Richmond Elementary Schools

While we await the (fictional) accreditation numbers, it might be interesting to look at some of the 2019 Richmond pass rates in more detail.

The excellent – but very sloooow – VDOE database can provide data by subject and by test level. The database also breaks out pass rates for students who are economically disadvantaged (“ED”) and for their more affluent peers (“Not ED”).

The ED averages run about 20 points below the Not ED so the SOL averages punish the schools with large ED populations. To avoid that distortion, we’ll look here at the the underlying ED/Not ED numbers.

To start, here are the Not ED pass rates on the 3d Grade Reading tests.


Those ten schools with no data are the victims of the suppression rule (no numbers released to the public if fewer than 10 students). About all this tells us is that those schools have very large ED populations.

Here we see Munford, Holton, Patrick Henry, and Fox beating the state average. Then there are five schools where half or more of the Not ED students cannot pass the 3d grade reading tests.

Turning to the 3d grade ED students, we see the state average is lower than the ED by 24 points and the Richmond average, by 23.


On these data, there’s no telling how well Munford and Fox did with the ED students. In any case, they had too few to affect their averages much.

Patrick Henry’s and Holton’s ED students badly underperformed their Not ED peers.

At the bottom of the scale, we see sixteen (57% of twenty-eight) schools where half or more of the ED students flunked the 3d grade reading tests. Indeed, on average 57.82% of the Richmond ED students did not pass those tests.

The fourth grade data paint a similar picture, albeit with some interesting differences.


Do you believe that Chimborazo number? It could be that Chimborazo has an outstanding fourth grade English teacher; perhaps it has a few really bright kids; maybe it has a Carver type operation. No telling from these data.

Patrick Henry and Holton again did well. 

Turning to the 4th Grade ED students:


As with the third grade, Holton did not do well. There were too few ED students to tell about Patrick Henry and, again, Munford.

Swansboro looks to have a very effective 4th grade English teacher.

But look at Chimborazo, second from the bottom. Those Not ED Chimborazo data look to be anomalous.

The fifth grade data again show a similar picture with, again, some interesting variations.



Holton turns in yet another high Not ED/low ED performance.

In this case we have ED data for all the schools and we see Fox, Southampton, Cary, and Patrick Henry beating Munford as to the ED pass rate, with Munford not quite three points above the state average. Of course, these data do not separate the effects of teaching, student ability, or home environment so they do not speak directly to the quality of those schools. That said, Munford does not get any bragging rights.

To the good, these ED numbers, while appalling, are not as awful as those for the earlier grades.

For an overall view that reduces the effects of the suppression rules, here are the school average reading pass rates.



Never mind the Munford/Fox empire: Cary, Obama, and Fisher are the ED stars here, with Redd and Francis also beating out Fox. Given that about 2/3 of Richmond students are ED, it’s interesting to see the duopoly thus dethroned.

These data also provide a nuance to moving students between Cary and either Fox or Munford. Cary gets better results with its own, majority ED students. The Munford and Fox ED numbers do not suggest that the Fox/Munford environments might convey any major benefits to those Cary ED students (for even more of that, see the math data below). Indeed, these data suggest it might be helpful to the Fox/Munford ED students if they were moved to Cary.

Turning to math (where a new, failure-averse scoring system improved pass rates statewide this year), the 3d Grade Not ED pass rates (where we have data) range from excellent to (mostly) discouraging.


The ED pass rates are heartbreakers in too many cases, but look at Cary, Obama, and Redd.


Nine schools have 3d grade pass rates below 50%, with Fox(!) nearly in that league.

Fourth Grade.



Notice Swansboro, which also had good reading numbers in the fourth grade.

Fifth grade. Notice Fox upping its game here.



Looking at the school-wide data, we see Munford and Fox still further down in the pack as to their ED students.



Notice that Ginter Park joins Fox and Munford with excellent Not ED and not so excellent ED pass rates.

One more look: Here are the Not ED/ED differences.



The several large differences raise the question whether those schools (which include Munford and Fox and some other high-performing schools) are serving their ED students well.

Then there are the anomalous cases, Greene and a few others, where the ED students passed at higher rates than the Not ED. Without more information it’s impossible to know what’s going on there but, for sure, something is out of whack.


Note added on 9/17:

Here are two graphs that examine the Obama/Cary/Fox/Munford situation more directly. The red lines are the nominal accreditation thresholds.



