Westover Hills Elementary: Glass Half Full?

The Winter edition of the Forest Hill Flyer (not yet posted to the Association Web site) had an interesting piece regarding the new (since 2011) Principal at Westover Hills, Virginia Loving, and her project to “make it a neighborhood school.” 

I’ll leave it to someone with more direct knowledge to assess the other effects of Ms. Loving’s outreach; I turn to the results on the VDOE Web site from the statewide testing program under the SOLs.

First, I should note that Principal Loving came in at a particularly difficult time: VDOE promulgated a new, tougher set of math tests in 2012 and reading tests in 2013 that clobbered the pass rates statewide (data here for all tested grades). 

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Unfortunately, our former Superintendent did not prepare the Division for the new tests.  The lack of preparation exacerbated the score drop here.

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You might also recall that Richmond’s elementary schools on average perform ten points or more below the state average (but stratospherically above our middle schools).

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That said, the SOL performance at Westover Hills has been decidedly mixed.

On the math tests, WH was scoring near the (unacceptable) Richmond average before 2012.  The new tests hit even harder at WH than the at the district average.  But WH recovered more quickly than the Richmond average (data for grades 3-5).

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That is, under Principal Loving, WH took an unusually big hit from the new math tests but since has been showing signs of improvement.

I’ve included the data for Patrick Henry, which is nearby and might be viewed as a neighborhood school.  PH was hit even harder by the new tests and recovered only to about the (awful) Richmond average.

The reading scores reveal a more troubled situation.  WH again was performing at about the Richmond average.  After the new test plunge in 2013, Richmond scores improved but the WH scores continued to decline.  This  is not good news for the school or for the children who attend it.  (Again, data for grades 3-5).

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Patrick Henry started higher and dropped to the state average, but then continued also to drop. 

For what they may communicate, here are the combined (reading + math) pass rates.

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Seems to me the neighborhood outreach could be more effective if the teaching, especially of reading, were improved. 

Of course, VDOE has been obtaining SGP data that would tell us which of the Westover Hills teachers are, or are not, effective, so Principal Loving (and the neighborhood) would have data that directly measure teacher performance.  Unfortunately, VODE is concealing the data they already have and now is abandoning the SGP entirely.  This is fully consistent with VDOE’s actual function, which is to be the Department of Data Suppression.

Board of Education Finally Acting on a Truancy Regulation

CODE § 22.1-269 requires that the Board of Education “see that the [mandatory attendance laws] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth.” Notwithstanding that mandate, the Board still neither collects nor publishes data that would allow the public to assess its performance of that duty.

In this enforcement vacuum, Richmond, for example, has been free to define “truancy” as ten unexcused absences and, instead of filing a petition for judicial action at seven absences, as § 22.1-258 requires, sending a letter after ten.

The Board did not publish a proposed truancy regulation until December 21, 2009. The history of that regulation is set forth on the Town Hall website. In short, the regulation now is in its fourth public comment period.

Despite six years of consideration and reconsideration, the regulation remains unlawful and ineffective.

I. The amended definitions of “excused absence” and “unexcused absence” render the regulation unlawful.

CODE § 22.1-254 contains the compulsory attendance provision of Virginia law:

Except as otherwise provided in this article, every parent, guardian, or other person in the Commonwealth having control or charge of any child who will have reached the fifth birthday on or before September 30 of any school year and who has not passed the eighteenth birthday shall, during the period of each year the public schools are in session and for the same number of days and hours per day as the public schools, send such child to a public school or to a private, denominational, or parochial school or have such child taught by a tutor or teacher of qualifications prescribed by the Board of Education and approved by the division superintendent, or provide for home instruction of such child as described in § 22.1-254.1 (emphasis supplied).

CODE § 22.1-98.B.1 provides: “The length of every school’s term in every school division shall be at least 180 teaching days or 990 teaching hours in any school year.” The statute sets out exceptions (e.g., severe weather); those exceptions do not include part day absences.

In short, the law requires attendance for the full school day and the full school year.

CODE § 22.1-269 provides:

The Board of Education shall have the authority and it shall be its duty to see that the provisions of [§§ 22.1-254 through -269.1] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth.

That is, this Board has the authority and duty to enforce § 22.1-254 and -258, not to create loopholes in those statutes. Yet, the Board’s proposed regulation would excuse an absence that is shorter than the full school day by even a moment and would except that absence from the mandatory enforcement procedures of §§ 22.1-258 et al.

