APS cheating report cites “a culture of fear and a conspiracy of silence”

UPDATE: Report is now online.

Gov. Nathan Deal today released the findings from the state’s investigation into the Atlanta Public Schools and cheating on the CRCT.

Here is the statement from his office:

“Nothing is more important to the future of our state than ensuring that today’s students receive a first-class education and integrity in testing is a necessary piece of the equation,” said Deal. “When test results are falsified and students who have not mastered the necessary material are promoted, our students are harmed, parents lose sight of their child’s true progress, and taxpayers are cheated. The report’s findings are troubling, but I am encouraged that this investigation will bring closure to the problems that existed in APS and restore the focus on students and the classroom. As we begin to turn the page on this dark chapter in Atlanta Public Schools, I am confident brighter days lie ahead.”

An outline of the findings of the investigation follows:

Thousands of children were harmed by the 2009 CRCT cheating by being denied remedial education because of their inflated CRCT scores. We found cheating in 44 of the 56 schools we examined (78.6%). There were 38 principals of those 56 schools (67.9%) found to be responsible for, or directly involved.

We determined that 178 teachers and principals in the Atlanta Public School cheated. Of the 178, 82 confessed to this misconduct. Six principals refused to answer our questions, and pled the Fifth Amendment, which, under civil law is an implied admission of wrongdoing. These principals, and 32 more, either were involved with, or should have known that, there was test cheating in their schools.

We empathize with those educators who felt they were pressured to cheat and commend those who were willing to tell us the truth regarding their misconduct. However, this report is not meant to excuse their ethical failings, or exonerate them from their wrongdoings.

The 2009 CRCT statistics are overwhelming and allow for no conclusion other than widespread cheating in APS. The BRC expert, Dr. John Fremer, wrote an op-ed article for the AJC in which he said there was widespread, organized cheating in APS.

The drop in 2010 CRCT erasures confirm the conclusion above. Cheating occurred as early as 2001.

There were warnings of cheating on CRCT as early as December 2005/January 2006. The warnings were significant and clear and were ignored. Cheating was caused by a number of factors but primarily by the pressure to meet targets in the data-driven environment.

There was a major failure of leadership throughout APS with regard to the ethical administration of the 2009 CRCT.

A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation existed in APS, which created a conspiracy of silence and deniability with respect to standardized test misconduct.

In addition to the 2009 CRCT cheating, we found other improper conduct: several open record act violations; instances of false statements; and instances of document destruction.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

46 comments Add your comment

MrLiberty

July 5th, 2011
12:55 pm

Getting rid of ALL government involvement in education would really be that bad? Really??

tim

July 5th, 2011
1:07 pm

OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!!

NWGA Teacher

July 5th, 2011
1:07 pm

That’s it? THAT is transparency?

Show Me!

July 5th, 2011
1:11 pm

If James Hafford, former Supt. from Dekalb county can step out of jail after 48 hours and return to being Suprintendant, after it being multiple offenses, then the Georgia Professional Standards Commission should be abolished. Who is to say that the PSC membership is PERFECT. These so called leaders in this State are a real farce! Principals and Administrators are ALWAYS exonerated by this supposedly ethics commission. I want all of the Professional Standards Members to submit to a lie detector test if they arae to pass judgement on anyone. As for the APS scandal, this is what you reap! As you sow, shall you reap! AlI of the Great Teachers that didn’t cheat that APS, Board Members, and Brenda Muhammad (you were on the Board too), you threw them to the wolves and under the bus, with no hope of justice. Today, I am sure they feel vindicated! Deal needs to ABOLISH the entire SCHOOL BOARD OF APS, because all of this happened under their reign, and THEY DID NOT HOLD BEVERLY HALL ACCOUNTABLE. Mark Elgart with SACS sounds more like a politician. He had stepped outside of his boundary and the framework of SACS. Congress and Senate have differences in opinions and voting all the time. That is how the democratic process works. I guess Mark Elgart needs to put Congress on Probation too! All of this is too political. It is about$$$. Mark Elgart, not once has held Beverly Hall accountable. How much did he get paid? I want an open records request on how much money did SACS and Mark Elgart receive from APS? This too shall pass!!!!

