by James C. Sherlock
If your kids are Asian or white and economically advantaged, Loudoun County Public Schools are worth a try.
Otherwise, forget it.
At my age I am seldom surprised. The failures of Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) to educate so many of their children in the wealthiest county in America have easily cleared that bar.
The Constitution of Virginia famously demands:
“The General Assembly … shall seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained.”
In Loudoun, the struggles between the school system — the school board, the superintendent and the school administration — and parents have spawned national headlines. Those have focused on COVID responses and social engineering by the schools.
The spectacular failures of the Loudoun County Public Schools seen in the academic scores of its students other than economically secure Asian and white kids is a bigger scandal.
Far too many young lives have been cut short of their promise by denial of not only an “educational system of high quality”, but even an adequate one.
It needs to stop.
School year 2018-19 was the last pre-COVID year, the last year that spring Standards of Learning (SOL tests) were given, and the last year of school accreditations. Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) SOL scores made a mockery of the Constitutional guarantee.
White, Asian, and economically advantaged kids fared well. The rest of the subgroups did not.
Now, in the fall of 2021, most of those kids who failed the SOLs in 2018-19 are three grades ahead of where they were when they took those tests. Three grades ahead from that baseline. Three grades ahead with all of the attendant learning losses caused by Loudoun’s strict bans from the public school classrooms during COVID.
While Catholic schools in Loudoun were open for in-school instruction and did it safely.
This year there are 5,561 Black children, 14,358 Hispanics, 9,107 students with disabilities, 15,607 economically disadvantaged and 13,439 English learners in Loudoun schools. There is of course overlap among those subgroups, but in a system of 82,246 children, they provide challenges that LCPS failed to meet when last assessed.
Standards of Learning. The Standards of Learning (SOL) for Virginia Public Schools establish minimum expectations for what students should know and be able to do at the end of each grade or course in English, mathematics, science, history/social science and other subjects.
A student must get a raw score of 400 or higher on his SOL(s) out of a possible 600 in order to pass the test. Enormous numbers of kids in Loudoun County did not pass.
Twin scandals. There are two distinct elements of scandal:
- the actual SOL scores; and
- the machinations of the adults in the system to cover them up. After looking at the test scores, you will be shocked to learn that the LCPS superintendent and school board chairman sent a reports in November of 2019 and 2020 declaring every school in Loudoun except two new ones to be fully certified based on the 2018-19 SOL results and other factors.
This article is primarily about the scores.
Things to know before viewing the spreadsheet SOL exhibits. The Standards of Learning assessments administered to students in grades three through eight are:
- reading and mathematics in grades three and four;
- reading, mathematics, and science in grade five;
- reading and mathematics in grades six and seven;
- reading, writing, and mathematics in grade eight;
- science after the student receives instruction in the grade six science, life science, and physical science Standards of Learning and before the student completes grade eight; and
- Virginia Studies and Civics and Economics once each at the grade levels deemed appropriate by each local school board. The reading and mathematics assessments administered to students in grades three through eight shall be through-year growth assessments.
There are by law and regulation three levels of academic achievement in Virginia schools.
- Level One, the top level, represents subgroups that have achieved at least a 75% pass rate (reading and, in Middle and High Schools, writing) or a 70% pass rate in math and science;
- Level 2 represents subgroups that have achieved pass rates lower than Level one but at least 66%. I have highlighted those with a yellow background in the exhibits linked below; and
- Level 3 represents pass rates less than 66%. I have indicated both the schools and the subgroups that are level three with a cantaloupe color background. There is no Level 4, but for visualization I have identified subgroups in each school with pass rates of 50% or lower in red.
- Turquoise background represents data elements in which there were not enough children in a subgroup to generate a score.
There are testing accommodations in Virginia for Students with Disabilities and English Learners.
The results. So now take a look.
The 2018-19 and 2017-18 SOL data are broken down into subgroups in each school. The results for the tests that count towards accreditation — reading, writing, math and science — are included. They expose the Loudoun County schools system for what it actually is.
You are free to choose your own descriptive term.
The first exhibit presents each LCPS school with every test result by every subgroup. Select the second sheet — school by subject by subgroup — and scroll down.
Among the elementary schools, look at Frederick Douglass, Leesburg, Sully and Sugarland. Look at Sterling Middle and Park View High. Tell me if you can in say what galaxy those schools should be accredited.
