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The State Department of Education has published the accreditation data for 2016-2017 (based on 2015-2016 testing) on its web site. 

Before we delve into the details, here is the conclusion: They have an opaque process to manipulate the numbers and create accreditation scores that are divorced from actual performance. 

To begin: Here are the actual and "adjusted" math scores from the 2016 testing:

Notice how the number of schools with scores below the magic 70% decreased while the number with scores >~80% increased. 

Indeed, 1555 schools scored 70% or more but, after the "adjustments," 1653 schools made the 70% cutoff.  That is, ninety-eight schools got their accreditation scores boosted to above 70.

Caveat: VDOE reported math pass rates at eight schools for which they did not report “adjusted” scores; they reported “adjusted” scores for forty-five schools for which they reported no pass rate. I deleted all of those schools from the analysis above.  Also, these data are just for math; the overall accreditation rates, which include four subject areas and the graduation completion index, are lower.


Fun with Numbers

Turning to the process: VDOE admits:

Accreditation ratings also reflect adjustments made for schools that successfully remediate students who initially fail reading or mathematics tests. Adjustments also may be made for students with limited English proficiency and for students who have recently transferred into a Virginia public school. All of these factors are taken into account in calculating pass rates in each subject area.

But don't ask them for the retake data.  They'll tell you to flap your arms and fly to the moon.

VDOE writes the SOL tests.  They can boost the pass – and accreditation – rates simply by making the tests easier.  Yet they indulge in this opaque process to produce meaningless numbers.

And remember that the pass rates themselves have been fudged: See this and this.

Moreover, they do not adjust the scores for the one factor that they measure and that we know affects the rates: Economic Disadvantage.

So “opaque” is insufficient.  “Opaque and corrupt and unfair” comes closer.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Richmond Sags

Richmond has been in free fall since 2012.


Here are the Richmond results:


The last column in the table reports the number of Richmond schools as a percentage of the number of state schools with the same rating.  Thus, we see that Richmond, with 2.4% of the schools in Virginia, has 24% of the schools denied accreditation and 62% of the Partially Accredited schools.


The TBD rating is merely a temporary stay of bad news.  VDOE says:

The status of 145 schools at risk of being denied accreditation — including 92 schools that were warned in 2015-2016 — will be determined by the Board of Education later this year. Under Virginia’s accountability regulations, a school that has not earned full accreditation for three consecutive years — and fails to meet state standards for a fourth consecutive year — can apply for a rating of Partially Accredited: Reconstituted School if the local school board agrees to reconstitute the school’s leadership, staff, governance or student population. A reconstituted school can retain this rating for up to three years if it is making acceptable progress.

Which is to say that Richmond’s sixteen (!) TBDs will not be accredited; they either will suffer denial or some lesser state of not being accredited, or they will be “reconstituted.” 

Here are the school by school data.

