Learning and Poverty

An earlier post showed the absence of a correlation between division day school expenditures and either the average SOL pass rate of economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students (mostly those who qualify for the free lunch program) or those of their more affluent peers (“Not ED”).  As well, the post dwelled on the remarkable progress of ED students under the Comprehensive Instructional Program, a bottom-up initiative that started in VDOE’s Region 7 (southwest Virginia).

Regarding that post, the estimable Dick Hall-Sizemore asks whether the relative numbers of ED and Not ED students make a difference as to SOL performance.

The short answer is NO as to reading and slightly as to math, but with the (modest) effect in a place where you might not expect it.

For the longer answer, here are the data:


The average reading rate for ED students increases 1.8% going from 0% to 100% ED students in the tested group. However, the R-squared of 0.1% tells us the two variables are not correlated.

The Not ED performance, in contrast, decreases by 1.4% for a 10% increase in the ED population. The R-squared value indicates that the ED population explains 11% of the variance in those pass rates.  Thus, to a modest extent, it seems that increasing the proportion of less affluent students is related to lowered performance of the more affluent students.

If you have a testable explanation for this result, please do share it with me.

Richmond is the enlarged points with yellow fill. The red fills are the peer cities, Hampton and Newport News on the left (Hampton above) and Norfolk on the right.

Notice particularly the several divisions with both ED percentages and reading pass rates higher than Richmond’s.


Indeed, the sole exception among that dozen divisions is the Petersburg Not ED datum.

The math data tell a similar story, but with a steeper decline in the Not ED pass rates (3.3% for a 10% ED population increase) and a more substantial R-squared value, 24%.


ED population also fails to explain the better performance of the Region 7 schools that started the (remarkably successful) Comprehensive Instructional Program.  Region 7 has considerably more than the average population of ED students.


Note: There is an anomaly in these numbers. Washington County goes from 62.3% ED in 2018 to 99.1% in 2019. This looks like a data error.  I have asked VDOE about it; they have not replied (presumably too busy with programs that don’t work). The 2019 average with Washington Co. excluded would be 56.0%. For now, it would be wise to ignore the Washington Co. numbers and to discount that 61% some.

As to the details:



Note: The points at 99% are Washington County.

It is instructive to compare the manifestly effective CIP approach in Region 7 with the resolutely ineffective VBOE “Plan” for dealing with the ongoing failure of the Petersburg system.

STOP! Please go back and read all of each of those lists so you can fully appreciate the fecklessness of the Board’s approach.

A modest proposal: Let’s expand the CIP statewide and and shrink the Board of Education’s function to what they can usefully do: statistics and webinars.