The September 28 agenda for the Board of “Education” included the “Annual Progress Report on Memoranda of Understanding as Required for Divisions under Division-level Review for Franklin City Public Schools, Petersburg City Public Schools and Richmond City Public Schools”

As to Richmond, the Report mentioned quarterly meetings in 2014-16, followed by a list and table that tell us:


We have seen that the Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) is a wordy edict under which VDOE will (unlawfully) run the Richmond schools.  Given that VBOE has demonstrated (and admitted) that it does not know how to fix failed urban schools (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48), this has a considerable potential to further embarrass that Board but little potential to actually fix the Richmond schools.  As well, the onsite review was a bureaucratic monstrosity in which only one of twenty-seven items even mentioned student achievement.

So much for “progress.”

The report continues:

Technical Assistance.
[The three divisions] will participate in technical assistance sessions provided by the Office of School Improvement (OSI).  The technical assistance for the 2017-2018 school year will focus on the implementation of essential actions identified as a part of continuous school improvement planning.  Additionally, divisions with a division level memorandum of understanding and corrective action plan will have regular meetings with OSI staff, the support of an OSI contractor(s), and the opportunity to select from the OSI/VDOE Technical Assistance Menu.  Additional differentiated support will be provided as needs are identified through the continued implementation of the corrective action plans. Divisions that did not make progress toward full accreditation may have additional meetings with the Office of School Improvement in order to determine appropriate next steps.

In short, they haven’t done anything useful but they’re going to have technical assistance sessions. 

They also would hold meetings with Richmond and provide contractor support if Richmond had the prerequisite corrective action plan.  But it doesn’t (a full year into the process), so there’s no telling what will happen with Richmond.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Poverty Is a Problem in Petersburg, Not an Excuse

I have been critical of the gross failure of the Board of Education’s “help” to actually help the Petersburg schools.

There is one more factor that should be included in that analysis: Poverty.  We know that increased Economic Disadvantage in the student population is associated with lower SOL pass rates.

NOTE: Please remember always that statistical correlation does not imply causation.  These numbers do not say that poverty causes lower pass rates, only that poverty and pass rates are statistically related and that there probably is something, or several somethings, that create(s) the relationship.

So, let’s look at the data.  To start, here are the 2017 division reading pass rates plotted vs. the division percentage of economically disadvantaged students.


The R-squared of 34% (R = 0.59) tells us there is a relationship here.

Whatever that relationship, however, it doesn’t explain the Petersburg pass rate, the red diamond on the graph.  Petersburg is 13% below the fitted line. 

For that matter, it doesn’t explain Richmond either (the gold square), 14% below the line.

Writing shows much the same pattern, with a better correlation.


Petersburg is low by 14%; Richmond, by 17%.

The math data tell the same story but with a weaker correlation.


Here, Petersburg takes the prize, 21% below the line; Richmond is merely low by 18%.

Perhaps more tellingly: With the exceptions of Greensville County and Richmond on the English tests, every division with a larger ED percentage than Petersburg had a better pass rate in these three subject areas.

The conclusion is clear: Petersburg has failed, miserably.  The “help” of the Virginia Board of Education (for thirteen years!) has not supplied a remedy.  Petersburg’s schoolchildren are the victims of all that incompetence.

(BTW: The Board of “Education” has a remedy: They propose to eviscerate the Accreditation regulations to make it nearly impossible for a school to be denied accreditation.  That might make Petersburg – and the Board – look better but it won’t do anything to help the kids whom Petersburg is failing to educate.)

Please Don’t “Help” Me!

The agenda package for the Sept. 28 Board of “Education” meeting contains a summary of the “help” the Board has provided Petersburg

Petersburg has been working under Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with the Board since 2004 and has been working under Board-approved Corrective Action Plans since 2009-10.  Here is the list extracted from the Board’s agenda package:



And here is a summary of what thirteen years, four MOUs, three Corrective Action Plans, and one On-Site Visit have accomplished:


A school gets to damage too many of its students for four years before it can be denied accreditation.  Here we see the first MOU being executed as Petersburg was headed toward the denials of 2006. 

