SOL Scores


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SOL Scores

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The VDOE has a lovely front end on their SOL database that allows both summary and detailed examination of the scores, going back to 2005. 

As to Richmond, the data raise the question why the School Board settled with the (now former) Superintendent instead of firing her for incompetence and/or malfeasance.  As well, the data ask why the new Superintendent (since January, 2014) has not managed to correct his predecessor's mistakes.


Math Disaster Festers

After I pointed out the cancerous growth of the VGLA testing and its use to cheat on the SOL testing, notably in Richmond, the State Superintendent's belatedly expressed "concern" about abuse of the VGLA and VDOE set out to eliminate the VGLA.  In 2012, the new math tests, responding to a prodding from the General Assembly, mostly eliminated the VGLA as to math. 

As expected, the tougher new tests produced a statewide drop in the scores in 2012. 

The division average started back up in 2013; Richmond waited another year.  Then, this year Richmond fell back.

The division scores minus the State average give a measure of each division's performance in relative terms.

Richmond dropped from sixth from the bottom in 2015 to second in '16.

Lancaster County  57.3%
Richmond City  58.4%
Martinsville City  60.2%
Greensville County  62.4%
Petersburg City  62.6%
Danville City  62.6%
Brunswick County  63.0%
Lunenburg County  64.0%
Essex County  64.8%
Charles City County  66.9%
State 79.9%


English Disaster

As with the math test a year earlier, the new reading tests dropped scores statewide in 2013; Richmond scores plummeted.

Versus the state, Richmond has improved since then, but slacked off this year and still grossly underperforms.

Richmond had the second lowest pass rate on the reading tests in the state in 2015; it managed to do worse in 2016.

Richmond City  59.7%
Petersburg City  60.4%
Greensville County  61.3%
Martinsville City  62.9%
Danville City  63.8%
Brunswick County  65.2%
Hopewell City  65.3%
Buckingham County  66.5%
Harrisonburg City  66.6%
Franklin City  67.8%
State 79.6%


The Explanation You Won't Hear from the (ex)Superintendent

The math scores dropped statewide in 2012 (and dove in Richmond) because HB304 made it tougher to use the VGLA to cheat.  The new reading test in 2013 produced a huge drop in the Richmond scores.  In both cases, the Richmond scores plunged almost certainly because the new tests deprived RPS of the VGLA cheat. 

There was something else going on.  We heard tales in 2012 that the Counties had banded together to prepare for the new math test but that Richmond had done essentially nothing.  The scores above are consistent with that: The tough new test dropped scores all over but the Counties did fine v. the State average; indeed, Hanover improved.

We heard the same stories in 2013 about the new reading test and, again, the scores are consistent with County preparation and Richmond lethargy.  To the latter point, I received an interesting email from a Richmond teacher (bowdlerized here to protect that teacher's identity):

. . . Richmond had several after school meetings that were supposed to help prepare teachers for the test. I went to all of these meetings (both in math and reading) and they were very poorly attended and they weren't helpful. . . They were mandatory, but you could tell RPS was just trying to cover their butts. That's the way it felt.

The reading test was hard. . . .

I am shocked that no one at RPS created practice online tests to help the students study and prepare in any subject, since we tested online for the first time.

The plan was always to blame the online test for the drop in scores since we hadn't taken them on the computers before.

As far as the VGLA stuff goes, I think that hit us hard. . . .

More recently we learn that the administration of the former Superintendent did not update the curriculum for the new tests.  In light of that, the nose dive in scores is no surprise.


Some Details

The front end to the SOL database makes it much easier to extract data. 

Those data cast a clear light on the effect of Richmond's VGLA cheating.  We start with the reading pass rates by year.  Here are the Richmond and state data for students with and without disabilities; the second graph shows the Richmond scores minus the state scores, both with and without disabilities.


Notice that Richmond students w/o disabilities have consistently performed well below the state average but its students with disabilities performed well above the state average for students with disabilities until the new tests in 2013.   

To the point here, Richmond's kids without disabilities underperformed the state average while the kids with disabilities outperformed the statewide average for students with disabilities.  Until 2012, that is, when the new test stopped Richmond's abuse of the VGLA and took the Richmond scores for students with disabilities below the state scores.  Then those kids with disabilities (and certainly some without who had been misclassified to improve their scores), who had coasted through on the bogus VGLA tests, were faced with real SOL tests.  Of course they performed badly, and kept on doing so.

