Trouble in Paradise: SOL Disaster at Our Neighborhood School

The 2018 SOL pass rates provide some bad news for our neighborhood (and help explain why there’s a new principal at Westover Hills).

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You know you’ve got reading problems when the best news is a 48.15% pass rate (in the fourth grade).

But the math pass rates are even worse.

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You read that correctly: 23.08% pass rate in 3d grade math, 21.21% in 5th grade.

For reference: The accreditation benchmark for reading is 75; for math, 70.

Peak Performers

Here are the thirty schools with the highest average 2018 pass rates in each of the five subject areas, along with the highest average of the five pass rates.  Richmond schools are highlighted.

Note: Maggie Walker would surely be near the top of all these lists except that the Board of “Education” says Walker is a “program,” not a “school.”  That is their way of giving the Walker students’ scores to high schools that those students do not attend in the students home neighborhoods.  Unfortunately, this is just a small example of VBOE mendacity.

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Petersburg: Paradigm of VBOE Incompetence

The Petersburg schools have been operating under Memoranda of Understanding (“MOUs”) of the Board of “Education” since at least 2004.

The current MOU and associated “Plan” are long on inputs but they fail to measure or demand adequate outputs.  As to the purpose of any school (learning!), there is no plan and no accountability. 

In light of this fecklessness, it cannot be surprising that the fourteen year history of Board of “Education” dealings with Petersburg is a tale of unremitting failure.

Data

I have asked Petersburg for clarification of the recent SOL data but have received no response.  So we’ll have to try to figure things out from the public record.

Note added on 8/26:  I sent the P’Burg inquiry to the wrong email address.  The estimable Leigh Ann McKelway saw the post and today sent the following:

The last year Peabody Middle was open was 2016-17. In 2017-18 we moved the middle school to the building that previously was named Vernon Johns Junior High and we renamed it Vernon Johns Middle.

Vernon Johns Junior High’s last year was 2015-16 (I think). During the 2016-17 school year, the Vernon Johns building was empty.

To start, here are the reading pass rates since the deployment of the new tests in 2013:

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The 2017 datum for A.P. Hill is missing because the school was caught cheating that year. 

Peabody Middle data are missing for 2018; Vernon Johns Junior data are missing for 2017 and ‘18; Vernon Johns Middle data start in 2018.  The current directory of Petersburg schools lists only one middle school, Johns Middle.  It looks like Peabody and Johns Junior have been merged into Johns Middle.  No telling about the 2017 data for Johns Junior.

(BTW: The first three elementary schools in this list have now been renamed to deConfederatize them; it looks like Walnut Hill got caught up in the process.  All four elementary school names in these data will be obsolete next year.)

Here are those data on a graph.

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Notice the (temporary) benefits of cheating at Hill (the red line).  And notice the bottom-of-the-barrel pass rate there once they had to test honestly.

And notice that very nearly half of the students tested at Lee, Johns Middle, and Hill failed this year.

Except for the high school in 2013, Walnut Hill in 2016 and ‘17, and Hill before it got caught, none of these data meets the 75% benchmark for English accreditation.  Even more to the point, there’s no indication here of improvement in these ninth through fourteenth years of state oversight.

The math data paint a similar picture.

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The high school enjoyed two years above the 70% accreditation benchmark; Walnut Hill managed four but is headed in the wrong direction.  All the others were, and are, mired in failure with no sign of improvement.

Indeed, more than half of the students tested at Hill, Lee, and Johns Middle flunked the tests.

As to Petersburg, the Board of “Education” has failed, miserably and at length, to discharge its duty of “general supervision of the public school system.”

Discussion

Please visit this page for a discussion of the several reasons that the MOU process is a terrible idea, both as to strategy and tactics.  Those concerns aside, the data above demonstrate that the process has been a wordy and persistent failure as to Petersburg.

The Board of “Education” can sue to compel compliance with the Standards of Quality.  They have not done so.  They have instead persisted with this failed process that they know does not work.

There is a simple explanation for all this counterproductive behavior:

If it were to sue, the Board would have to tell the judge what Petersburg must do to fix the schools.  The Board cannot do this because it does not know (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48) how to fix those schools.  That is, the Board knows it would be futile to sue (and even more embarrassing than its present failure).

So now the Board has brought the same disruptive, expensive, and futile process to Richmond with, in this first year, the inevitable absence of any measurable benefit to the students.

Forty point six million of your tax dollars at “work.”

The Good, the Excellent, and the Awful

Having looked at Richmond’s peer jurisdictions, let’s turn to our neighbors.

Here, to start, are the reading pass rates by year for the state, some neighboring Counties, and poor Petersburg.

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It’s instructive to look at the 2012-13 drops that followed the introduction of the new, tougher reading tests.

  • State            -14.2
  • Hanover       -9.6
  • Richmond    -29.1

As of this year, Richmond abided at 20.2 points below the state average.

