Middle School Mess, II

We have seen that Middle School and the onset of puberty have been marked by a slight drop in math pass rates statewide but not in reading.  In contrast,  the sixth grade brought plummeting pass rates in both subjects in the Richmond schools.

Those data mostly looked at the period before the new math tests in 2012 and the new reading tests in 2013.

Today let’s look at the third-graders of 2011 and the progress of their group up to the past school year.  To that end, here are the pass rates of the third graders in 2011, the fourth graders in 2012, and so on. 

Let’s start with the reading pass rates.


The new tests dropped Richmond’s fifth graders to 23 points below the state average, while the same group scored six points below the average in 2012 (under the old tests).

The same group dropped another ten points when they entered middle school in 2014; in the eighth grade that group remained 31 points below the state average.

The math scores are even more dramatic.


The group went from six to fourteen points below the state under the new tests in 2012, and dropped another three points in the fifth grade (2013).  Then came middle school: In the sixth grade the (mostly) same students fell to 43 points below the average.  In 2016 (eighth grade) the group remained 30 points down.

As before, we see two effects here: The new tests whacked the Richmond scores in both elementary and middle grades, especially in math.  The middle schools took students who had been performing below average in elementary school and devastated their performances, especially in math.

These data don’t tell us what is wrong with our middle schools; they do tell is that, whatever it is, it is horrible.

Middle School Mess

We have noticed that Richmond’s elementary schools have performed fairly well but our middle schools have not.

(Well, at least that was true before the new math tests in 2012 and the new reading tests in 2013 whacked both Richmond’s elementary and middle school pass rates.)

This suggests a question: Is it all those hormones affecting middle school students or are Richmond’s middle schools unusually awful?

We can get a look at the situation by following class performance of the same group of students from year to year.

For example, here are the reading pass rates for Richmond and the state for third graders in 2006, fourth graders in 2007, etc., up to eighth graders in 2011.


Hmmm.  Hormones or not, it looks like Richmond took fifth graders who performed just below the state average in elementary school and dropped them by ten points in the sixth grade.

Here is the same graph, following the 2007 third graders.


And the 2008 third graders.


This last graph paints much the same picture (well, actually middle school performance was deteriorating), except that the new tests in 2013 lowered the state average for this group by seventeen points but clobbered the Richmond pass rate by thirty-three percent.

The math data show similar patterns, except that the new tests came in 2012 when the 2007 third graders reached the eighth grade.



Thus we see that the pre-teen and early teen years have left reading performance essentially untouched and math performance somewhat reduced in Virginia but brought much impaired performance in both subject areas in Richmond. 

The obvious explanation: It’s not the kids; Richmond’s middle schools are particularly awful.

But, then, we already suspected that.

Mr. Federal Fixit(?)

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included $3 billion for School Improvement Grants.  Of course there’s an acronym, “SIG.”

The program awarded grants to states that agreed to implement one of four intervention models in their lowest-performing schools: transformation, turnaround, restart, or closure.

We now have a report (pdf) from the Federales that evaluates the effect of those funds.  In short:

  • Overall, across all grades, we found that implementing any SIG-funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.
  • When we compared student achievement gains from different models in elementary grades (2nd through 5th), we found no evidence that one model was associated with larger gains than another. For higher grades (6th through 12th), the turnaround model was associated with larger student achievement gains in math than the transformation model. However, factors other than the SIG model implemented, such as baseline differences between schools implementing different models, may explain these differences in achievement gains.

Is it any wonder, then, that our Board of “Education” does not know how to fix Richmond’s awful schools?

Absent in Richmond (and Elsewhere)

I noticed the other day that VDOE collects, but does not report, the number of unexcused absences.

I asked the always helpful Chuck Pyle whether those data were available and he sent me the spreadsheet for 2016. 

Here, from those data, is the distribution of unexcused absences per student.