Those math data are particularly dramatic: Obama and Cary are dealing with much more challenging situations and getting clearly better results with their ED students.


Stay tuned for a look at the middle schools.

Superintendent’s Dilemma

The Petersburg experience – fifteen years of state “supervision” that has produced declining, basement-level SOL pass rates – raises interesting questions about Richmond and its recent embrace of that supervision.

I. Where we are

Richmond’s SOL performance has long been comparable to that of Petersburg and other failed divisions. In recent years, that performance has deteriorated.

Note: Economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students pass the SOL at rates about 20% lower than their more affluent peers (“Not ED”). Thus the SOL averages punish divisions with large ED populations, e.g., Richmond. The data below, then, analyze the ED and Not ED pass rates, not the averages.

Here are the Richmond data for the last six years, presented as pass rate differences from the State averages.






There are some ups but the overall pattern is down.

It’s disgraceful that any school system, much less the one in the state capitol, would do this to its schoolchildren.

II. Memoranda of Understanding Have Failed to Help Petersburg

As set out in detail here and here, Petersburg has labored since 2004 under four different Memoranda of Understanding (“MOUs”) issued by the Board of Education. Those edicts have left Petersburg foundering with declining pass rates.

III. Richmond’s MOU Is An Exercise in Bureaucratic Busywork

The Richmond MOU is long on coordination and meetings and consultations and technical assistance. It is short on specific fixes for Richmond’s awful schools.

The Tell is in what the MOU does not say: “If you haven’t fixed those schools by date x, we’ll sue you.”  That is because the Board of Education does not know how to fix Richmond’s broken school system (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48).  They don’t know what to tell a judge that Richmond should be made to do, so they don’t even contemplate exercising their authority to sue.

IV. Our Superintendent Faces a Tough Choice

In light of the Petersburg experience and the vacuity of the Richmond MOU, our Superintendent has to be wondering whether to squander his limited resources on MOU window decoration or direct those resources to fixing our schools.

Fearless Predictions:

  • If our Super follows the MOU course, he will join the parade of failed Richmond superintendents.
  • If he tells the Board of Education to fashion its MOU into a kite and go fly it, that Board will back down.

Open Question: Even if our Superintendent ignores the MOU, can he fix our schools?

Further “Progress Report” on Petersburg

Despite ongoing “supervision” by the Board of Education since at least 2004,
the SOL pass rates in Petersburg are declining vs. the state average.

The Board of Education has been actively “supervising” the Petersburg public schools since at least 2004.

(“MOU” is bureaucratese for “Memorandum of Understanding”).

Despite all that “supervision,” the Petersburg schools are marinating in failure.

Let’s analyze that situation in further detail.

Statewide, economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students pass the SOLs at about 20% lower rates than their more affluent peers (“Not ED”). This makes the SOL average an unfair measure for divisions, such as Petersburg (and Richmond) that have large ED populations. So let’s look at the ED and Not ED pass rates, not the average SOL.

We have seen, for instance, the reading data for Petersburg and the state for 2014 to 2019:


It is perhaps more illuminating to take the state averages as benchmarks and look at the Petersburg differences.


Three things are apparent in these data:

  1. The overall pattern is decline.
  2. Petersburg’s ED students passed the reading tests at rates ranging from eleven to fifteen points lower than their peers, statewide. Petersburg’s Not ED students did much worse. There is no way to tell on these data whether this Not ED underperformance reflects the schools or the particular student mix in Petersburg.
  3. All these numbers would be disastrously bad, even without the decline.

The writing data paint a similar picture, but with even larger deficits for both groups.


History and Social Science: Another pattern of decline from bad to terrible.


Ditto, math:


Finally, science:


There’s no sign that anybody at the Board or Department of Education has been held accountable for this miserable failure.

That “Memorandum of Understanding” is mislabeled. It should be titled “Suicide Pact.”

Just Carver?

The RT-D this morning reports: “Frustrated with the fallout of a cheating ring at a Richmond elementary [Carver], members of the city’s School Board on Monday pushed for more support for the school.”

That’s overdue, of course. But what about Fairfield Court, where they almost certainly were cheating and where the scores are even lower? And while we’re counting, how about MLK, where there’s no indication of cheating, just abiding, appalling failure?


Not Just Carver?

We have seen the pattern at Carver: Astounding pass rates followed by appalling pass rates.