Under this regulation, a student could march into school only during the last five minutes of class on each school day, or report for the first roll call and then leave for the day, and never be classified as truant under the amended regulation. Surely the General Assembly did not intend that absurd result.

The sole rationale proffered by staff for this unlawful exception is convenience. Yet the statute does not make an exception for the convenience of the school divisions or of the courts.

Perhaps the Board could make an exception for an occasional de minimis instance where a student is tardy or unavoidably misses a few minutes of class. But the wholesale exception of any absence less than a full class day, as now proposed, is baldly unlawful.

As pointed out in my earlier comments, Richmond has been violating § 22.1-258 wholesale. Full compliance with the law surely will be greatly inconvenient to Richmond and to any division similarly engaged in ignoring § 22.1-258. Anything less, however, would be contrary to the manifest will of the General Assembly, would subject the Board to suit over an unlawful regulation, and would leave the divisions exposed to actions for mandamus for failure to comply with the clear requirements of Virginia law.

Indeed, any division that might be overwhelmed by the requirement to obey this law will have the same recourse as any other public agency with inadequate resources to comply with the law: Seek more resources and, in the meantime, prioritize the workload and deal with as many cases as possible.

Staff point to the 2d and 3d paragraphs of § 22.1-258 which require notice to the parent “[w]henever any pupil fails to report to school on a regularly scheduled school day” and require an attendance plan after the fifth such failure. Read literally, these provisions would never invoke the enforcement mechanisms of § 22.1-258 so long as the student reported in at any time during the school day, regardless of whether the student then departed immediately. This narrow reading of the second and third paragraphs overlooks the fourth paragraph of § 22.1-258, which requires a conference “[i]f the pupil as absent” a sixth time and requires referral to court “[u]pon the next absence,” both without mentioning failure to “report.” Moreover, staff’s narrow reading of the failure to report language would lead to a regulation that is manifestly inconsistent with the General Assembly’s command that every student attend (i.e, report to) school for “at least 180 teaching days or 990 teaching hours.”

The Supreme Court’s Blake decision does not modify this duty. Blake holds that “send” in § 22.1-254 is sufficiently ambiguous that a parent cannot be prosecuted for her child’s tardiness. Nowhere, however, does the decision contradict the manifest purpose of the compulsory attendance statutes that, with very limited exceptions, every school age student shall attend school all of every school day.

Moreover, the Board has the authority (and duty) to rectify any ambiguity in the statute in order that the statute may serve its clear purpose.

Finally, the separate definitions of excused and unexcused absences are dangerous and unworkmanlike.

By setting out long definitions of both excused an unexcused absences, the Board invites lawlerly mining for ambiguity and conflicts between the two definitions. Moreover, in light of the statutory requirement for full attendance, the Board should set out careful and narrow standards for excused absences, and then define any other absence as “unexcused.”

II. Consistent with the Failure to Require Full Day Attendance, the Regulation Fails to Require Reporting of Part Day Absences.

The data collection portion of the Regulation, 8 VAC 20-730-30, is silent as to part-day absences.

III. The New § 8 VAC 20-730-20 Invites Up to 132 Separate Definitions of “Excused Absence.”

The new § 20-730-20 would have each school board provide “guidance” as to “what would constitute an excused absence.” In this, the Board unlawfully delegates its own authority and invites a spectrum of definitions that would emasculate the compulsory attendance laws and render the data collected under the regulation meaningless.

IV. 8 VAC 20-730-30.E Does Not Require Reasons for the Choice Between CHINS and Misdemeanors.

Upon the next absence after the scheduling of the six-absence conference, CODE § 22.1-258 requires either or both (1) filing of a complaint alleging the student is a child in need of supervision (CHINS petition), and (2) prosecution of the parent.

Subsection 30.E of the Regulation requires a report whether a seventh absence leads to a complaint but fails to require the attendance officer or Superintendent to set out the reasons for choosing one course or the other.

Yet the choice must be driven by the facts of each case. For example, one of the division’s options under § 22.1-258 is to prosecute the parent under § 22.1-262. That latter statute authorizes prosecution for, inter alia, “refus[al] to participate in the development of the plan to resolve the student’s nonattendance or in the conference provided for in § 22.1-258.” Manifestly, if the division fails to prosecute a parent who refuses to participate, the attendance officer should be required to set out a principled reason for not prosecuting.

