Further Analysis of Richmond’s Ninth Grade Bump

We have seen that Richmond’s “ninth grade bump” is more than twice the state average. It also follows a long, steep slide in enrollment with steeper drops at the fourth and sixth grades.


In light of Richmond’s large population of economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students (70% this year), the first place to look for the source of these enrollment changes is the data for that group.  The VDOE database is happy to produce those data.


Hmmm.  The ED population shows the same elementary and middle school decreases but only half of the Richmond 9th grade bump. 

Back to the database. 

To keep the graph from being too complicated, here are the Virginia and Richmond data on separate charts.



Here “Disab” is children with disabilities and “LEP” is limited English proficiency (aka ESL) students.

This looks like an influx of LEP students in the lower grades, both statewide and in Richmond, with a large LEP bump statewide and a huge one in Richmond.  Note that the Richmond LEP bump is too large to be explained by students being held back in the 9th grade; apparently we have an influx of 9th grade LEP students this year.

The raw numbers show the contributions of the various groups.



The raw numbers paint the picture more clearly.

image image

Richmond’s large ED population contributes 30% to the bump, while the state’s much smaller ED population accounts for 32%.  Richmond’s small disabled and LEP populations produce disproportionate numbers of students held back in the ninth grade, with the LEP students accounting for 41% of Richmond’s entire bump.

Also notable here, the ED, disabled, LEP, and homeless populations together account for 100.7% of Richmond’s bump (doubtless some overlapping populations there) while statewide students who are not ED, disabled, LEP, migrant, or homeless contribute 27% of the state’s ninth grade bump.

Our Superintendent has emphasized the challenges posed by Richmond’s LEP students.  These data tell us that challenge, already remarkably large, is about to explode.

Student Demographics and the Ninth Grade Bump

To follow up on the data showing Richmond’s steep enrollment (in educratese, “Average Daily Membership,” aka “ADM” ) drop from grade to grade


and the Richmond system’s general failure to retain students in grade until the ninth grade, I pulled some more detailed Fall enrollment data.

The state data by year show that the ninth grade bump and the population drops in the 10th through 12th grades (can you spell “dropouts”?) have been with us for the period of the database.


That bump, expressed as a percentage of the eighth grade enrollment, has dropped some in recent years.


Note, however, that the drop halted after VDOE installed new math tests in ‘12 and reading tests in ‘13.

The recent Richmond data show a different picture.


The large elementary and middle school populations in the middle and late ‘noughties led to large 9th grade bumps.  When those students worked through the system, Richmond settled down to about the state average until the new tests, along with the former Superintendent’s failure to prepare for those tests, reinflated the 9th grade population.


The database also breaks out data for five student groups: disabled, economically disadvantaged (“ED”), limited English proficiency (“LEP”), homeless, and migrant.

The migrant numbers are quite small statewide and zero in Richmond, except for a 23 count in 2010.  The statewide variation of the other counts by year looks like this:


The statewide ED population increased from 28% in 2004 to 39% this year.  Over the same period, the LEP population doubled to 10%.

The violet line is the difference between 100% and the sum of the groups.  Note: there will be some students in more than one group — e.g., both homeless and economically disadvantaged — so the “other” number is probably low; indeed, as we’ll see below, it goes negative in Richmond.

There’s no telling how much of the increase in the ED count is driven by the ardor of local divisions to qualify for Title I funds.

The Richmond data paint a different picture.


The drop in the ED population in 2007-09 is bound to be a data problem.  The very large ED populations in 2013-14 lead to negative values for the calculated “other” category.

The Richmond data show year-to-year increases in the elementary grades but not after the ninth grade.


Notice that the drop from grade 5 to grade 6 has been with us since at least 2008, suggesting escapes to the Counties to avoid our awful middle schools, not overall population changes.

The Richmond LEP population increased 5.3 fold over the period of these data, from 1.6% in 2004 to 8.5% in 2016.  That doubtless contributed to the increases in the LEP populations in the lower elementary grades in recent years.



I shudder to think what will happen when those elementary and middle school populations hit the ninth grade.

Note that the 8th grade LEP population has been approximately constant in the past four years (58, 48, 63, 52, respectively), but the ninth grade population has exploded.


That increase is too large to be explained solely by 9th grade retention.

Whatever the underlying reasons, these numbers surely illuminate the challenge posed by the increasing LEP population.

The data also tell us that Richmond is dealing with a tougher clientele (i.e., more students classified in one of these groups) than the statewide average.  Stay tuned for the data showing how well we deal with that challenge.

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.

