The Cranky Taxpayer
Richmond is abusing the process for identifying and testing kids with disabilities. VDOE is letting them get away with it.
You may recall that Carol Wolf had dismissed as Urban Legend the widespread reports that Richmond and other affected divisions take the SOL scores of students at Maggie Walker Governor's School and apply them to the high schools in the students' "home" districts. When her son, a student at Walker, asked why the school was not on the US News list of outstanding high schools, she discovered that the rumors were true: her son's score was being counted for AYP and accreditation purposes at John Marshall, which he does not attend. She also learned that Richmond is further abusing the SOL process by counting the SOL scores of the temporary students at the Richmond Alternative School (aka the CCP) at that school, not at those students' actual home schools.
Carol learned her lesson. So, in the context of complaints from some Richmond teachers and others that RPS was abusing the alternative testing programs for kids with disabilities, she asked VDOE for the data. The always helpful Charles Pyle at VDOE provided a spreadsheet with the test counts, by division and by subject, going back to 2001-02. Carol is not one of the Numerati but she thinks I am, so she gave me the spreadsheet.
Pyle and Paul Raskopf of the Special Ed. Division remained kind and professional (and helpful) in the face of my follow-up data requests. The data they provided (notably here, here, and here (pdf), and more recently here) are shocking.
Carol's comments on those data are
But before we turn to the numbers, let's get on top of the acronyms. Here is a summary taken from a VDOE (Virginia Department of Education) publication (pdf).
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 requires that all students, including those with disabilities, and those with limited proficiency in English [LEP], be assessed on statewide accountability measures to determine Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). For all students with disabilities identified under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team determines how the student will participate in the accountability system. For students identified under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as amended, the 504 committee determines how the student will participate.
In Virginia, students with disabilities have several options for participating in the state accountability system. They may participate in the SOL assessments without or with accommodations in the same manner that non-disabled students participate. Students in grades 3 through 8 with disabilities that prevent them from accessing the SOL test(s) in a content area, even with accommodations, may participate in the VGLA [Virginia Grade Level Alternative].
Similarly, LEP students who are at level 1 or level 2 of English language proficiency may take the SOL reading test with or without accommodations or the VGLA for reading. The LEP team makes participation decisions for eligible students. These decisions must be documented in the 2008-2009 LEP Student Assessment Participation Plan . . . .
The VSEP [Virginia Substitute Evaluation Program] is available to students with disabilities who are enrolled in courses with end-of-course SOL assessments [required for the standard diploma] and students in grades 9-12 who need the grade 8 literacy and numeracy certification required to earn a modified standard diploma. . . . All participation decisions are the responsibility of the student’s IEP team or 504 committee. . .
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEIA), . . . students with the most significant cognitive disabilities may be assessed on state-established content standards through an alternate assessment. NCLB guidance allows states to address this instructional challenge by developing grade-level state standards that have been “reduced in complexity and depth.” This concept is referred to as aligning content level standards. The concept of aligned content level standards for students with significant cognitive disabilities has been addressed in the design and implementation of VAAP [Virginia Alternate Assessment Program]. Using eligibility criteria, the IEP team must determine participation in the SOL assessments, VSEP, VGLA, or VAAP (emphasis and links supplied).
Here is a table (pdf at p.2) from VDOE that sets out the entire program, with the source of content standards, the testing options, and the affected grades and subject areas.
The structure makes some sense. The premise of the SOL is accountability, based on impartial testing. The VGLA and VSEP extend the SOL testing process to students whose disabilities interfere with taking the test, but not with learning the material. The VAAP further extends the process to those kids who are so impaired that the schools develop individualized standards for each student.
Of course, a school or a division can
abuse such programs.
early on recognized that possibility and they provided a partial remedy: In
December 1993 the USDOE regulation at
34 CFR 200.13(c)(2)(i) capped the VAAP pass level at 1%
of the school division enrollment and at 1% of the state enrollment for
Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child
Left Behind Act.
