Educational Over-Achievers and Under-Performers

Two days ago I published a data series ranking the performance of Virginia’s school systems based upon a composite score for the Standards of Learning pass rates in all grades. While interesting, the list did not lend itself to any policy conclusions. Under-performing school systems can always say, “It’s not our fault. So many of our kids come from dysfunctional families. We’re educators, not social workers.”

“In an ideal world,” I concluded, “there would be some way to measure ‘educational value added’ so we could determine whether educators were doing a good job or not.”

Enter John Butcher, a long-time reader and once-in-a-blue-moon contributor. The usual proxy measure for socio-economic status is the percentage of students eligible for for free and reduced lunches. He took the liberty of mapping those percentages against the composite scores in the previously published blog post. Here are the results:

Graphic credit: John Butcher
Graphic credit: John Butcher

Clearly, there is a significant relationship between socio-economic status and SOL pass rates. But just as clearly, other factors come into play. Diamonds above the gold trendline perform better than expected, while those below the line perform worse.

The red diamonds represent (from the left) Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk and Petersburg. The gold square is the City of Richmond, which not only has the lowest pass rate in the state but grossly under-performs the trendline. The yellow diamond is Danville, which shows that “a city with a large F/R percentage can considerably outperform the trendline.” The green diamond is Charles City County, “which took a real tumble with the new math and reading tests.”

On the theory that variation above and below the trendline is probably related to either (1) spending levels or (2) the quality of school management and governance, I suspect readers would like to know whether their school systems perform above or below expectations.

Now, if only I had the technology that would allow readers to identify each diamond by rolling over the cursor. Does anyone have that capability or know where I can obtain it?

Update: Butcher informs me, based upon communication with a source of his at the Charles City County school board, that Charles City might have supplied erroneous data to the state.


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6 responses to “Educational Over-Achievers and Under-Performers”

  1. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Interesting study. Are there studies of the performance of students attending in inter-city Catholic Schools as contrasted with their peers I wonder?

  2. The state has a “value-added” tool to determine how much a child has progressed by establishing their status at the beginning of the year and then taking short assessments throughout the year.

    Interestingly enough, It is a product of UVA and it’s called PALS –
    Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening

    The Early Intervention Reading Initiative was initially established by the 1997 Virginia Acts of Assembly. Monies were allocated to help participating school divisions identify children in need of additional instruction and to provide early intervention services to those students with diagnosed needs. School divisions that chose to participate were able to implement the initiative in either kindergarten or first grade. In the 2000-2001 legislative session, the Governor and General Assembly provided funding to expand the EIRI through third grade.”

    That would be Mr. Mark Warner who was Gov – criticized for tax increases to support education.

    but I digress.. if you read the early intervention narrative above and then go to the PALS website – you’ll see that PALS is very granular and assess kids at multiple grade levels and even within a subject such as reading which has a dozen or more sub-categories where kids needs are quickly identified.

    throughout the school years – each of these sub-categories is re-assessed to see if they are making progress – and an overall grade level is assessed.

    For instance, if they started second grade they would be (if on grade level) 2.0 and by the middle of the year they would be expected to be 2.5.

    If they are not then they receive targeted instruction in the areas where they are not on grade level.

    Classroom teachers, by the way, are being held accountable via PALS for keeping their kids on grade level and teachers that are not are looked at for remedial help – because – in some classrooms – if a teacher has a large class and/or an inordinate number of kids who are from demographically disadvantaged circumstances, it may be more than even a “good” teacher can cope with.

    A “good” teacher can handle a certain class size and within that class size a certain number of kids who need extra help – as well as a certain number of other kids who are disruptive and require extra time to manage – taking time away from instruction for the others.

    There is much going on in Va with PALS that few are familiar with – that are good and moving kids forward but the biggest problem that we have is the anti-teacher, anti-public school forces…. who believe that private, choice and charter schools will do a better job – without virtually a scintilla of evidence other than anecdotal.

    I’d be entirely in favor of private, choice and private schools – actually getting public funding – if they met the same standards that public schools have to meet.

    but the current critics are sound-bite based more than anything else but they do constitute a real threat to education.

    1. It sounds like PALS has a lot of potential. I wonder if has made a difference in SOL scores for grades 1-3. If it has, perhaps we should expand the program (using funds found by shuttering programs that don’t work.)

      1. I support PALS because it does continuous assessments not high-stakes assessments and it is very granular and gets to specific issues within reading – as most of us think of reading as one skill and in fact, it’s a dozen and more sub-skills and inability to perform any one (or more) of them can lead to bigger problems.

        In terms of “shuttering” programs – I don’t know of any in pre-K and K-3.
        the “hit” on Head Start – was not that it doesn’t work but that the scores don’t “stick” in the follow-on grades – and that is true. If you don’t continue the regime for the at-risk kids and stay up on it- they will fall back.

        What I would do is not shutter anything but convert upper level programs beyond basic core-academic and diploma-required electives to fee-based programs where parents can pay for the extras that their kids want – and I would favor taxpayer subsidies for the free-lunch kids to have access to fee-based programs.

        We have to confront the reality that a 2nd grade teacher who specializes in PALS for at-risk kids has great value whereas a high school teacher dealing with non-required amenities – while important – should be more a fee-based employee.

        So I agree – we should not spend more – but we are not dealing with the realities either… we continue to want the schools to be all things to all parents – and continue to be “free” – at the same time K-3 is hurting for resources. Schools respond to what the parents want…. and few, if any, at-risk kids parents – realize the needs of their kids…. as opposed to better-educated parents who want any/all things for their kids.

  3. before I am held remiss.. 1997 was Jim Gilmore….

  4. one more. If you take a new graduate out of college with a degree in Education and put them in a classroom with an abundance of at-risk kids and/or disruptive kids – that teacher will likely fail.

    The teachers that are capable of dealing with these challenges are truly professionals, many with years of experience in classroom management and kids who need more help with reading and math, as well as Master’s Degrees usually with advanced skills in teaching at-risk kids.

    So ask yourself how many of these kinds of teachers would be present in a charter or choice or private school…. how would you know?

    And how many of these at-risk kids would a charter/choice/private/voucher school accept and put into a classroom – with what kind of qualified teacher?

    As I’ve said many times, I’m all for the competition – but we need to have a defined standard for teachers and education in general – which is no where to be seen in the advocacies to undermine public schools.

    The problem we have – is we spend way too much money for the higher grades mile-wide inch-deep amenities including sports and not enough in the pre-k, k-3 world where it is critical to get the kids up on grade level and keep them there. So we end up with these narratives that teachers are paid too much, get too rich pensions, and are “bad”… and the remedy is choice/charter/ private/voucher schools.

    frying pan into the fire Neanderthal blather….

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