Your Tax Dollars at “Work”

The June, 2016 Post from our Superintendent discusses at some length the results of the current (2017, based on 2016 data) accreditation results.  The VDOE Accreditation page, last updated on Feb. 29, 2016, shows the data from last year but not the current numbers.

Why do you suppose that the Richmond Superintendent had those numbers some time last month but you and I still cannot get them?

Indeed, why do you suppose VDOE could use the SOL data to assess accreditation in June (or before) but cannot use the same data to calculate SGP until Fall [pdf at slide 2]?

Stay tuned while I try to find out. 

In the meantime, consider the possibility that VDOE is, among other things, the State Department of Superintendent Protection far more than the Department of “Education.”

Economic Disadvantage and Richmond’s Awful Middle Schools

We’ve seen that division SOL pass rates fall with increasing economic disadvantage.  Those data also suggest that Richmond’s gross underperformance is not explained by the economic disadvantage of the Richmond students.

Drilling further into the relationship between academic performance and economic disadvantage (ED for short), the reading pass rates of Richmond’s elementary schools show a moderate correlation with ED and the mathematics a weak correlation but our middle and high schools show considerably more robust correlations:




Here are the SOL/ED data:





Note: Franklin has both middle and high school grades; I omit it from the graphs because it does not directly compare to either kind of school.

Caveat: Correlation is a necessary but not sufficient condition to infer causation.

The other thing to notice about the middle schools is the very low pass rates.  Here, for reference, are the average pass rates by grade.  The horizontal lines are the reading and math “benchmarks” for accreditation.


Why do the middle schools get much lower SOL pass rates with mostly the same kids as the elementary schools?  Let’s infer that the middle schools are doing a much worse job.  See below.

In any case, the R2s imply that the SOL is affected, especially in the middle and high schools, by economic condition or something related to it.

The Student Growth Percentile (SGP) was supposed to remove that correlation so I turned to the latest available data, the 2014 data by school in the 2d download from VDOE in response to Brian Davison’s suit.

There are no high school reading or mathematics data for Richmond in that dataset (EOC Algebra I only) but the elementary and middle school results are compelling. 


Here we see our elementary schools performing at bout the 50th percentile on math and a notch lower on reading.  Those performances were mostly uncorrelated with ED (reading R2 of 1%; math, 3%).  The Good News: These learning measures, esp. the reading, are a bit better than the SOL pass rates might suggest.

The school with a reading SGP of 71 (!) is Carver; the 63 is Jones.  As to math, we have six schools above the 60th percentile (Ginter Park at 70; Fisher, 67; Carver, 66; Jones, 65; Munford, 64; and Greene, 62), with Reid in the basement at 32.  That collection of reading STPs just under 40 is not encouraging.

Caveat: These data use the whole school %ED from the Fall census.  The VDOE data would allow calculation for only the SGP grades, 4 & 5, except that their data suppression rules give blank ED values for Munford and Henry by suppressing the fifth grade data (fewer than ten kids reported).  The totals are larger than the sums for the individual grades and presumably include all the ED students so I’ll stick with the (presumably undoctored) total data.

Here are the data:


The two very low ED schools are Munford at 10%, performing well above the 50th percentile, and Fox at 22% ED scoring at the 50th percentile in reading but only the 44th in math.  This makes it look like those nice SOLs at Fox are the result of smart kids who are scoring well but not improving as much as the smart kids in other schools.

The 24th percentile score in math is Reid.

The conclusion: On the 2014 data, our elementary schools are doing an average job, on average.  There’s work to be done at Reid and some others but, all in all, the SGPs report more learning than the SOLs might suggest.

And how much the kids learned was generally unrelated to economic disadvantage.

The middle schools were an unhappier story:



The database let me pull the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade data so I’ve included Franklin.

Note the low average performance and the modest correlation of the math scores.  Also notice the absence of schools with low ED populations.

As to that last point, these data raise the question whether those low ED kids from Munford and Fox have dropped out or gone to the Counties or to private schools for middle school or whether their numbers just disappear into the average.

To that issue here, first, are the totals:


And here are the details:


Or, relative to the 9th grade memberships:


VDOE publishes no data on kids who drop out before entering middle school  The data they do share indicate zero dropouts from grades 7 or 8 in 2014.  That seems unlikely but it’s all the information we have.

We are left with the possibility that the middle school drop in membership and rise in %ED reflects some of the more affluent kids fleeing to private schools and to the Counties.  The precipitous drops in both total and ED membership after the 9th grade surely come from dropouts.

But to revisit the major point: The low correlations with ED tell us that the low middle school SGPs can’t be caused by the increased economic disadvantage; the leading candidates for those lousy SGPs, then, are lousy teaching and/or lousy administrators who fail to control the middle schools.

