Racial Smoke Screen in Lynchburg

Jim Weigand points out the News & Advance article reporting that the Lynchburg school gurus have concluded that students’ race is a greater indicator of challenge than poverty, albeit both factors “matter a lot.”

Ask the wrong question, get an irrelevant answer. 

The racial achievement gap is a fact of life, although the reasons remain a lively source of controversy.

The relevant question here is not whether there is a racial gap in Lynchburg or whether that gap exceeds the differences attributable to economic disparity; the question is whether Lynchburg’s students are learning as much as their racial and economic peer groups statewide.

Let’s start with the SGP data.  Those data, which are essentially uncorrelated with whether students are economically disadvantaged, tell us that Lynchburg’s schools are doing an awful job.  For example, the 2014 statewide distributions of SGPs by teacher show an average of 48 for the reading tests and 49.3 for math.

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Lynchburg, in contrast, has a reading average of 40.2

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and a math average of 37.2.

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How would you like to have your kid in the hands of that Lynchburg math “teacher” who produced an average SGP of four?

(In light of the manifest utility of these data, do you wonder why the teachers’ association, which claims it works “for the betterment of public education,” thinks it would be terrible to publicly identify the good and bad teachers in Virginia’s public schools or why VDOE has had second thoughts and is abandoning the SGP?)

We don’t have SGP data by race (The Virginia Department of Data Suppression has those data but has not shared them).  Less usefully, the VDOE database can break out pass rates by race.  Data there show that, statewide, Asian students on the reading tests outperform white students, who outperform black students.  This holds both for students who are and for those who are not economically disadvantaged.

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The Lynchburg pattern is somewhat different.

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To illuminate  the differences, we can calculate the ratios of the Lynchburg and State pass rates by race and economic status:

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Here we see Lynchburg’s white students, economically disadvantaged and not, performing about the same level as their peer groups statewide.  The black students who are not economically disadvantaged are underperforming the state average of similarly situated black students; Lynchburg’s economically disadvantaged black students are considerably underperforming their statewide peer group.  So, economic disadvantage or no, Lynchburg’s black students are passing the tests at a rate below the state average.

Here are the same data for the math tests:

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So we see that Lynchburg’s white students, both economically disadvantaged and not, who pass the reading tests at or slightly above the state average rates for their groups nonetheless underperform on the math tests.  Lynchburg’s black students, both economically disadvantaged and not, considerably underperform their peers statewide. 

The important questions Lynchburg should be seeking to answer are why its black students underperform the state averages for their peers, economically disadvantaged or not,  in both reading and math and and why all Lynchburg groups but the economically disadvantaged Asian students(!) underperform in math.