Richmond is the gold bar; Lynchburg is blue.  The red, from the left, are Norfolk, Newport News, and Hampton.  The graph does not show the twenty-nine divisions that reported zero unexcused absences or Virginia Beach, which averaged 0.0.

That 7.1 datum for Richmond (2.6 times the state average) is 0.1 beyond a magic number: Virginia law requires that the division prosecute the parents or file a CHINS petition for any student with seven unexcused absences.  The average tells us that either Richmond was required to file on every student or, more likely, that some students were running up far more than seven absences, court action or not. 

In any case, there can be no good explanation (and no excuse) for this number.

Charles City and Petersburg are among the twenty-nine divisions that reported zero unexcused absences.  If you believe that datum from Petersburg, I have a nice bridge in Brooklyn you might like to buy.

Here is the entire dataset.

Div Name Membership Unex. Abs. Abs./Member
Greensville County  2590 37190 14.4
Sussex County  1127 11834 10.5
Norfolk City  32180 271164 8.4
Brunswick County  1780 14318 8.0
Montgomery County  9950 78479 7.9
Dickenson County  2296 16370 7.1
Richmond City  23909 169104 7.1
Nottoway County  2232 15713 7.0
Bristol City  2473 16619 6.7
Essex County  1510 9905 6.6
Accomack County  5412 34195 6.3
Buena Vista City  1038 5843 5.6
Westmoreland County  1749 9699 5.5
Prince Edward County  2137 11846 5.5
Russell County  4033 22334 5.5
Amelia County  1877 10187 5.4
Spotsylvania County  24336 130638 5.4
Surry County  846 4496 5.3
Portsmouth City  15349 80763 5.3
Northumberland County  1347 7078 5.3
Alexandria City  15509 76581 4.9
Dinwiddie County  4643 22670 4.9
Cumberland County  1378 6656 4.8
Wise County  6086 28873 4.7
Prince George County  6882 32262 4.7
Northampton County  1678 7748 4.6
Hopewell City  4420 20388 4.6
King William County  2326 10637 4.6
Colonial Beach  638 2877 4.5
Waynesboro City  3271 14354 4.4
Lunenburg County  1596 6905 4.3
Martinsville City  2272 9772 4.3
Suffolk City  14800 63527 4.3
Staunton City  2806 11515 4.1
Norton City  862 3484 4.0
Williamsburg-James City County  11803 47222 4.0
Stafford County  28899 115121 4.0
Prince William County  90610 359689 4.0
Goochland County  2610 10311 4.0
Lynchburg City  8724 34403 3.9
Middlesex County  1280 4975 3.9
Galax City  1381 5156 3.7
Manassas Park City  3659 13592 3.7
Newport News City  29429 108587 3.7
Smyth County  4629 16894 3.6
Franklin City  1180 4284 3.6
Southampton County  2827 9907 3.5
Hampton City  21256 74419 3.5
Mecklenburg County  4511 15679 3.5
Buckingham County  2039 7081 3.5
Colonial Heights City  2960 10158 3.4
Warren County  5635 19337 3.4
Amherst County  4262 14495 3.4
Nelson County  2011 6771 3.4
Salem City  3946 13055 3.3
Patrick County  2977 9825 3.3
Henry County  7441 24418 3.3
Mathews County  1132 3681 3.3
Craig County  663 2149 3.2
Manassas City  7927 24736 3.1
Chesapeake City  41479 129143 3.1
Appomattox County  2316 7000 3.0
York County  13231 39161 3.0
Augusta County  10592 31349 3.0
Floyd County  2087 6140 2.9
Culpeper County  8395 24067 2.9
Halifax County  5292 14983 2.8
Bath County  575 1626 2.8
Washington County  7452 20777 2.8
King George County  4509 12026 2.7
Poquoson City  2173 5754 2.6
Franklin County  7379 18963 2.6
Louisa County  5019 12833 2.6
Rockingham County  11809 28289 2.4
Shenandoah County  6148 14493 2.4
Clarke County  2040 4697 2.3
Isle of Wight County  5664 13030 2.3
Pulaski County  4424 9943 2.2
Grayson County  1749 3843 2.2
New Kent County  3138 6828 2.2
Greene County  3271 6826 2.1
Fairfax County  189296 382824 2.0
Radford City  1689 3313 2.0
Powhatan County  4364 8399 1.9
Arlington County  25538 47840 1.9
Henrico County  52752 97695 1.9
Frederick County  13684 24324 1.8
Wythe County  4290 7552 1.8
Chesterfield County  61376 106859 1.7
Loudoun County  77452 134695 1.7
Campbell County  8140 13583 1.7
Roanoke County  14638 24176 1.7
Fauquier County  11437 17521 1.5
West Point  794 1081 1.4
Bedford County  10144 13776 1.4
Albemarle County  14000 13517 1.0
Rockbridge County  2850 2644 0.9
Fredericksburg City  3611 2674 0.7
Orange County  5174 2844 0.5
Falls Church City  2574 1325 0.5
Hanover County  18280 2171 0.1
Virginia Beach City  71772 219 0
Alleghany County  2337 0 0
Bland County  830 0 0
Botetourt County  4853 0 0
Buchanan County  3012 0 0
Caroline County  4509 0 0
Carroll County  3941 0 0
Charles City County  740 0 0
Charlotte County  1933 0 0
Charlottesville City  4414 0 0
Covington City  1020 0 0
Danville City  6413 0 0
Fluvanna County  3629 0 0
Giles County  2515 0 0
Gloucester County  5663 0 0
Harrisonburg City  6081 0 0
Highland County  206 0 0
King and Queen County  901 0 0
Lancaster County  1200 0 0
Lee County  3200 0 0
Lexington City  510 0 0
Madison County  1831 0 0
Page County  3457 0 0
Petersburg City  4328 0 0
Pittsylvania County  9325 0 0
Rappahannock County  916 0 0
Richmond County  1307 0 0
Roanoke City  13910 0 0
Scott County  3701 0 0
Tazewell County  6236 0 0
Winchester City  4636 0 0
Total 1311280 3552772 2.71

