when the report was turned over to the school board in December 2019 and never received a satisfactory explanation. On November 6, 2019, APEX Learning notified Cafarella it was conducting its own investigation and would have an update soon. No such update was received by Cafarella.
APPENDIX D: COSTS
TOTAL APEX cost: $192,261.53
Apex: $ 131,607.53
Invoice Date 9/21/18 (May-July 2018/Apex) $75,897.71
Invoice Date 12/18/18 (Aug-Nov 2018) $55,709.82
Douglas A. Spencer Law Firm
Apex I: $32,032.00
Apex II: $28,622.00
TOTAL APEX: $60,654.00
Invoice Date 4/1/19 (March 2019/Apex) $15,532.00
Invoice Date 4/3/19 (March 2019/State Aid) $968.00
Invoice Date 5/1/19 (April 2019/Apex) $6,314.00
Invoice Date 5/1/19 (April 2019/State Aid) $2,354.00
Invoice Date 6/1/19 (May 2019/Apex) $726.00
Invoice Date 6/1/19 (May 2019/State Aid) $7,172.00
Invoice Date 7/8/19 (June 2019/Apex) $3,278.00
Invoice Date 7/8/19 (June 2019/State Aid) $11,121.00
Invoice Date 8/8/19 (July 2019/Apex) $6,182.00
Invoice Date 8/8/19 (July 2019/Apex II) $4,466.00
Invoice Date 9/5/19 (August 2019/Apex II) $11,616.00
Invoice Date 10/8/19 (September 2019/Apex II) $12,298.00
Invoice Date 10/8/19 (Oct-Nov 2019/Apex II) $242.00
APPENDIX E: RELATED ARTICLES
It is worth noting here, for the first time on Talk of the Sound, that over the past two years, serious questions have been raised about the use of the Apex Learning Credit Recovery Program to artificially inflate graduation rates at the high school and whether students are properly completing work to quality for credit recovery. Talk of the Sound has previously sought records (and was rebuffed) in an effort to ascertain how many students each year are obtaining high school credits through credit recovery, how many such credits they are obtaining and how many students graduate each year “credit recovery” credits on their transcript.
Sources at New Rochelle High School have told Talk of the Sound that the computers used for credit recovery are left “unlocked” so that students can complete “closed book” tests with their books, notes and other material on hand. Students have access to the exams at any time and can work on them from home. There is no way to know that a particular student completed their own work. Worse, in some cases, credit recovery is not being used to recover credit for a class but rather in lieu of taking the class. Some house principals have students that are only enrolled in credit recovery classes.
APPENDIX F: TRANSPARENCY
After having repeatedly promised full transparency and the complete and final unredacted report, the New Rochelle Board of Education has flipped the script on Round 2 of the Apex investigation and gone with stonewalling and secrecy.
SCOPE OF SERVICES
“T&M will provide investigative and consulting services in reference to allegations related to the credit recovery program at client’s high school.”
Douglas A. Spencer Law Firm Agreement
SCOPE OF REPRESENTATION: T&M v Spencer
“The Firm will provide legal services in connection with a confidential special investigation(s) the scope of which to be determined by the Board of Education.
INVOICES: T&M v Spencer
SAMPLE PAGES OF REPORTS: T&M v Spencer