The Cranky Taxpayer

Pass on PASS


NCLB Remedies | State Takeover | AYP Data

PASS the Corruption


As discussed elsewhere, the Governor's Partnership for Achieving Successful Schools ("PASS") formerly provided "interventions" that looked a lot like the remedies that soon will be required under NCLB.  Unfortunately, the available data suggest that the PASS interventions were about as poorly managed as the sorry Richmond schools themselves.

As to the nterventions that were in place in thirteen Richmond schools, the PASS website (link now broken) said that the Model II schools used "nine-week assessment developed by the Virginia Department of Education." 

So, of course, I asked the Education Department for the test data.  Their response will do nothing to relieve your qualms about the state of our civilization.

The Blind Leading the Blind

The first thing they told me was that the schools in question designed their own tests for 2002-03.

Remember, these are schools that are accredited with warning (i.e., are flunking the SOLs) for math or English and have failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress under NCLB for up to four years running (the four Richmond schools on the Year 3 list are flunking as badly as it is possible to flunk under NCLB).  The Governor had sent in teams to "ensure that curriculum is aligned with the Standards of Learning." (link now broken).

These Richmond schools have persistently failed to align their curricula with the SOLs.  Yet the state told these same schools  to design tests to measure progress toward passing the SOLs.

The results were guaranteed to be meaningless in two respects:

  1. The tests were written by people who had demonstrated their inability to do the job; and

  2. Each school wrote its own (probably inadequate) test so there was no way to compare data from different schools.

Note added on March 26, 2004:

Today the Department wrote me that they didn't mean that the schools "designed" their own 9-week tests; they meant that the schools "selected" commercial products.

That hardly is a comfort:

  1. What shall we think of a State agency that does not know the difference between "design" and "select"?

  2. Given the demonstrated incompetence of the schools in question, why should we think they are more capable of selecting a meaningful test than they are of designing one?

  3. In fact, it seems that the schools in question cooked the testing.  See below or follow this link.

End of note.

Now the Inept are Leading the Incompetent

This year, as they tell me, "the Department of Education facilitated the development of an SOL aligned nine-weeks test for use . . . for all PASS schools through a consortium led by Hampton City Schools that included 15 school divisions."  So, at least they have a uniform set of tests. 

Unfortunately, as the Education Department further reports:

The implementation of a software program to read and disaggregate data from the first nine weeks’ PASSmark test required an interface with each PASS district’s student database system with SOLAR, the software provider. Because of certain technical problems that SOLAR was not able to control with the upload of different databases to their system, SOLAR did not capture the data for all students. As a result, this data is (sic) incomplete and we have not shared this (sic) data, nor have we used this (sic) data as a basis for any decisions or conclusions regarding a school’s progress. Any other consumer reviewing this data is advised not to use this (sic) data as a basis for decisions or conclusions regarding a school’s progress.

That is, the data are useless.  The state cannot manage the PASS program, again, because they have no way, again, to measure what is happening.

As a waste of taxpayer money, this is even more outrageous than the awful Richmond schools: The State, at least, is capable of doing better.

Boondoggle

All that is enough to make one wonder if the PASS program really is a tool to help the schools or merely a sham to make it look like the state is doing something.  On that subject, I asked the Education Department for all of its documents evaluating the PASS program.  I tried to be thorough.

They gave me the first- and second-quarter numbers, with a disclaimer on each page of the second-quarter data:

Sample Data to Illustrate Formatting Options Only (This Data Contains Known Errors That Have Not Been Corrected.)

Perhaps more to the point,

  • They did not produce any reports to the Governor;

  • They did not produce any reports to the Superintendent;

  • They did not produce any reports to the Board;

  • They did not produce any reports to the Richmond School Board;

  • They did not produce any reports to the Richmond Superintendent;

  • They did not produce any reports to any Richmond teacher or principal.

Apparently, they just collect the unreliable scoring data in a computer.  Based on their response, they have no way to measure whether the program is working or to manage the program. 

There is a word for government programs that expend our tax money without any benefit to the taxpayers.  The word is "boondoggle."

Yet the [former] Governor claimed that PASS "helps boost SOL Achievements for Majority of Schools."

It would be interesting to know how, in the absence of any data whatever, he came to that conclusion.  It would be more interesting to know why the state is not managing this program that has the Governor's name attached to it.

Note added on 3/26/04:

Today the Department wrote me that, in fact, they have been providing quarterly reports to the Governor.  They failed to identify these reports in their response but they now wish to invoke the exception of Va. Code 2.2-3705.A.6 and withhold the reports as "Governor's working papers."

There are at least two problems with this:

  1. They violated the Act when they failed to identify those documents and assert the exclusion in their original response. 

  2. It is difficult to think well of a state agency that could overlook its quarterly reports to the Governor when it responded to a request for "[a]ll records that establish, discuss, or evaluate the quarterly test program under the PASS program."

Even more problematic is their admission today that there was an anomaly in some of the PASS testing because teachers had access to the tests and were "unknowingly" using test questions for practice.  Yet they say they have no documents on the subject, even to explain how any such use might be "unknowing."  If you believe that tale, I want to sell you some stock in a company that makes ammunition for the Kansas State Navy.

Note added on 3/30/04:

Today the Department told me they will produce all their documents on this subject, with the exception of the Governor's papers.  Because of their violation of the Act I don't think they have any privilege left as to to Governor but if they give me the underlying information I don't much care what they told the Governor. 

Note added on 4/8/04:

Today the documents arrived.  It appears from those documents that Richmond has been encouraging widespread cheating by its teachers.

End of Notes.

The Numbers are Terrible

It is just as well that we can't believe this year's numbers.  Some of them are unbelievable.

Here, for instance, are the pass rates for 8th grade math for the first 9-weeks test:

Chandler 0%
Elkhardt 14%
Mosby 9%
Minnis 21%


Abandon Hope?

If there had been any doubt on the question, the report of the Council of the Great City Schools made it clear that the Richmond schools are utterly broken.   The PASS intervention and the federal NCLB requirements looked like the last chances for the kids whom the Richmond system is damaging.  This recent demonstration of ineptitude by the State takes away one of those chances.

That leaves the NCLB, which will not require housecleaning at the inadequate schools for another two years.  Moreover, the Act does not have a mechanism for replacing our hopelessly inept School Board.

It would be nice if the state could get its act together.

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Last updated 04/01/12
Please send questions or comments to John Butcher