Bless You, Brian Davison!

[For background, see this.]

From: John Butcher
Sent: 4/29/2016 5:46 PM
To: Pyle, Charles (DOE)
Subject: FOIA Request

Mr. Pyle,

I am a Citizen of the Commonwealth and a resident of the City of Richmond at the address set out below.  Under the authority of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, I request an opportunity to inspect and copy the following public records, as that term is defined at Va. Code § 2.2-3701, that are prepared, owned, or in the possession of the Department of Education:

•    All records that establish or comment upon any reason why it might not be practically possible to provide the records I requested on April 21 within the five work days provided by the Act.

If any record responsive to this request exists in electronic form, I request that you provide it by posting it to the Department’s web site or emailing it to me at the return address above.

In the event the Department elects to withhold any public record responsive to this request, for each such record please:

•    Identify the record withheld by date, author, title, and summary or purpose of the record;

•    Identify all persons outside your Department to whom the record has been shown or to whom copies have been furnished; and

•    State specifically the statutory exemption under which the Department elects to withhold the record.

If you elect to charge me part or all of the actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records, please estimate the total charges beforehand.  If those total charges exceed $100, please notify me before you incur the costs.

Please contact me by telephone at the number below or by email at the address above if I can answer any question about this request.

I look forward to hearing from you as promptly as possible and in any event within the five work days provided by the Act.

P.S.: Notwithstanding your email of today, my request was made at 1:31 PM on April 21, not on April 19.  Today being the sixth work day since the request (although I rather like the April 19 date, which would make today the eighth day), the Department is in violation of the Act and has waived any objection to providing the requested records.  Please just send along the records.

 

On 4/29/2016 4:51 PM, Pyle, Charles (DOE) wrote:
>
> Dear Mr. Butcher:
>
> The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) is in receipt of your request for records dated April 19, 2016, and made in accordance with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (§ 2.2-3700 et seq.).
>
> Please be advised that it is not practically possible to provide the requested records or determine their availability within the five working days required by FOIA due to the unavailability of staff and the complexity of your request.  Therefore, VDOE is invoking subsection B 4 of § 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia to provide the agency with seven additional working days to respond to your request.
>
> Best regards,
> Charles B. Pyle
> Director of Communications
> Virginia Department of Education
> (804) 371-2420
> Charles.Pyle@doe.Virginia.gov

As Promised Earlier Today

Subject: FOIA Request
From: John Butcher <[redacted]@verizon.net>
Date: 04/21/2016 01:31 PM

To: “Pyle, Charles (DOE)” Charles.Pyle@doe.virginia.gov

Mr. Pyle,

I am a Citizen of the Commonwealth and a resident of the City of Richmond at the address set out below.  Under the authority of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, I request an opportunity to inspect and copy the following public records, as that term is defined at Va. Code § 2.2-3701, that are prepared, owned, or in the possession of the Department of Education:

•    All reading and math assessment scores for teachers in Richmond Public Schools, by teacher and by school, for school years 2000 through 2015, whether derived from student growth percentiles or other data.

•    Records setting forth the method or methods for calculating those assessment scores for each year.

If any record responsive to this request exists in electronic form, I request that you provide it by posting it to the Department’s web site or EMailing it to me at the return address above.

In the event the Department elects to withhold any public record responsive to this request, for each such record please:

•    Identify the record withheld by date, author, title, and summary or purpose of the record;

•    Identify all persons outside your Department to whom the record has been shown or to whom copies have been furnished; and

•    State specifically the statutory exemption under which the Department elects to withhold the record.

If you elect to charge me part or all of the actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records, please estimate the total charges beforehand.  If those total charges exceed $100, please notify me before you incur the costs.

Please contact me by telephone at the number below or by email at the address above if I can answer any question about this request.

I look forward to hearing from you as promptly as possible and in any event within the five work days provided by the Act.

John Butcher
[redacted]
Richmond, Virginia 23225
804.[redacted]

Piercing the Secrecy Barrier

As we have seen, the Virginia Department of Data Suppression doesn’t want you to know whether your kid is suffering under a lousy teacher or whether your principal is acting to retrain or fire that lousy teacher. 

The Department would have us believe that Virginia is the Lake Woebegon of Teachers: For example, in 99.28% of all respects, Richmond teachers are evaluated to be at or above average.  In fact, of course, we have some really lousy teachers.  Here in Richmond, in 2015, we had the sixth worst division pass rate in math and the second worst in reading.