In terms of raw counts, Richmond this year had 1.75% of the Virginia students taking the reading tests and 3.43% of the students who failed those tests.

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The math data paint a similar picture.

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Likewise, the 2011-2012 score drops with the new math tests:

  • State             -18.0
  • Hanover        -13.6
  • Richmond     -28.4

On the 2018 math data, Richmond was 25.1 points below the state average.  It had 1.72% of the students taking the math tests and 3.63% of the students failing those tests.

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The data for the other three subjects tell much the same story.

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As you see, the adjacent Counties and Hanover continue to provide safe harbors for the Richmond parents who move there when their children approach school age.

I’ll devote a later post to Petersburg and the colossal incompetence of the Board of “Education” that has had Petersburg operating under its supervision since at least 2004.

For now, I’ll just point out that the state’s intervention in Richmond this year has paid no dividends for the children who suffer under the Richmond system’s incompetence. 

Division SOL by Year

Here are the division SOL pass rates by year, going back to the start of the database, for Richmond, the peer cities, and the state.  I’ve included Charles City and Lynchburg as a thank-you to my readers there.

First, reading:

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The new, tougher English tests in 2013 produced those decreases.  Richmond was 9.7 points below the state average in ‘12 and fell to –24.6 in ‘13; as of this year, it remains 20.2 points low.

Next, math.

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The new math tests came in 2012.  The new tests took Richmond from –10.5 to –20.9 v. the state.  Richmond recovered some but then languished to the current –25.1.

Next, the other three subject areas.

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Finally, the average of the five averages:

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On this average, Richmond is 23.4 points below the state this year.

2018 SOLs by School

Here are Richmond’s 2018 SOL Pass Rates by subject and school, along with the 2017 rates for reference.

First the elementary schools.

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Recall that the (former) accreditation benchmarks were 75 in English and 70 for the other subjects.

Next the middle schools.  (Note the scale change for the first three graphs).

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And the high schools.

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Again, notice the scale change.  As well, the “0” entries here and below are error indicators, probably because the data have been suppressed.

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And, finally, the combined schools.

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Marinating in Failure

The 2018 SOL pass rates are up on the VDOE Web site.

Richmond this year posted a one point gain in the average reading pass rate and a repeat in science but declines otherwise.

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In terms of a graph:

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Recalling that the accreditation benchmarks are 75 in English and 70 otherwise, this is a picture of abiding failure to properly educate Richmond’s schoolchildren.

With a 1 point gain in the reading pass rate, Richmond was third from the last among divisions, after a tie for second last year (not counting the School for the Deaf and Blind).

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Notwithstanding the 3 point drop in Richmond’s writing pass rate from last year, Petersburg’s sixteen point(!) decrease brought Richmond up from last place to second from the bottom.

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In history & social science, Richmond’s 5 point drop left it next to last, again.

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The 2 point slide in the math rate was small enough, in light of even larger declines elsewhere, to bring Richmond up from second to fourth from the bottom.

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Finally, the repeat pass rate in science was enough to leave Richmond in a tie for second from last, after a second place finish last year.

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I’ll have more to say later about the relationship between this ongoing disaster and the State’s (predictably futile) intrusion into the Richmond school system.

Are Buildings More Important Than Children?

Lurking behind the (entirely justified) outrage about the condition of Richmond’s school buildings is a much more important issue: What happens – more to the point, what doesn’t happen – inside those buildings.

The SOL results give us a measure of that larger problem.  Richmond last year had the second lowest division average reading pass rate in the Commonwealth

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and the third lowest math pass rate.

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Of course, some schools did worse than the average.  In Richmond some schools, especially some middle schools, did much worse.  For example, here are the bottom ten Virginia schools in terms of sixth grade reading and math:

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More data are here showing, inter alia, that MLK Middle is the worst performing school in Virginia.

Surely we need better school buildings.  Before that, however, we need (much!) better schools. 

It’s a puzzle why we are expending so much energy and passion (and, perhaps, money) on the lesser problem.

2017 Richmond Crime Rates

The Virginia State Police publish an annual report on Crime in Virginia.  They count the “Type A” offenses reported per police unit:

Arson
Assault
Bribery
Burglary
Counterfeiting/Forgery
Destruction/Damage/Vandalism of Property
Drug/Narcotic Offenses
Embezzlement
Extortion/Blackmail
Fraud Offenses
Gambling Offenses
Homicide
Kidnapping/Abduction
Larceny/Theft
Motor Vehicle Theft
Pornography/Obscene Material
Prostitution Offenses
Robbery
Sex Offenses, Forcible & Nonforcible
Stolen Property Offenses
Weapon Law Violations

These data have their peculiarities.  The first obvious one: The totals reported by VSP are different, in most cases, from the sums of offenses.  For example, for 2017 the VSP reports 19,270 offenses reported to the Richmond Police Dep’t but the total of the Richmond offenses listed in the same table with that 19,270 is 20,705, a 7.4% difference.  When I inquired about the difference, they responded:

There can be multiple offenses within an incident. If a murder, rape and robbery occur in one incident (one event), all offenses are counted under Incident Based Reporting. The old UCR Summary System used the hierarchy rule and counted only one offense per incident.

