MCPS says claim of possible cheating on projects is unsubstantiated
Richard Montgomery teacher reported suspicion to state in spring
Richard Montgomery High School.
Montgomery County Public Schools said Wednesday that a teacher’s allegation of staff members possibly helping students cheat on projects required for graduation is unsubstantiated.
The Washington Post reported on Monday that Richard Montgomery social studies teacher Brian Donlon told school officials last year he saw a group of students using a worksheet to help organize a project for a government class, but some of it had been filled in for them in advance.
Donlon alleged multiple students used the worksheet.
MCPS spokesman Derek Turner said in an interview on Wednesday that Richard Montgomery administrators immediately investigated the claim and found no evidence of cheating. He said the school district became aware of the allegations in April 2019.
Donlon was not satisfied with that result, Turner said, and reported the incident to the Maryland State Department of Education. The department then launched an investigation that remains ongoing. However, state officials have released preliminary findings.
Students do “bridge” projects as a graduation requirement. Bridge projects are meant to test students’ knowledge of issues without using a standardized test, Turner said on Wednesday.
Bridge projects are done by students who do not meet state testing requirements to graduate. Students might have learning disabilities, are English language learners or are simply unable to perform well on assessments.
Preliminary findings, according to MCPS, include no evidence of cheating on bridge projects. They also showed that MCPS did not violate reteaching protocols established by the state Department of Education and MCPS provided “an approved and appropriate scaffolding technique for English Language Learners.”
“While we are pleased to see that the allegation of cheating was unsubstantiated, MSDE does identify areas for continued improvements in Bridge Project administration training,” the MCPS statement said. “We are committed to ensuring that teaching and learning, and assessments related to learning, continue to be done with the highest level of integrity.”
The findings also said “the teacher who reported the allegations failed to properly protect student privacy,” according to the MCPS statement.
Turner declined to comment on whether the finding led to any action against Donlon.
“We don’t comment on discipline,” Turner said.
Donlon testified at a December meeting of the state Board of Education. There, he said he was discouraged from reporting his concerns about cheating, according to his written testimony to the board.
He said the school’s assistant principal told him, “These are just sentence starters. This isn’t a big deal, these are used all over MCPS.”
“School systems and individual schools want to claim strong graduation rates, but unfortunately, they will engage in unethical activities to achieve these stats,” Donlon’s written testimony to the board says.
A final report from the state is expected in the next month.
Donlon in 2014 filed a whistleblower complaint against MCPS alleging that his employers retaliated against him for telling reporters at The Washington Post and The Gazette that the Rockville high school was artificially boosting its AP course enrollment.
A Maryland Court of Appeals judge ruled in 2018 that MCPS is not an entity of the state for the purposes of the Maryland State Whistleblower Protection Law.
Caitlynn peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org