The new math test in 2012, with no VGLA (except for LEP students), confirms this picture.  Again we see Richmond's non-disabled students before 2013 generally underperforming the state average for students w/o disabilities but its students with disabilities outperforming the state average for students with disabilities.  But the 2013 plunge in Richmond's scores, led by the students with disabilities, gives away the game.


The drops in scores for students without disabilities, in 2013 for the reading test and in 2012 for the math test, are consistent with the poor preparation, mentioned above, for the new tests. 

These disasters are the product of the Brandon years:

Aug-02 Assoc. Superintendent
May-07 Deputy Superintendent
Aug-08 Interim Superintendent
Feb-09 Superintendent
May-13 Resigned

Under her watch, performance went from bad to appalling:

I don't think the (ex)Superintendent should merely have been fired; I think she should have been sued for deliberately harming these kids.

But, then, our current Superintendent (since January, 2014) has not fixed anything, either.


Don't Blame the Kids

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 Virginia division five-subject pass rates as a function of the percentage of students whom VDOE identifies as "economically disadvantaged."

The data give a decent least squares fit (R2 = 44%), suggesting that the ED percentage indeed correlates with the scores (recalling, always, that correlation is not causation).  On this graph, Richmond is the gold square (Richmond had the lowest 5-subject score in the Commonwealth this year).  The red diamonds are, from the left, Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk.  The blue diamonds are, from the left, West Point, Scott, Wise, and Norton.

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

Focusing more narrowly on the divisions with >62% economically disadvantaged students, we see:

Division Name %ED 5-subject
Northampton County  79% 69%
Norfolk City  75% 73%
Harrisonburg City  72% 72%
Sussex County  71% 76%
Greensville County  71% 68%
Richmond City  70% 59%
Westmoreland County  69% 71%
Buchanan County  69% 78%
Essex County  69% 70%
Hopewell City  68% 71%
Cumberland County  68% 74%
Martinsville City  67% 63%
Highland County  66% 77%
Lancaster County  66% 65%
Portsmouth City  66% 72%
Norton City  65% 85%
Prince Edward County  64% 71%
Grayson County  63% 79%
Galax City  63% 75%
Buckingham County  63% 74%
Newport News City  63% 74%
Lunenburg County  63% 73%

On the graph, Richmond is the gold square; Newport News (on the left) and Norfolk are red. 

In this group of divisions with challenging student populations, Richmond was outperformed -- for the most part, considerably outperformed -- by all the other divisions.

In short, again: Socioeconomics does not provide an excuse, much less a reason, for Richmond's lousy performance.


Costly Failure

VDOE posts disbursements (and other) data in the Superintendent's Annual Report.  The 2016 data won't be posted until sometime this spring so we're stuck with the 2015 numbers.

To get a bang per buck measure, here are the 2016 5-subject division pass rates plotted v. the 2015 disbursements.

Notes: The disbursement totals do not include contingency, facilitiy, or debt service spending.  Portsmouth was missing from the SOL data.

The least squares fitted line suggests that division pass rates decrease with increasing disbursements but the 3% R2 tells us that the two variables are almost entirely uncorrelated.

Richmond is the gold square.  The red diamonds are the peer cities, from the left Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk.  Charles City is the green circle.

The blue diamonds are the outperforming divisions, West Point on the left and Falls Church.

The division average expenditure is $11,764 per student; the average pass rate, 79%.

Here are the low scoring divisions:

Division $/ADM Average
Richmond City   $14,833 59.0%
Petersburg City   $12,309 60.1%
Martinsville City   $12,159 62.8%
Lancaster County   $13,568 64.6%
Danville City   $11,391 66.3%
Greensville County   $10,784 67.7%
Northampton County   $12,564 69.2%
Essex County   $11,509 69.7%
Brunswick County   $11,866 69.7%
Lynchburg City   $12,135 69.9%
Average  $11,764 79%

Here are the big spenders:

Division $/ADM Average
Highland County   $21,473 77%
Arlington County   $19,255 86%
Surry County   $19,193 77%
Falls Church City   $19,095 92%
Bath County   $18,592 81%
Alexandria City   $17,843 71%
Charlottesville City   $17,168 76%
Sussex County   $16,488 76%
Franklin County   $15,068 81%
Richmond City   $14,833 59%
Fairfax County   $14,154 86%
Charles City County   $14,046 72%
Average  $11,764 79%

And here are the high scorers:

Division $/ADM Average
West Point   $12,573 94%
Falls Church City   $19,095 92%
Poquoson City   $10,058 90%
Wise County   $10,011 89%
York County   $10,403 89%
Loudoun County   $12,753 88%
Botetourt County   $10,680 88%
Scott County   $  9,822 88%
Roanoke County   $  9,744 87%
Salem City   $10,942 87%
Hanover County   $  9,797 87%
Arlington County   $19,255 86%
Average  $11,764 79%


Don't Take My Word for It

Steve Fuhrmann of Charles City points out that two studies, from opposite ends of the political spectrum, reach pretty much the same conclusion as I do: Richmond is spending a lot of money and obtaining inferior results.