That certainly is true, but it does not explain the discrepancy: Whatever they are counting, the total should be the total.  (The table says it reports “offenses.”)  In any case, the numbers below are their totals.

They report the numbers by police agency, both the local force and, in most cases, the State Police.  For example, the Richmond Police Department shows 19,270 incident reports and the State Police show 233 in Richmond.  The report also includes data for the colleges, the Capitol Police, and state agencies such as the ABC Board.  Finally, the small jurisdictions produce some weird statistics because even a small variation can produce a large change in the crime rate.  As well, the State Police report a significant fraction of the incidents in some small jurisdictions; for instance, in Craig County in 2017, the sheriff reported 22 incidents while the State Police reported 20.

I obtained the data below by leaving out the data for the State Police (9,709 offenses, 2.5% of the total) and State agencies (8,633 offenses, 2.2% of the total).  I also left out the jurisdictions with populations <10,000 (19,980 offenses, 5.1%).  That’s a total of 38,322, 9.7% of the 394,197 total offenses.

BTW: The VCU total (not included in Richmond’s total) was 1,207.

Here, then, are the remaining 2017 data (pdf), expressed as Type A offense reports per 100 population vs. population.

2017 Offenses v. Population

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

There is no particular reason to expect these data to fit a straight line but Excel is happy to fit one.  The slope suggests that the rate (per hundred population) increases by about 0.15 for a population increase of 100,000.  The R2, however, tells us that population explains less than 1% of the variance in the crime rate; i.e., overall crime rate (by this measure) does not correlate with jurisdiction size.

Here is the same graph, with the axis expanded to cut off the Big Guys (Fairfax, Va. Beach, Prince Wm., Chesterfield, Loudoun, and Henrico) in order to emphasize the distribution of the smaller jurisdictions.

Among the jurisdictions with populations >10,000, we are seventh in the state, with a rate 1.94 times the state average.

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(Blame the cut off department names on the VSP database, which appears to truncate at 25 characters.)

Here are the totals for the eighteen largest jurisdictions, sorted by rate, with the grand total for all but the smallest (<10K) jurisdictions.

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You’ll notice dramatic difference between the large cities and the large counties.

CAVEATS: These numbers tell us about overall crime rates but not about the environment faced by any particular citizen.  As well, the VSP emphasizes that, as we see above, population is not a good predictor of crime rate.  They list other factors:

1. Population density and degree of urbanization;
2. Population variations in composition and stability;
3. Economic conditions and employment availability;
4. Mores, cultural conditions, education, and religious characteristics;
5. Family cohesiveness;
6. Climate, including seasonal weather conditions;
7. Effective strength of the police force;
8. Standards governing appointments to the police force;
9. Attitudes and policies of the courts, prosecutors and corrections;
10. Citizen attitudes toward crime and police;
11. The administrative and investigative efficiency of police agencies and the organization and cooperation of adjoining and overlapping police jurisdictions;
12. Crime reporting practices of citizens.

The 2017 Richmond rate increased slightly to 8.65 from 8.61 in 2016. 

The Type A total is driven by the property crime numbers: Typically the larceny, vandalism, and motor vehicle theft numbers will account for 2/3 of the Type A total.  To see how violent and drug crime are doing, we have to look underneath the totals.

When we do that, we see that the Richmond count of simple assaults dropped while the drug and weapon law numbers rose.

Note: This graph and those immediately below report the raw counts of offenses reported in Richmond, not the count per 100K.  Throughout this period, the Richmond population has been near 200,000, with very little change, so you can get close to the rates per 100 by dividing these numbers by 2,000.

The robbery numbers continued a long downward trend; aggravated assaults rose slightly.

The “other” sex crimes (non forcible) showed a jump, as did the murder count.  Kidnapping, rape, and arson enjoyed decreases.  The decreases from the early 2000’s, both here and above, are remarkable.

For a list of the hot blocks in Richmond see this page.  And see this page for data showing a nice improvement in Forest Hill.

Much of Richmond’s plethora of crime is drug-related

To complement the still outrageous crime rate, our schools are among the worst in the state and our public housing agency maintains a sanctuary for crime on its property.  To support all this dysfunction, we pay some of the highest taxes in the state.  Go figure.

Note: Mr Westerberg of the VSP kindly furnished a copy of the data as an Excel spreadsheet, so I didn’t have to copy the numbers from the PDF report on the Web.