Centrist

July 5th, 2011
1:14 pm

Beverly Hall leaves town (and probably out of the country) at the end of her contract, THEN the report is released pointing towards her. Maybe others in government above her colluded and will never be revealed now that she is conveniently likely out of reach. A few scapegoats will suffer, and hands will be slapped – but Atlanta and Georgia politicians just want to “turn the corner” and “get this behind us”.

Show Me!

July 5th, 2011
1:21 pm

School accreditation firm wields too much power
New law lets company manage school board
by Editorial Board
(From Creative Loafing)
Staff Illustration

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Comments (11) On April 20, Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill that gives him authority to replace members of the Atlanta school board by midsummer if the embattled system appears unlikely to shed its probationary status and regain full accreditation.

Hailing the move, Mayor Kasim Reed noted that a loss of accreditation “would cripple economic development and business investment in the city, region and state for years to come.”

If only the governor’s swift action can save our students and the city, then we’ll be thanking our lucky stars come July that a bipartisan team of Atlanta legislators had the foresight to sponsor this bill.

But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking this is anything but a setup with a predetermined outcome.

This isn’t to imply that Deal, Reed — who lobbied for board-appointing power for himself — or state lawmakers have pulled a fast one. Arguably, they’re playing the hand dealt them. However, rather than fixing any systemic problems within the school system, the new law only gives more influence to the private Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, its parent company, Alpharetta-based AdvancED, and, by extension, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. None of which is good.

The SACS report that placed the Atlanta schools on probation in January was a shockingly slapdash document brimming with hearsay and raw opinion that made no mention of the system-wide test-doctoring scandal that’s now the subject of state and federal investigations. Teachers and school administrators could end up in prison, but the SACS report would have you believe the system’s only real problem is that its board members can’t get along.

The board has, indeed, been squabbling since last fall, when a five-member majority led by current Chairman Khaatim El staged a coup because the previous board leadership — hand-picked and backed by the Chamber — had helped try to cover up the cheating scandal. In other words, board discord is merely a symptom, but SACS acts as if it’s the disease.

Certainly, the 29-year-old El has not succeeded in uniting the board or getting members to work together on the problems at hand. And clearly, the infighting is likely to continue until the governor — or voters — cracks some heads and restores order.

But the new law effectively gives AdvancED CEO Mark Elgart the power to dictate who should lead the system, since a functional school board is what he says it is. If you don’t believe Deal will take Elgart’s advice into account, then we’ve got a surplus classroom trailer to sell you. El may as well start packing up his desk now.

Unfortunately, SACS holds all the cards in this situation. But once the state wraps up the cheating investigation, it should turn its focus on the accreditation firm, whose flimsily sourced report and Chamber connections put its objectivity in question. Also, the AJC recently reported that, in an October memo, Elgart urged El to give the chairman’s seat back to his Chamber-backed predecessor, LaChandra Butler Burks.

Most troubling is Elgart’s reported suggestion to El and Burks that the school system hire his company for “mediation and professional support services.” If the Mob were proposing a scheme like that, it’d be called a protection racket.

By all means, let’s do what we need to in order to maintain accreditation, but keep in mind that the board friction is but a sideshow. Once the investigation is over and indictments start coming down, the real trouble begins.

Kira Willis

July 5th, 2011
1:23 pm

“There were warnings of cheating on CRCT as early as December 2005/January 2006. The warnings were significant and clear and were ignored. Cheating was caused by a number of factors but primarily by the pressure to meet targets in the data-driven environment.”

This “data driven environment” was embedded into the schools by the failed NCLB legislature under Republican George Bush. Now we have RtTT under the Obama administration, where teachers are going to actually be measured on the “data driven envrionment”.

Data is good; heck, data is great, but teachers rarely get to see any data in an amount of time that affords us the ability to do anything with it. So we get data, and then put it out there so that the teacher in the next grade level can see how far behind the student/s is/are. Then what?

Which begs to answer why, in said “data driven envrionment”, we want to raise class sizes, lower the amount of days in the school year, and base teachers’ pay and jobs on an annual test score (not a growth model).

Don

July 5th, 2011
1:25 pm

Kudos to Neal Boortz who continuously warns parents about “Government Schools,” like the Atlanta Public Schools. Let’s see if the people involved and fired or charged with crimes or both. Why did the Atlanta School Board honor Hall’s contract when they could have dismissed her last November? Hopefully, APS will improve and give children the education they deserve, and what taxpayer pay for!