Unfortunately, the feds did not impose similar controls on the VGLA/VSEP.
Remarkable Numbers in Richmond
Note: Graphs below updated 9/17/09 to include the 2008-09 test data, where available.
At the threshold, we might expect that the students with disabilities will not test as well as the general population, even with the VGLA/VSEP/VAAP in place. The statewide data for 2008-09 (data are here) are consistent with that expectation.
Yet in Richmond, where the division average SOL score is well below average, we see the students with disabilities performing well above the statewide average for children with disabilities.
Note added on 8/7/09: The three-year history emphasizes the difference: Richmond trails the state by 8-12 points on both tests but Richmond's students with disabilities lead their peers statewide by somewhere between 3 and 11 points:
The phenomenon extends to diplomas: Statewide in 2007-08, 55% of graduates received advanced diplomas while 17% of graduating students with disabilities received advanced diplomas. In Richmond, only 37% of graduates received advanced diplomas but 22% of graduating students with disabilities received advanced diplomas.
How is it that Richmond's students perform well below state average but its students with disabilities perform well above the average for students with disabilities?
The data below demonstrate #2 conclusively and strongly suggest that #3 may also be operating here.
Let us start by examining the remarkable growth of the alternative testing program and the remarkable lack of the VSEP.
Note: The data here and below are the total number of tests, not the number of affected students.
Here are the Richmond numbers, first as number of tests and second as percentage of the Virginia total.
The reason for the decrease in VAAP in Richmond will become apparent below.
Richmond has very nearly 2% of the students in Virginia. Thus, we see Richmond administering the VAAP at about three times the average rate and the VGLA at four or more times. In contrast, the statewide rate of VSEP testing is very low but Richmond's rate is still lower: zero.
For another view of the explosive growth of the VGLA testing, here are the tests per student data for Richmond and three peer jurisdictions by year.
For the VGLA in 2008-09, Richmond had the second highest participation rate in the state, 4.3 times the State average.
Here is the entire dataset as a graph:
Richmond is the gold bar there; the red bars from the left are Hampton, Norfolk, and Newport News. The State does not report the number when it is <10, so some of the zeros on the graph (and in the part of the table not reproduced above) will be small but nonzero.
"<" indicates fewer than ten.
As to the 2007 VAAP, the RPS test rate is 14th from the highest in the state (down from first in the previous year), 1.6 times the state average.
Here is the graph of the entire VAAP distribution
Again the gold bar is Richmond. The red bars, from the left, are Norfolk, Newport News, and Hampton.
These numbers are the sum of the counts for the tests and are not directly comparable to the 1% cap. VDOE's 2007-08 data show Richmond at 3.2 times the cap on the English test and 3.1 times the cap on the math test. Note also that the cap is on the number of passing scores, not the number of kids in the VAAP; a division that has a 70% pass rate in the VAAP can have just over 1.4% enrolled in the VAAP without hitting the 1% cap.
Note added on 8/15/09:
A VCU Study (link broken by VDOE Web page redesign; the Study appears to have been taken down) under a grant from VDOE found the math VGLA too easy by 23% and the English tests too easy by 50%. A skeptical reading of the Study suggests that those results may be understated.
Students in our high schools face a graduation requirement to pass six end of course SOL tests: two English, one math, one laboratory science, one history and social sciences, and one elective. That is, high school students who are candidates for a standard diploma will take on the average 1.5 end of course SOL tests per year. The VGLA stops at the eighth grade and the VSEP provides the end of course alternative.
Indeed, aside from the availability of VGLA to some LEP students for the English test, the eligibility for VSEP is the same as for VGLA: a disability that prevents the student from accessing the SOL test, even with accommodations. Aside from those LEP students, unless the student's IEP or 504 plan is changed between the eighth and ninth grades, the student who was eligible for VGLA in the eighth grade would almost always be eligible to participate in the VSEP when tested on the same subject in high school.