School Name School Accredit-ation Rating English Met English Mathematics Met Mathe-matics History Met History Science Met Science GCI Met GCI
Albert Hill Middle Partially Accredited: Warned School-Pass Rate 70 No - Warned 60 No - Warned 79 Yes 86 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
Amelia Street Special Education Accreditation Denied 27 No - Warned 22 No - Warned 100 Yes 50 No - Improving < Yes
Armstrong High  Accreditation Denied 74 No - Approaching 51 No - Improving [1] 40 No - Warned 60 No - Improving 82 No - Improving
Bellevue Elementary Partially Accredited: Approaching Benchmark-Pass Rate 74 No - Approaching 80 Yes 89 Yes 83 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
Binford Middle To Be Determined 60 No - Warned 55 No - Warned 82 Yes 69 No - Approaching - Does not have a Graduating Class
Blackwell Elementary To Be Determined 48 No - Warned 49 No - Warned 70 Yes 37 No - Warned - Does not have a Graduating Class
Broad Rock Elementary Fully Accredited 91 Yes 90 Yes 93 Yes 86 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
Chimborazo Elementary To Be Determined 48 No - Warned 47 No - Warned 57 No - Warned 78 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
E.S.H. Greene Elementary Fully Accredited 79 Yes 89 Yes 91 Yes 72 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
Elizabeth D. Redd Elementary Accreditation Denied 69 No - Warned 71 Yes 87 Yes 67 No - Improving - Does not have a Graduating Class
Elkhardt Thompson Middle Partially Accredited: Warned School-Pass Rate 43 No - Warned 44 No - Warned 71 Yes 46 No - Warned - Does not have a Graduating Class
Fairfield Court Elementary Fully Accredited 81 Yes 87 Yes 91 Yes 71 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
Franklin Military Academy Partially Accredited: Approaching Benchmark-Pass Rate 81 Yes 68 No - Approaching 78 Yes 84 Yes 98 Yes
G.H. Reid Elementary To Be Determined 60 No - Warned 75 Yes 62 No - Warned 70 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
George Mason Elementary To Be Determined 50 No - Warned 56 No - Improving [1] 79 Yes 60 No - Warned - Does not have a Graduating Class
George W. Carver Elementary Fully Accredited 98 Yes 96 Yes 97 Yes 100 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
George Wythe High Partially Accredited: Warned School-Pass Rate 75 Yes 58 No - Warned 56 No - Warned 57 No - Warned 85 Yes
Ginter Park Elementary To Be Determined 70 No - Warned 81 Yes 74 Yes 77 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
Henderson Middle To Be Determined 39 No - Warned 36 No - Warned 62 No - Warned 49 No - Warned - Does not have a Graduating Class
Huguenot High Partially Accredited: Warned School-Graduation and Completion Index 90 Yes 81 Yes 73 Yes 73 Yes 82 No - Warned
J.B. Fisher Elementary Fully Accredited 76 Yes 75 Yes 76 Yes 81 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
J.E.B. Stuart Elementary Partially Accredited: Improving School-Pass Rate [1] 66 No - Improving [1] 72 Yes 74 Yes 73 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
J.L. Francis Elementary To Be Determined 69 No - Improving 76 Yes 74 Yes 74 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
John B. Cary Elementary Partially Accredited: Warned School-Pass Rate 69 No - Warned 89 Yes 83 Yes 64 No - Warned - Does not have a Graduating Class
John Marshall High Fully Accredited 88 Yes 76 Yes 75 Yes 70 Yes 89 Yes
Linwood Holton Elementary Fully Accredited 75 Yes 72 Yes 89 Yes 73 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
Lucille M. Brown Middle To Be Determined 60 No - Warned 50 No - Warned 77 Yes 67 No - Warned - Does not have a Graduating Class
Martin Luther King Jr. Middle  Accreditation Denied 26 No - Warned 22 No - Warned 40 No - Warned 20 No - Warned - Does not have a Graduating Class
Mary Munford Elementary Fully Accredited 92 Yes 92 Yes 96 Yes 97 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
Miles Jones Elementary To Be Determined 65 No - Warned 71 Yes 90 Yes 77 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
Oak Grove/Bellemeade Elementary To Be Determined 52 No - Warned 58 No - Warned 69 No - Approaching 68 No - Approaching - Does not have a Graduating Class
Open High Fully Accredited 99 Yes 100 Yes 98 Yes 99 Yes 100 Yes
Overby-Sheppard Elementary To Be Determined 55 No - Warned 55 No - Improving [1] 75 Yes 60 No - Warned - Does not have a Graduating Class
Patrick Henry School Of Science And Arts Accreditation Denied 75 Yes 69 No - Approaching 74 Yes 83 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
Richmond Alternative  Accreditation Denied 26 No - Warned 8 No - Warned 13 No - Warned 14 No - Warned 31 No - Warned
Richmond Career Education and Employment (Charter School) Fully Accredited 100 Yes 100 Yes 100 Yes 100 Yes < Yes
Richmond Community High Fully Accredited 98 Yes 77 Yes 94 Yes 90 Yes 100 Yes
Southampton Elementary Fully Accredited 78 Yes 74 Yes 89 Yes 86 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
Swansboro Elementary Accreditation Denied 40 No - Warned 28 No - Warned 61 No - Warned 34 No - Warned - Does not have a Graduating Class
Thomas C. Boushall Middle To Be Determined 54 No - Warned 65 No - Improving [1] 82 Yes 69 No - Approaching - Does not have a Graduating Class
Thomas Jefferson High To Be Determined 92 Yes 66 No - Warned 67 No - Improving 64 No - Warned 92 Yes
Westover Hills Elementary To Be Determined 53 No - Warned 57 No - Warned 87 Yes 67 No - Improving - Does not have a Graduating Class
William Fox Elementary Fully Accredited 91 Yes 90 Yes 93 Yes 90 Yes - Does not have a Graduating Class
Woodville Elementary To Be Determined 38 No - Warned 44 No - Warned 45 No - Warned 21 No - Warned - Does not have a Graduating Class


