by James A. Bacon

Here we go one more time… Does cultural background influence the likelihood of Virginia students passing the Standards of Learning tests, or do disparities in results between racial/ethnic groups reflect only the disparity in resources allocated to different schools?

Over the past week, I have been arguing that cultural background is one critical differentiator, not the dominant differentiator — poverty (or economic disadvantage) accounts for roughly 57% of the variation — but it is nonetheless an important one. I allow for the possibility that some schools are better run than others, some teachers better than others, and that differences in resources may account for some variation. But culture is a significant factor, as can plainly be seen in the superior academic performance of Asians, both economically advantaged and disadvantaged, across the board.

But some readers doggedly refuse to acknowledge that culture plays any meaningful role. Among the most tenacious is our old friend Larry Gross, who asks a valid question that needs to be addressed. Pick the same school division, say Fairfax County. Then pick different schools within that division. The SOL pass rate for black children varies substantially. As he commented in my last post, “The SOL Debate: Bringing Asians into the Equation,” pass rates for blacks for 3rd grade reading in some of the Fairfax Elementary schools are all over the map:

Annadale Terrace 36%
Bren Mar Park 62%
Bull Run 71%
Brush Hill 47%
Rolling Valley 50%
Saratoga 46%

“How,” he asks, “is this explained by culture?”

Let’s take a closer look. Here are the average SOL pass rates for all subjects at all six schools — hand picked by Larry to illustrate his point — broken down by race/ethnicity and by economic disadvantage, with the same information presented in chart form below. (Note: the DOE data did not include some scores for certain subjects for certain racial/ethnic groups. I have made the necessary adjustments.)


fairfax_pass_chartAs expected, economic disadvantage plays a major role. For every ethnic/racial group, economically disadvantaged students showed a lower SOL pass rate than those not disadvantaged.

However, differences remain. Same school division, same schools, same economic classification…. We see the same pattern repeated over and over. Asians score highest, whites not quite as high, Hispanics lower, and blacks lower. As discussed in other blog posts, the difference between whites and Hispanics largely disappears when adjusted for English proficiency. But Asians consistently score higher than other races, and blacks usually, although not always, score lower.

Does that settle the issue? Probably not. Here’s what we don’t know. Are some of the selected six schools better run, do they have more experienced teachers, or do they have more resources, any of which my skew results between schools? Those factors undoubtedly come into play — we just can’t isolate those variables from this data.

Am I saying that culture accounts for all the variation between racial/ethnic performance in those six schools? Of course not. Clearly, even after adjusting for economic disadvantage and ethnic background, some variability remains. Equally clearly, there is a lot of variability within ethnic/racial groups. Some Asian kids just can’t get their act together. Some African-American kids are academic superstars.

But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that culture explains some of the overall superior academic performance of Asian kids. Such a conclusion is not terribly controversial. We see the high performance of Asians back in the home countries of China, Korea and Japan. We’ve all heard of “Tiger moms.” We observe that Asians are not nearly as prominent on athletic teams but way over-represented when academic awards are handed out. We can admit the obvious because it does not upset deeply held political views on race and race relations. But as soon as we begin talking about the differences between whites and blacks, talk of culture becomes incredibly touchy. Indeed, a lot of people, suspecting racist motives, find it offensive when conservative white people bring the subject up.

But the idea that cultural attitudes affect educational outcomes is not terribly controversial in the black community. Bill Cosby famously highlighted the issue. Just yesterday Michelle Obama stressed the importance of education to an inner-city Atlanta school:

Do you hear what I’m telling you? Because I’m giving you some insights that a lot of rich kids all over the country — they know this stuff, and I want you to know it, too. Because you have got to go and get your education. You’ve got to.

Even Ta-Nehisi Coates, a leftist black writer, says the idea is widely accepted. In The Atlantic, he writes:

The idea that poor people living in the inner city, and particularly black men, are “not holding up their end of the deal” as Cosby put it, is not terribly original or even, these days, right-wing. From the president on down there is an accepted belief in America—black and white—that African-American people, and African-American men, in particular, are lacking in the virtues in family, hard work, and citizenship. …

[Paul] Ryan’s point—that the a pathological culture has taken root among an alarming portion of black people—is basically accepted by many progressives today. And it’s been accepted for a long time.