This failure to require transparency is fully consistent with the general absence of any requirement in the regulation for accountability. See the next item.

V. The Regulation Should Create a Clear Chain of Accountability.

The regulation fails to require a system of accountability so that the public, the Board, and the local school boards, can measure the performance of a school system and its employees.

Richmond serves as an example, perhaps an extreme one, of the effect of this Board’s failure to obtain reliable truancy data and to enforce the requirements of § 22.1-258.

In an email dated May 22, 2012, Felicia Cosby of the City of Richmond Public Schools wrote: “As of March 22, Richmond Pubic Schools has sent 77 failure to send petitions–an increase from last year’s total submissions of 47.” Yet Richmond had 1,875 cases of ten or more unexcused absences during 2009. This amounts to somewhere <2.5% compliance with CODE § 22.1-258.

Note: The 2013 report from the Department of Education (the most recent report available as of November, 2015) shows 3,268 six-absence conferences in Richmond, 13.8% of the fall ADM of 23,649. In the absence of any further data from the state, it is impossible to know whether that astounding datum represents an improvement or not.

If, as at present, there is to be no clear chain of accountability and no expectation of consequences for poor performance and no State enforcement of the mandatory attendance laws and no useful information from the State, we must expect that Richmond, and surely other divisions, and the State will continue to fail the children in our schools. The Board should use this regulation as an opportunity to correct that dismal situation.

The Voice of Reason

The Daily Press today took the side of the taxpayers who are paying our teachers:

Virginia residents pour billions into the public schools each year. Local taxpayers, such as those in Newport News and Hampton, spend millions more on education.

It’s fair to ask about the return we’re receiving on that massive annual investment. And data collected through statewide evaluative testing measures can help provide a more accurate picture of that.

We don’t want to embarrass hard-working teachers. Rather, we believe [these SGP data are] information to which the public is entitled and which it should have.

More Data that VDOE Suppresses

Brian Davison points me to the Arkansas Web site that reports, inter alia, grade inflation:

As required by Arkansas Code Annotated § 6-15-421, the Division of Public School Accountability in the Arkansas Department of Education provides
this report of the percentage of students receiving a grade of “B” or above in the corresponding course who did not pass the end of course assessment on the first attempt.  The report also includes the name, address, and superintendent of any high school in which more than twenty percent (20%) of the students received a letter grade of “B” or above, but did not pass the end-of-course assessment on the first attempt.

Indeed, the schools with more than 20% are highlighted in yellow. 

Near the top of the list, we see Badger Academy, where 100% of the students received A or B grades but none passed the End of Course test on the first try.  Perhaps Badger Academy is a special purpose school, such as the Ark. School for the Deaf (90%), but then we have Decatur High School (50%), Clinton High School (66.7%), and  Siatech Little Rock Charter (83.3%). 

In contrast, you can search the VDOE Web site for “grade inflation” and find only one paper that speaks of grade inflation in teacher evaluations and one on the same subject in principal evaluations.  Nothing at all about inflated student grades.

But, then, you wouldn’t really expect the State Department of Superintendent Protection and Data Suppression to report anything so useful.

Five Kinds of Failure

Following up on Jim Weigand’s five-subject SOL averages (average of the pass rates in Reading, Writing, History & SS, Math, and Science), I again unleashed Excel’s pivot table on the VDOE database

As before, here are the five-subject averages for Charles City, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, and Richmond by year, along with the average of division averages (as opposed to the state average pass rates in the earlier post).

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And here are the same data, expressed as the difference between the Division average and the average of divisions.

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One further measure of Richmond’s dismal performance: Here are the rankings of the 132 division averages by year (132 is the lowest possible rank).

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Your tax dollars at “work.”

Damaged in Transit Thru RPS

I finally got around to updating the SOL page on crankytaxpayer.org and was reminded that we now have outcome data beyond just the graduation and dropout rates.