Yet the statewide number of VSEP tests is minuscule. Most divisions, notably including Richmond, have not administered even one test under the VSEP, despite a hefty and growing number of VGLA tests.
Doubtless some of the lag in the VSEP numbers comes from the sheer workload of starting up a complicated program. But the VGLA is nearly as complicated as the VSEP and the VGLA has grown like a melanoma. The explanation is more sinister than workload: The school divisions grade their own (pdf at p. 15) VGLA tests (VDOE's contractor scores the results) but the VDOE, through the contractor, grades the VSEP (pdf at p. 18). Thus, from the school division's viewpoint, the VGLA is an excellent tool for boosting AYP while the VSEP is not. As a lesser matter, the VSEP also takes more work because of the requirement for preparing an annual plan for State approval.
Note added on 7/6/09: I chatted today with a parent who offered an alternative view of the VSEP scandal. He says the tests in the VGLA are so easy that the kids cruise through and then hit a wall at the state-graded VSEP. So, he suggests, there is no VSEP because most of the kids couldn't pass it.
Note added on 8/18/09: The Times-Dispatch today quoted Harley Tomey, the RPS Special Ed director, for two explanations for the very small VSEP numbers. Both explanations try to put a reverse spin on the truth:
But don't take Tomey's or my word for it: Listen to the teachers (one of whom quoted a boss for the proposition that "My dog could pass VGLA").
Note added on 8/30/09: Often it's useful to go look at the actual requirement. The plans of which Tomey complains can be found here. The EOC English Reading plan, for example, is a five-page Word document that requires a description of the methods or products by which the student will demonstrate achievement of sixteen specific SOLs. The form has room for an answer of ca. 40 words in each category. In the context of an IEP or 540 Plan that specifies why the student cannot access the multiple-choice SOL test, this 640 word plan should not present a great burden. Yet Tomey says it is such a burden that no high school student in Richmond has yet participated in the VSEP, albeit RPS administered over 3000 VGLA tests in 2006-07.
And just think: We pay Tomey to peddle this malignant nonsense.
This perverse situation shows up in the graduation rate. The real "graduation rate" is the rate of regular (standard plus advanced) diplomas. The School Report Card and the Virginia Special Education Performance Reports disclose those rates for 2007-08:
Here we see that two-thirds of Richmond's students with disabilities are dropping out or receiving one of the less-than-standard degrees. These students do not have to pass the six end of course SOL's required for a standard diploma, so the lesser diploma becomes another perverse tool for boosting AYP. There are costs, however. This failure of Richmond's educational system leaves Richmond far short of the 45% graduation rate Special Education Performance Target under the IDEA. Even more to the point, it denies two-thirds of Richmond's high school special education students access to the VSEP as an alternative path to a regular diploma.
Note added on 7/16/09: As a further perverse incentive, students taking the VSEP are not counted toward either the participation (the 95% minimum) or proficiency (scoring) calculations for AYP because of the very small numbers. This shines a brutal spotlight on our schools: If they were focused on their students' needs, they would offer VSEP as a path to the standard diploma, whether or not the scores counted toward AYP. If they were cynically interested in improving AYP, and if they thought the VSEP test were easier than the SOL (or more subject to gaming), they would run up the numbers to the point where VDOE could validate the tests and count the scores. Yet in 2007-08 Richmond gave 3,391 VGLA tests and zero VSEP tests; statewide the schools administered 32,301 VGLA tests but only 253 VSEP. These numbers show beyond any quibble that (1) most schools are gaming the VGLA but realize they can't cook the VSEP, and (2) they are focused on AYP and not on the needs of their students.
Note added on 7/29/09: The graduation data on the VDOE Web site quantify the disgraceful effect of the easy VGLA and the absent VSEP. But first, a reminder as to the various kinds of diplomas and alternatives:
Richmond gives fewer advanced studies diplomas than average and, with the exception of ISAEP, more of all the others.
