How ‘Bout Those Elementary Schools

While I have the data (and while trying to not remember that 2017 results will be out in a week or so), here is the performance of the Richmond Elementary schools on the reading tests, by year.

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The numbers here are averages of the pass rates of the three tested grades (3, 4, & 5).  Schools are sorted by 2016 pass rates.

The Big Dip in 2013 coincides with the new, tougher reading tests.  As you see, some schools were barely touched by the new tests; some were clobbered and have recovered; some were clobbered and remain that way.

The threshold for accreditation is 75%; only seven schools (of twenty-six) made that cutoff in 2016.  Six schools were below 50% with Woodville firmly in last place at 33%.

Next, math:

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The schools again are sorted by the 2016 numbers so most of the color codes are changed from the reading graph.  (Sigh!)

The new math tests came in 2012.  Note the 2d round reaction in ‘13 at some schools.

The accreditation threshold here is 70.  Thirteen schools made that cut in ‘16; thirteen did not.  Four were below 50%.  Swansboro beat out Woodville for last place, 33% and 39%, respectively.

Stay tuned for the 2017 numbers that should give the final measure of Superintendent Bedden’s success or failure.  (The ‘17 data will tell us nothing about the Board of “Education” that has been busy adopting a “Memorandum of Understanding” instead of doing something useful to fix Richmond’s awful schools.  But, then, even they have noticed that they don’t know how to fix urban schools so perhaps that Mt. Everest of sterile MOU paperwork will keep them from more harmful meddling.)

Carver!

The Board of Education just posted its list of 2017 Index of Performance Awards (based on 2016 data).

(They released the 2016 SOL data on August 16, 2016 and they had the numbers before then.  We might wonder why it took a year to figure out where to send the awards.)

The 145 schools receiving “Excellence” awards included Richmond’s Carver and Munford elementary schools and Open High.

Open aced the math SOLs last year and got a 97% pass rate on reading.  The average of the five subjects pass rates was 98.7%.  Sounds like “excellence” to me.

Munford has a rep in Richmond and Carver has shone under its new principal.  I thought I’d dig around in their numbers.

Among elementary schools, Carver was eighth in the state in reading in ‘16 with a 97.5% pass rate (average of the pass rates for the three grades tested).  Munford was in 103d place at 91.3%.  In math, Carver was 27th at 95.2%; Munford was 145th at 91.2%.

Those Carver numbers look really fine, especially when we expand the focus to include all the Richmond elementary schools (2016 pass rates; average of the averages for the three grades):

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Both schools showed the effects of the new math tests in 2012 and the new reading tests in 2013, Carver more so.  Both schools have since recovered, Carver to exceptional levels.

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These data raise two questions:

  • What is Carver doing that Blackwell and Chimborazo and Swansboro and Woodville and too many other Richmond schools are not doing; and
  • Why are we looking all over for a new Superintendent when Carver is so close?

Pell Plus

We have seen that, among Virginia’s public, 4-year college programs, the graduation rate of Pell grantees correlates strongly with the overall graduation rate of the school.  We also have seen that (federal) Pell and (state) Commonwealth award holders on average graduate at lower rates than students who receive no financial aid.  As well, the data show that students receiving other forms of support graduate, on average, at higher rates than students with no aid.

SCHEV has some more data on this subject. 

Here we look at the 4-, 5-, and 6-year cohort graduation rates of the 2010-11 cohort of first time in college students at our Big Hitter universities.  These data count graduations anywhere, not just at the starting institutions.

The All Students rates look like this:

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The rates for students who do not receive any financial support are similar but mostly lower.

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The differences between the two rates show some considerable differences between schools (and emphasize that averages do not tell the whole story).

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The Pell grantees graduate at still lower rates (UVa excepted).

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Or, in terms of the Pell rate vs. the no-support rate:

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Here we see Pell grantees underperforming the no-support group except in the fifth and sixth years at THE University.  It seems that UVa’s selection process works even better for Pell students than for the students who pay their own way.  VCU is another story.

The other group we have seen to underperform on average are the Commonwealth Award grantees.

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UVa and W&M report no grantees (or at least fewer then ten; see the SCHEV suppression rules).  Tech and Mason outperform here; VCU does not.

The athletic awards show a much different pattern.

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Those are large differences.  At six years, VCU graduated 13.7% more of its athletes than of its no-support students.  Tech, 18.4% fewer.

BTW: At five and six years, W&M graduated 100% of the supported athletes.  Consistent with its high overall rate, UVa graduated 90.2% at five years, 92% at six.

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Next, here are the results for the other grant programs whose grantees, averaged over Virginia’s 4-year programs, outperformed the no-support group:

Perkins (Federal program for students enrolled in career & technical ed. programs):

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PLUS loans:

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Subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans:

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Tuition waiver programs (mostly for employees and families; some for “older” citizens):

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SCHEV-operated VGAP awards:

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Federal work-study:

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Notice the relatively high rate of 4-year degrees (and the widespread overperformance) among the work-study students. 