These Federal data are part of USDOE’s reporting requirements under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  Inter alia, Virginia must report the numbers of students in the cohort who, having graduated with a regular diploma, enter a public, private, or 2-year college or university (Institution of Higher Education, “IHE” in FederalSpeak) within sixteen months of graduation.  Here are the data for the 4-year cohort graduating in 2014, expressed as a percentage of the cohort:

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I trust you got that: Even with Richmond’s reporting of Maggie Walker students at schools they don’t attend (you can be sure those MLW kids will graduate and do well afterward: average SAT scores in 2013 were 713 verbal, 692 math; average scholarship offer was $72,000 per student; SOL pass rate 100%), the diploma graduates of RPS are much less successful than the state norm at getting into public universities and community colleges. 

Then we have the 2012 high school graduates who enrolled in a Virginia IHE within sixteen months of graduation and who completed at least one year’s worth of college credit applicable to a degree within two years of enrollment in the IHE.

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One can only conclude that Richmond is giving diplomas to a number of students who would not receive them in other divisions. 

Your tax dollars at “work.”

It’s Dismal Here in the Basement

Jim Weigand, who likes to look at the five subject average pass rate (Reading, Writing, History & SS, Math, and Science) sends along Richmond’s rank on that scale by year:

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Given that the data are readily available I thought I’d also plot the actual five subject averages pass rates for Richmond and some comparable old, urban jurisdictions (and our neighbor Charles City County).

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Those data are perhaps more accessible expressed as differences from the State average.

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We can thank our former Superintendent for the recent deterioration of our already substandard performance.

Dollars But Not Scholars

I earlier demonstrated that division expenditure per student does not correlate with division SOL pass rate in reading or math.

Jim Weigand of Lynchburg points out that VDOE prepares an annual report on each division’s “expenditures and appropriations designated to meet their required local effort in support of the Standards of Quality.”  The 2015 report is not yet out so the available data are 2014.  Jim juxtaposed those data the excess expenditure reported there with the 2014 five-subject (Reading, Writing, History & SS, Math, and Science) average pass rate.  Here is the result:

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The fitted line might suggest that pass rate increases by 2.7% for a doubling of the required local effort but the R2 tells us that the correlation is minuscule.

The gold square is Richmond.  For Jim’s interest, the yellow diamond is Lynchburg.  The red diamonds are, from the left Hampton, Norfolk, and Newport News.

The average excess RLE is 84.  The Big Spender out there at 221% excess RLE with the 63% pass rate is Sussex; the next Big Spender at 218% excess RLE with the 91% pass rate is West Point.

Here are the data.  Accomack is missing for lack of a spending report.