At Carver, the plunge came after some of the staff there got caught cheating. There has not been an investigation at Fairfield Court (at least not that we know of) but the similar pattern there suggests there should be one.

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Notes: “ED” indicates economically disadvantaged; “Not ED” denotes the more affluent peers. Both schools have very large percentages of ED students with, accordingly, low percentages of Not ED; the missing blue bars in the graphs are cases where the VDOE suppression rules blocked posting of the Not ED data. The red lines are the nominal accreditation benchmarks.

The other subjects tell much the same story.

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It looks like there need to be some firings at Fairfield Court beyond the replacement of the principal this spring. In any case, there is something terribly wrong there and the students, parents, and taxpayers are entitled to know what it is. Even more to the point, these data raise the question what RPS will be doing to help the middle school students whose “education” at Fairfield Court left them unprepared for what came next.

Geography of Achievement (or Not)

On average, economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students pass the SOL tests at a rate about 20% lower than their more affluent peers (“Not ED”). Thus, the SOL averages punish the divisions with larger populations of ED students by averaging in larger numbers of lower scores.

To avoid that, we can look separately at the ED and Not ED pass rates.

To get a picture of the geography of the pass rates, I’ve turned to Excel’s “filled map” feature. To start, here is that map of the division average reading pass rates of Not ED students.


The orange county is Halifax, which was hit by the VDOE data suppression rule. The orange dot is Williamsburg, which the program does not include in the reported “Williamsburg-James City County.”

Here is the same map for the ED reading pass rates.


The colors make an interesting point: Compared to their peers, not ED students score well ‘most everywhere; ED students, only in a few places, even though compared only to other ED students.  Then, there’s that interesting collection of high scores in SW Virginia for both groups.

The math data paint a rosier picture.



Richmond, of course, is that large, magenta blob sandwiched between two greener (but for the ED students, not very green) counties.


The 2019 data for Carver were missing from the database when VDOE posted on Tuesday. They fixed that Thursday afternoon.

Because of the cheating by the Principal and some of the teachers, there are no Carver data for 2018. As well, because of the very large population of economically disadvantaged students (“ED”), the suppression rules frequently operate as to the data for the more affluent (“Not ED”) students. That leads to some funny looking graphs, but here goes anyhow:


The pattern is clear: Excellent, but bogus, pass rates before 2018; dismal, but believable, rates in 2019.

The red line is the nominal benchmark for accreditation.

(In retrospect, it looks to me like our former Superintendent knew, or at least suspected, that the Carver numbers were bogus but elected to enjoy them anyhow.)

The History & Social Science data tell an even more terrible story as to the ED students.


The math pattern is similar and includes another Not ED datum for 2019.


The science data hark back to History & Social Science.


These data imply:

  • The fifth grade students of 2018 are now in middle school and are grossly unprepared to do the work there;
  • The fifth grade students of at least three earlier years went to middle school grossly unprepared to do the work there.
  • After a year under an honest (we hope!) regime at Carver, the fifth grade students of 2019 will enter middle school this fall grossly unprepared to do the work there;
  • The General Assembly did not do its job.

As to that last point, Va. Code § 22.1-292.1 provides, in part:

§ 22.1-292.1. Violations related to secure mandatory tests.
A. The Board of Education may (i) issue written reprimand to or (ii) suspend or revoke the administrative or teaching license of any holder of a Board-issued administrative or teaching license who knowingly and willfully commits any of the following acts related to secure mandatory tests administered to students as required by this title or by the Board of Education:
1. Giving unauthorized access to secure test questions;
2. Copying or reproducing all or any portion of any secure test booklet;
3. Divulging the contents of any portion of a secure test;
4. Coaching or assisting examinees during testing or altering test materials or examinees’ responses in any way;
5. Making available any answer keys;
6. Failing to follow test security procedures established by the Department of Education;
7. Providing a false certification on any test security form required by the Department of Education;
8. Retaining a copy of secure test questions;
9. Excluding students from testing who are required to be assessed; and
10. Participating in, directing, aiding, assisting in, or encouraging any of the acts prohibited by this section.

Va. Code § 22.1-292 provides:

§ 22.1-292. Penalties on officers and teachers.
Any division superintendent, member of a school board or other school officer or any principal or teacher in a public school violating any provision of this title shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor if no other penalty is prescribed.

