Why Do the New Tests Punish the Poorer Kids?

The Board of Education revised the History & Social Science SOL tests in 2011, the Math tests in 2012, and the Science and English tests in 2013

The pass rates dropped statewide upon introduction of the new tests, and then recovered.  Some.


Most recently, all the pass rates look to be sliding.  If, as we are told, the test difficulty has remained constant, this seems to spell Bad News for Virginia’s public school system.

Even more problematic, however, is the discriminatory effect of the new tests: Economically Disadvantaged (“ED”) students considerably underperformed their more affluent (“Not ED”) peers under the old tests; the new tests exacerbate the difference. 

Let’s look at the two most important tests, reading and math.  Here are the state average pass rates for ED and Not ED students for the period of the VDOE public database.


To emphasize the performance gaps, we can look at the pass rate differences, ED minus Not ED.


Immediately before the new tests, the ED/Not ED difference on the math tests was around twelve to thirteen points; it now is sinking toward twenty.  On English, ca. thirteen or fourteen points before and now approaching twenty-two.

There are at least three possible explanations:

  • Our schools had a hard time with ED students under the old tests; those schools are even less effective under the new, tougher tests; or
  • The ED students are less capable test takers than the Not ED, whether by genetics and/or environment, and that deficit is magnified by the greater rigor of the new tests; or
  • The new tests discriminate against ED students.

Take your pick of any one or combination.  These data won’t separate those possibilities.

But there is one obvious conclusion: Before the new tests, ED students did not perform as well as their more affluent peers.  The new tests magnify that deficit.  The Board of Education has found a way to penalize our less affluent students.

As well, this system punishes the divisions with larger populations of ED students.

For instance, Richmond:  On the reading tests in 2018, the pass rate of Richmond’s ED students was 14.68% below the state average for ED students; Richmond’s Not ED, 13.73 points below.  Any rational scheme for evaluating Richmond would put it just over fourteen points low.  Yet, because Richmond’s pass rate averages are dominated by its 61% ED population, the division pass rate was 20.15 points below the state average.

Here are those data as a graph:


The math data tell the same story: Richmond suffers about a 5% penalty because of its larger ED population.


(Of course, none of that excuses Richmond’s appalling failure to educate both its ED and its Not ED students.)

Our Board of “Education” had a measure of learning, the SGP, that was insensitive to students’ economic condition.  The Board abandoned that system.  Their excuse was that the results are not available until all the data are in, near the end of the summer.  Yet, they knew that when they adopted the SGP.

Whatever the real motive, the Board abandoned the evenhanded SGP in favor of the present scheme that punishes both the ED students and the school systems with larger populations of ED students.

Your tax dollars at “work.”