Failed But Promoted

The data tables in the Superintendent’s Annual Report mostly appear about the same time as the dandelions.  A reader, however, points out that a few tables emerge earlier.  Of interest among those early bloomers, Table 3 reports the 2017-18 fall membership by division along with the number of students NOT repeating the same grade from 2016-17. 

The difference between those two numbers gives the number who DID repeat (i.e. who had NOT been promoted).  Let’s juxtapose those data with the division failure rates (i.e., 1.0 minus the pass rate) on the SOL tests. 

First, the reading tests:


Overall, 22.6% of Virginia students did not pass the 2017 reading SOL tests while a mere 1.7% of the 2018 fall enrollment were students who had not been promoted.

The positive slope is consistent, for the most part, with more students held back in the divisions with lower pass rates but the least squares fit to the data shows only a modest correlation (R-squared = 14%).

Richmond is the gold square.  The peer jurisdictions, from the top, are Norfolk, Hampton, and Newport News.  Charles City is green; Lynchburg, blue.

The math data paint much the same picture.


Average failure rate, 22.4%.  Very slightly better correlation.

We might wonder whether the lower social promotion rates in Norfolk (more than three times as many students held back as the average) and Hampton (almost 2.5 times as many) explain their much better performances vis-a-vis Richmond.  To make that case, however, we would have to explain away Newport News.

There is plenty of room to argue about the wisdom of social promotion.  There is no room to argue with the conclusion that Virginia schools employ it, wholesale.  Indeed, given that the SOL tests “establish minimum expectations,” there is room to conclude that “wholesale” understates the reality.