5 Subject Avg. SOL Rank Excess RLE Rank
Albemarle County  80.17% 25 140.25% 12
Alexandria City  68.76% 109 183.58% 4
Alleghany County  70.25% 104 180.40% 5
Amelia County  73.02% 88 44.58% 106
Amherst County  75.47% 67 94.26% 51
Appomattox County  77.00% 49 15.34% 127
Arlington County  84.12% 10 193.87% 3
Augusta County  76.36% 54 77.48% 67
Bath County  77.60% 43 118.81% 28
Bedford County  75.35% 70 87.24% 57
Bland County  75.21% 72 38.08% 112
Botetourt County  84.78% 6 132.86% 19
Bristol City  76.59% 23 44.94% 104
Brunswick County  63.99% 125 17.81% 126
Buchanan County  67.65% 111 73.69% 71
Buckingham County  71.86% 94 37.03% 113
Buena Vista City  64.64% 122 63.02% 91
Campbell County  75.97% 58 112.60% 30
Caroline County  71.78% 95 36.65% 114
Carroll County  76.01% 57 102.29% 39
Charles City County  77.73% 42 95.38% 49
Charlotte County  77.04% 48 34.84% 116
Charlottesville City  75.57% 64 154.45% 9
Chesapeake City  81.47% 18 114.57% 29
Chesterfield County  79.41% 31 82.30% 62
Clarke County  77.50% 45 101.54% 52
Colonial Beach  64.00% 124 64.95% 85
Colonial Heights City  79.54% 30 171.97% 7
Covington City  71.32% 97 152.31% 10
Craig County  74.41% 78 39.00% 110
Culpeper County  75.39% 69 60.11% 92
Cumberland County  66.77% 115 69.99% 77
Danville City  65.36% 120 88.81% 54
Dickenson County  74.09% 80 63.43% 89
Dinwiddie County  71.94% 93 70.52% 76
Essex County  63.21% 126 49.29% 100
Fairfax County  84.02% 11 127.86% 22
Falls Church City  91.10% 1 170.65% 8
Fauquier County  79.24% 33 112.23% 31
Floyd County  75.95% 60 45.87% 102
Fluvanna County  77.52% 44 65.86% 83
Franklin City  59.36% 131 129.24% 21
Franklin County  81.99% 17 64.35% 88
Frederick County  75.54% 65 124.29% 23
Fredericksburg City  74.36% 79 134.11% 18
Galax City  74.69% 75 70.74% 75
Giles County  76.71% 52 43.03% 108
Gloucester County  77.27% 47 98.21% 46
Goochland County  83.94% 12 59.77% 93
Grayson County  72.39% 90 38.09% 111
Greene County  73.62% 83 73.40% 73
Greensville County  67.45% 112 27.61% 121
Halifax County  67.78% 110 34.36% 117
Hampton City  70.83% 101 88.31% 56
Hanover County  84.36% 7 58.92% 94
Harrisonburg City  71.17% 100 102.25% 40
Henrico County  77.94% 39 69.50% 79
Henry County  74.00% 81 39.17% 109
Highland County  66.24% 117 23.29% 124
Hopewell City  67.25% 113 73.16% 74
Isle of Wight County  81.38% 19 68.85% 80
King and Queen County  70.30% 103 73.63% 72
King George County  77.88% 40 53.80% 98
King William County  78.66% 36 100.45% 44
Lancaster County  62.39% 128 77.00% 68
Lee County  74.90% 74 9.93% 130
Lexington City  83.32% 14 52.26% 99
Loudoun County  86.03% 4 138.33% 14
Louisa County  79.26% 32 69.69% 77
Lunenburg County  69.29% 108 24.07% 123
Lynchburg City  64.39% 123 103.34% 37
Madison County  72.18% 92 136.20% 16
Manassas City  71.38% 96 172.35% 6
Manassas Park City  71.20% 99 102.57% 38
Martinsville City  59.78% 130 111.14% 32
Mathews County  76.74% 51 58.44% 95
Mecklenburg County  66.65% 116 29.19% 119
Middlesex County  80.71% 23 35.60% 115
Montgomery County  78.83% 34 79.77% 66
Nelson County  78.53% 37 101.51% 43
New Kent County  80.90% 21 81.64% 64
Newport News City  66.85% 114 110.30% 33
Norfolk City  65.94% 118 90.52% 52
Northampton County  65.29% 121 31.46% 118
Northumberland County  77.28% 46 56.26% 96
Norton City  78.01% 38 47.40% 101
Nottoway County  70.15% 105 27.39% 122
Orange County  76.35% 56 63.27% 90
Page County  73.43% 85 64.59% 87
Patrick County  74.44% 77 11.02% 129
Petersburg City  57.64% 132 44.37% 107
Pittsylvania County  78.76% 35 22.77% 125
Poquoson City  86.21% 3 97.70% 47
Portsmouth City  69.40% 107 85.72% 58
Powhatan County  82.01% 16 107.65% 35
Prince Edward County  65.42% 119 95.62% 48
Prince George County  79.95% 27 45.02% 103
Prince William County  79.81% 29 98.56% 45
Pulaski County  74.92% 73 65.25% 84
Radford City  75.41% 68 83.96% 60
Rappahannock County  76.85% 50 76.17% 70
Richmond City  59.84% 129 90.30% 53
Richmond County  75.93% 61 76.54% 69
Roanoke City  71.21% 98 132.74% 20
Roanoke County  85.33% 5 103.62% 36
Rockbridge County  75.48% 66 82.02% 63
Rockingham County  79.99% 26 138.87% 13
Russell County  75.58% 63 29.03% 120
Salem City  83.35% 13 142.76% 11
Scott County  80.75% 22 13.33% 128
Shenandoah County  75.58% 62 84.78% 59
Smyth County  73.86% 82 44.66% 105
Southampton County  73.52% 84 68.22% 81
Spotsylvania County  76.35% 55 120.89% 26
Stafford County  81.24% 20 123.97% 24
Staunton City  73.13% 87 88.40% 55
Suffolk City  72.75% 89 66.41% 82
Surry County  73.16% 86 136.52% 15
Sussex County  62.89% 127 221.04% 1
Tazewell County  77.87% 41 8.84% 131
Virginia Beach City  79.85% 28 120.91% 25
Warren County  75.97% 59 83.74% 61
Washington County  80.71% 23 108.98% 34
Waynesboro City  70.40% 102 120.38% 27
West Point  90.97% 2 217.53% 2
Westmoreland County  69.96% 106 54.40% 97
Williamsburg-James City County  82.58% 15 94.36% 50
Winchester City  74.62% 76 134.37% 17
Wise County  84.27% 9 101.67% 41
Wythe County  75.25% 71 64.87% 86
York County  84.33% 8 80.51% 65

