Early findings indicate allegations of cheating in Montgomery County school are ‘unsubstantiated’

A Montgomery County, Maryland, public school teacher’s concerns that students were cheating prompted a state investigation; and although the probe isn’t finished, early results are in.

Brian Donlon, a social studies teacher at Richard Montgomery High School, said that last year he found several students using a work sheet that had been largely filled out for them by someone else.

The work sheet was part of a “bridge project,” which students who don’t do well on standardized tests can complete to earn a diploma.

Donlon reported what he saw to school administrators in April 2019.

Investigations were launched and completed. But Donlon thought they did not go far enough, and he asked for more.

Last month, Donlon went before the Maryland State Board of Education to request an independent investigation.

Recently, the school system was notified of the early findings of an investigation conducted by the Maryland State Department of Education.

“We’re happy to hear back from them that the allegations of cheating are unsubstantiated,” Derek Turner, Montgomery County schools spokesman, said.

The only student that got a pre-filled work sheet was an English language learner, who got approved help with the work sheet from a student aide, Turner said. The department of education backed up that the use of the work sheet was proper.

“They are confirming that these are appropriate tools, and they are being appropriately used,” Turner said. However, the department of education said that it prefers that English language learners get such help from teacher’s aides not student aides.

In a news release, the school system said that the department of education also “identified areas for continued improvements in bridge project administration training.”

A final report from the department of education is expected sometime in the next few weeks.

Donlon said that he stands by the statements he made before the board of education in December. In an email, Donlon said that he consulted with several educators before going public with his cheating suspicions, and each person he talked to was “deeply troubled by the level of assistance provided to students.”

“I was never asked questions about what I witnessed until Jan. 7, 2020. I have two elementary age children in MCPS. I depend on their teachers to report unethical conduct. I believe I have lived up to that standard,” Donlon said.

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter turned morning anchor at WTOP News.

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