If we credit the State “help” for the decrease in denials and increase in full accreditations in 2008-10, we are left to explain how more of that “help” allowed the subsequent disaster:  As of this year, half the Petersburg schools are denied accreditation and none is fully accredited.

The complicating factor here is the new, tougher math tests in 2012 and English tests in 2013.  The Petersburg difference is that the State averages later recovered while Petersburg, with “help” from the MOUs and Plans, did not:




Your tax dollars at “work.”

Climbing that Hill

Except for Franklin, which has a select population, AH Hill is the best of Richmond’s awful (and unaccredited) bunch of middle schools.




Even so, Hill was on track this year to be denied accreditation. 

It avoided denial in math because it made the 70% threshold, both in fact and, gratuitously, via the “adjusted” score.

[Oops!  The fellow who wrote the graph titles below was thinking monuments or something.  The school is “AH Hill.”]


But even with the “adjustments” that took the English accreditation score above both the reading and writing scores, Hill remained below the 75% English cutoff.


So Hill applied for and received “reconstituted” status.

“Reconstitution” requires meeting the following criteria:


It’s hard to see how those scales of “adjusted” pass rates (that Hill met), or even the hiring of a new principal, might meet the requirement of the regulation:

“Reconstitution” means a process that may be used to initiate a range of accountability actions to improve pupil performance, curriculum, and instruction to address deficiencies that caused a school to be rated Accreditation Denied that may include, but not be limited to, restructuring a school’s governance, instructional program, staff or student population.  (Emphasis supplied).

(Hint:  That counting of improved, but still failing, scores as “reconstitution” is a back door and broad brush implementation of part of the Board’s proposed accreditation regulation that is designed to make it nearly impossible to deny accreditation to any school.)

As well, these requirements have not been adopted as regulations so their use as decision criteria probably is unlawful.

In any case, this process provides a handy mechanism for a school that has failed to educate too many of its students for four consecutive years to avoid denial of accreditation for up to another three years.

(In passing, we might notice that denial of accreditation serves to embarrass the school and division but does not necessarily lead to improvement of the school.)

In the case of Hill, time will tell whether performance improves the little bit necessary to justify this “reconstitution” and help Richmond avoid unanimous denial of accreditation to its middle schools.  As it stands, Hill’s reconstitution and Elkhardt-Thompson’s new school status are the only barriers to that unanimity.


Board of Education Wants to Look Good, Not to Do Its Job

The Board of Education proposes to amend the Standards of Accreditation.  The proposal is an amateurish, ill-considered, arbitrary, and unlawful step backward from the current accreditation process, which itself is opaque, ineffective, and unlawful.

So of course I submitted comments.


TO: Board of Education

FROM: John Butcher

DATE: October 6, 2017

RE: Comments on Proposed Revisions to 8VAC20-131

Please insert the following comments into the record of this rulemaking.


The entire Petersburg school system has been operating under Memoranda of Understanding with this Board since 2004. Four of nine Petersburg schools were denied accreditation in 2006. Notwithstanding seventeen years of “supervision” by this Board, the Petersburg school system remains in “Accreditation Denied” status today.

A.P. Hill Elementary

Accreditation Withheld – Board Decision

J.E.B. Stuart Elementary

Accreditation Denied

Petersburg High

Partially Accredited: Warned School-Pass Rate

Robert E. Lee Elementary

To Be Determined

Vernon Johns Middle

Accreditation Denied

Walnut Hill Elementary

Partially Accredited: Warned School-Pass Rate

After the data above were posted on the Board’s Web site, the Board voted to deny accreditation to Hill Elementary in response to cheating there on the SOLs. Thus, half of the Petersburg schools now are in “denied” status.

Alexandria’s Jefferson-Houston School failed to achieve full accreditation until 2008. It slipped back into “warning” the following year and was denied accreditation in 2012. It remains in “denied” status today.

Alexandria and Petersburg are paradigms of the Board’s inability to repair failed public schools that are under its supervision.

