SOL v Poverty

The Cranky Taxpayer

SOL v Poverty

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We hear that the Richmond student population is particularly difficult because the kids are [pick your excuse]. The only excuse that I might credit is socioeconomic: Poorer kids don’t perform as well in school as their better-off peers.

The conventional proxy for socioeconomic status of a school population is the number of kids who qualify for free or reduced price lunches. Indeed, the F/R percentage is the criterion for Title I money from the feds. VDOE has settled on a more general measure, the percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged. That term includes any student who “1) is eligible for Free/Reduced Meals, or 2) receives TANF, or 3) is eligible for Medicaid, or 4) [is] identified as either Migrant or experiencing Homelessness.”

The enrollment data are available here and the SOL scores are here for both the general population and the economically disadvantaged.

So let’s look at the 2014 Virginia division pass rates as a function of the percentage of students whom VDOE identifies as “economically disadvantaged.” First, the reading test:

The data give a decent least squares fit (R2 = 0.57), suggesting a pretty good correlation between ED percentage and the scores (recalling, always, that correlation is not causation). On this graph, Richmond is the gold square (recall that Richmond had the second lowest reading score in the Commonwealth this year). Richmond is 1.8 standard deviations below the fitted line. The red diamonds are, from the left, Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk. Charles City is the green diamond.

Here is the same graph for the math test:

The color codes are the same and the correlation is not quite as good. Richmond is 1.1 standard deviations below the line.

Plainly, Richmond is grossly underperforming both the fitted line and a number of other divisions that have similar socioeconomic situations. Hampton and Newport News, both old, urban jurisdictions with high poverty rates, are particularly instructive.

Nothing about the Richmond student population explains the recent plunges in the reading and math scores, while a lousy (former) Superintendent explains the situation fully. These disasters are the product of the Brandon years:


Turning to the individual schools, let's look at Richmond's elementary schools.  First the reading tests:

The slope is in the direction we would expect and the correlation is fair.  More interesting is the very large spread among the schools with large populations of economically disadvantaged students.  The really exceptional schools are Carver (97% ED, 84% pass rate) and Woodville (96%, 27% (!!)).  Let's hope our new Superintendent is looking carefully at those two schools.

On the math tests, we get the same general pattern but about half the correlation:

The outliers are Carver, again (97%, 81%), Fairfield Court (98%, 79%), and Woodville, again (96%, 40%).  Slightly below poor Woodville, is Reid (86%, 37%), where they just demoted the principal (mirabile dictu!).  Looking at the data,

we all can wonder why the same fate did not befall the Woodville principal.

What might explain the large spread among the schools with large populations of economically disadvantaged students.  I suggest it's leadership.  We'll see whether our new Superintendent can do something about that.

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Last updated 10/11/14
Please send questions or comments to John Butcher