The serious debate isn’t over whether cultural differences are important, it’s why the differences exist. Coates emphasizes blacks’ history of slavery, Jim Crow and ongoing racism. Conservatives emphasize the debilitating aspects of the welfare state. Leftists don’t want to “let whites off the hook” for their racism. Conservative whites are tired of being blamed for all problems in the black community. It’s fine to have the debate. What’s not OK is to pretend that contemporary African-American culture, especially among the poor — arising, as it does, from a history of slavery, Jim Crow, racism, the welfare state, an assertion of cultural identity, a rejection of the culture of white oppressors, whatever — has no effect on academic performance. To acknowledge that fact does not negate the fight for equal educational resources. What it suggests is that for African-Americans to enjoy economic equality in the United States, it is not sufficient only to reallocate resources among schools, it is necessary also for African-Americans to place a higher priority on educational achievement.

For that matter, whites need to hammer home the same message to their own children. The superior academic performance of Asians should bother them. Whites don’t emphasize educational achievement enough either. The difference is that most whites fret about the gap with Asians and don’t make excuses for it. They know Asian kids work harder, they respect the Asians for it, and they wonder, how do we get our kids to spend less time playing video games and more time cracking their books?

At the end of the day, it’s up to our public schools to give every kid an equal chance to succeed academically and reap the rewards that come from that achievement. But it’s also up to families, of whatever race or ethnicity, to make sure their kids take full advantage of the opportunities presented them.

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45 responses to “Race, Culture and SOLs”

  1. well.. at least we’re moving of the “liberal-progressive” culture apologists narrative!

    and I’ll point out that we largely started back on the blog post that seemed to assert culture was a primary causation of the SOL racial gap” -as opposed to economic disadvantage.

    I have a different take than Jim.

    I think we have proven that schools do indeed have different performance rates – for the same race – like blacks that cannot be explained away solely by economic disadvantage much less “culture”.

    if one wants to claim “culture” as a causative factor -I would expect it to be shown to have the same effect across the different schools – not switching back and forth between other factors to essentially hand-wave away the stark differences between the schools.

    I’ve provided here several times a Federal study that delved into actual spending and found not only differences in funding between schools – but a correlation between lower funding and lower academic performance.

    I’m never argued that culture is not part of it but what I’ve argued is that highlighting culture as the predominate reason while downplaying these other factor – basically supports the premise that because it is culture – it’s not something the schools can fix.

    I’ve also pointed out that the schools themselves do not report their own SOL performance, nor how they fund and staff the schools – and the reason why is pretty clear. If people saw that their school scored lowed on SOLs and got shortchanged on experienced staff – they would be outraged especially if they were also hearing that their problem was ‘cultural’.

    I would submit that we do have the data available to get a better calibration of the data but schools and school districts – nor the Va DOE seem inclined to share it – even as independent 3rd party entities can get that data and publish it.

    What are we to think of school systems and the DOE when taxpayers, parents and citizens are essentially denied access to data that is being collected and we know it is – because the 3rd party folks get it?

    So my view is that we have the data, we have the ability to better differentiate the causes. we know the causes are more than culture.

    When we actually admit that schools are not fairly funded and that it does affect academic performance – FIRST -and that – it is wrong and must be fixed – before we talk about “culture” then I’ll be happier.

    the “culture” thing is wrong.. it empowers those who essentially are okay with abandoning kids… or blaming parents or bad teachers when, in fact, we have a serious problem with fairness and equity – not a new problem -a continuing chronic one.

  2. I would say without qualification that there is substantial proof that schools do vary quite a bit and by neighborhood.

    When a neighborhood is lower (or higher) income demographic and it is essentially has a boundary drawn around it – the school that serves that neighborhood takes on the societal characteristics of that neighborhood.

    so we have – for instance, neighborhood schools that are 98% white or 98% black or 98% economically disadvantaged or 2% economically disadvantaged and in of itself -that’s no crime.

    It’s when you have disparate academic performance and indications of funding differentials to include lopsided percentages of inexperienced teachers verses highly qualified certificated teachers…

    you don’t see this in the school data, the school district data or the DOE data but you DO see it in the Pro Publica data…

    for instance in Fairfax County – Forest Dale Elementary school – ” Forestdale Elementary ranked worse than 93.5% of elementary schools in Virginia. It also ranked 129th among 136 ranked elementary schools in the Fairfax County Public Schools District.” (from School-Digger) and from Pro Publica
    Inexp. Teachers at this school 14%
    Inexp teachers is Fairfax 10%
    inexp teachers in state 9%

    Further this school has the following race breakdown:

    28% Asian
    22% Black
    26% Hispanic
    22% White

    and they ALL score lower than their counterparts in other schools.