A 2008 study, based on 2005 data, from the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, (link now broken) ranks the Virginia divisions by per student expenditure per average SOL point.  The study uses raw costs except that it corrects for the higher costs of the NoVa jurisdictions.  On that scale, Richmond is 7th from the most expensive, with a $160.54 cost that is over twice the $77.68 cost of the most effective division, Poquoson.

A more recent study from the Center for American Progress, based on 2008 data, rated school districts for productivity after controlling for cost of living and student needs.  Their interactive site (link now broken) shows Richmond at the bulls eye in the high cost, low production quadrant:


Cheating the Kids to get Better Scores

So, in Richmond we have very high cost and lousy performance.  The other Bad News is that Richmond has been inflating the SOL scores by getting rid of a third of the kids who enter high school.  The enrollment pattern by grade gives away the game:


(Data normalized to the 9th grade membership).  Just looking at the raw enrollments, the State enrollment at Grade 12 is down 13% from Grade 9.  Richmond, however, is down over twice as much, 30%.  In short, Richmond is culling the kids to improve their test scores. 

Viewed in terms of the cohort dropout rate, Richmond is third worst in the state and more than double the state average:

Division DO Rate
Hopewell City 13.3
Brunswick County 11.9
Richmond City 11.9
Fredericksburg City 11.6
Dickenson County 11.5
Alexandria City 11.4
Nottoway County 10.4
Roanoke City 10.3
Franklin City 10.1
Covington City 10
State 5.2

Richmond cohort data broken out by high school:

Armstrong, with 40 dropouts, accounts for almost a quarter of Richmond's 169 total.

Too many of those 169 will turn into people you would not want to meet in a dark alley.

And here are the corresponding federally reported graduation rates, juxtaposed with VDOE's inflated "On-Time" rate.

On the subject of "inflated," VDOE reports the Maggie Walker graduates at schools they do not attend.  The actual Richmond graduation rates are several percent lower than reported above.

The 20.1% difference between the Richmond and state graduation rates amounts to 229 kids.  The failure of those children to receive standard or advanced diplomas can't be expected to help anything beyond the population of Mayor Jones' new jail (that already is too small).

And Those Few Who Do Graduate . . .

The new Federal data, part of USDOE's reporting requirements under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, include data beyond just a less dishonest graduation rate: Virginia must report the numbers of students in the cohort who, having graduated with a regular diploma, enter a public, private, or 2-year college or university (Institution of Higher Education, "IHE" in FederalSpeak) within sixteen months of graduation.  Here are the data for the 4-year cohort graduating in 2015, expressed as a percentage of the cohort:

I trust you got that: Even with Richmond's reporting of Maggie Walker students at schools they don't attend (you can be sure those MLW kids will graduate and do well afterward: average SAT scores in 2013 were 713 verbal, 692 math; average scholarship offer was $72,000 per student), the diploma graduates of RPS are much less successful than the state norm at getting into public universities and even community colleges. 

Then we have the 2012 high school graduates (again with real diplomas) who enrolled in a Virginia IHE within sixteen months of graduation and who completed at least one year's worth of college credit applicable to a degree within two years of enrollment in the IHE.

One can only conclude that Richmond is giving diplomas to a number of students who would not receive them in other divisions. 

Even more outrageously, as we have seen, Richmond has been boosting its scores by abusing the process for identifying and testing kids with disabilities.  To the good, the new math test in 2012 ended the abuse as to math (with a brutal cost to Richmond's scores, as set out above); the new English test in 2013 finished the job.  Richmond now has the second lowest math and lowest reading pass rates in Virginia.

So there you have it: High cost and lousy pass rates and poor performance by those who do graduate.  And cheating to boost the numbers.

Your tax dollars at "work."


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Last updated 09/21/16
Please send questions or comments to John Butcher