“Equitable” Education Policies and Relaxed Standards

Source: Virginia Department of Education

by James A. Bacon

More than nine of ten students who entered the ninth grade in 2015 earned a diploma within four years, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) reported earlier this week. Of those more than half graduated with an advanced diploma.

That sounds like the Virginia educational system is doing its job — and maybe it is. But it never hurts to scrutinize the claims of high-level educators who, like any bureaucrat or politician, is motivated to put the best possible gloss on things.

Here’s how Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane framed the graduation results in the VDOE press release: “Virginia’s on-time graduation rate has risen by more than 10 points in the decade since the department began reporting graduation rates that account for every student who enters the ninth grade. I believe this long-term, upward trend will continue as school divisions and the commonwealth adopt equitable policies and practices that provide instructional and support services tailored to the unique needs of every learner. (my emphasis).”

Let’s parse that last sentence. Lane didn’t attribute the upward trend of the past 10 years to “equitable policies and practices” — he said that equitable policies will help maintain progress in the future.

Data compiled from state news releases.

What constitutes “equitable” policies and practices? “Equitable” appears to be a code word for “relaxing standards.”

To earn a standard degree, students entering the 9th grade beginning in the 2011-12 school year were required to earn 22 “standard” units of credit and six “verified” units, according to the VDOE website. “Students earn standard credits by passing courses. They earn verified credits by successfully passing courses and passing associated end-of-course SOL tests or other assessments. Passing a standard course is largely up to the teacher. Passing a “verified” course is more rigorous in that mastery of a subject requires verification by an outside entity.

But students entering the 9th grade beginning in the 2018-19 school year are required to earn 22 standard units of credit and only five verified units — one less verified unit — to earn a standard diploma.

Similarly, to earn an advanced diploma, students entering the 9th grade in 2011-12 had to earn at least 26 standard credits and at least nine verified units. But students entering the 9th grade in 2018-19 need earn 26 standard units and only five verified units — four fewer verified credits.

Given the less stringent standards, Virginia schools are virtually guaranteed to see a higher percentage of students earning both standard and advanced degrees. But don’t mistake the better numbers for an actual improvement in the quality of education they are receiving.

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8 responses to ““Equitable” Education Policies and Relaxed Standards

  1. Once again, great analysis. Great diagnosis – at least some of the improvement cited by the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction is illusory – the result of intentionally lowered standards.

    What’s the prescription? What’s the cure?

    1. Call for James Lane’s removal from office since it seems clear he would willfully misrepresent the situation in order to take credit for success that is, at least in part, lower standards? Demand that Lane issue a clarification?

    2. Call out the RPV leadership who allow the public to be bamboozled by dishonesty through omission by a public official without any comment from the RPV’s leadership? Call out DPVA leadership for tolerating misinformation from the Northam Administration?

    3. Write letters to the editors of Virginia newspapers documenting the “fast and loose” commentary of James Lane?

    4. E-mail candidates in contested General Assembly races asking if they support deliberately misleading the public as James Lane seems to have done?

    5. Ask James Lane to submit a rebuttal?

    6. Do nothing?

  2. “… trend will continue as school divisions and the commonwealth adopt equitable policies and practices that provide instructional and support services tailored to the unique needs of every learner. (my emphasis).”

    I think we missed the part about the Commonwealth “adopting”.

    that sounds like MORE than just reduced standards to me.

    “… This improvement in graduation is the result of the hard work and dedication of teachers, principals, support staff and other educators who refused to give up on students who might otherwise have dropped out, “It also reflects the responsiveness of school divisions to the state Board of Education’s focus on reducing absenteeism and dropout rates.””

    unlike some here who essentially advocate that some of those who are struggling be advised to seek opportunities in the workplace!

    that seems to indicate “more” than just adjusting standards ….

    I’m not surprised the press release glosses things – all govt does that whether it’s Northam or VDOT or prior Govs and their agency heads.

    But I think there is more to this – they are making an overt statement about not abandoning these kids…

    and I keep wondering what the critics would expect to happen – differently especially if they advocate alternatives to public school.

    Do we think the private academies do better? Do those academies take the tougher demographic and do a better job on the standards?

  3. One quibble (?) with the Secretary’s statement. He referred to a “long-term, upward trend”. Based on DOE’s graph, the “trend” has been essentially flat for the last four years.

    We may be misconstruing the announcement. According to Jim, a “verified” credit is earned by passing an end of term SOL test. Unlike Jim, I don’t necessarily consider a SOL test “rigorous”. It may just be that students have to take fewer SOL tests to graduate. I consider that a good thing.

    • Yep. I’m not convinced there is much of an upward trend either.

      But what is often ignored or even criticized is VDOE’s commitment to keep kids in school and on a better path than if they are essentially pushed out for failure – academically and behaviorally.

      We, as a society, have everything to lose and nothing to gain by essentially abandoning kids – young adults – to end up on the street
      without a way to sustain themselves financially because they are “trouble”.

      These folks don’t go off to live on a remote island for the rest of their lives – they live among us. They have their own kids. They end up requiring SNAP, Medicaid, and TANF and often end up ensnared in our criminal justice system.

      Walking away is irresponsible on several levels – morally and fiscally.

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