Gone. Forgotten. For Shame!

The 2016 4-year cohort dropout data are up at VDOE.  The only good thing about the Richmond datum, 9.9% dropouts, is that it’s less than last year’s 11.9%.

Here is the distribution of division dropout rates.


Richmond is the gold bar.  The red bars are, from the left, Petersburg, Norfolk, Hampton, and Newport News.  The blue, with a hat tip to Jim Weigand, is Lynchburg.  Charles City is an invisible 0% over at the right.

And here are those selected divisions and the state average.


That 9.9% in Richmond counts the 146 kids, out of the 1,472 student cohort, whom the Richmond schools utterly failed to educate. 

But see this on the subject of the students who did not drop out and were left to marinate in the incompetence of RPS. 

Teacher Truancy FOIA

Having noticed that Richmond’s budget for substitute teachers looks to be increasing, despite an outrageous rate of teacher absences, I filed a FOIA request to see what our Superintendent is doing about the matter.  I got the following response (reformatted here to comport with WordPress):

Richmond Public Schools (RPS) received your follow-up request for records, which was submitted on February 7, 2017 via electronic mail. Your request consisted of the following:

 Summary records by school for the 2015-16 school year showing the number of teacher days and
the number of substitute teacher days; and
 Records since the beginning of Superintendent Bedden’s tenure that contain instructions or advice
to principals regarding the reduction of the number of substitute teacher days.

As provided by Virginia Code §2.2-3704(B), the request “a request for public records shall identify the requested records with reasonable specificity”. Please be more specific with regard to “Records since the beginning of Superintendent Bedden’s tenure the contain instructions or advice to principals regarding the reduction of the number of substitute teacher days”.