In recognition of its ineptitude, the Board now proposes to change the rules to make it almost impossible for a school to be denied accreditation.


Va. CODE § 22.1-253.13:3.A provides:

The Board[ of Education’s] regulations establishing standards for accreditation shall ensure that the accreditation process is transparent and based on objective measurements . . .

The current accreditation process is in wholesale violation of that law:

· The Board increases pass rates at some high schools based on the performance of students who do not attend those schools;

· The Board fails to adjust accreditation scores for a major factor known to affect test scores, poverty, and the Board has abandoned its measure of academic progress, the Student Growth Percentile, that is not affected by poverty.

· The Board’s indifference to misclassification of students as “disabled” and the abuse of relaxed testing procedures for those students continues; and

· The Board’s opaque and byzantine “adjustments” increase accreditation scores by methods and in amounts that the Board does not disclose to the public.

The proposed regulation exacerbates these violations of the law.

Moreover, the proposed regulation provides that a school cannot be denied accreditation, no matter how awful its performance, so long as it has created a “plan” and executes that plan “with fidelity,” whether or not the execution improves educational outcomes. This amnesty provision makes it almost impossible for a school to be denied accreditation and renders the entire regulation ridiculous.

The only benefit of the rulemaking would be to virtually eliminate denials of accreditation thereby relieving the Board of the embarrassment of being incompetent to repair schools under its supervision that have been denied accreditation. The proposed regulation demonstrates that the Board values the avoidance of that embarrassment above the proper education of Virginia’s schoolchildren.

Specific Issues

A. 8VAC20-131-5. Definitions:

The following words and terms apply only to these regulations and do not supersede those definitions used for federal reporting purposes or for the calculation of costs related to the Standards of Quality (§ 22.1-253.13:1 et seq. of the Code of Virginia). When used in these regulations, these words shall have the following meanings, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:

To the extent that any definitions here are different from those elsewhere, the draft regulation creates unnecessary confusion. More particularly, any definition here that differs from any provision of the Standards of Quality is a gratuitous affront to the General Assembly (and is unlawful, as well).

“Authentic performance assessment” means a test that complies with guidelines adopted by the board that requires students to perform a task or create a product that is typically scored using a rubric. An authentic performance assessment may be used to confer verified credit in accordance with the provisions of 8VAC20-131-110 B 4.

In light of the widespread use of alternative tests to cheat, see, e.g., this and this, the allowance for “authentic performance assessments,” especially to the extent they are evaluated at the local school or division level, is a triumph of unthinking hope over experience and an invitation to cheat.

“Board of Education” or “board” means the board responsible for the general supervision of the public schools (sic) system in Virginia as prescribed in the Constitution of Virginia at Article VIII, § 4 and § 22.1-8 of the Code of Virginia.

“Department” means the Virginia Department of Education.

The notion that the Board is “responsible for the general supervision” of the “schools” system may or may not be the case. For certain, it is irresponsible of the Board by regulation to paraphrase the language of the Constitution (“The general supervision of the public school system shall be vested in a Board of Education. . .”) and the Statute (“The general supervision of the public school system shall be vested in the Board of Education.”).

Why is the Board of Education the “board” while the Department of Education is “Department”? Why do the definitions recite the creating authority of the Board (redundantly) but not the Department (at all)?

“Instructional day” means all the time in a standard school day, from the beginning of the first scheduled class period to the end of the last scheduled class period, including passing time for class changes and excluding breaks for meals and recess.

“Instructional hours” means the hours in a standard school day, from the beginning of the first scheduled class period to the end of the last scheduled class period, including passing time for class changes and excluding breaks for meals and recess.

8VAC20-131-150. Standard school year and school day.

A. The standard school year shall be 180 instructional days or 990 instructional hours. The standard school day for students in grades 1 through 12 shall average at least 5-1/2 instructional hours, including passing time for class changes and excluding breaks for meals and recess, and a minimum of three hours for kindergarten.