How did Richmond schools go from 90% to 30% accredited?  Easy: In 2010 the General Assembly passed HB304, which forced the Superintendent to pull her head out of the sand and become "concerned" about the large numbers of students taking the VGLA.  The Superintendent then required "training" in divisions with VGLA populations of 25% or more.  HB304, in contrast, required an annual justification that includes evidence that every student considered for the VGLA meets the criteria for inclusion.  The effect was dramatic: With the cheating curtailed, the VGLA scores dropped, dragging the overall state scores down a point on both the reading and math tests.  Richmond, which had been a leader in abusing the VGLA, dropped three points on the reading test and six points on the math test.  Then VDOE adopted a new, VGLA-free math test for the 2011-12 school year and Richmond plummeted.  For the 2012-13 school year, Richmond's math performance remained dismal and its scores on the new, VGLA-free reading test plummeted.  All this was exacerbated by our former Superintendent, who did not align the curricula with the new tests.  Unfortunately, the new Superintendent did not repair the performance.

There also is a graduation requirement: Full accreditation requires an 85 on the "graduate completer index."  Of the mainstream high schools, Marshall, JT, and Wythe met the requirement this year; Armstrong and Huguenot did not:

And remember, as mentioned above, the Richmond situation is even worse than the accreditation numbers might suggest.  The state cooks the numbers.  In the past they turned a 76.3 and 73.7 into "perfect scores" and embarrassed the Governor.  Meanwhile, this year Richmond had the lowest reading pass rate and the second lowest math pass rate in the state.

More Federal Acronyms and Wasted Money

Then we have the federal accountability and Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs).  See the VDOE site for an account of the shifting landscape here.

I'll focus on a part of the problem where we can measure the results, the "Priority Schools."

Richmond has 36% of the Priority Schools in the state.

VDOE tells us that "Priority schools must engage a state-approved turnaround partner to help implement a school-improvement model meeting state and federal requirements."

You can stop right there and expect this to be a boondoggle.  Sort through all that jargon (“turnaround partner,” “help implement,” “school-improvement model,” “meet[] state and federal requirements”)  and you won’t find a word about helping the kids learn better.

 To take a look at the results of this designation and process, I’ve pulled the pass rates by subject area for the ten schools in Richmond that have been in Priority status for two years or more.

Here, for a start, are the results for Richmond Alternative, which has been in Priority status since 2013.

Whatever is going on there (and it can’t be good), Priority status doesn’t look to have helped any.

The only high school in Priority status, John Marshall, has been there since 2013.  Here, for a start, are the Marshall reading pass rate by year and the average of the mainstream high schools.

Note: The “High Schools” average here excludes the selective high schools Open and Community.  Also excluded is Franklin Military, which is selective and which includes middle school grades.  Also note that the high school pass rates are inflated to some extent by inclusion of the Maggie Walker students that live in the relevant districts, albeit those students do not attend these high schools.

BTW: The nominal cut levels for accreditation in reading and writing are 75%; for all the others, 70%.

