Are Fresno High Schoolers Cheating Their Way to a Diploma with Online Option?
This story has been updated with new information from Fresno Unified.
Fresno Unified high school students who fail one or more classes can still get a passing grade and earn course credit by retaking classes in the summer or over winter break. But FUSD teachers recently raised concerns that the district’s reliance on an online learning system called Edgenuity is allowing some students to cheat their way to a passing grade in just a few days of extra session work.
Those concerns went public recently in social media streams, including this Twitter post by Sunnyside teacher Jon Bath.
Dumber School June 2022 @fresnounified. A student of mine is on pace to complete a semester course by the end of the day thanks to @EdgenuityInc $. Why do we need teachers anyway? @talksmack49 @VivaciousVeva @AndyLevine559 @Fresnomac @jfenster @MackenzieMays pic.twitter.com/RO1bSSH423
— Jon Bath (@jontbath) June 14, 2022
Is Cheating Rampant?
Edison High School teacher Lauren Beal calls the district’s use of Edgenuity “morally bankrupt” and told GV Wire she refused to teach summer school this year because students can get a passing grade without doing any real work.
And former Student Trustee Josh Camarillo, an Edison High graduate now in his first year at the Air Force Academy, told GV Wire that he heard from other Edison students about how easy it is to cheat on Edgenuity.
“Quizlet and maybe Reddit are where most of the answers reside,” Camarillo said. “All you do is type Edgenuity Quizlet.”
Teachers say the reliance on Edgenuity is how the district maintains an overall graduation rate of 86.5%. But as a result, they say, the district is risking the dumbing down of diplomas.
A story published in 2017 by the Voice of San Diego detailed how easy it is for students taking Edgenuity courses to cheat, by going to online sites to find test answers, or even just answering multiple choice questions randomly.
.@MarioKoran witnesses how easily students cheat on @sdschools‘ online courses. “Cheating is 24/7,” says one student https://t.co/DT0824DTlf
— Voice of San Diego (@voiceofsandiego) May 18, 2017
Bullard High math teacher Michael Sosa is one of Edgenuity’s few defenders in the recent social media exchange among Fresno Unified staffers. Sosa told GV Wire that math students at Bullard have benefited from Edgenuity, which is also used during the traditional school year as a way for students to catch up after a failed semester instead of waiting for the end of the school year to try for credit recovery.
Sosa says monitoring is the key to keeping students on task and keeping them from cheating.
“A teacher has to be active and diligent in what’s going on,” he said. “You have to be up and about, and keep an eye on the pacing.”
Use of Edgenuity Soars
The district’s reliance on Edgenuity has skyrocketed over the past three years. According to district data, in the 2019-20 school year 1,228 graduates — 31.6% of that year’s graduating class districtwide — took at least one Edgenuity course before graduating. The next year, the number of graduates taking an Edgenuity course rose to 2,583, or 65.24% of the graduating class. And so far in the current school year, 3,056 graduates, or 75.4% of the graduating class, took at least one Edgenuity course.
That data was through June 22 and is not a final count because Fresno Unified’s Summer Academy was still underway, district spokeswoman Diana Diaz said.
Fresno Unified began using Edgenuity in 2014, and leading up to the pandemic it was a “noticeably smaller” program that was used almost exclusively in the district’s alternative education programs, Diaz said. Since then it has expanded and is used across the district during the school year and in the Summer and Winter Academies.
She said there are rare occasions when students are allowed to take an Edgenuity course for original credit instead of for credit recovery, because the district’s primary means of instruction continues to be face-to-face classes with teachers, and not computer programs.
The district paid $544,000 for unlimited use of Edgenuity in the 2021-22 school year, Diaz said.
In addition to the costs of the program, Fresno Unified pays teachers extra for the winter and summer academy classes, and the costs of keeping schools open at those times. Diaz has not responded this week to a GV Wire query about those costs.
Fresno Unified is not alone in using Edgenuity for credit recovery. Clovis Unified spokeswoman Kelly Avants said that a “small number” of the district’s high schoolers who are at risk of not graduating because they don’t have enough course credits have been assigned work in Edgenuity. Avants said she did not have the exact number because the school registrars and academic counselors are on summer break.
“These students are in class and remain on the roster of a classroom teacher,” Avants said in an email. “That teacher manages assignments, assesses readiness for quizzes and tests, and oversees use of the curriculum to help students complete coursework to recover credits. The students’ academic counselor is also involved (in) ensuring that work is progressing and that the student is completing the coursework with fidelity.”
How It Works
This is how Edgenuity works: Students access the program on their computer, either at home or in a classroom. (Fresno Unified’s summer school is classroom-based.) The program includes video lessons and a curriculum similar to what students would have had in a classroom during the school year, with a teacher leading discussions and handing out quizzes or essay assignments. But with Edgenuity, the instruction is through a video, and the classroom teacher’s role is primarily to unlock units, quizzes and exams, check students’ work, monitor their progress, and answer any questions.
On the algebra tests, for example, a 10-question pretest precedes each section. If a student passes the pretest with a score of 70 or higher, the student can skip the video lessons and curriculum and move on. Each section ends with a test that students also must pass with a score of 70 or higher. There are no limitations preventing students from completing a semester-based course in as little as two days.