The statutory requirement is 990 “teaching hours,” not “instructional hours” or 180 “teaching days,” not “instructional days.” As well, the undefined notion of “passing time” is an invitation to abuse and is contrary to the statutory requirement. To the extent that these inventions in the regulation would permit a school division to operate for a standard term shorter than 990 teaching hours or 180 teaching days, the regulation is unlawful.

“Student” means a person of school age as defined by § 22.1-1 of the Code of Virginia, a child with disabilities as defined in § 22.1-213 of the Code of Virginia, and a person with limited English proficiency for whom English is a second language in accordance with § 22.1-5 of the Code of Virginia.

Does this imply that a person of school age with a disability or for whom English is a second language would not be a “student” except for this regulation? If so, the definition is nonsense; if not, everything after the first comma is redundant.

“Standard unit of credit” or “standard credit” means credit awarded for a course in which the student successfully completes 140 clock hours of instruction and the requirements of the course. Local school boards may develop alternatives to the requirement for 140 clock hours of instruction as provided for in 8VAC20-131-110 and in accordance with board guidelines.

To the extent those “guidelines” permit award of a standard credit for fewer than 140 hours, they are regulations and must be adopted as such. To the extent that a local school board develops an alternative to the 140 hour requirement, that alternative will be unlawful unless consonant with the regulations.

To the same end, verified credits in accord with “[B]oard criteria and guidelines” under 8VAC20-131-110 will be unlawfully awarded absent adoption of the criteria and guidelines as regulations.

B. 8VAC20-131-10. Purpose.

These regulations govern public schools operated by local school boards providing instruction to students as defined in 8VAC20-131-5. Other schools licensed under other state statutes are exempt from these requirements.

Does this mean that joint and regional schools operated by their own governing bodies, CODE § 22.1-26, are exempt from the regulations?

C. 8VAC20-131-20.A

The philosophy, goals, and objectives of individual schools should reflect and encompass the means by which the Standards of Learning (SOL) and Standards of Accreditation are to be achieved.

8VAC20-131-20.B (existing regulation)

Each school shall have a current philosophy, goals, and objectives that shall serve as the basis for all policies and practices…

By law, it is the Board’s job to incorporate the “philosophy, goals, and objectives of public education in Virginia” into its regulation. It is the schools’ job to educate students in accordance with the regulation. This talk of the philosophy, goals, and objectives of individual schools is mischievous nonsense.

Indeed the “should” in the regulation tells us that a school may ignore any purported relationship between SOLs and its own philosophy et al. (if it has wasted the effort to create such an unnecessary paperwork edifice). If this were a genuine requirement, the regulation would say “shall.”

Any requirement for local “philosophy, goals, and objectives” is redundant, and, insofar as it leads to local statements in conflict with this Board’s regulations, mischievously unlawful. Moreover, the existing requirement for a local statement is demonstrably ineffective in light of the 151 schools that were not accredited (including 88 that were denied accreditation) as of the end of September, 2017.

Again, it is the Board’s job to include appropriate “philosophy, goals, and objectives of public education” in its regulation; the task for an individual school then is to comply with the regulation, not to invent its own philosophy, goals, and objectives.

D. 8VAC20-131-30.

The provision that a local committee is to determine the participation level of EL students is an invitation to abuse. The alert schools will place as many EL as possible in the lowest classification possible in order to maximize “growth” (see § G, below). The Board should provide objective standards and either make the decision in the first place or audit the determination made locally.

E. 8VAC20-131-51.

The dilution of the graduation requirements in 8VAC20-131-51, along with the provisions for locally awarded verified credit, will improve the graduation rate at the unacceptable cost of cheapening the diploma. If the Board merely wants to look good, this will be a useful (albeit dishonest) change. If the Board is serious about “provid[ing] children with a high quality education” (8VAC20-131-10), it will look for ways to make our schools more effective, which is the correct (and honest) way to increase the graduation rate.

The proposed emasculation of the requirements for the advanced studies diploma is a cynical malfeasance that will make the schools (and, doubtless, this Board) look better while providing less education to Virginia’s schoolchildren.

8VAC20-131-370.A and -B and 8VAC20-131-380.A might be appropriate in a self-serving press release. They are content-neutral surplus in this regulation.