    (and full disclosure there IS a racial gap within the school itself).

    SOL reading pass rate:

    Black 54
    Hispanic 50
    White 75
    Asian 67
    Economically Disadvantaged 52

    this, to be, suggests more than “culture” in play – although it does confirm that culture is also involved.

    the problem I have is when we wash the other things away and focus on culture and then say it can’t be fixed – i.e. it’s “genes”

  3. LarryG:

    One year previous to the year you cite 92% of black students passed the Reading test. For “all students” the pass rate fell from 84% in 2011 – 2012 to 64% in 2012 – 2013.

    See pg 4 of 19 –

    1. Don – the difficulty of the test got harder that year. you can see the effects at almost all schools and races.

      1. Fair enough. But blacks outscore whites in reading that year. The point is that you can’t look at a single year and draw conclusions.

        1. the problem is clear – whether you look at one year or multiple years.. it transcends single-year results

          – just look at the disparities for any given year or over multiple years with neighborhood schools in the same school district.

          the results vary all over the map and no one yet can provide a number of how much of the racial disparity is due to “culture”.

          It’s become a canard for those who want to blame the disparities on race and walk away.

  4. This discussion has been about elementary-school SOL’s. My study was about the seniors, the finished product, as measured by the SAT’s. SAT’s are a much finer measure than pass/fail SOL’s. Ethnicity was a considerably better SAT predictor than family income. Beware, though, that family income and some ethnicities are strongly correlated.
    The consensus of this group seems to be that any person who works hard enough at whatever he wants (e.g., high grades, much knowledge, basketball skills, football skills, brain surgery) will be a top performer of whatever he wants. Everything is nurture and nothing is nature. Give him enough money and he will perform commensurately well. Give him a goal and, with work, he will achieve it. Is that what the group thinks? If so, does the group have the data to support its hypothesis?

    1. re: ” The consensus of this group seems to be that any person who works hard enough ”

      exactly the opposite. no matter how hard a 6 year old works – he/she probably will not succeed without a teacher who knows what he needs work on.

      and that’s the problem. Not all kids have the same deficits…that will respond to one method of teaching. The easiest kids to teach are those from two-parent families, that have good income and college-education.

      Kids from those family circumstances are getting LOTS of help beyond them working hard. Other kids do not have that same level of support.

    2. I agree, SOL pass rates are only one measure. Elementary school SOL pass rates are even more limited. The true test is high school. Plus, there should be some way to factor in drop-out rates. The kids who have the hardest time mastering the material are the most likely to drop out… which would actually raise average scores for the group.

      1. re: ” The true test is high school”

        I can’t believe you guys.

        High School is not on the horizon for the kids that don’t master K-3 academics.

        those kids are gone by high school. what you have left are the survivors.

        this is nutty. the entire point of the SOLs – Title 1 , Head Start, Pre-k and other programs is to help these kids MAKE IT to high school with some minimal ability to even be able to take the SATs.

        how can ya’ll screw this up so badly? there is no “high school” for those that don’t make it in K-5. When you see 50% of blacks fail the 5th grade reading SOLs – why in the world would you expect to see them at the SATs?

        1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

          It’s easy to understand if you realize “the true test” is always going to be whichever test blacks do the worst on.

  5. but I do have a question for Don and Jim and anyone else who says that culture is one of the forces.

    since we see different pass rates at different schools for blacks – can you tell me what the percentage of influence that culture has?

    or can you tell me how to figure out what percentage of the gap is due to culture?

    or are we saying that the measure of culture – varies.. by some nature?

    If you took all the blacks at several elementary schools that had varying pass rates – and you put all those kids in one elementary school – would you see one predominate pass rate that was largely influenced by culture?

    The way we discuss it here – makes it sound like some kind of a catch-all that “fits” whatever the gap is – at each school.. is just becomes the generic culture cause… there are no criteria and no metrics.. just whatever fits.