Doubtless there are multiple factors driving these results.  We might expect those to include the granting process, the selectivity of the school, the pool from which a school draws, and probably other factors.

Nonetheless these data suggest some tentative conclusions:

  • UVa and W&M are skimming the cream from the population of students who receive financial support;
  • As the earlier data suggested, the SCHEV-run VGAP awards are much more effective, in most cases, than the school-run Commonwealth awards;
  • Some schools run counter to the average underperformance of the Pell and Commonwealth grantees (e.g., UVa on Pell; Tech and Mason on Commonwealth); and
  • VCU’s relatively high graduation rate of athletes might suggest either careful selection and nurturing or corrupt grading practices.  It would be good to know which.

Diploma Inflation

The standard diploma requires five “verified credits” (i.e., passing the course plus passing the End of Course (EOC) SOLs or approved substitute tests) in English, math, laboratory science, and history & social science, plus one further verified credit, presumably in one of those areas.   The advanced diploma requires three further verified credits.

We have seen that the 4-year cohort graduation rate statewide has risen in recent years at the same time that the EOC SOL pass rates have generally declined.

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The five-year graduation rates run a bit higher but show the same pattern (except, of course, that the data end a year earlier).

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Well, that’s the state.  Let’s look at some divisions.  All the graphs below show the 4-year cohort rates.

Let’s start with Fairfax where, for sure, all the students are above average.

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Hmmm. Excellent numbers but, again, declining pass rates and increasing diploma rates.  That’s easier to see if we just look at the subject average pass rate and the total diploma rate.

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Loudoun looks much the same.

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Then we have Richmond and peers.  (Notice the rate of standard diplomas higher than the advanced rate, contra the NoVa jurisdictions and state averages.)

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Finally, because I sometimes have readers there, Charles City and Lynchburg.

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There are some interesting differences here, particularly the vast differences between the NoVa jurisdictions and the old cities and the lower rates of advanced diplomas in those cities.

The variability of the small numbers in Charles City makes conclusions there problematic but otherwise the underlying theme is constant: Decreasing pass rates with increasing graduation rates.

These data surely allow VBOE to brag on the increasing graduation rates.  Whether they can brag that the kids are learning more is a question these data do not answer.

And, for sure, these data confound the notion that decreasing pass rates should lead to decreasing graduation rates.

Memorandum of Edict

The Board of “Education” (VBOE) met on July 27 and approved a revised version of the “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) with Richmond. 

As a reminder: Twenty-Seven of 44 Richmond public schools (61%) are not fully accredited; sixteen of those schools have been denied accreditation.  The Department of Education (VDOE) this year conducted a “Division-Level Academic Review” of the Richmond system that focused on bureaucratic effluvia and carefully avoided the fundamental question of what Richmond must do to produce students who can read, write, and reckon.  Now, rather than setting out to fix the Richmond system, VBOE has been engaged in writing the MOU.  They say it will be followed by a “plan.”

It took four years of failure for sixteen Richmond schools to be denied accreditation.  We might wonder why this protracted Review/MOU/Plan/??? process could not have been started – and completed – before so many Richmond schoolchildren had been damaged by those inadequate schools.

On the 26th, the Board’s Accountability Committee considered the MOU changes requested by Richmond.  The Committee proposed some revisions, summarized here.  We don’t have minutes yet but it appears from the video (July 27, part 1 video, starting about 1:48) that the Board on the 27th adopted the Committee’s proposed changes.

The major change was to reduce the requirement for the Board’s prior approval of “all” Richmond expenditures of state and federal funds to approval of “selected” expenditures.  The MOU does not tell us how the selection is to be made but, in any case, the State will have a putative chokehold on Richmond’s expenditures.

Aside from the title, the MOU does not pretend that it is an agreement.  Among the unchanged features: VBOE can modify the MOU at will.  As well, the MOU speaks of VBOE dominion over “processes, procedures, and strategies.” 

In short: VBOE thinks it has control of Richmond’s public schools.  The MOU is an edict.

This is Good News and Bad News. 

The Bad News:  VBOE asserts that it has taken control of the Richmond Public Schools. 

This state agency is asserting that it has day-to-day control over schools that, under the Constitution, are to be supervised by our School Board.

The Good News: VBOE asserts that it has taken control of the Richmond Public Schools. 

Richmond has demonstrated that it is incapable of properly educating its schoolchildren. Somebody needs to do something about that scandal.

Possible Good News: If the Richmond schools fail to achieve accreditation, VBOE will be responsible.

Unfortunately for that last point, VBOE has demonstrated (and admitted) that it does not know how to fix failed urban schools.  Perhaps recognizing that, they are in the process of (yet another) dilution of the standards of accreditation. 

