Richmond’s Awful Middle Schools and the Ninth Grade Bump

Returning to the Feds’ “Civil Rights Data Collection,” we find 2014 data (the latest there) on students retained (i.e., not promoted to the next grade). 

Here, for a start, are the elementary school data. 


“M” is male enrollment, “F” is female; 1M is number of first grade males retained in grade, 1F is first grade females retained; etc.  The blanks are reported by the Feds as “Not applicable value for CRDC item. This element is considered not applicable due to the skip logic in the data collection system.”  Whatever that might mean.

As you see, the numbers of students retained in grade are quite small.  For some reason, not apparent here, the third grade totals are even smaller: zeros.

The middle schools show much the same picture, despite the remarkably lower SOL pass rates.


Indeed, to an excellent approximation, the rule in elementary and middle schools is “everybody passes.”

The high schools are another story.


With the numbers expressed as percentages of the relevant classes, a couple of graphs will help put those data in context.



You read that rightly: 36% of the Armstrong males and 22% of the females were retained in the ninth grade.

Those are 2014 data.  Unfortunately, the numbers look to be even worse this year.


The “ninth grade bump” looks to be a national phenomenon.  The Feds have this to say:

We know that more students fail ninth grade than any other grade, creating what has been called the “ninth-grade bump”—struggling, off-track students are held back by negative self-beliefs, a lack of credits, and an inability to recover from past failures, and the freshman class swells to become the largest in the high school. We also know that many students enter high school performing two or even three years below grade level, and that these students are most at risk of continued failure or dropping out.

Unfortunately, in Richmond the ninth grade bump looks more like a small mountain.


That ninth grade mountain follows a long, steep enrollment slide, with a drop-off at the beginning of middle school.

And, of course, the steep far side of that ninth grade mountain is created by the dropouts.

We can argue endlessly about whether retaining failed students in the lower grades is wise.  (You name the place; I’ll buy every second beer.)  It may or may not be a good idea to retain in grade the many, many students who fail to perform (actually, fail to be taught) in Richmond’s middle schools (after performing almost well in elementary school).  For sure, however, it’s past time to do something about this appalling failure of our school system.