As well, the redundant numbering system in -380.A is an embarrassment (well, in light of the other provisions of the regulation, a further embarrassment) to the Board.

F. Part VIII.

Both the current regulation and the proposed version suffer from a deformity that renders the accreditation process unfair and arbitrary: Economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students generally score lower on the SOL tests than their more affluent peers. Because of this, a teacher, school, or division with a large population of ED students can do an excellent job and still produce poor SOL scores.

Perhaps some of the opaque “adjustments” in the accreditation process are intended to counteract this fundamental disadvantage of some of our schools. Perhaps not: See below. In any case, the Board created, and now has abandoned, the only objective performance measure that is unaffected by poverty, the Student Growth Percentile (“SGP”).

The Board’s excuse for rejecting the SGP is that the results cannot be calculated until the summer testing has been completed. Yet the SOL averages suffer from the same defect. Indeed, the accreditation data are not available until September for the same reason.

In short, the Board has abandoned its “transparent” and “objective” measure of student progress, based on a transparently false excuse, and is erecting an amended accreditation structure that is founded upon a measure that it knows to be unfair.

The proposed regulation serves to tinker with (and enervate, see below) the accreditation process without addressing this fundamental flaw. To the extent the Board is committed to a fair process for identifying schools that are failing to properly serve their students, it will redraft the regulation to base the process on a fair and accurate measure of student learning.

G. 8VAC20-131-380.E.

Apparently unsatisfied with its record of diluting the history requirements for accreditation, the Board now proposes to abandon history as a criterion for accreditation. This looks to be a further abasement of learning in the pursuit of improved accreditation rates.

The draft regulation does not tell us whether the 10% improvement criterion in § 380E.1 is to be measured in actual terms (e.g., from a pass rate of 50% to 60%) or in relative terms (e.g. from a pass rate of 50% to 55%). The draft regulation is unlawfully ambiguous on this point.

The Board now proposes to measure performance in English and math (but not science) by calculating a combined “quality indicator” for accreditation purposes. This appears to be an acknowledgement that, at least in English and math, the bare SOL pass rate is an inadequate measure of educational effectiveness. Unfortunately, the proposal provides only a partial, arbitrary, correction for that inadequacy. This is particularly unfortunate in that the Board already has a uniform and fair measure of educational effectiveness, the SGP.

Unfortunately, the “quality indicator” is a one-way street: The numbers can be increased by score increases but not reduced by score declines. Said otherwise: The Board proposes to count a student who shows “progress” the same as a student who passes the exam but to ignore any student with declining scores. Thus, it is clear that the “quality indicator” is in fact a fudge factor, designed to palliate low pass rates while ignoring students whose performance is decaying.

Moreover, the draft regulation does not tell us how the “growth” students are to be measured or counted for English and math. Thus, for English,

the academic indicator will be calculated based on the rate of students who passed board – approved assessments, any additional students who showed growth using board – approved measures, and any additional students who are English learners who showed growth toward English proficiency using board – approved measures.

This does not say how much “board-approved” growth is required for students who flunk the SOL or who are EL to be counted toward accreditation. As well, the draft regulation does not tell us whether the “growth” counts are to be included in the numerator only (in order to provide a further artificial boost for the rate) or whether the total number of students (including the failing and EL students) is to be included in the denominator. In short, this looks to be yet another unlawfully secret tool for “adjusting” accreditation scores upward.

On another subject: Virginia law requires court action against a truant student or the parents after a seventh unexcused absence. Subsection E.1.h unlawfully ignores unexcused absences of up to eighteen days(!) for up to fifteen percent of a school’s students. The regulation must deny accreditation to any school where any student has seven or more unexcused absences and the attendance officer has failed to initiate the required court action.

Subsection E.2 purports to allow unlawful amendment of the regulation through “guidance.”

H. 8VAC20-131-390.

The list of requirements on principals in subsection A. is mislabeled and misplaced. Those requirements are quite separate from the statement in the first sentence.