The green points indicate the years of Priority status.  It does not seem to have helped any here.

Next, writing, where Priority status looks to have been more associated with failure than success.


History & Social Science data: More of the same, after an encouraging start.

Mathematics, ditto, again after a nice start.

And last, science, where the Priority process again looks to have done more harm than good, dropping Marshall below the accreditation cut line.

After those portraits of failure, the middle schools at least show some mixed outcomes.  First reading.

The “Middle Schools” numbers are Richmond averages with Franklin Military excluded.  Again, the green points indicate Priority status: Henderson and King since 2013, Binford since 2014.

The middle school average is an appalling 51% this year but Binford has improved to a merely bad 64%, and Henderson to an unconscionable, 39%.  King, in contrast, has declined slightly to 24%.  It’s hard to find a adjective ugly enough to describe King’s condition.

As bad as these numbers are, at least we see some progress.  The writing scores, however, are uniformly appalling.

In contrast, history & social science data show a middle school average at the border of accreditation, with Binford improving nicely, Henderson improving overall.  MLK again languishes in unspeakable failure.

The math scores again are disasters, albeit Binford again shows improvement.  Henderson improves a little and King again declines, with both schools far into Principal firing territory.

Finally, science.  Binford again shines, here approaching accreditation level.  Henderson again shows some improvement and King again is a disaster.

Last, the elementary schools.  The “Elem. Schools” data are averages of Richmond elementary schools.

On the reading tests, Ginter Park and Reid show some nice progress; Woodville and Oak Grove hint at progress; Blackwell sags. 

Note that all of these performances are subpar, with Blackwell, Oak Grove, and Woodville all more than 25% below the accreditation cut line and Reid nearly that far down.

The writing data are a much happier picture, with Ginter Park, Oak Grove, Reid, and Woodville all outpacing the average and with GP, Oak Grove, and Reid now within accreditation territory.

Note that the data end in 2015, when the test apparently was dropped.

In contrast, the history & social science scores are flat, with Ginter Park and Woodville declining.  All are below the Richmond average, albeit Blackwell, Ginter Park, and Oak Grove are very close to the 70% accreditation level.

In math, Ginter Park and, especially, Reid showed nice gains; Woodville hinted at progress but remained in the dismal basement; Oak Grove showed early improvement; Blackwell rose and then sank farther.  Ginter Park has been well within the accreditation range for two years.

In science, we again see good numbers from Ginter Park; Reid shows big gains; Oak Grove gains after a drop; Woodville drops and remains in the basement; and Blackwell again declines.  Only Ginter Park is above the accreditation cut level.

What can we say in summary?

  • Priority Status has been a waste of money and effort at Alternative and Marshall.
  • In the middle schools, Binford has been a win; Henderson, a wash; King, a dismal failure.  A batting average of .500 would be exceptional in the National League; here it is an earmark of failure and bureaucratic wheelspinning.
  • Among the elementary schools,
  • Blackwell was flat or down slightly, except for a gain in writing;

  • Reid was up nicely except flat in history & social science;

  • Ginter Park was up nicely except slightly down in history & social science;

  • Oak Grove was up in writing, flat elsewhere; and

  • Woodville was up in writing, down in history & social science and in science, with hints of gain in reading and math.

Is Priority Status a success? In places.

Is it a failure? In places.

Has it been worth the money and fanfare?  Probably not. 

If there is a way to fix our failing schools, especially the middle schools, VDOE either doesn’t know it or hasn’t deployed it.


Dropouts Keep the Numbers From Being Worse

Richmond saves itself from doing even worse only by driving out an outrageous number of the kids who enter the ninth grade:

(2016 data are not up yet).

Of course, the kids who drop out don't graduate.

Richmond's 70.6% graduation rate is 16.1% below the state average, 86.8%. 

These data emphasize (again) the magnitude of our very expensive failure.

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Last updated 09/17/16
Please send questions or comments to John Butcher