Cranky Strikes Again, Shows Rampant Cheating in Richmond Schools

I have been chronicling the administrative-cheating scandals in the Richmond Public School system, noting with each post that the situation is even worse than it appeared the previous time I wrote. Now it appears that administrative cheating is even more systemic than even I had suspected. In a statistical tour de force, John Butcher, writing in Cranky’s Blog, leaves readers with the impression that the graduation criteria have been so thoroughly corrupted that the numbers are meaningless.

Butcher starts with the common-sense (and incontestable) observation that economically advantaged (referred to as Non-Economically Disadvantaged, or Not ED) students pass the SOLs at higher rates and graduate from high school at higher rates on average than Economically Disadvantaged (ED) students. No one disputes this generality. Indeed, the statement is a truism. The disparity in outcomes is routinely cited in the debate about the inequity in racial outcomes.

Incredibly, the pattern doesn’t apply at Richmond’s five mainstream high schools. At four high schools, economically disadvantaged students graduate at higher rates than their Not ED counterparts. The only exception to the pattern is Armstrong High School, where the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) conducted a course schedule audit in 2016, bringing attention to the administrative-cheating scandal that has been brewing ever since. The ensuing crackdown at Armstrong, Butcher argues, had a “salutary effect” there but had no impact on the other four high schools.

Butcher reminds us of the many ways in which administrators rubber-stamp student work and manipulate the system to boost graduation rates:

  • Bell schedules did not meet the number of hours required by the Standards of Accreditation.
  • Verified credits did not populate in the transcripts.
  • Attendance data was incorrect throughout the transcripts.
  • Some students received one credit for classes that should not have carried credit.
  • Some students received two credits for classes that should have carried one credit, such as Career and Technical Education (CTE)classes.
  • Credit was incorrectly given for what appear to be locally developed elective courses without evidence of approval by Richmond Public Schools Board.
  • Credit was incorrectly given for middle school courses ineligible for high school credit.
  • Course sequencing issues were identified.
  • Academic and Career Plans lacked meaningful content.

Now, let’s see how the implementation of these tricks has affected graduation rates. The graph above compares graduation rates vs. English SOL pass rates for Richmond’s five main high schools. Astonishingly, Economically Disadvantaged students graduated at higher rates than better-off students at Marshall, Jefferson, Huguenot, and Wythe high schools in 2018. Only Armstrong, which had been subject to a crackdown, reflected the normal pattern in which better-off students out-performed the ED students.

And how does Butcher know that the crackdown was the decisive factor at Armstrong? Because, as seen in the chart below, Armstrong followed the same bizarre pattern of EDs out-performing Non-EDs in 2014 and 2105. The pattern began to shift in 2016, the year of the crackdown, and reverted to the normal, statewide pattern by 2018.

Consult Butcher’s post to see the full array of charts and graphs.

Testing and graduation rates at Richmond Public Schools have been thoroughly and systematically corrupted. The situation is, as I have suggested previously, the biggest race-related scandal in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Thousands of African-American students have been deprived of a decent education and/or lulled into thinking they have received a decent education. The cause is not “institutional racism” or “underfunding” but massive administrative corruption.

Butcher raises a bigger issue. The rot, he suggests, extends to the state Board of Education.

Our Board of “Education” has created a haven for cheating high schools:

  • They don’t look at their mountain of graduation data until after they review a school that has been denied accreditation (if they even look then), and
  • They now have rigged the system so it is almost impossible for a school to be denied accreditation.

… Why did VDOE ignore its mountain of data and do nothing in Richmond until (1) Armstrong was denied accreditation (under the old, now replaced, system), and (2) our Superintendent invited them in to the other high schools? Why are they not looking for this pattern at high schools in other divisions?

I think the answer is at least nonfeasance and probably malfeasance. It’s past time to fire the Board and appoint people who will actually do the job.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


7 responses to “Cranky Strikes Again, Shows Rampant Cheating in Richmond Schools”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    Probably no worse than colleges do for their sports programs, eh?

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Referring to your earlier post, it seems to me that the issue of abysmally low graduation numbers was not a case of the kids being denied a decent education, but of incompetence on the part of the school system. The probems cited in the Free Press article did not relate to the kids not graduating because of failing the classes, but because of administrative screw-ups in their transcripts that were not the fault of the students. To make matters worse, the students were not told of the problems until now, at the last minute, meaning they have no means of correcting the problems, except to attend summer classes or classes next fall. It is likely that most of those students will not do that, thus missing out on a diploma. You call this “administrative cheating”. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and call it incompetence.

    What does worry me about John Butcher’s numbers is the disparity between the English: Reading Pass rates and the graduation rates. In three of the schools, the reading pass rate was much lower than the graduation rate, regardless of economic advantage. Even in the two exceptions, Marshall and Jefferson, the Reading pass rates were 15-30 points lower than the graduation rates. That tells me that some kids are being pushed through to graduation, although their reading skills are marginal. I do not know what the Reading pass threshold is, but I have a feeling that it is relatively low. No one should get a high school diploma if he/she cannot read and comprehend at a reasonable level. Otherwise, a high school diploma does not have any worth. To be fair to these students, the failure to teach them to read happened many years ago and, by the time they got to their junior and senior years in high school, it was too late. That is the real scandal and, as Jim says, that is what the activists should be up in arms about.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      I agree with Dick that K-12 schools must ensure that every HS graduate has basic skills in reading, writing and math. How the devil can a person who cannot do these basic things ever have a chance at success as an adult?

      And as he notes, this instruction must come in the early years of grade school. Schools with high numbers of low-income kids get extra money from both the feds and the Commonwealth. What do they spend this money on? It should be spent on hiring extra reading and math teachers. A lot can be done when extra instruction is given in the primary grades.

      There should be a state investigation of how Title 1 schools spend their extra money and what results the additional resources provide.

      And we need to reintroduce shame back into society. People who take taxpayer dollars and don’t produce (principals, specialists, superintendents, etc.) should have shame for their failures.

  3. Great article, but to be technical, it is not possible to “Statistically Prove” anything. Rather, there can be statistical evidence, there can be high statistical probability, etc., but proofs are left for mathematics and philosophy….

    1. Fair enough. I’ve modified the headline.

  4. Comment posted on behalf of Charles Pyle, VDOE director of media relations:

    VDOE’s monitoring and auditing powers are defined by state and federal laws and regulations. The accreditation and accountability system provides opportunities for the department to examine local practices and their fidelity to the state Board of Education’s regulations. It was through just such an examination conducted by the department that the issues in Richmond related to student transcripts and the awarding of credit came to light.

  5. musingsfromjanus Avatar

    A really great post. I would be interested in a follow-up with more on the causes and remedies.
    Is this a problem of Board members not doing their job or something deeper such as the notion that applying standards which generate poorer results for some groups are unfair to those groups?
    And how do we get new Board members. This is a process I’ll bet most don’t understand, follow or engage in unless they are activists.

Leave a Reply