The regulation is silent as to transition provisions for schools that now are denied accreditation or are in one of the other situations short of full accreditation. The regulation must explicitly deal with the transition of those schools to the new system.

The transition year provision in subsection B.1 fails to state whether the “2018-2019” overlap refers to the accreditation year 2018-18 or the data year 2018-19.

Under this and the following section, even a school that has grossly failed in its purpose for up to four years is merely rated “Accredited with Conditions” and required to create a plan. Subsections 390.B.3 and 400.C.4 allow the school to escape denial of accreditation if it adopts and implements the plan “with fidelity.” “Fidelity” in implementation of a plan is not the same as improved learning by the students.

Indeed, these provisions say that no school can be denied accreditation if it creates a mountain of paperwork and demonstrates that it is trying to climb that mountain, no matter whether all that sterile activity actually delivers improved learning. In short, these provisions render the already toothless accreditation process meaningless.


This proposed regulation is an amateurish, ill-considered, arbitrary, and unlawful step backward from the current accreditation process, which itself is opaque, ineffective, and unlawful. The Board should abandon this proposal and create a lawful regulation that is fair to the regulated schools and their students and that is faithful to the Board’s professed goal “to enable each student to develop the skills that are necessary for success in school, preparation for life, and reaching their (sic) full potential.”

Lies, Damn Lies, and High School Pass Rates

As I discussed at some length here and here, VDOE does not report SOL scores for Maggie Walker.  For reasons that have nothing to do with the truth, they report the scores of the MLW students at the high schools in those students’ home districts (Note: Old document; today Pearson surely reports the scores directly), albeit the MLW students are entirely educated at MLW, not at the schools where the scores get reported.

Fortunately, the Board of “Education” has not been able to “adjust” the rules of algebra.  So we can calculate estimate the score boosts the Richmond high schools enjoy courtesy of this mendacity.  All it takes is the number of students at the high school, the reported pass rate, the number of those students who actually attend MLW, and the average pass rate at MLW.

The first three numbers are available in the “school quality profiles” on the VDOE Web site (but I got the unrounded pass rates from the very nice VDOE database).  We can infer the MLW pass rates: The two selective Richmond high schools (Community and Open) run mostly at and otherwise near 100% and MLW is still more selective.  We’ll use a 100% SOL pass rate at MLW.

With that, the score boosts pop right out.  To start, the reading tests:


Isn’t that nice!  The TJ pass rate jumps from an actual 61.3% to the reported 68.9% courtesy of 133 MLW students who DO NOT attend TJ.  The other score boosts are less dramatic but all in the helpful direction.


While we’re at this, let’s look at the other subject areas.





Do you suppose the feds know that the Board of “Education” is lying to them about these pass rates?

If you understood that the Accreditation numbers were rigged, do you now understand that, as to the high schools, the manipulation is still worse than you thought?

Your tax dollars at (mendacious) “work.”

Examining Some Assumptions

A thoughtful reader writes:

Following the references in the Ryan book [5 miles Away, Worlds Apart” (2010, Oxford)] I discovered an education book I hadn’t known about: Richard Rothstein’s “Class and Schools” (2004, Economic Policy Institute/Columbia Teacher’s College). The subtitle is “Using Social Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap.”

Rothstein starts with the 1968 Coleman Report and works forward
reviewing study after study trying to figure out what works –
according to the data. Its got the most data I’ve seen on class
effects in education. Its rather slim: 150 pp, with 50 pp of notes.
The world could use an expanded book like this.

Rothstein attributes most of the achievement gap to inequality (and
claims that we’re stuck with this gap unless we fix inequality). While
we can’t entirely fix things his prescriptions for doing the best we
can are to ameliorate the effects of inequality to the best of our
ability. These include things like after-school programs and summer
programs like wealthier kids have access to – where learning occurs,
important stuff, not always of the SOL-score improving type.

Both Ryan and Rothstein make clear how state’s lower the SOL
test-score bar to improve pass rates and hide how poorly they are
serving at-risk populations. While TJ, for instance, may look like its
SOL pass rates aren’t “too far” behind Freeman’s, Freeman’s kids had
exponentially better “advanced” scores, and are learning lots of new
stuff, while TJ’s kids are focused exclusively of hitting low-bar test
cut offs.