The other point here: The State Department of Data Suppression has stopped calculating SGPs, which leaves us with the manifestly flawed SOL data to assess school (and teacher) quality.  It seems we’ll have to wait until late summer to see whether they are going to release or suppress their new progress (aka “value”) tables that measure academic progress (but mostly ignore the lack of it).

The Awfulness of Richmond’s Middle Schools

While pulling data for an upcoming post on our middle schools and the SGP, I downloaded these SOL pass rates:


The horizontal lines are the “benchmarks” for accreditation.

That provoked graphs of the latest (and last) SGP data (the second of the three VDOE downloads) that show Richmond’s 2014 middle school average reading and math SGP percentiles along with those of the other divisions:



Richmond is the gold bar on each graph.  The red bars are the peer divisions: from the left Norfolk, Newport News, and Hampton.

Please recall that the SGP does not correlate with economic disadvantage so Richmond can’t blame the kids for this dismal showing.

Here are the data:

image image


The Devil Made Me Do It

After I had posted the data above, it was raining and there was no going outside.  So I pulled the Richmond SOL data by grade and by year.  Here they are:



The only pattern that emerges here, beyond the terrible middle school numbers, is the score drops that came with the new math tests in 2012 and the new reading tests in 2013.  Those, of course, were associated with the former Superintendent’s failure to align the Richmond curricula with the new tests.

Board of Education Still Ignoring State Law

July 1, 2016

Governor Terence R. McAuliffe
Patrick Henry Building, Third Floor
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia  23219

RE: Education Board’s Ongoing Nonfeasance

Your Excellency,

I write to ask that you require the Virginia Board of Education to end its abiding neglect of its duty to enforce the mandatory attendance laws.



Va. Const. art. V, § 7 provides: “The Governor shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

Code § 2.2-4013.D authorizes you to object to a regulation during the thirty day period following adoption.

Code § 22.1-254.A contains the compulsory school attendance provision of Virginia law:

[E]very parent, guardian, or other person in the Commonwealth having control or charge of any child who will have reached the fifth birthday on or before September 30 of any school year and who has not passed the eighteenth birthday shall, during the period of each year the public schools are in session and for the same number of days and hours per day as the public schools, send such child to a public school . . . (emphasis supplied).

Code § 22.1-98.B.1 provides: “The length of every school’s term in every school division shall be at least 180 teaching days or 990 teaching hours in any school year.” The statute sets out exceptions (e.g., severe weather); those exceptions do not authorize part day absences for any reason not available for full day absences.

In short, the law requires attendance for the full school year and the full school day.

Code § 22.1-258 requires a school division to investigate every unexcused absence and to take specified actions, culminating with a Child in Need of Services/Supervision petition or misdemeanor complaint against the parent upon a seventh absence.

Code § 22.1-269 provides:

The Board of Education shall have the authority and it shall be its duty to see that the provisions of [§§ 22.1-254 through -269.1] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth.

Notwithstanding this clear mandate, the Board has been remarkably uninterested in enforcing § 22.1-258.  Indeed, the Board does not even collect information that would allow it to assess whether a school division is in compliance with that statute.  In this enforcement vacuum, Richmond has been free to define “truancy” as ten unexcused absences and, instead of filing a petition for judicial action at seven absences, as § 22.1-258 requires, sending a letter after ten absences:


In 2010, after I had pointed out that Richmond had been and was in wholesale violation of § 22.1-258, the Board proposed a truancy regulation.  Following a series of delays, the Board voted to adopt the regulation on September 27, 2012.  I sued over the glaring defects in the regulation and in the procedures for its adoption.  Butcher v. Board of Education, No. CL12005348-00 (Cir. Ct. City of Richmond, Petition for Appeal, December 14, 2012).

Belatedly recognizing its fatal procedural errors, the Board, on January 10, 2013, voted to rescind and repropose the regulation.  Disdaining my comment that the law requires full-day attendance, the Board continued to define “truancy” and “unexcused absence” to include only full-day absences:

“Truancy” means the act of accruing one or more unexcused absences.

“Unexcused absence” means an absence where (i) [either] the student misses his scheduled instructional school day in its entirety [or misses part of the scheduled instructional school day without permission from an administrator]

The Board filed the regulation with the Regulatory Town Hall on January 30, 2013 and voted to adopt it on June 23 of this year. The new regulation has not yet appeared in the Virginia Register so the thirty-day adoption period established by Code § 2.2-4013.D has not started.