The second presents the same information by clustering subgroups across all schools. Select the the second sheet. It is the first exhibit sorted by subgroup rather than by school. Scroll down and look at Black children, Hispanics, students with disabilities, the economically disadvantaged and English learners.
There were 59 elementary schools in LCPS in 2018-19. Black students attained Level 1 scores in reading in only 21 of them; Level 3, representing tests that more than a third of the Black children failed, in 17. Seven did not have enough Black children to post a score.
Economically disadvantaged kids posted Level 3 reading results in 50 of 59 elementary schools. Remember, they were not tested until 3rd grade after most of them started in kindergarten.
English learners — a horror show across nearly the entire school system. Of the 254 scores recorded across all schools and all subjects, 205 of them were Level 3. Of those 205, pass rates were 50% or below in 148.
Hispanic kids — of 287 subgroup pass rates posted across all schools and all subjects, only 120, or 42% reflected Level 1 results. And Level 1 lets either 30 and 25% off the kids fail depending upon the subject..
Accreditation. The presence or absence of Level Three SOL results form the core basis for designating a school accreditation status.
B. Accreditation ratings. Effective no later than the academic year 2018-2019, schools that meet the conditions described in subsection A of this section shall be assigned one of the following accreditation designations as described in this section.
1. Accredited: When a school has each of its school quality indicators at Level One or Level Two, it shall be “Accredited.” For the transition year of 2018-2019, when a school meets the accreditation standards for designation as accredited under either the 2017-2018 accreditation calculation rules or the 2018-2019 rules for multiple school quality indicators, it shall be designated “Accredited.”
2. Accredited with Conditions: When a school has any school quality indicator at Level Three, it shall be “Accredited with Conditions.”
3. Accreditation Denied: If a school is designated “Accredited with Conditions,” and the school or school division fails to adopt and implement school division or school corrective action plans with fidelity as specified by 8VAC20-131-400 D, it may be designated by the board as “Accreditation Denied” as provided in 8VAC20-131-400 D 4.
C. Any school in violation of this chapter shall be subject to appropriate action by the board including withholding the school’s accreditation rating.
That special rule for 2018-19 above is the reason I have presented for readers the results of both 2018-19 and 2017-18 and the higher of the two in the last column of both exhibits.
Using the best of two years results rule, only nine of the 92 schools had subgroup test results without a Level 3 result. Under the rules above, those nine are certainly accredited.
The remaining 83 racked up 586 Level Three results. That represents over 20% of the total subgroup test results in 83 Loudoun schools.
Yet all Loudoun schools were reported to the VDOE by Loudoun’s chairman of the school board and the superintendent together to be fully accredited in 2019 and 2020. The basis of those judgements were the SOL results you saw in the exhibits.
LCPS clearly reads the rules for accreditation differently than the SOL results suggest. I will ask the leadership of both LCPS and VDOE to explain.
Bottom Line. These terrible learning failures simply cannot be allowed to continue.
LCPS appears to have far too many special staff and too few classroom teachers compared to Virginia districts like the City of Chesapeake that considerably outperform Loudoun with far fewer Asian kids, an otherwise similar demographic mix and far less money.
We can blame the education schools for that.
LCPS administrators have enough degrees from graduate schools of education for that organization to start its own university. Following ed school dogma, they see a problem and assign more special staff and create new programs, not add more teachers, to fix it.
That approach clearly has not worked.
Very disturbingly, the General Assembly and our governors have continued to change Code of Virginia § 22.1-253.13:2. Standard 2. Instructional, administrative, and support personnel to add new administrative and support personnel requirements. That law has been changed every year starting in 2016.
Some of it is reasonable. A lot of it is ed-school nonsense. The new Governor and the General Assembly need to reconsider the entire approach. Current laws threaten to remake every school district in Loudoun’s image — huge administrative bloat — without Loudoun’s money.
And action is necessary to hold LCPS leaders and managers, and perhaps some at VDOE, accountable.
There are both federal and state laws that may have been violated, not just the Virginia Constitution. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 comes to mind.
SEC. 601. No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
LCPS gets a lot of federal money.
I don’t see the problem as race-based. Loudoun is simply not teaching those kids properly. They can check with Chesapeake to see what works.
LCPS needs to return to the basics of teaching, create smaller classes in low performing schools and reduce truancy. Hardly radical.