Accreditation and Not

VDOE has updated its 2015-16 Accreditation data.

I earlier discussed their byzantine, opaque process for accrediting Virginia’s public schools.

Well, some of those schools.  You won’t find a rating for Maggie Walker, for instance, because VDOE counts the scores of the MW students at high schools they don’t attend.  And that just scratches the surface of the “adjustments” that boosted the accreditation scores this year by 6.1%.

This year they made it even easier to avoid “Accreditation Denied” by relabeling some denied schools as “Partially Accredited: Approaching Benchmark-Pass Rate” or “Partially Accredited: Improving School-Pass Rate, or “Partially Accredited: Reconstituted School,” among others.

Adjustments or not, relabeling or not, VDOE could not get entirely away from Richmond’s second-from-last place performance on the reading tests or its sixth-from-last place on the math tests.  The initial accreditation results showed Richmond with 37.8% accredited, v. 77.6% of the state’s schools and, more to the point here, with 15.6% “To Be Determined.”  VDOE now has acted on five of the seven Richmond TBDs, which bumps the Accreditation Denied rate from 4.4% to 8.9% and the Reconstituted rate from zero to 6.7%.  Here are the new data:




Note that one of the new schools is Elkhardt/Thompson; the relabeling converts Thompson’s earlier “Denied” rating into “New School.”  All told, 53% of the Richmond schools were warned or denied accreditation this year with two schools still TBD and another failed middle school, Thompson, hiding in the definitional weeds.

The keel of this sinking ship is the middle schools: King denied; Hill improving;  Binford, Brown, and Henderson reconstituted; Elkhardt/Thompson new and camouflaging the denied Thompson.  Only Franklin, which includes both middle and high school grades, is fully accredited.

Data are here.

Graduating (and Not)

The RT-D this morning reports that Virginia’s on-time graduation rate of 90.5% “tops” the national average of 82%.

The RT-D is mixing apples and pomegranates.  They are comparing national cohort data for 2014 with Virginia “on-time” data from 2015.

The Virginia “on-time” rate is a fiction, generated by VDOE to  inflate the actual rate.  The actual 4-year cohort Virginia rate in 2015 was 86.7%.

Even so, that’s Virginia.  This is Richmond.  The (awful) Richmond rate actually dropped this year.


The 2015 cohort also had 167 dropouts in Richmond, 11.8% of the cohort. 

The enrollment pattern by grade gives a more nuanced picture of the huge numbers of students Richmond loses to dropouts and from parents who move to the much better schools in the Counties.


Lies, Damn Lies, and Accreditation “Adjustments”

On Tuesday, the Governor announced a “10-Point Increase in Fully Accredited Schools.”  As Jim Bacon quickly pointed out, some part of that increase must be due to the newly-allowed retakes that boosted pass rates by about four percent. 

Then we have the “adjustments.”  VDOE acknowledges that it fiddles the numbers:

Accreditation ratings also reflect adjustments made for schools that successfully remediate students who initially fail reading or mathematics tests. Adjustments also may be made for students with limited English proficiency and for students who have recently transferred into a Virginia public school. All of these factors are taken into account in calculating pass rates in each subject area.

That falls considerably short of earlier admissions.  Indeed, we know that earlier “adjustments” converted a 76.3 and a 73.7 into “perfect scores” and embarrassed the Governor

In any case, the process is opaque.  About all we can do is compare the “adjusted” pass rates with those reported in the SOL database (that already includes the 4% retake boost).  I have a modest example here.

For the 1774 schools that appear in both databases (see below for the missing 49), the “adjustments” increase the math pass rates:


Excel is happy to fit curves to these data.  For the fitted curves, the actual mean is 82.4, the “adjusted” mean is 84.6.

All this produced a nice increase in the number of schools that made the 70% cutoff:


VDOE writes the tests; they can make them as hard or easy as they wish.  Yet they indulge in this byzantine, opaque process.  And then they brag about the fudged results.

Moreover, there’s a problem with the data.

Data Problem

In juxtaposing the Accreditation and SOL data, I had to make sure that the school names in both lists were the aligned.  In many cases they were not.  So I spent a rainy afternoon yesterday getting the lists to match.

To accomplish that, I dealt with dozens of cases where the SOL database had a space after the school name but the accreditation list did not (Ask Excel to compare two strings and it really compares them).  As well, I had to deal with cases such as a Norfolk school that was “Mary Calcott Elementary School” in one list and “Mary Calcott Elementary” in the other.  Beyond those minor issues, I had to remove 48 schools that were in the accreditation list but not in the SOL database.


(You might notice that 1774+48=1822, which is one short of the 1823 reported by VDOE.  I had to move these by hand and perhaps I messed up a cut-and-paste operation.  I’m not sufficiently invested in this to spend another afternoon trying to figure out who’s missing.)

We are left to wonder how they calculated “adjusted” pass rates for these schools that apparently had no pass rates.

I also had to remove twelve schools from the SOL report that were not in the accreditation list.


At least the two Richmond schools here make some sense: Elkhardt and Thompson were combined into a single school this year.  We are left to wonder why their pass rates were reported separately but they got accredited jointly,* and what happened to the accreditations of the other schools in this list.

As a more global matter, we are left to speculate why they fudge these data.  And how they do it.  And what other ways the data are screwed up.

Oh, and if one secret process for manipulating the data were not enough, we have another: the federal count of schools and divisions that met or failed to meet their Annual Measurable Objectives (aka “AMO’s,” of course).  The only thing to be said for this further waste of taxpayer dollars is that it may be more honest: 51.5% of Virginia schools flunked.



*Actually, we know the answer, at least as to the latter: The combined Elkhardt-Thompson is a “new school,” so it got a bye on accreditation.  The joint accreditation thus solved the problem of Thompson, which was denied accreditation last year.

Double Bogus

We have seen that Richmond’s federal graduation indicator (known in these pages as the “actual” graduation rate to distinguish it from VDOE’s inflated “on-time” rate) continues to be dismal.


And we know that even the “actual” rate misreports the real Richmond rate because data for the students at the Appomattox and Maggie Walker Governor’s Schools are reported for the high schools in their home districts, not at the Governor’s Schools.

We can get some insight into the magnitude of this deception by looking at the School Report Cards on the VDOE Web site.  For example,the Report Card for TJ tells us that TJ had a “Governor’s School enrollment” of 126.  The cohort report tells us that the school had 206 Advanced and Standard diplomates in a cohort of 252 students, for an “actual” graduation rate of 81.7%. 

VDOE does not refine the Governor’s School data further.  As a worst case, let’s assume that all 126 were full-time at one of the Governor’s Schools (after all, they do say Governor’s school “enrollment”), that a quarter of them (31) were in the graduating class, and that all of those earned a Standard or Advanced diploma.  That leaves 175 “actual” TJ graduates in the cohort, for a graduation rate of 69.4%.  If we assume only that the 31 received one of the five diplomas the VDOE counts toward the on-time rate, the on-time rate drops from 90.9% to 78.6%.

Upon applying the same assumptions to adjust the other Richmond high schools’ rates, we see the following:



Notes: VDOE reports the Governor’s School enrollment at Open High as “<,” meaning fewer than ten.  For lack of a better number, the graphs above use zero for that datum.  Hat tip and a huge TY to Jim Bacon for reminding me that only about a quarter of a high school students are seniors(!).

Granted this is a worst case analysis.  Nonetheless, until VDOE (which shall here be known as the State Department of Data Suppression and Manipulation) comes clean about the Governor’s School data, I won’t feel at all uncertain about whether the second graph there is very close to being an accurate picture of the dismal performance of Richmond’s public high schools.