Rothstein addresses hot-button issues like IQ in a graceful and
pragmatic way, and doesn’t flinch from addressing cultural educational
practices. It will at least make you think.

The review of Rothstein by Kenneth Strike in the American Journal of Education (sorry I can’t link to the full version; the copyright holder is more interested in revenue than broad availability) starts out as a further attack on standards.  I characterize that school of thought as “It’s too embarrassing to measure outputs; let’s focus on inputs.”  But then he says:

Rothstein’s observations on these matters seem to me to be correct, but they suggest a line of argument that is not fully carried out. We do not, for instance, know whether these problems with standards-based reform are fatal flaws or fixable glitches. We do not know whether we should abandon standards-based school reform or merely hold reasonable aspirations for what it can achieve.

Interesting stuff.

Money Can’t Buy You Graduates

Here are the 2017 4-year cohort division federal graduation rates plotted vs. the 2016 division disbursements per student.


The disbursements do not include facility costs, debt service, or contingency reserve payments.  We’re stuck with 2016 numbers because VDOE won’t post the ‘17 data until sometime next spring.

The slope of the fitted line, –0.2% per thousand dollars, suggests that increasing division expenditures are associated with decreasing graduation rates.  The 0.6% R-squared, however, tells us that the two variables are essentially uncorrelated.

Richmond is the gold square on the graph.  The red circles are, from the top, the peer cities Newport News, Hampton, and Norfolk.  Charles City is green; Lynchburg is aqua.

For a look at the other end of the academic process, here are the dropout rates plotted vs. disbursements.


The slope again suggests a counter-intuitive result: dropout rate increasing by 0.3% per thousand dollar expenditure increase.  But, also again, the R-squared tells us that the correlation of the two variables is negligible. 

The color codes are the same and the previous graph except the peer cities are reversed: from the top, Norfolk, Hampton, and Newport News.

Finally, while all those data are together in a single Excel file, let’s plot the dropout rate vs. the graduation rate.


At last, a correlation.  And one that makes sense: The divisions that graduate more of their students lose fewer as dropouts.  BUT, of course, the correlation does not imply that the higher graduation rates cause the lower dropout rates, or vice versa.

The color codes are the same as above.  The peers, from the left, are Norfolk, Hampton, and Newport News.

What’s Up at TJ?

Let’s take a look at the federal graduation rates vs. the SOL pass rates for Richmond’s mainstream high schools.

I have left out the schools with selected clienteles, Community, Open, and Franklin.  Also Alternative, where the other schools dump their troublesome kids.  That leaves the five mainstream schools, Armstrong, Huguenot, Marshall, TJ, and Wythe.

CAVEAT: Throughout the following discussion, please recall that the numbers are, to an unknown extent, bogus.  For example, all these high schools enjoy SOL boosts from the scores of Maggie Walker students who do not attend any of these schools.  As well, the federal graduation rates this year have been jiggered to count most of the Modified Standard diplomas as Standard.  Moreover, the secret retesting boosts the SOLs (my estimate for the Algebra I retests in 2014 was an average of 24.6 points for the retested kids); only VDOE knows how much and they won’t tell.  Then there is “remediation recovery,” which may be another kind of retesting.  As well, these schools have dumped many of their disruptive kids on Alternative and have chased out many of the other low-performers.

Turning to the data we have: If we just consider the data fit (and not the inexcusably low pass rates and graduation rates), the plot of graduation rate vs. pass rate for the writing tests looks reasonable enough.


We could expect the pass rate on this EOC English test, that must be  passed to graduate, to correlate with the graduation rate.  Indeed, the correlation here is excellent.

The reading data show quite another pattern.


Here the R-squared drops to 24% – still an R of 0.5 but much reduced from the reading situation.  And here two schools are far out of line: TJ (high) and Wythe (low).