  6. Off topic …

    Say LarryG and PeterG –

    ODumbo’s foreign policy is now an utter and total failure. It seems that he is indeed the empty suited half wit that Republicans always maintained. His satisfaction numbers suck, the number of Americans out of the workforce has hit an all time high. Income and wealth inequality have also hit an all time high.

    Six years into his term … how is Captain Socialism doing?

    1. speaking of polls:

      Congressional Job Approval
      13.8 Approve 79.0 Disapprove

      ” Senate Control May Turn on Who’s More Unloved, Obama or G.O.P”

      You know when the opposition party starts out calling you a Muslim and asking for your birth certificate – and even after you show it they say it’s fake – things go downhill from there and they have coming from a party who now prides itself on having no position on immigration, health care, marriage other than threatening to impeach if the POTUS does something when they refuse to.

      so the GOP says he’s a weak leader but they’re gonna impeach him for exceeding his power when they refuse to act themselves? WTF?

      I think what I would agree with is if the opposing party is committed to doing nothing and pretty much opposing everything and cant even agree among themselves on alternatives – we’ve got gridlock and the POTUS gets damaged also. but look at the polls Don – tell me the GOP wins.

      The proof is in looking at the GOP contenders who say he sucks and want to replace him – they look like they are straight out of a Star Wars bar scene.

      and to prove the point – how about you tell us what GOP person you like for the next POTUS and what he proposes to do – what’s the things he promises to do?

      what I see is an opposition party that has does nothing at all,, has no agenda other than blaming others, and cannot even among themselves agree on what we should be doing – essentially political vandals.

      you think the POTUS sucks – au contraire – the stink from the right is overwhelming.. President Rand Paul, Ted Cruz or Rick Perry? 😉

      we’re headed to another election for POTUS where the contenders do proud the label of whacko bird!

      How about your list of GOP that you like – to lead the country – that won’t enrage the right wing of the GOP?

      1. Fred:

        The problem with SATs is that not everybody takes them. I am sure you study was very valuable but we talking about the general population vs those who aspire to college.

        I wouldn’t say there is any consensus among those who comment here. Having written that, I think everybody understand that nature is important. The question is whether nature vs nurture varies by race and if so – why.

        1. kids who fail core academics in k-5 do not take SATs…

          using that as a metric is just like using the SOL scores as a metric without understanding why there are disparities in the first place and/or attributing them to “culture”.

      2. Blame Bush has finally gotten old. Now it’s time to “blame Congress”? I’ll call the Sun spots later today and tell them to be prepared. They are next on the Democratic blame list.

        1. Bush did so much damage to the country by trying to respond to realities with sound bite concepts that the damage remains – both in actual events but in the idiots who continue to believe in sound bite solutions.

          to follow on Don – since you did ask…..

          we now live in a world where solutions are no longer sound bites and that is to say they are not the easy answers that some loons believe exist and will vandalize government and institutions like science and education… to show their displeasure. that’s the world we now live in. That’s the GOP these days.

          listen to “solutions” these days… get rid of the EPA and Department of Education, get rid of regulation… deport everyone including those we were born here 20 years ago, bomb enemies back to the stone age… kill health care for all but who can buy it on the free market… etc, etc.. it’s a loony tune agenda… from the GOP these days.

          take the situation in the Mid East

          tell me the answer to this that the current POTUS has failed to provide. Which opposition idiots and their “solutions” – would you support instead?

          You want the Dick Cheney/John McCain/Lindsey Graham solution? How about the Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry or Chris Christie solution? which of these guys do you want making decisions for the middle east or Ukraine?

          do you REALLY think we can have a “free-market” solution to health care and the GOP is hiding it ?

          do you really think the solution to sea levels rising is to pass laws that prevent maps showing the flood zones from being created and shown?

          the essential conflict that the GOP has these days is dealing with realities they don’t like and believing in bizzaroo things like global conspiracies… on climate or that the earth is 6 thousand years old or that you can oppose abortion AND birth control as a solution… these guys are not playing with full decks anymore and there is a good number of voters who now “think” like them..

          Compromise is also out. Compromise violates principles so we can’t do that any more.

          1. block compromise
          2. threaten to shut down govt if a compromise is struck
          3. impeach the POTUS if he takes executive action on things they refuse to compromise on.

          these are the guys you support?

          Show me the GOP folks that you think would work for solutions rather than opposition and polarization. Who are they Don? give me names.