Teachers are responsible for monitoring students’ progress and unlocking sections.
Beal, who teaches government at Edison, said she had previously taught summer school without Edgenuity and encountered it for the first time in summer school last year.
“I was soured by several factors. First and foremost, after over one year online I thought it was detrimental to students’ social-emotional health to be staring at a computer for hours at a time with little human interaction,” she said in an email.
“When I began to see the lessons and how quickly a student could move through lessons, it set off several alarms. How could a student possibly finish 30% of a class in one day? As a teacher, (really it feels like a machine operator), my responsibility is to simply open the modules and review student work.”
Beal said one of her students told her he liked her teaching style and wasn’t tempted to slack off, fail her course, and then take the Edgenuity version later.
American government is one of 27 courses that Fresno Unified offers in summer and winter school using Edgenuity. The courses include biology, chemistry, and physics — there is no hands-on lab component for the online curriculum as there would be for in-person classes — as well as “Online Learning & Digital Citizenship” and “Strategies for Academic Success.”
According to Beal, the student “told me he liked how I explained the material, that’s why he completed the work, otherwise he would just take Edgenuity in winter school in three days. I told him it’s not only about my teaching style but what he has actually learned.
“In today’s society, it is paramount that students understand how our democratic-republic works. It’s important they understand the role of civics. It was at this point where another student interrupted (and) said they took government for original credit and they didn’t remember anything from the course they took over summer school.”
Beal said she was so discouraged by her experience last summer that she didn’t sign up to teach summer school again this year. “I did not want to contribute and earn money by sitting and clicking open, reading barely a few essays and communicating through Teams,” she said. “If we are going to actually live up to the idea of college and career ready, we must prepare our students to engage in subject matter and discourse.”
‘A Solid Tool’ When Used Properly
But Sosa, who taught math at Sunnyside High for many years before moving to Bullard High in 2018, said Edgenuity can augment classroom instruction so long as teachers are properly prepared in how to use it and to monitor students.
“Edgenuity is a solid tool to us, for the students we used it for,” he said.
Sosa said Bullard’s math teachers, all veterans, were brainstorming ways to boost student success and realized that a student who fails the first semester of algebra is unlikely to have better success with the second semester because they will lack the foundation from the first semester. On average, only one of 10 Bullard students who failed the first semester were able to get a passing grade in the second half of the year. But instead of waiting through a whole school year to take a credit recovery class, the Bullard teachers proposed putting students who failed the first semester into one classroom, where they could retake the first semester of algebra on Edgenuity.
Sosa said the students in his classroom who passed algebra in first semester were moved to other teacher’s sections, and the struggling students all wound up in his classroom, where they could refocus and get a second chance at learning the material. If they passed the first semester on their second attempt, they could take the second semester algebra course during summer school and be caught up in time for geometry the following fall, he said.
But teachers knew that they would have to stay on top of students to make sure they are actually learning the material, and be aware that there are plenty of ways for students to try to game the system, Sosa said.
For example, he said, last semester he noticed that three students appeared to be too far ahead in their Edgenuity course, and he suspected they were cheating. So he gave them two choices: Go to the principal’s office and be suspended for three days for cheating, or start the course again from the beginning. They were already 90% finished, but they chose to restart the course, he said.
Likewise, in last year’s summer school Sosa taught three students who were scheduled to take the second semester algebra final and kept badgering him to allow them to take it online at home instead of in the classroom. He refused. They never came in for the final, flunked the class, and had to retake algebra this year.
“They knew I was on to them,” he said.
Sosa said he takes certain steps, including turning all the students’ desks so he can observe their screens while roaming through the classroom.
The district’s tech support also set up his classroom so that the screen of each student can appear on the board, and he can see if they have other open browser tabs such as Google or YouTube. Likewise, he keeps a sharp eye out to make sure students’ aren’t using their cell phones to access Quizlet or Reddit.
And even though Edgenuity is a video curriculum, there continues to be teacher-student interaction, Sosa said. Students may ask him to check their answers on quizzes and tests before submitting them, giving them the chance to take another look at math problems they are struggling with, he said.
Sosa said he could tell from the teachers’ social media posts that this year’s summer school was the first time many of them had encountered Edgenuity, and they lacked the tools and training to properly engage with it.
He said he and another Bullard teacher had offered to help train other Fresno Unified teachers on the best practices for Edgenuity courses, but “nobody ever contacted us.
As of midday Thursday, Diaz had not responded to queries from GV Wire this week about the total number of students who have taken Edgenuity courses over the past five years, and whether teachers get any training in how to monitor for potential cheating.
By late Thursday, Diaz said the district would need more time to total the number of students who have taken Edgenuity courses over the past five years. She said it’s not unusual for some students to accelerate in a course if they have already mastered the content by passing the pre-assessments that precede curriculum sections.
As for teacher training, Diaz said the district provides training that includes an “academic integrity component” specifying that quizzes and tests must happen in the classroom and be overseen by teachers. “It is important to note that the pre-assessment and all assessments are expected to be given in class in front of a teacher to ensure that cheating is not occurring,” she said in an email.