Please contact the Clerk of the School Board at (804) 780-7716 with any questions or concerns.

I guess they want me to sue them.

Teacher Truancy, II

The 2014 data from the Feds showed Richmond with the ninth worst Virginia division record of teacher absences >10 days, excluding days for professional development. 

The Richmond data by school ranged from surprisingly high to astronomically high:

The 2014 RPS budget did not break out Richmond’s expenditures for substitutes; the 2015 budget showed $101.8 million for “instr. class staff” and $4.104 million (3.9% of the “instr.” budget) for “n-substitute instr prof.”

Today I checked the 2017 adopted budget.  It shows:


The 2015 actual expenditure for substitutes came to 5.6%, well beyond the budgeted 3.9%. 

As well, the budget for FY 17 shows 4.2% for substitutes (going up, it seems).  

Of course, I’ve filed a FOIA request to see what our Superintendent has been doing to reduce this waste of taxpayer funds.

Educational “Leadership”

I have pointed out that our Board of “Education” knows how to identify broken schools but does not know how to fix them

We get confirmation, and a partial explanation, in the Times-Dispatch this morning.  The former President of the Board writes:

The solutions offered in the past have been new teachers, new principals, new math programs, new reading programs, leadership development and more. None of them have (sic) worked.

There you have it in microcosm: This former leader of the Board understands that the Board has failed but does not understand subject-verb agreement. 

(For a contrary view of “none have” see this.)

No wonder they can’t fix anything.

Absent at VBOE

Never mind a statutory duty to enforce the mandatory attendance laws, the Board of “Education” did not even attempt to adopt a truancy regulation until 2011.  They botched that one so terribly that they withdrew it

The next try yielded a wordy concoction that ignored part-day truancy (the kind that killed Justin Creech in 2005).  As I said at the time:

[W]e are obliged to read the statute to accomplish its purpose: every student must attend school for “at least 180 teaching days or 990 teaching hours.” Staff’s narrow reading of the [statute] would lead to a regulation that is manifestly inconsistent with the will of our General Assembly.

Indeed, having officially interpreted the statute to apply only to full day absences, the Board would be challenged to later expand the reach of the regulation to part day absences. Further, the regulation as reproposed does not even require the reporting of part day absences. The Board thus seeks to codify its failure to enforce the mandatory attendance statute as to such absences.

The feeble regulation took effect Nov. 30, 2016, 5+ years after the first attempt.

To the good, the regulation requires some reporting regarding compliance with the requirements of Va. Code § 22.1-258 (notice to parents after five absences; conference after six; prosecution of parents or CHINS petition after seven).

So I went looking for the Board’s data reporting requirements. 

The VDOE Data Elements (xls; also available as a pdf) for the 2016-2017 Student Record Collection were last revised on August 8, 2016, before the Nov. 30, 2016 effective date but well after the May, 2016 adoption of the truancy regulation.  Only two of these data elements refer to truancy:

  • Item 47, Truancy Conference Flag (Conference scheduled with parents when student has six or more unexcused absences); and
  • Item 68, Unexcused Absences (Cumulative number of unexcused absences)

VDOE reports to the public (under the heading “Student Truancy”) only the count of conferences (that the report calls “Truancy Count”).  These numbers are interesting, but only mildly so in the absence of the count of 6-day truancies.

VDOE does not explain why it suppresses those totals that could measure the extent to which a division has met the conference requirement of § 22.1-258.  Could it be that the Board would be embarrassed because these data would show widespread failure to comply with this requirement the Board is obliged to enforce?

As of Feb. 5, 2017, this “Truancy Count” report for the 2016 school year has not been posted (Never mind that we are seven+ months into the 2017 school year).

More to the point, the Data Elements have not been revised to include the requirements of the Board’s truancy regulation.  Looks like we get to go yet another year without any measure at all of the Board’s failure to discharge its duty to enforce school attendance.

Your tax dollars at “work.”