Notice that the modified standard and certificate rates took off at the same time as the VGLA. Overall, notice further Richmond's poor performance as to advanced studies diplomas, its overproduction of inferior degrees, and its total failure to offer the ISAEP "second chance."
Graph added 1/10/10:
To get some further context, here are the rates for these various outcomes (degrees as % of completers) in 2008 for Richmond and three peer jurisdictions:
As you see, these other old cities give standard diplomas at rates higher than the state average and higher even than Richmond; they issue advanced diplomas at lower than the state rate but at a higher rate than Richmond.
Richmond's very high rates of granting lesser degrees persists in all areas except the ISAEP. There, Richmond, being rid of some difficult kids, does not trouble itself to offer those kids a second chance that can't affect AYP. Otherwise, as we see here, all those VGLA kids have to go somewhere; all too often, "somewhere" is someplace other than a standard or advanced diploma.
We saw above that an unusually large percentage of Richmond's students with disabilities receive advanced diplomas; yet the data here show that Richmond's portion of all completers receiving advanced diplomas is only 58% of the state rate. That is, Richmond students do not earn advanced diplomas at nearly the same rate as students statewide but Richmond's students with disabilities earn an unusually large number of advanced diplomas. At the same time, Richmond's graduation rate (standard + advanced) for students with disabilities lags the state rate by 13%. The 13% wind up with inferior degrees.
All this, of course, is consistent with a focus on AYP but not on Richmond's students: Some of Richmond's VGLA students don't belong in the program and they prove it by obtaining advanced diplomas. Many of Richmond's large number of VGLA students need the VSEP; in its absence they disappear into the modified standard or other lesser degrees.
[End of 7/29 note.]
Note added on 8/5/09: Follow this link to see the effect of the missing VSEP on the on-time graduation rate.
The remedy, of course, is for our feckless State educational bureaucracy to rigorously audit the VGLA program of any division that does not offer a flourishing VSEP. Or, still more directly, have the contractor grade the VGLA as well as the VSEP tests. The current process of random audits (pdf at p. 20) is a blatant failure (for one thing the audits utterly fail to control the practice of testing and retesting until the student gets the right answer).
Alas, this systematic and perverse failure to offer VSEP is
not the end of the matter.
VAAP and the Cap
We asked VDOE about Richmond's ongoing high VAAP count. They replied in an email:
Beginning with the 2008 administration, the VDOE required school divisions that exceeded the one percent cap on the VAAP to overturn scores so that the pass rate did not exceed the cap.
That seems to say that, until 2008, VDOE ignored the federal law and allowed Richmond to report unlawful data.
To its belated credit, however, VDOE summarily denied RPS's inept 2008 and 2009 requests for an exception to the cap.
By letter of June 12, 2008, signed by Deputy Superintendent Brandon on behalf of Superintendent Jewell-Sherman, RPS said: "This letter is to request an exception for to the one percent cap . . ." In the third paragraph, these people who supervised the teachers who taught Richmond's kids continued their assault upon the Mother Tongue: "Additionally, students with disabilities tend to remain in RPS for there entire educational career . . ."(emphasis supplied in both cases).
The logic of the letter is even worse than the English. The letter argues that approximately 10,000 "school-age students" in Richmond are not enrolled in RPS. It then calculates that if these 10,000 were at RPS, the special education (i.e., kids with disabilities) percentage would drop from 19.4% to 13.3%. This assumes, incredibly and with no supporting data whatever, that none of the 10,000 has a handicap.
By letter of July 28, 2008, State Superintendent Cannaday denied the request, saying: "A three member review team examined your division's supporting documentation and determined that the data did not meet the conditions set forth in Superintendent's Memo. No. 12 . . . ."
Extra Credit Question: Does the Cannaday letter violate the requirement in the Administrative Process Act that a case decision inform the party "of the factual . . . basis for an adverse decision"?
