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MEMORANDUM

TO:           Carol

FROM:      John

DATE:       June 6, 2011

RE:           Where Have All the Students Gone?

On June 4, 2011, the Times-Dispatch published an editorial, camouflaged as a news story, that overlooked the relevant facts and pronounced the Richmond Public Schools a “challenge.”  Your very nice blog posting of June 6 parted the sea of murk created by the RPS’ data fabrication and by the RT-D’s casual embrace of the RPS’ fabulism.  Here are some more facts the RT-D overlooked.

The VDOE Web site now has a front end to the SOL database.  From that source, here are Richmond’s 2010 reading and math scores by grade.  Because the difficulty of the tests can vary from grade to grade, the scores here are expressed as % of the State average score for each test:

This raises two questions: What is going on in the middle schools (grades 6-8) and why are the End of Course scores so much improved over the lousy middle school results?

These data do not answer the first question.  They merely quantify what we all know: Richmond’s middle schools are doing a terrible job.  In contrast, the enrollment data by grade lead to an answer for the second question.

Let’s start with the Richmond and Virginia ADM (bureaucratese for “enrollment”) by grade, expressed as percentage of the first grade ADM.

Notice that the statewide enrollment is close to flat from first to eighth grade.  Richmond, in contrast, loses over 20% of its enrollment by the eighth grade.  These data do not tell us whether this decrease reflects the traditional flight to the counties.  In my neighborhood, at least, most of the flight takes place before the first grade, so the Richmond decrease may reflect some other demographic trend.

To the point here, both Richmond and the State show the “ninth grade hump” in enrollment.  An article in School Administrator says the hump is a national phenomenon:

Increasing attrition of students between grades 9 and 10 and higher enrollments of students in grade 9 relative to grade 8 reflects the fact that more students nationally are being flunked to repeat grade 9.

This implies, but does not say, that there is a lot of social promotion going on in the elementary and middle schools.

To get a clearer picture of the ninth grade hump here in Richmond, let’s recast the data as a percentage of the eighth grade ADM.

Here we see that

1.      the Richmond hump is almost twice the State average, and

2.      the Richmond falloff from grade 9 to 12 is more than twice the statewide attrition. 

The implications are

1.      Richmond’s middle schools are not preparing their students for high school, and

2.      Richmond’s high schools are suffering (more likely causing) an outlandish dropout rate. 

Therein lies the explanation for the improved End of Course scores: The poor performers are gone so the scores improve.

Being gone, the poor performers of course cannot graduate.

In the view of the mystery editorial writer for the RT-D, the Richmond schools present a “challenge.”  That can be true only to someone who ignores the data.  In fact, the Richmond schools are helping to generate a huge, uneducated underclass, at great cost to the kids themselves and to our society.  

This is a disaster, not a challenge.

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