That 69% reading pass rate at TJ is not at all consistent with the 83% graduation rate.

In the other subjects (History & Social Science, Science, and Math), as with the two English subjects, at least one verified crediti.e., passed EOC SOL test – is required for a standard diploma.

Here are the data for those other subjects.




Here we again see lower correlations, with essentially none for the History & Social Science tests.  TJ is anomalously high in all cases with Wythe and Huguenot trading places for anomalously low.

It’s easy to understand Armstrong: Low pass rates and low graduation rates.  Huguenot, Marshall, and Wythe are the middle ground, with Marshall generally outperforming the fitted lines. 

History & Social Science is the extreme case here: The student needs three standard credits (pass the course) and one verified credit (pass the course and the End of Course SOL) in Hist. & SS to get a standard diploma.  Yet TJ with a 58% EOC pass rate (better only than Armstrong) had an 83% diploma rate (best of the bunch).

The puzzle becomes more puzzling when we look at the diploma types.


TJ is the only school of the five with more advanced than standard diplomas.  Yet the advanced diploma requires nine verified credits vs. six for the standard diploma.

Looking just at the pass rates, we see TJ leading the pack in writing, the one subject where its graduation rate fits the pattern.


In science, TJ is in front a bit (albeit below the accreditation level); it the other subjects, especially history & SS, its pass rate is within the pack.  Yet its graduation rate is outstanding (well, outstanding by Richmond standards; still five points below the state average).

Of course, the students get four years to earn the required verified credits.  And, for the most part, our high schools have done better in the past.


Despite being in the dark about all the retakes and adjustments, we get to wonder, especially about History & Social Science at TJ (where the pass rate never reached even the 70% accreditation level during these four years).

Here, for the record, are the four-year histories in the other four subjects.





If our Board of “Education” were interested in transparency, we wouldn’t have to wonder whether something funny might be going on here.  And if pigs had wings . . .

Lies, Damn Lies, and Graduation Rates

To follow up on this morning’s post, VDOE’s “on-time” graduation rate counts the

  • Modified Standard diploma (students with disabilities who “are unlikely to meet the credit requirements for a Standard Diploma”), the
  • Special diploma (term not defined on the VDOE Web site but appears to apply to the Applied Studies diploma, available to certain students having a disability), and the
  • General Achievement diploma (none reported this year)

in addition to the standard and advanced diplomas. 

This gives a nice boost to the official “graduation rate,” especially for those divisions willing to misclassify students as handicapped in order to boost their SOL pass rates.  On the 2017 4-year cohort data, the “on-time” fiction boosted the statewide rate by 2.8% and the Richmond rate by 6.7% compared to the federal (advanced plus standard diploma) rate.


The boosts this year look to have mostly come from the special diplomas.


Actually, it’s worse than that.  Beginning with students entering the ninth grade in 2013-14 (i.e., this year’s 4-year cohort), there was supposed to be no modified standard diploma.  Instead, “Credit accommodations allow students with disabilities who previously would have pursued a Modified Standard Diploma to earn a Standard Diploma.” 

This change has three benefits for the education establishment:

  • The modified standard diploma students who formerly would not count toward the federal graduation rate now count,
  • The divisions have a new avenue – “credit accommodations” – for boosting the rate, and
  • The process is hidden from the public.

This explains the low Modified Standard rates this year.  Last year, those rates were 1.4% for the state and 5.6% for Richmond; this year, 0.1% and 0.5%. 

Looks like this year they successfully concealed about a 5% boost in the Richmond rate.

(The Modified Standard rate should be zero this year except that they get to fudge the cohort for students with disabilities.)

The only question here is whey they did not similarly transform the “special” diplomas into standard diplomas so they could conceal the whole, sordid process.

Added Note:  If we were to figure that Richmond’s federal graduation rate was boosted this year by about 5% (and the state by about 1.3%) because of the transformation of modified standard diploma graduates into standard diploma graduates, Richmond’s 69.9% rate this year


would look more like a 65.  If that were the case, Richmond’s recent swoon


would look more like a slump (and the state wouldn’t look so hot either).