By letter of January 30, 2009 from Superintendent Brandon, RPS requested relief from the cap for 2008-09. The English in this letter is better but the logic is not; the letter again assumes that the school-age children in Richmond who do not attend RPS are wholly without disabilities. VDOE rejected the request on April 9.
2009 letter also contains a remarkable admission (another hat tip to
The table indeed shows a 57% overall drop in the total VAAP participation, along with a 67% decrease in mental retardation handicaps in the VAAP:
Note: The data are for students taking the English and math tests; the available State data confirm that the VAAP numbers in Richmond are equal for the two tests and they are comfortably close to the Brandon numbers.
If, as Ms. Brandon wrote, Richmond could achieve this kind of decrease simply by "staff development" and "working with schools to ensure that IEP teams are following the VDOE VAAP participation document and are using the Learner Characteristics," we can be certain that the system earlier was overloaded with kids who had been misclassified, i.e., did not in fact have significant cognitive disabilities (Even I am not cynical enough to consider the alternative: That they kicked out kids who qualified for and needed the VAAP, solely to improve AYP. But then, maybe I am merely naive.).
What do you suppose happens to the kids from Richmond's shrinking VAAP? Either they go into the VGLA
or, if in high school, they contribute to RPS's atrocious graduation rate.
Thus, we see that even VDOE's belated and user friendly enforcement of the 1% cap can produce a 57% shrinkage of the VAAP in Richmond in three years. We are left to wonder why VDOE is not doing something about the VGLA/VSEP.
The data support RPS's assertion that Richmond has an unusually large number of kids with disabilities. Unfortunately, the same data suggest that RPS invented many of those disabilities (as they admit they did under the VAAP).
For a start, here from the State Web site are the 2007 counts of students with disabilities, by division, expressed as a percentage of the 2007 Fall membership.
Richmond again is the yellow bar and Norfolk is red. The green, from the left, are Chesapeake, Hanover, Henrico, and Chesterfield.
Looking at the top of the list, it might appear that, aside from Richmond and Chesapeake, the large numbers are peculiar to small school divisions. A graph of %disabilities v. enrollment provides a more nuanced picture:
Richmond is the gold square; Norfolk is the red diamond. The green diamonds are, from the left, Hanover, Chesapeake, Henrico, and Chesterfield. Having big, old Fairfax on the graph squashes the data; if we expand the axis to push Fairfax (and the lesser large divisions, Prince William, Va. Beach, Chesterfield, and Loudoun) off to the right, we see that the small divisions come in both high and low. Of course, more scatter is to be expected when the numbers are small. Interestingly, the middle-size divisions (ca. 10,000) tend to report low numbers of disabilities. In any event, Richmond and Chesapeake are plainly unnatural.
BTW: The low-lying points are Clarke (2,226, 7.3%), York (12,844, 9.6%), and Stafford (26,594, 8.9%).
The least squares fit tells us that the reported percentage decreases by about 0.01 per thousand increase in enrollment but the R2 tells us that the two variables are essentially uncorrelated.
A graph comparing Richmond and three similarly old, urban jurisdictions with the state average emphasizes that Richmond is unusual among its peers.
The State data further break out the disability counts by disability. Here are those counts, again expressed as percentages of the Fall membership:
As you see, the counts in the four divisions are similar to the statewide
counts, except that Richmond is high (by over a third) in specific learning
disabilities, very high (double the state rate) in emotional disturbance and
developmental delay, and astoundingly high (over three times the State rate) in
Before going much further, we should account for the peculiar
racial composition of Richmond's public schools: Blacks are 20% of the
population, 57% of the
population, and 88% of the
membership in RPS. Fortunately, the data on the VDOE Web site give the
school populations by race and sex and Excel's pivot table quickly
enough breaks that out by division. Mr. Raskopf of VDOE provided the
disability data (pdf) for 2008, broken out for each division by
disability, sex, and race. So let's look at the black students.