Middle School Mess

The VDOE database is glad to produce pass rates by grade. 

We must view these numbers with some caution.  The high school pass rates are boosted by inclusion of the Maggie Walker students who live in Richmond, albeit Walker is not a Richmond public school.  They still are giving the notorious VGLA to LEP students in grades 3-8 (albeit it’s now graded by the state, not the local schools). 

Here, then, are the pass rates for the 2015 reading tests for Richmond and the State. 

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And here are the pass rates on the math tests.

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We can simplify the pictures by taking the difference between the Richmond and state pass rates.

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So we see the elementary schools underperforming, the middle schools failing their students miserably, and the high schools a very mixed bag.

For sure, if RPS elects to attack the worst of the awful, they’ll start with the middle schools and eleventh grade reading.

Blarney à la Bedden

Carol Wolf has posted our Superintendent’s 2015 State of the Schools speech. 

After the introduction, the speech embraces the old, sad, false excuses for Richmond’s miserable performance:

  • A large percentage of students ages 0-17 live in poverty, 
  • More than 3 out of 4 students qualify for free/reduced lunch, 
  • 19% or put another way, over 4000 students receiving special education services, and
  • The growing ESL population, which has risen from 5% in the early 2000s to approximately 12% today.

 

Poverty Is Not the Problem

We already have seen that, while SOL pass rates certainly decline with increased poverty,

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Richmond is grossly underperforming the other Virginia divisions with similar or higher poverty rates.

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(Richmond is the gold points in the graphs above.)

 

Students with Disabilities Are Not the Problem Either

To see about the disabled students, let’s start with the reading pass rates by year:

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Here we see Richmond’s students without disabilities consistently performing far below the state average for students without disabilities.  Then we see Richmond’s students with disabilities outperforming the state average for students with disabilities until the new reading tests in 2013, when the Richmond scores plummeted even more than the state average. 

We can tease out the magnitude of these effects by plotting the Richmond minus state pass rates.

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In short, Richmond has since at least 2005 done a consistently lousy job teaching reading to its non-disabled students; since the new reading tests, Richmond has done a consistently lousy job teaching reading to all its students.

The math scores show a similar picture, except that the big drop came a year earlier with the new tests in 2012.

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You might well pause to wonder how Richmond’s students with disabilities outperformed their peers statewide until the advent of the new tests.  I think it was because Richmond was abusing its disabled students to cheat on the VGLA

In any case, in light of the gross underperformance of Richmond’s students without disabilities, it is simply false to claim that the students with disabilities are the problem here.  The problem is lousy schools, period.

 

Nor Are LEP Students the Problem

Turning to limited English proficiency (“LEP”), here are the data.

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The signal/noise ratio here is lower for the LEP students, perhaps because of the smaller sample sizes, but the general effect is clear: Since at least 2010, Richmond’s LEP students have been underperforming their peers statewide but, relative to their peers, they have been outperforming Richmond’s non-LEP students.  LEP students are not the problem here.

 

Richmond’s lousy schools are the problem

Thus, it is worse that than misleading to blame Richmond’s poor, its disabled, or its LEP students for Richmond’s awful SOL performance.  Richmond’s awful schools are the problem here.

And I foolishly thought this Superintendent might be better than to wallow in these false excuses that blame the kids for the system’s failures.

 

Indeed, Bedden Blew His Best Chance

Superintendent Bedden had his chance to shine.  His predecessor failed to align the Richmond curricula with the new math and reading tests.  2015 was his first full year with newly aligned curricula.  He did not shine: In 2015 his schools were second worst in the state on reading; sixth in math. 

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Now he is making the old, false excuses. 

At least he still has a little room to sing the other pitiful, old refrain: “We’re doing better than Petersburg.”

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