Middle School Miasma?

In Richmond, the SOL pass rates drop precipitously between the fifth and sixth grades.


I was chatting with a Chesterfield middle school teacher the other day.  He told me that, in his experience, it is a matter of family environment: The kids who go home to a milieu run by adults manage the transition to middle school (and puberty and the social upheavals of that period) much better than those who go home to a situation dominated by a peer group.

To the extent that economic disadvantage (“ED”), or the lack of it, correlates with those family environments, we have some data on that. 

Here, to start, are the 2017 Richmond and Virginia SOL pass rate changes from fifth to sixth grades.

image image

Hmmm.  It looks like there may be something there in the statewide averages on the reading tests but not the math.  In contrast, both reading and math scores drop in the sixth grade in Richmond, moreso for the ED group.

We know that increasing ED correlates with decreasing overall division pass rates.  Could it be that increasing ED populations (Richmond was 64% ED in the 2017 school year) also pull down the score changes? 

Here are the 2017 Division reading pass rate changes from fifth to sixth grade, for both the ED and non-ED populations, plotted vs. the division % ED students.


Richmond is the yellow points.

The R-squared values of the fitted lines tell us that the division pass rate changes for both the ED and non-ED groups are essentially uncorrelated with the %ED.  Indeed, if there were a correlation, it would seem to falsify the hypothesis: The slope is positive, which implies increasing sixth grade pass rates, relative to the fifth grade scores.  And, in fact, many divisions enjoy pass nice rate increases from fifth to sixth grades. 

The math scores tell the same story, albeit with more increased pass rates than decreased.


To the extent that ED correlates with home environment, these data falsify the hypothesis.

As well, notice that most of the divisions with higher ED populations than Richmond enjoy score increases from grade 5 to 6 (and none of those divisions suffers a decrease as large as Richmond’s).



Which leaves us to wonder whether those unusually large drops in Richmond are the product of cheating in the elementary schools or awful teaching in the middle schools.  Or both.