Before going much further, we should account for the peculiar racial composition of Richmond's public schools: Blacks are 20% of the Virginia population, 57% of the Richmond population, and 88% of the membership in RPS. Fortunately, the data on the VDOE Web site give the school populations by race and sex and Excel's pivot table quickly enough breaks that out by division. Mr. Raskopf of VDOE provided the statewide disability data (pdf) for 2008, broken out for each division by disability, sex, and race. So let's look at the black students.
We saw above that the disability rates in Richmond, the State, and
three older, urban jurisdictions reveal a very high rate in Richmond.
The same data, by sex, for the black students show the very same pattern:
We saw above that the disability rates in Richmond, the State, and three older, urban jurisdictions reveal a very high rate in Richmond. The same data, by sex, for the black students show the very same pattern:
Or, combining the two graphs:
Or, combining the two graphs:
As you see, Virginia's school systems find over twice as many
disabilities among their black male students as among the black females.
The same is true in Richmond. In Richmond, however, for both males and
females the numbers are much larger than for the state or the other old,
urban jurisdictions. Plainly something is going on in Richmond.
As you see, Virginia's school systems find over twice as many disabilities among their black male students as among the black females. The same is true in Richmond. In Richmond, however, for both males and females the numbers are much larger than for the state or the other old, urban jurisdictions. Plainly something is going on in Richmond.
For another look, here is the 2008 number of black males with disabilities
in each school division expressed as a percentage of the number of black
For another look, here is the 2008 number of black males with disabilities in each school division expressed as a percentage of the number of black males.
Richmond is the gold square; the red diamonds from the left are Newport
News, Hampton, and Norfolk; the green diamond is Chesapeake.
Richmond is the gold square; the red diamonds from the left are Newport News, Hampton, and Norfolk; the green diamond is Chesapeake.
Again, we see the expected scatter where the membership (here of black
males) is small; again we see a trend to about the average as the number
of students in the division increases; again we see Richmond and Chesapeake
sitting far above the trend.
Again, we see the expected scatter where the membership (here of black males) is small; again we see a trend to about the average as the number of students in the division increases; again we see Richmond and Chesapeake sitting far above the trend.
Indeed, the Richmond numbers may be even more aberrant than they
Richmond is utterly failing to find any VSEP-eligible disabilities in its
Indeed, the Richmond numbers may be even more aberrant than they appear because Richmond is utterly failing to find any VSEP-eligible disabilities in its high schools.
One last datum on the question of race: Let's compare the disability
rates for black males with those for white males:
One last datum on the question of race: Let's compare the disability rates for black males with those for white males:
Or, combining the two graphs:
Or, combining the two graphs:
Richmond Is Abusing the Process
The Richmond data are plainly abnormal .
.The reason could be a pattern and frequency of disabilities in Richmond's schoolchildren remarkably different from those in other old cities and the state at large. Or it could be RPS is cooking the numbers. William of Occam and experience elsewhere would counsel the latter explanation.
Likewise, Richmond's recent success in reducing its
VAAP numbers, particularly the mental retardation count, suggests that the
count is high because of the counters, not the counted.
That explanation also is consistent with the reports
we hear from some
teachers that too many school divisions are prone to slap the "disabled" label on kids who are
disruptive or slow to learn. It also is congruent with the division's incentive to get those kids tested to a less stringent
standard than the regular SOL test. The explanation also fits the
The local division gets to grade the VGLA while VDOE's
contractor grades the
The explanation also fits the grading scheme: The local division gets to grade the VGLA while VDOE's contractor grades the SOL
In light of Richmond's history of gaming the system (suspending students at a scandalous rate, stealing SOL scores from Maggie Walker, ignoring the truancy laws, encouraging cheating by the teachers), it should be no surprise that RPS would invent disabilities. Moreover, in light of VDOE's history of acquiescence with Richmond's cheating (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, and here) and it's opaque and corrupt accreditation system, it is no surprise that VDOE is not exercising its considerable authority to regulate RPS.