There is room to argue that the testing violations of § 292.1 are not covered by the penalty provisions of § 292. In any case, the maximum penalty for a Class 4 misdemeanor is a fine of $250(!). The principal and teachers who supervised and participated in this assault on the students at Carver belong in jail. Or at least in stocks with baskets of tomatoes furnished to the parents of those students and to the honest teachers of Richmond whose reputations have been smeared by this outrage.

Good News at Westover Hills?

Our neighborhood elementary school, Westover Hills, enjoys a fair level of community support. The principal there was popular but she was replaced just a year ago, probably in light of the SOL results.

In just one year, the new principal looks to have had a dramatic effect.

Note: Statewide, economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students pass the SOL tests at a rate about 20% lower than their more affluent peers (“Not ED”). At a school such as Westover Hills the very large population of ED students quite naturally leads to lower average SOL pass rates. To look beneath that, the graphs below show the rates for both ED and Not ED students.

The reading tests showed a nice bounce this year.


Although even the 2019 Not ED pass rate is below the nominal 75% threshold for accreditation (and the ED rate, naturally, is still lower), the increases are a hopeful sign.

Note: Here and below, there is no ED datum for 2014. I can only graph what the database gives me. As well, the missing Not ED data below probably reflect the suppression rule that requires VDOE to withhold the data when a group is fewer than ten (or sometimes twenty) students.

The History & Social Science data are not so encouraging.


Notice the anomaly: In ‘17 & ‘18, the ED students outscored the Not ED.

The math and science numbers show promise.



Also see the data here.

Here’s hoping these improvements are real and are harbingers of gains to come.

Feckless “Supervision” of Petersburg

Despite fifteen years of “supervision” by the Board and Department of Education, the Petersburg schools marinate in failure.

Va. Code § 22.1-8 provides: “The general supervision of the public school system shall be vested in the Board of Education.”

Va. Code § 22.1-253.13:8 provides:

The Board of Education shall have authority to seek school division compliance with the foregoing Standards of Quality. When the Board of Education determines that a school division has failed or refused, and continues to fail or refuse, to comply with any such Standard, the Board may petition the circuit court having jurisdiction in the school division to mandate or otherwise enforce compliance with such standard, including the development or implementation of any required corrective action plan that a local school board has failed or refused to develop or implement in a timely manner.

The agenda package for the October, 2018 meeting of the Board of Education contains a summary of the “supervision” the Board has provided to Petersburg:


“MOU” is bureaucratese for “Memorandum of Understanding,” which in turn is bureaucratese for an edict to which the Board can point in order to claim it is doing something about lousy schools. In the Real World, the Board’s MOUs are feckless nonsense.

The 2019 SOL data now are out; they add a fifteenth year to the span of the Board’s sterile attempts to improve the Petersburg schools.

Aside: On average, Virginia’s economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students underperform their more affluent peers (“Not ED”) by about 20%. The SOL average pass rate thus is lowered for the divisions with larger ED populations. To avoid the Biased SOL average, let’s look at the underlying averages for the ED and Not ED groups.

To start, here are the reading pass rates:


Until 2017, Petersburg’s Not ED pass rate was slightly above the state average ED rate. Then the Petersburg rate dropped.

Hint: Staff at Petersburg’s AP HIll Elementary got caught cheating at the end of 2017.

At all times on this graph, Petersburg’s stronger group was well below the nominal benchmark for accreditation in English, the red line on the graph. The ED average was flirting with the 50% level.

Both Petersburg groups slid this year: The 2019 Petersburg Not ED average was 5.3 points below the state ED average; the Petersburg ED average dropped to 49.8%. Said otherwise, 40.5% of Petersburg’s Not Ed students and half the ED students flunked the 2019 reading SOL. 

Petersburg’s “progress” on the writing tests has been even less edifying.


Likewise, History.


On the math tests, the raw data suggest that Petersburg improved a bit this year.


That impression fades when we notice that the 2019 math tests were new and the relaxed scoring boosted the state Not ED average by 3.4% and the ED by 6.6% over the 2018 pass rates. In light of those increases, Petersburg’s increases of 2.0 and 3.4%, respectively, are, in fact, decreases.

Finally, science, where Petersburg again reached toward lower pass rates.


Despite fifteen years of “supervision” from the Board and Department of Education, Petersburg wallows in failure.  The Board has yet to sue any school division, much less Petersburg, under the authority of § 22.1-253.13:8.

Isn’t it long past time for the Board of Education and the senior bureaucrats at the Department to be directed to employment that is better suited to their talents?