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.
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.
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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.