Lies, Damn Lies, and Poverty

Our former Superintendent was in the job from January, 2014 to June, 2017.  Under his supervision, Richmond’s (awful) SOL pass rates peaked in 2015 and then declined.

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While he was with us, the Super joined in the popular sport of blaming funding and – to the point here – blaming the poorer students for Richmond’s gross underperformance.

I’ve pointed out elsewhere that RPS is wasting something like $55 million per year to obtain appalling pass rates.  They are fibbing about the need for more money (aside from the need to fix the buildings they have been neglecting for decades).

Today I want to look further into the effect of our large population of poorer (“economically disadvantaged”) students.

For sure, economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students underperform their more affluent peers by about 20%.  For example, on the state average data:

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Thus, increasing the percentage of ED students can be expected to lower the average pass rates. 

The VDOE data permit a look beyond this dilution of the average pass rate to see if there is an effect of ED enrollments on the performance of each group.

To begin, here are the 2017 3d grade reading pass rates by division for the ED and non-ED students, plotted vs. the percentage of ED students taking the test at that grade level in the division.

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(BTW: VDOE has a new front end to the SOL database.  It’s a bit easier to use than the old system but also slow.)

Note: Data are omitted here for the divisions with one or more missing data points (usually because of the [docx] suppression rule that applies for groups of fewer than ten students).

Here, with increasing ED population in the tested group in the division the scores drop some for both the ED and non-ED groups, but the correlations are minuscule. 

We also see Richmond (the square points) underperforming considerably.

The data for the other two elementary grades show similar – well, mostly similar – patterns.

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The Grade 4 ED data show a counter-intuitive increase with increasing ED population but the tiny R-squared value tells us that the two variables are essentially uncorrelated.  The decreasing scores of the non-ED groups show some larger, but still small, correlations with the ED population.

In the middle school data, Richmond drops from poor performance to appalling underperformance and the correlation of the non-ED scores with the %ED improves some.

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Except for the third and sixth grades, the R-squared values tell us that the average scores are mildly correlated with the ED population percentage for the non-ED students but vanishingly for the ED students themselves.

Richmond’s underperformance relative to the other divisions with similar ED populations ranges from moderate in the elementary grades to bottom-of-the-barrel in the middle school grades.

Beyond emphasizing the awful performance of Richmond’s awful middle schools, these data suggest that the major impact of larger ED populations is on the performance of the non-ED students.

The mathematics data tell much the same story.

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The Richmond schools underperform again, disastrously so in the middle school grades.

The fitted lines go the wrong way in three cases for the ED scores but, again, with trivial correlations.  The effect on the non-ED students looks to be larger, and to enjoy better correlations, than with the reading data. 

These data hint at an hypothesis, particularly in the middle school grades: At the division level, the effect of large ED populations is mostly seen in the declining performance of the non-ED students.  The corollary: Placing ED students in schools with low ED populations would not significantly improve the performance of the ED students.

I’ll try to pry out the by-school data to see if the pattern persists there.

In any case, our former Superintendent and the other apologists for RPS are not dealing with the real world when they try to blame Richmond’s poor performance on the economic status of the students: Richmond’s schools, especially the middle schools, underperform grossly in comparison to other divisions with similar ED populations.

How about some truth in education: Let’s blame the schools, not the kids.