Around 10 percent of the students enrolled in the summer school program at Proviso District 209 high schools in 2013 somehow gained access to a computer program which allowed them to take online final exams outside of school and, in some cases, finish an entire class in three or four days.
The board learned these facts at the Proviso Township High School District 209 school board meeting on June 10.
Students in credit recovery were somehow able to log in to the Apex Learning computer system outside of school hours and complete final exams — some of them the first week of summer school.
A report from Apex Learning, presented to the board, showed 53 instances of students gaining access to tests after summer school ended at 1:10 p.m.
D209 Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart said no students would be penalized for alleged cheating on the tests because, “this is a system failure.”
“We will be talking to the teachers involved,” she added.
Board members brought up rumors at the September, 2013 board meeting that they had heard from constituents that students were finishing the $100 summer school classes in only a few days.
Board member Theresa Kelly said she had spoken to a parent who allegedly had completed a test online for a student.
“The parent told me there was some kind of flaw in the system,” Kelly said in a phone interview on June 11. “The parent wanted to know what was going on. The parent said the student finished in about three or five days and wanted to know why he had to pay a fee.”
The credit recovery program was designed for students who had failed a required class. A total of 580 students participated in the credit recovery program during 2013.
“If a student can’t get it in a semester, how is he going to get it in three, four or five days?” Kelly asked.
Teachers at Proviso East, Proviso West and Proviso Math and Science Academy had students who gained access to the system outside of school hours.
The Apex online program is designed to be completed “at your own pace,” with a series of quizzes leading up to a proctored final exam. Although summer school was supposed to last four weeks from June 10 to July 11, some students took final exams outside of school hours as early as June 11 and were finished by June 12. Sixteen of the students listed on the report finished the program within the first week.
Googling the words “Apex cheat codes” on the Internet brings up dozens of sites with answers for Apex summer school subjects in math, science and other subjects. Some sites sell answers with a credit card payment. Google also shows high school districts in Houston and Denver have investigated Apex Learning cheating schemes.
Former D209 employee Della Hayes Peterson told the board during the public comment portion of a school board meeting in February that students had been “given the codes” by teachers.
She confirmed the story in a phone interview with the Forest Park review on June 11.
“Parents approached me at my church and said their child had been given the code by a teacher,” Patterson said. “The parent said, ‘My student was struggling and I helped her finish up the test at home.'”
The report shows the log-in codes of 20 teachers. One Proviso West teacher is linked to the log-in codes for seven different students. Other teachers are linked to log-ins for between four and two students. A universal system log-in code for Satyam software contractors also appears three times.
In September 2013, when rumors began to surface, board member Kevin McDermott, who works as a computer consultant, advised the district that it would be easy to verify the rumors by asking for a report from Apex about any log-ins from an IP address outside the school. McDermott on June 11 said he also spoke to a parent last summer who allegedly took the test for his child.
Apex staff told the district log-ins outside class time would be a better way to search.
The district’s administration reportedly showed McDermott a 1,000-page report of student log-in times and said they had spent more than 80 hours of senior staff time reviewing the results. The administration reportedly told McDermott they couldn’t find any irregularities.
McDermott reportedly told the administration he could help narrow their search, but was rebuffed and told he was “interfering.”
“It’s five lines of code that could give you the report,” McDermott said.
It was McDermott himself who managed to shake a more concise report out of Apex when company representatives came before the board in May to renew their contract.
“I finally had a chance to talk to Apex guy face to face,” McDermott said. “They got the report to us right away.”
The Apex report given to the board members on June 10 was only two pages.
McDermott said he was frustrated the administration couldn’t make things happen with Apex.
Collins-Hart shared the frustration at the board meeting.
“I don’t see why they can give this report to the board when staff has been asking for it [for months].” Collins-Hart said.
Collins-Hart told the board Tuesday it was possible the teachers had “forgotten” to lock their codes after giving exams.
However, the report does not bear this theory out. Every single log-in time on the report begins after the 1:10 p.m. Central Standard Time end-time of summer school class.
In an emailed statement to the Forest Park Review, Collins-Hart said the district received no complaints about the Apex system. She also outlined steps taken by the district to examine the problem.
“Initially, Apex indicated that no such report was available,” Collins-Hart wrote. “[The company said] we would have to manually access each student account and drill down to see what times the students took each quiz, test, and exam.”
Collins-Hart said the company was involved in investigating the problem.
“They were concerned that allegations were being made against the security of their software,” Collins-Hart said. “This problem was escalated to their vice president. Apex was eager to work with Proviso to address their concerns.”
Collins-Hart said this year’s summer school will be different and teachers will make sure they understand the rules.
“All summer school teachers have received an in-service and are required to sign a contract indicating that they are aware that all tests must be given on site,” she wrote. “All tests must be locked by a teacher and must be relocked after the test has been administered.”
McDermott characterized the problem as a “basic programming flaw on the part of the vendor.”
“What they failed to do was close out the test program,” he said. “There should be a default closing time on the system and apparently there’s not.
“Whoever is managing the summer school program and Apex needs to be held accountable for this,” he said.
Kelly said she was glad the problem had been resolved before summer school this year.
“I’m happy we found out what was going on and now we can rectify the system,” she said. “Now we can have safeguards.”