The Cranky Taxpayer
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:
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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 students that live in the relevant districts, albeit those students do not attend these high schools.
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?
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
(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.