Tina Trent

July 5th, 2011
1:32 pm

Is it legal for Deal to conceal the report?

Are any of these “gets” likely?

–All principals, teachers, and other employees guilty of cheating get fired.

–Board members implicated by the report gets removed.

–Beverly Hall gets charged with defrauding taxpayers, gets sued, or otherwise gets barred from collecting her grotesquely bloated retirement/benefits.

–Whistleblowers get promoted.

Shar

July 5th, 2011
1:35 pm

I am distressed that the entire report has not been released. Atlanta parents and taxpayers have waited for three years to find the truth, and we have paid for the report that the Governor is “considering” letting us see.

If criminal indictments are not forthcoming in Georgia courts, I sincerely hope that Sally Yates steps in and prepares to prosecute Hall, Augustine and anyone else from the principal level up that has been compromised in this investigation. The Chamber of Commerce folks who have meddled ceaselessly in the affairs of APS, with a view to making the City ‘look good’ to other corporations and to increasing their own chunk of the out-of-control APS spending, should be ineligible to do business with either the City or the system and criminal indictments should be considered, with RICO punishments.

It is clear that Hall ran a criminal conspiracy out of APS, with the full knowledge and participation of her top administrators, the BOE and her enablers at the Atlanta Chamber, to batten off taxpayers and rip away the futures of the children who were entrusted to her. Every bonus she received should be clawed back, her pension terminated and her own future similarly degraded – in prison.

tim

July 5th, 2011
1:43 pm

BEV HALL….You can run but you can’t hide. WE are coming after YOU!!

Don

July 5th, 2011
1:48 pm

Now that we all know he truth, and the damage that has been done, how long will it take to make it right for the children? If anyone moves to the City of Atlanta with children, put them in private schools or move to another city! How do school vouchers sound now?

Where's the Report

July 5th, 2011
1:53 pm

Where’s the Report??? Should we email the office of the Governor?

Ashley

July 5th, 2011
1:55 pm

These teachers and principals should be hand-cuffed and march into the Atlanta Jail, just like those deputies and correction officers last week. Lets not forget the captain of the ship, Sup. Hall she should lead the pack into the jail cells.

Dr NO

July 5th, 2011
1:58 pm

Its now time for the deals of immunity for testimony to begin.
Its now also time for the FIRINGS to begin.

Lets just see what happens as it will no DOUBT be interesting and corrupt.

This will be Atlanta politics, lying, coniving, corruption, incompetence at its finest!

Wanna see what Atl is all about? Then…Watch and Learn.

catlady

July 5th, 2011
2:00 pm

“Nothing is more important to the future of our state than ensuring that today’s students receive a first-class education” (Nathan Deal). Anyone see anything funny about this statement given the decade long cuts to the very education of which he speaks (continued during his own administration just a few months ago?)

Is the Governor obeying the open records request for a copy of the entire report, BTW?

just watching

July 5th, 2011
2:06 pm

Deal needs to step up and release this document NOW! Can he really stop it’s release?

Maureen,
Is there anyone from the AJC pursuing an open records request for it?

Maureen Downey

July 5th, 2011
2:07 pm

@Just Watching, AJC is actively pursuing release of the report.
Maureen

MM

July 5th, 2011
2:11 pm

RELEASE THE REPORT! NOW!

RELEASE THE REPORT! NOW!

RELEASE THE REPORT! NOW!

www.honeyfern.org

July 5th, 2011
2:16 pm

Doesn’t this report fall under the rules of an Open Records Request?

Ashley

July 5th, 2011
2:17 pm

The sad thing about this entire cheating scandal is that the very same teachers and principal involve are more than likely the ones who engage in grade changing and social promotions. I find it hard to believe this is the first time they’ve been involve in uncharacteristic behavior involving students. In a word trust in the APS has been shattered and a band-aid won’t do.

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

July 5th, 2011
2:24 pm

Gov. Deal comported himself admirably: he brings honor to all Georgia, and hope for Atlanta’s public schools.

rosie

July 5th, 2011
2:37 pm

Do we think RTTT and the emphasis on accountablility is going to do anything to make this situation better? What about administrator accountability? Teachers did not benefit from the erasures administrators benefitted.