The Board’s records contain its justification (pdf at p.6) for enfeebling the regulation:

To avoid potential complicating of division data reporting systems and overloading of court cases required by the Code after seven unexcused absences, the proposed definition [of “unexcused absence”] has been amended to missing a full day only. . . .

Thus, the Board seeks to evade its duty and the plain intent of the General Assembly in order to simplify data reporting and (in the spirit of ultra vires but compassionate overreach) to avoid overloading the courts.

The Board’s reluctance to overload the courts tells us the Board knows that § 22.1-258 is being grossly violated.  Thus, it is clear that the Board is deliberately sabotaging the statute it is required to enforce.

As reproposed, the regulation would allow a student to attend school long enough to be present at the first roll call and then to skip out for the remainder of the day.  Not only is this perversion of the mandatory attendance requirement unlawful, our experience in Richmond shows it to be dangerously unwise.

On January 5, 2005, Phillip Hicks stabbed Justin Creech to death near the intersection of Staples Mill Road and West Broad Street.  Both Hicks and Creech were students at Thomas Jefferson High School; both had reported for school that morning and then had, as was their custom, left school.  As is usual in Richmond, the school was doing nothing to deal with Hicks’ and Creech’s truancy.

On June 7, 2012, Antonio Shands was observed by City truancy officers at the Pony Pasture during a morning truancy sweep. Shands and others fled in a vehicle. Shands was killed when that vehicle ran a stop sign and was hit by a pickup truck.

More generally, much of our juvenile crime comes from students who are truant.  Yet the Board now seeks to license truancy that is forbidden by Virginia law. Indeed, the regulation does not even provide for the collection of data concerning part-day absences.

Governor, I ask that you object to this regulation as authorized by § 2.2-4013 and demand that the Board meet its obligation to enforce the mandatory attendance laws.  If the Board then fails to promptly discharge its duty, please remove all the Board members and replace them with people who are willing to obey the law.

My appeal of the regulation still is pending under an order that allows amendment of the Petition once the Board has completed the readoption. I am not anxious to further delay this regulation but, in light of the Board’s manifest inability to act promptly, I am unwilling to forego my opportunity to demand that they do their job and do it right the first time. Accordingly, if you do not require the Board to repair this regulation I will ask the Richmond Circuit Court to do so.

With kindest regards, I am


John Butcher

Copy:      Secretary Holton (education1@governor.virginia.gov)
Sen. Newman (district23@senate.virginia.gov)
Del Landes (bcottrell@house.virginia.gov)
Del. O’Bannon (DelJOBannon@house.virginia.gov)
President Cannaday (BOE@doe.virginia.gov)
Deputy Attorney General Bailey (CBAILEY@OAG.STATE.VA.US)

Reedy Creek: If It Ain’t Broke, Spend Tax Money to “Fix” It – II

We have seen that the City plans to spend $1.27 million to control phosphorus and sediment in Reedy Creek that already are being controlled by the sediment traps at Forest Hill Park Lake.  We also have seen the monitoring data from the Reedy Creek Coalition suggesting that the project area in its present condition improves the dissolved oxygen (DO) concentration in the stream. 

Roger Stewart of DEQ referred me to Kelley West of their Piedmont Regional Office; Kelley most kindly sent me a spreadsheet with DEQ’s monitoring data from the creek.  Most of the data are focused on the time variation at one station or another but there is one nice set from 2006 that paints a clear picture of the DO up and down the creek.

First, I should tell you that the sampling stations are denoted by the river mile, i.e. the distance from the mouth of the creek.  Here are the relevant stations:


The project area runs from just above the 44th St. station, RM 1.57 (standing there one can see the bottom end of the concrete channel, built by the City to abate upstream flooding, that ends at 46th St.), to just above Roanoke St., RM 0.99.

Also, they do their dates with the day and month reversed from usual; e.g., 17/07/2006 is July 17.

Now that you are fully armed, here are the data:


The green overlay roughly denotes the project area.

In winter, e.g. the red curve for Feb. 14, the flow tends to be high and the oxygen solubility also is high, so the creek looks good all the way down, generally improving a bit after it leaves the concrete channel at 46th St. 

Summer is a harder time.  Note especially the June, July, and August curves, when the oxygen solubility is lower and the oxygen demanding wastes work at removing what oxygen is in the water.  But we see the project area helping the stream recover from a violation of the 4 PPM required by the water quality standard.

The Coalition points out that the project would remove the trees that shade the section below 44th St. and thus would make the downstream DO levels worse.

So we have a section above 44th St. that is crapping up the stream but the City wants to impair the section at and below 44th St. that already is helping abate the damage caused upstream.