Said otherwise:  Too many schools can’t meet the standards and VBOE doesn’t know how to fix those schools, so VBOE is gutting the standards.

To compound the misfeasance, the deadline in the MOU is eight years from now, a time when all of the Board members will have been replaced.  So this VBOE cannot be held responsible if Richmond continues to fail.  Never mind the kids who will suffer from Richmond’s malpractice in the meantime.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

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As a side note: Former VBOE President Cannaday in the Committee meeting argued that the state bureaucrat sitting ex officio on the School Board in 2025 would provide an important channel to give the Board the Straight Word in cases where the Superintendent might hesitate to so confront the Board that employs him/her.  If that is important, we can continue to wonder why it becomes so only after another eight years of failure.

Second side note: The MOU is not an administrative order authorized by law.  It does not pretend to be a contract.  It does not even recite VBOE’s authority to sue a division that fails to develop or implement a plan to meet the Standards of Quality.  It is a naked assertion of authority to meddle – authority that, under the Constitution, VBOE probably does not have.

While VBOE fiddles with this meaningless piece of paper, Richmond’s schoolchildren are subjected to the school system with the lowest reading and second-lowest math pass rates in the state last year.

Diploma Inflation?

The estimable Jim Bacon the other day raised the question whether Virginia’s increasing graduation rates might be related to grade inflation.

We have some data on a nearly-related subject:  Recall that the standard diploma requires five “verified credits” (i.e., passing the course plus passing End of Course (“EOC”) SOLs or approved substitute tests) in English, math, laboratory science, and history & social science, (Added note): plus one in a subject of the student’s choice (presumably in one of those five areas) (Hat Tip, the illustrious Chuck Pyle).  The advanced diploma requires three further verified credits.

The VDOE Web site has the Virginia average 4-year cohort graduation rates (back to 2008) along with the End of Course pass rates.  Here are the diploma rates along with the reading pass rates:

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Hmmm.  Looks like the pass rate declined slowly through 2012, dropped a bit with the new (harder) tests in 2013, and remained about flat afterward.  During this time, the graduation rate with standard diplomas remained close to 35% while the rate of advanced diplomas rose from 44% to 52%, both with no dip in 2013.

Since Excel already has the data, let’s look at the correlations.

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The writing tests tell much the same story.

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That’s English.  How about math?

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Here the new tests in 2012 had a large effect on the pass rate but the advanced diploma rate still rose unimpeded.  The (negative!) correlations are substantial:

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Well, how about History & Social Science?

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Finally, science.

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Whatever is going on here – and the process is so byzantine that an outsider might despair to understand it – it is clear that the average graduation rate, especially of advanced diplomas, is not constrained by the EOC pass rates.  If anything, the graduation rates and pass rates are going in different directions.

Bacon mentions grade inflation.  This looks like diploma inflation somewhere outside the verified credit process.

Note added July 26: Here is a summary graph with all the data:

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More Money for What?

Table 13 in the 2016 Superintendent’s Annual Report sets out the fiscal year’s disbursements by school division. 

The table reports day school disbursements (administration, instruction, attendance & health, pupil transportation, and O&M) plus disbursements for food service, summer school, adult education, pre-K, “other” educational, facilities, debt service, and contingency reserve.  See the footnotes to Table 13 for the details about these categories.  The numbers below omit facilities, debt service, and contingency reserve.

Taking the division totals, and dividing by the year-end Average Daily Membership (“ADM”), we see the following distribution:

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Richmond is one of the three divisions at $15,500.

Note: Excel’s histogram analysis rounds up, so Richmond’s $15,052, Charles City’s $15,237, and Franklin City’s $15,317 all get reported at $15,500.

Looking at Richmond, the division average, and the peer cities of Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk, we see:

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Richmond’s $3,051 excess over the state average, times our ADM of 1,253.51 21,826.00, (Oops!  Thanks Jeremy!) gives an excess disbursement of $66.6 million.

Plotting the division average reading pass rates v. the disbursements gives the following graph:

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Richmond is the gold square.  The red diamonds, from the left, are Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk.

The least squares fitted line suggests that pass rates decrease with increasing division disbursements but the R-squared tells us that the two variables are uncorrelated.

Here is the same graph for the math SOLs:

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The next time somebody starts claiming that Richmond needs more money, it might be useful to ask what they are doing with the excess $66.6 million they already are spending to achieve the lowest reading and second-lowest math pass rates in Virginia.

Showing Some Spine

Last night the Richmond School Board approved a proposed revision of the (stupid, obnoxious, wordy, and meaningless) Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) demanded by the State.

Even after the proposed revisions, the result is a cloud of bureaucratic effluvia.  But this version is less obnoxious.

It will be interesting to see how the state responds.

Note: MOU draft replaced with updated version, 7/18, 15:28.