Indeed, aside from a manifestly ineffective system of random audits (pdf at p. 15) of the VGLA and and a blinkered look for disparities under the IDEA, VDOE is not even looking to see whether RPS is mishandling Richmond's schoolchildren.
Let's start with the authority of the Board of Education:
VDOE provides annual training to school divisions on the VGLA. The training includes criteria for students' participation in the VGLA as well as information on collection of evidence and scoring. The training is provided to division directors of testing and directors of special education and others at the discretion of the school division. The department is currently reviewing statewide data and is planning specific technical assistance to school divisions that are significantly above or below the state average. This assistance will include strategies for reviewing local VGLA participation rates and demographic factors.
So, they are "planning" technical assistance, not delivering it. That assistance, when it arrives, will include "strategies for reviewing" participation rates, not an audit to be followed by a demand to stop gaming the system.
It gets worse: Even where VDOE is required to look for problems they are looking with their blinkers on.
The regulations under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") require the State to have policies and procedures to prevent "inappropriate overidentification" (sic) of disabilities if the basis is race or ethnicity. More specifically, 34 CFR 300.173 requires
The State must have in effect, consistent with the purposes of this part and with section 618(d) of the [Individuals with Disabilities Education] Act, policies and procedures designed to prevent the inappropriate overidentification or disproportionate representation by race and ethnicity of children as children with disabilities, including children with disabilities with a particular impairment described in §300.8.
and 34 CFR 300.646(a) provides
Each State that receives assistance under Part B of the Act . . . must provide for the collection and examination of data to determine if significant disproportionality based on race and ethnicity is occurring in the State and the [school division]s of the State with respect to—
(1) The identification of children as children with disabilities, including the identification of children as children with disabilities in accordance with a particular impairment described in section 602(3) of the Act;
(2) The placement in particular educational settings of these children; and
(3) The incidence, duration, and type of disciplinary actions, including suspensions and expulsions.
The Virginia reports responding to this mandate are here. For 2007-08, the Richmond report says that there was no disproportionate representation in special education and no disproportionate representation in specific disability categories. Read on down the report and you'll see this: "Data Source: School division submission."
More specifically, the Annual Performance Report for 2007-2008 (pdf) to the USDOE says VDOE performed a "level one" data analysis in six disability categories. That found 101 of the 132 school divisions with possible disproportionate representation. Then:
The specific elements of the review are here (pdf, pp 10). In short, Richmond merely had to say that its classifications were regular on the face. Thus, when Richmond flunked the level one screen in 2006 and 2007, there was no requirement that Richmond (or anybody else!) audit the process to show that the underlying data were valid.
So, if the numbers look bad, VDOE in effect measures whether a school division has its thumb on the scale by having that division do a record review to be sure they subtracted the tare. And, it seems, they accept the answer without any independent verification of the response, despite data in Richmond's case that fairly shout that something is amiss.
BTW: The numbers do look bad. Here, for example, is an excerpt from the VDOE's 2007 level one screen:
And, aside from its blinkered review of the IDEA data, we saw above that VDOE is doing next to nothing about Richmond's obvious abuse of the VGLA/VSEP.
Indeed, it is clear that VDOE has adopted as much as it can of "don't ask, don't tell." As with the 1% cap, when something is in the public record they sooner or later have to tell. But it's clear that, unless the Governor or USDOE cracks the whip, they won't be asking about this lousy situation in Richmond or about those funny numbers in Chesapeake and Stafford.
So, as I said at the top: Richmond is abusing the process for identifying and testing kids with disabilities. VDOE is letting them get away with it.
Your tax dollars at work.
Note added on 1/31/10: For reasons that are not yet clear, VDOE performed an audit of the Buchanan County schools last October. The results here show a shocking and deliberate abuse of the VGLA testing.