S GA Teacher

July 5th, 2011
2:52 pm

Well, if you need a job, I’m guessing this will help put some recent graduates into classes.

Attentive Parent

July 5th, 2011
2:56 pm

APS was an early adopter of unsound instructional practices and models. Not surprisingly, little learning occurred. Because those same practices came out of the New Standards movement of the 90s that has now been renamed as the Common Core Standards, there is considerable pressure to avoid looking at the true source of the problem.

Because we are now federalizing and mandating those constructivist approaches.

And protecting the transformational change agenda while making money off its government supplied monopoly is what SACS does.

Anyone know when and where Elgart taught? Was he a social studies teacher? Will make tremendous use of any hard info.

Thanks.

William Casey

July 5th, 2011
3:00 pm

I have three observations:

1. I suspect that such cheating occurs almost everywhere, just at a lower level.

2. Once one understands that public education in some places is little more than a massive “jobs program,” much of what happens, despicable as it is, at least makes sense.

3. The Professional Standards Commission is a joke. Politics. I was once “disciplined” by the PSC for a non-cheating related infraction. I totally accept the one year suspension of my certificate. Although my certificate was reenstated in 2008, the “ding” on my otherwise exemplary record has rendered me, in effect, unemployable since I have no political connections. No discussion. The people involved in this fiasco should have their certificates revoked for life. Doubt that this will happen. Politics. Can’t have all those highly paid people reduced to $10.00 per hour service jobs or unemployed.

William Casey

July 5th, 2011
3:04 pm

1. Such cheating happens almost everywhere, just at a lower level.

2. Public education in some places is simply a massive jobs program.

3. The PSC is a political joke.

Dr. John Trotter

July 5th, 2011
3:56 pm

Maureen: Are you still doubting me when I have been saying for years now that Beverly Hall was the worst superintendent ever to show her face in the Atlanta Public Schools? Ha!

Dr. John Trotter

July 5th, 2011
4:04 pm

The culture of fear, intimidation, and the concurrent systematic cheating was rooted in the very fabric of the Beverly Hall Administration, and you were essentially not going to be promoted unless you “went along to get along.” We heard too much anecdotal evidence about this culture virtually each day from teachers. Reporting situations to the Professional Standards Commission (PSC) became useless because it apparently never wanted to touch Atlanta. I approached one State Superintendent years ago about the corruption of the Atlanta Public Schools (APS). This State Superintendent didn’t want to touch APS for fear that the NAACP and others would shout, “Racism!” The Chief of State actually told me this. What is racism is leaving these children and employees languishing as if they were in the Stalinist Soviet Union. This is racism…not expecting anything other than this mess. This is racism.

chillywilly

July 5th, 2011
4:05 pm

@Dr. John Trotter – I totally agree with you. Beverly Hall needs to be prosecuted and sued.

Maureen Downey

July 5th, 2011
4:06 pm

@Dr. Trotter. Who is the Chief of State? The governor?

I'm a Taxpayer

July 5th, 2011
4:07 pm

Beverly Hall was NOT the worst superintendent ever.

She created a culture of high expectations. She did NOT create a culture of cheating.

No one in the world, no amount of money, no pressure could make me look a child into the eyes and cheat him to save my job. If I did that, then I AM WRONG — not the superintendent who demanded high expectations from me as a teacher and from my students.

Dr. John Trotter

July 5th, 2011
4:08 pm

Certainly the Report falls under the Open Records Act, but the Big Boys apparently think that this law only applies to them when it is convenient for them to abide by it.

Dr. John Trotter

July 5th, 2011
4:08 pm

Chief of Staff. Sorry. Was typing very quickly. I didn’t want to call any names.

Dr. John Trotter

July 5th, 2011
4:13 pm

@ Taxpayer: You are either delusional or a lackey of Beverly Hall. Hands down, she has been the worst…but I only go back as far as Jarrell, Letson, Crim, Harris, Butts, Canada, Strickland, and Hall. You may know more than me but I seriously think that any superintendent of the past did as much damage as Beverly Hall did. She was one lousey superintendent.