  7. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    Of course, Coates goes on to explain why even though the idea is widely accepted it’s utter moonshine, but let’s not let that get in the way.

    “Leftists don’t want to ‘let whites off the hook’ for their racism.”

    This is just an untrue statement. Leftists don’t care about keeping anyone on the hook for racism, they care about actually redressing the systemic problems racism causes. If they truly didn’t want to let anyone off the hook then Don Imus wouldn’t have a show. Neither would Bill Maher.

    But let’s assume that it is true. Why should they? I’ve been around this blog long enough to know that you’re all “Well, even if we can sympathize and understand people still need to pay the price for their actions, unless it’s a Republican governor at which point I’ll twist in the wind and wonder out loud about jury instructions.” If we need to hold people accountable to task for any other anti-social set of behaviors – stealing, selling drugs, accepting Rolexes – why is it wrong to hold them accountable for the anti-social, anti-democratic actions and consequences of racism? Are leftists being unreasonable because this country asserts its white supremacist origins on its citizens of color and they want that to stop? Are they being unreasonable for wanting to offer some form of redress for the past and ongoing oppression asserting that origin has caused?

    “Conservative whites are tired of being blamed for all problems in the black community.”

    Well then they should stop listening to the voices in their heads.

    No one blames conservative whites for all the problems on the black community – what they get blamed for is 1) not doing anything to help and 2) using the black community as a punching bag to stir up white resentment.

    If conservative whites want to stop getting in their feelings then maybe they should stop having their candidates refer to blacks as “moochers” or “takers” or “Cadillac-driving welfare queens.” Maybe their pundits should stop questioning the dietary habits of people on food stamps while asserting that corporate welfare is noble and good. Maybe their politicians – who claim very much to care about wasting tax dollars – should stop instituting mandatory drug tests to receive welfare benefits when doing such costs more money than it saves. Maybe they should stop supporting policy changes based on anecdotes and lies that end up costing children their lives ( Maybe when unarmed black teenagers are gunned down in this country they should stop coming to the defense of the cops who shoot them. Maybe – just for a change of pace – they could stand behind the people of Ferguson instead of the people at Bundy Ranch.

    White conservatives inhabit a world where the biggest existential question are whether or not taxation is theft (it isn’t) and what’s going to happen if the deficit continues to grow (nothing). Meanwhile, the black kids suffering under the weight of the system are asked to perform well in school despite poverty, despite crumbling schools and despite living in a country that doesn’t afford them the opportunity to be kids the way it does with white children.

    This country stole material wealth from blacks for centuries. Stole it through their labor, stole it through corrupt housing policies and stole it through sending them off to war to die before bringing them home to be lynched. And then when the question of what do we do about schools comes up and poverty is shown to be the main driver white conservatives like to say, “Well, gee golly, there’s nothing the schools can do about that! But let’s talk about how the black culture doesn’t value education and learning while we caucus with people who don’t believe in evolution.”

    “it is necessary also for African-Americans to place a higher priority on educational achievement.”

    Why? So they can go to college to have the same chance of getting a job as a white high school drop out? ( Or so that with a clean criminal record they can get called back for job interviews at about the same rate as white felons? (

    “they wonder, how do we get our kids to spend less time playing video games and more time cracking their books?”

    Maybe if whites showed the position of teacher the same respect and admiration you see in many Asian cultures their kids would be more inclined to think the time they spend at school is valuable. Instead of trying to replace teachers with chalk-board enabled Roombas maybe they could try supporting them and fostering a sense of community with them. Maybe instead of insisting teachers and their union are the problem they could view them as part of the solution and see what could be done to empower and assist them instead of constantly trying to funnel money and resources into whatever trendy, tax-saving measure is popular at this moment in time.

  8. I also think it’s more complex than you think. Many folks from ROVA do not realize just how diverse Northern Virginia really is.

    For example, in Fairfax County, most people think “Asian” means Korean or Vietnamese and Indian and that is certainly the overwhelming chunk of the Asian population at least in Fairfax County. In Loudoun County, it is probably majority Indian. However, in Fairfax County, Asian also means Pakistani, Afghan, and sometimes the Middle East depending on how people define themselves.

    Similarly, in the 44th District that I represent, Black traditionally meant African American, but lately populations from northern Africa have been exploding such as Ghana, Somalia, Ethopia, and Nigeria.