If your kid kept tracking mud into the house, would you tear out the rug or would you get the kid cleaned up before he came in the door?  By the same token, if the upper section of the stream were causing a dissolved oxygen problem, would you fix that or go mutilate the downstream segment that was helping improve water quality?

We know the City’s answer.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

SOL vs. Economic Disadvantage, Again

VDOE had the 2016 SOL scores in time to decide who could graduate in May.  But they won’t release those scores to the taxpayers who paid for them until late Summer. 

So let’s look a bit harder at the data we do have.

We’ve seen that division pass rates fall with increasing economic disadvantage (no surprise there).  Those data also suggest that Richmond’s gross underperformance is not explained by the ED of the Richmond students.



Richmond is the gold square on both graphs.

Let’s break out the division pass rates by pass proficient and pass advanced.  Here are the reading data.


Hmmmm.  Here we see that the division reading test correlation is driven by the even better correlation of the pass advanced data.  There is essentially no correlation between the pass proficient rate and economic disadvantage. 

As to pass advanced, Richmond, the gold square, is almost on the fitted line, and the peer jurisdictions Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk (the red diamonds, from the left) are nearby.  But Richmond is second from the bottom on pass proficient and this drags the City down to second from the bottom overall.  Among the peers, Norfolk looks to underperform as to the proficient rate, Hampton is about as expected, and Newport News is in between.

The data pair at 7% ED is Falls Church, which overperforms as to advanced and underperforms as to proficient.  The data at 13% are Lexington, which does the same, only moreso.   

Turning to the math data, we see a similar picture except the pass advanced correlation coefficient decreases.


Here, Richmond underperforms as to both proficient and advanced. 

These data suggest:

  • Poverty vel non does not excuse RPS’s lousy performance (no surprise there);
  • RPS is doing fairly well by (or, at least, not visiting too much harm upon) its better performing kids; and
  • If RPS sensibly wants to attack its performance problem where it is worst, they will work to do a better job with the marginal students.

Richmond Teacher Truancy

We have seen that, according to the Feds’ 2014 “Civil Rights Data Collection,” Richmond has the ninth worst 2014 record of teacher absences >10 days, excluding days for professional development.


Let’s break the Richmond numbers out by school.


You read that right: 94% of the teachers at Lucille Brown were absent from work more than ten days in 2014!

For sure, the wide range here tells us we have (well, had in 2014) serious management problems in many of our schools: We’re paying a lot of teachers for not working.  Of course, our School Board does not tell us about such problems or whether it is demanding that the the Superintendent do something about them.

Looking at the schools where the rate was >65%, we find half of the eight high schools (Armstrong, Jefferson, Open, and Wythe) (counting Franklin as both a high and middle school), two thirds of the nine middle schools (Binford, Brown, Elkhardt, Hill, King, and Thompson), and 15% of twenty-six elementary schools (Fox, Chimborazo, Fairfield, Mason).

The preponderance of our (awful) middle schools at the not-at-work end of the list raises the obvious question: Does the absence of all those teachers affect performance.  After pulling the 2014 SOL scores and juxtaposing them with the absence rates, it appears that the short answer is “no.” 

For the longer answer, let’s start with the elementary schools.


This plot of reading and math pass rates v. the teacher absence rates shows essentially no correlation between the two variables.

Aside: Correlation is a necessary but not sufficient requirement for causation.  If the scores and absence rates correlated, it would suggest but not prove that the teachers’ absence was affecting the pass rates; the absence of a correlation, however, tells us that the variables are not causally related.

Well, on to those middle schools. 

(Note, I’ve again included Franklin in both the middle and high school categories because it has students at both levels.  It would make about the same amount of sense to leave Franklin out for failure to fit either category.)


As you see, we have higher absence rates and lower pass rates but no statistical relationship.

Last, the high schools.


Here, at last, some slight correlations (ca. 10% on R2, i.e., R of about 0.3).

If we delete Franklin, the correlations improve a bit, but still not to anything dramatic.


Note that reading goes the wrong way: If the correlation were better, we could wonder whether reading performance might be improved by the absence of the regular teachers.  But we’re stuck with the numbers at hand.

That leaves the question of financial consequences, the cost of all those substitute teachers.

Unfortunately, the 2014 Budget does not appear to break out the costs of the substitutes.  As a happy contrast (Bless you, Dana Bedden!), the 2015 budget shows the following:


If Richmond could cut substitute teacher use by half, it could free up a couple of megabucks to give a 2% raise to its teachers (for actually working).

I’ll bet you a #2 lead pencil it doesn’t happen in your or my lifetime.