I'm a Taxpayer

July 5th, 2011
4:28 pm

I’m someone who has studied, worked and lived in Atlanta for years, and I remember what the school system was before Dr. Hall came to Atlanta.

She has been a turnaround leader. And in order to turn anything around, a leader has to KICK BUTT, STEP ON TOES AND HURT PEOPLE’S FEELINGS to let them know it’s a new day of rigorous education, high standards and accountability in APS.

I suspect that many of these people on the blogs who are attacking her personally are doing so because they got their BUTT KICKED, TOES STEPPED ON AND FEELINGS HURT.

And what was the result? Student attendance, up. State AND NATIONAL test scores, up. Number of state-of-the-art schools, up. Advanced courses, up. Scholarship dollars, up. College acceptances, up. Dollars invested in the school system, up. Let’s not forget also that arts and athletics programs are still up and running in APS despite cuts in other systems.

Those are the facts. That’s what I know.

Commuter

July 5th, 2011
4:36 pm

Kudos to the AJC and State of Georgia for exposing this cesspool. The real test begins now – we’ll see if APS has the backbone to fire these cheaters and if the government has the will to prosecute them.

Laurie

July 5th, 2011
5:30 pm

“Beverly Hall was NOT the worst superintendent ever. … No one in the world, no amount of money, no pressure could make me look a child into the eyes and cheat him to save my job. If I did that, then I AM WRONG — not the superintendent who demanded high expectations from me as a teacher and from my students.”

What? Why can’t they both be in the wrong?

Remember that Hall replaced 90% of principals during her tenure. The cheaters are people she chose to hire, and then supervised for many years, and then protected from scrutiny, to the detriment of students who were unable to get the remedial help they needed.

And she presided over an administration that punished whistle blowers. Those who couldn’t abide working in a cheating environment either quit, or blew the whistle and were fired or otherwise punished. Perhaps those who wouldn’t cheat and raise their scores to unrealistic levels were also fired.

No amount of money or pressure could have made me do what those principals did either. But I’m guessing that I (and you, if you’re telling the truth about what you would have done) would not have been there at the end. If you systematically fire (or cause to quit) the people who act honestly, then the ones you have left will be disproportionately dishonest.

You can’t say that the drug kingpin isn’t guilty because the people he hired to commit crimes were bad people too.

David Sims

July 5th, 2011
5:34 pm

Spectator #1: “Now that the report is finished, maybe the spectacle can begin. Will the guilty be thrown to the lions?”

Spectator #2: “No, no, that was Ancient Rome.”

Spectator #1: “Will they be burned at the stake?”

Spectator #2: “No, that was medieval Europe.”

Spectator #1: “Drawn and quartered, then beheaded?”

Spectator #2: “No! That was medieval England. This is Georgia!”

Spectator #1: “Well, then, how do Georgians deal with these matters?”

David Sims

July 5th, 2011
5:41 pm

@I’m a Taxpayer. Hi. I live in West Virginia. I’ve never been a resident of Atlanta, though I’ve driven through there on I-75 a few times. I am looking forward to seeing Beverly Hall get her richly deserved comeuppance to settle the account she opened by condoning academic fraud. Yeah, I want to see the law kick her butt. It would restore my faith in the justice sys–well, that might be going a bit too far, but it would be a fine thing to see.

Dr. John Trotter

July 5th, 2011
6:00 pm

@ Taxpayer: Beverly Hall never KICKED MY BUTT, but I know pure crap when I see it. I repeat: Beverly Hall has been an abject failure as a superintendent, and it is laughable that you are trying to hide her crap behind “higher standards.” What a joke!

[...] standardized tests, according to a statement released by Gov. Nathan Deal and first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Eighty-two confessed, while half a dozen others pled the Fifth Amendment, which is an implied [...]

doh

July 6th, 2011
6:45 am

relax folks, this is Georgia….nothing is going to happen. The dust will settle in a day or so and life will go on, the same garbage will continue. Teachers and administrators are bound by a state ethical code, and no one has even mentioned that. Has anyone talked to the state education standards board yet about pulling licenses?

The sad part is…this is just Atlanta, you don’t think this is going on around the rest of the state? I know of a case were a kid took pictures of the CRCT with his cell phone during the test, posted it online and nothing happened to either him or the teachers proctoring it.