Leading the charge against the state’s concealment of the facts we have Brian Davison of Loudoun, who earlier compelled the disclosure of the SGP data by division and by (anonymized) teacher. 

Through Brian’s efforts, we now know that “student growth percentiles have not been used as a teacher performance indicator by Loudoun County Public Schools.”  By the terms of a final order signed by Richmond Circuit Court Judge Melvin Hughes and entered on April 12, VDOE now must cough up the Loudoun assessment data by school and by teacher for the last five years and must pay Brian $35,000 toward his attorney’s fees.

This is a tremendous victory for transparency in public education (and a much-needed breach in the wall of secrecy at VDOE).  I plan to modify have modified   Brian’s Loudoun request (see Exhibit 5) and to change the name to Richmond.  I hope you’ll do the same for your school division.

VDOE Is Spending Your Money to Avoid Disclosing the Data You Paid For

Yesterday, VDOE sent its (very capable) lawyer to talk to Richmond Circuit Court Judge Melvin Hughes.

The lawyer told the judge that VDOE wanted a try-again on its loss to Brian Davison last year where the judge told VDOE to disclose the SGP data by teacher.  VDOE also wanted to bring along the Loudoun School Board, the Virginia School Boards Ass’n, the VEA, and the Virginia Superintendents’ Ass’n. to whine about how terrible it would be to publicly identify the good and bad teachers in Virginia’s public schools.

It looks like the judge divided the baby: He told the various Associations that they were not the affected teachers and they lacked “standing” to intervene in the suit.  He allowed the Loudoun School Board to join VDOE in trying to get him to change his mind about disclosing teachers’ identities and, indeed, about releasing the SGP records at all.

It will be up to Judge Hughes to decide the legal questions here.  In contrast, it is clear that VDOE is on the wrong side of the policy issue: They are using taxpayer money to resist disclosure to the taxpayers of data those taxpayers paid for.  Those data can tell the public which teachers, schools, and school divisions — all paid for by those taxpayers — are doing a good or poor job of public education.

We have a preliminary data release (actually the last of three) that contains anonymous teacher identifiers and that demonstrates the importance of these data.

As a reminder, the Student Growth Percentile measures how much a student has learned in a particular class in comparison to other, similarly situated students.  Importantly, the SGP, in contrast to the SOL, is generally unaffected by the wealth or poverty of the student’s family.  VDOE has been collecting these data, under a federal mandate, since 2011.

Let’s look at the 2014 Richmond fifth-grade reading data from VDOE’s latest (“16790”) release.  For a start, here is the distribution of student score averages by teacher across all the teachers of that subject in all of Richmond’s elementary schools.  The SGP percentiles are on the abscissa, the count of teachers with that average percentile is on the ordinate.

image

Here we see a close-to normal distribution with a mean of 48 and a standard deviation of 13.  For comparison, the statewide distribution for this subject (also by teacher average) also averages 48, and with a standard deviation of 11.

For the teacher at “85” on that graph (ID # 66858, average reading SGP of 84.52), the database reports 23 scores.  Of those 23 students, only one scored below the state average SGP.

image

At the other end of the graph, teacher # 66294 averaged only 16.6 but with only ten scores.  Let’s look at the next teacher up, # 68809, with 22 scores averaging 22.8:

image

Three kids in that class scored above the state average.  Two scored in the minimum percentile and four more were in the third percentile.

More specifically, the 95% confidence interval of this teacher’s 23 average is 11.  In terms of student progress, we can be confident that this teacher is in the bottom third, and probably the bottom quarter, statewide.  Clearly it’s time for some retraining and, if that doesn’t take, a replacement teacher.

Your fifth grader in Richmond might be stuck with this teacher.  But VDOE doesn’t want you to know how bad this teacher is.

Please recall that the SGP measures improvement in comparison to similarly situated students.  A student with high achievement (high SOL score) last year who improves as much as the others with similar achievement, only makes the 50th percentile.  A student with low achievement last year and who improves as much this year as the other low achievers also makes the 50th percentile.  In short, the SGP does not penalize a teacher for having a bunch of low-performing students; it rewards or penalizes a teacher based on how much improvement that teacher achieves compared with similar students statewide.

Which teacher do you think is doing a better job?  Which class would you want your kid to be in?

Why do you suppose VDOE doesn’t want you to know how well (or how badly) your kid’s teacher is doing?

Are you beginning to understand why I refer to VDOE as the State Department of Data Suppression?