At least this gives Georgians something to talk about until football season starts.

Chris Murphy, Atlanta, GA

July 6th, 2011
7:14 am

@I’m a taxpayer: when Hall came in, the HS graduation rate was 42%. Right now- today- not 50% of freshmen in APS even stick around to get to their senior year. I haven’t run the numbers this year- the state DOE has them, and links have been published in the AJC and on this blog- but last year the graduation rate was ….. 45%. That’s improvement? Where’s the accountability? Attendance is up? Last year I could check- 2009- 45% of APS HS students missed 10 days or more. 45%!! And those are the ones who didn’t ‘disappear’ for the whole year, and forever off the HS rolls. Just where are you getting your “facts” from?

Lee

July 6th, 2011
1:58 pm

@ doh: +1 ;)

I am glad to see people actively contributing info, ideas, and questions, and who don’t just take things at face-value. Or who also think it’s obvious that if problems were that widespread, then there was a systemic problem.

There was a lot of discussion and debate about industrialized-style testing* before it was mandated, and many warned of the risks at the time, but IIRC there was more concern of effects which would be unkind to kids, or be detrimental to certain schools or areas. Don’t recall seeing this predicted LOL.
* (B*s No Child Left Behind? You had to know it was fd then always the opposite, eg. “Clean Air Act” ha ha.)

I don’t have kids any kids/ties to the story, except that I was raised next door in Dekalb, have much love for my hometown, and great empathy for all kids (my childhood kinda sucked, eh.) I assume everyone would ideally like there to be a style of school (/flexibility for what that is) where kids would learn things by choice because of the joy it gave them. Maybe someday, when less of the people’s funds go to profits for Delta than to programs for your kids, ya’ll can do a remodel, with some humanistic psychology, and… other idealistic hippie crap I always dream will fix things. :-) Anyway, I’m sorry if you or your child feel like the cheating has put them behind. But ya’ll also have the advantage of being in a town with so much diversity and culture. I’m not even saying go to the Museum. Just get them out from the computer and about, and those neurons will be growing and soaking up unformation… Heck the two most enlightening/useful classes ever to me were psychology and sociology – the study of how people work, and the study of how groups of people work. And it’s stuff even kids can pick up just from observation and interaction.

And while I’m at it: I have no idea how or if such a thiing could be implemented, but if ya’ll can drug test huge swaths of employees now propr to hiring, if you could screen for Personality Disorders, most vitally the Hare Psychopathy Scale… and, IIRC, David Hare was to be coming up fo one specifically for pre-employment screenings (it screens for Narcissism PD and Antisocial PD (DSM-V names.) Maybe it doesn’t sound logical for me to say with as little I know about the woman, but it only takes a hanful of behavior/attitudes/outcomes to spot them sometimes. IDisclaimer: I’m not trying to stigmatize people with psych diagnoses, I advocate for inclusion, but PDs are what people call evil, toxic, sociopath, etc. And there’s been a small amount of growing awareness of Narcissism since the Wall Street fiascol. Basically, any time someone seeks to be in a position of power, reality-check things. Anyway, had there been a diagnostic screening tool, your school system might still be intact, your State budget not quietly fluttering away, and the people sticking together more.

Miss ya, Hometown! Love Lee
PS I cheated on first test ever haha, in kindergarten, because I got one wrong and was scared of my mom’s anger. People do a lot of odd things out of fear (whether they admit or realize that’s where it stems from or not) but hey “fight or flight” from fear (limbic system) is ancient, and has served to keep us silly himans alive for a long time.so, compassion to anyone who ever done something embarrasion out of fear. Souls with empathy will have true remorse, and free from a toxic setting would never have erred / do so again. People calling for every teacher who changed scores to never teach a kid again is insane – literally – as in the sans-empathy kind (unless ere just parroting or peacocking) Teachers work for so little anyway, so little savings, jobs are scarce, no social safety net, think ahead to putting someone out on the street to live in a car or be a victim on the street. Ya’ll just need a system that’s not fd up and it’ll all be ok. :)

Lai 28

July 6th, 2011
11:50 pm

Enter your comments here I would like to know why the percentage of of students
receiving free/reduced lunch was included in the report on test scores, how is this
related to the issue ?