    The 44th District is entirely inside Fairfax County and was 27% foreign born in the 2010 Census. My alma mater, West Potomac H.S., has students who hail from more than 50 countries.

    There are so many subcultures within these racial groups in Northern Virginia, I’m not sure that breaking things down by larger race categories is as meaningful as you think.

    I suspect the strongest correlations are with English Proficiency and Economic Disadvantage as opposed to race.

    1. Scott, excellent point. My analysis is colored by my experience here in the Richmond region. There is some ethnic diversity — certainly far more than there was 30 years ag0 — but not as much as in NoVa. For example, Henrico County has a community of Sudanese refugees. I doubt there are sufficient numbers, however, to skew the results for blacks overall. But if 25% of the population in your district if foreign born, that could be enough to skew the results.

      I don’t pretend to have settled any of the issues we’ve discussed here. I’d just like to drive the discussion forward to a deeper level of analysis than we’ve had before. Your comments help do that.

      1. then why do we start off saying “racial” gap and then devolve into “culture” and “genes” in the first place?

        re: ” It’s easy to understand if you realize “the true test” is always going to be whichever test blacks do the worst on.”

        exactly. then followed by the premise that if “culture” is the reason – that’s it not something schools can deal with nor have to.

        we say – that this is reason why 5-year olds should be essentially denied access to preK, Head-Start and Title 1 ( i.e. they cannot overcome “culture” and “genes”) and we’re wasting money on trying.

  9. Between 18% and 100% of the students take the SAT’s. On average 50% take the SAT’s. The sample size is large. These are probably the best students, but all students have been offered the same program. When corrected for ethnicity, all Virginia school districts performed the same. Ethnicity involves both nature and nurture. Adaptation (evolution?) causes differentiation between natures. We can’t ignore this factor. Culture and nurture are closely related. Comparisons among cultures would be highly beneficial; however, Asian is too broad. Among the Asians, the Indian, Russian, Chinese, and Pacific-Rim cultures differ significantly. We need to examine the data for these groups, identify the differences, and encourage the whites, blacks, and Hispanics to mimic the most successful culture.

  10. If you want SOL scores to be meaningful, then have the actual scores be published, rather than pass/fail, and show the scores by ethnic group. I do think that subgroups are needed. Asian, White, Black, and Hispanic are too broad, but they may be sufficient for a first pass. The SOL scores would also need to have a consequence for the students (e.g., promotion to the next grade) and the teachers (promotion to the next step). I know teachers who rely on parents and parents who rely on teachers for the cramming sessions — probably because the SOL’s mean so little to the students.

    1. you don’t do SAT if you fail SOLs.

      re: how do you explain the huge differences for the same race in different schools?

      How can you have blacks score in the 40% range in one school and 6o% in another – when both schools are in the same school district?

      does that explain “culture”?

      do you think there are no consequences for SOL failure?

  11. One of the things that we touched on besides the disparities between schools is the disparities that can be present even in one school if they practice what is known as “tracking” – which is trying to group students of similar capabilities together in groups – which if coupled with the right resources is a good thing.

    but if you group classes by capabilities and you give the low group a new inexperienced teacher and the high group an experienced veteran -you’re going to see disparities in performance.

    The inexperienced teacher more than likely does not have the supplemental skills to deal with the harder-to-teach kids who for a variety of reasons including economically disadvantaged and “culture” – the outcome is pre-ordained.

    If you thought the school would never tell you what their own SOLs scores were by grade – you’d never ever find out if your kid is in a “low” or a “high” class much less the qualifications of the teacher unless you know that the teacher is brand new or a grizzled veteran or your kid is “low” or “high”. Usually a good sign is if the teacher is a veteran.

    Teachers, in general, given the current climate with respect to “bad teachers” avoid like the plague – the tougher-to-teach classes.

    all they want to do is keep their job, and their health care and their pension and there is no valor in going into the wolfs den – no rewards – just huge risks of being determined to be the reason why those kids fail.

    so the principal – will keep his/her veterans happy and give the new teachers to the classes the veterans don’t want .. which .. results in a significant wash-out rate – which is not documented on the school, or school district or DOE website – but you can find that number on Pro-Publica.

    I actually emailed the folks who run School-Digger about the data they use and they confirmed to me that the data is collected by the Feds from the schools and can be obtained on request without a FOIA.

    so these schools are reporting a lot of this data, by law, to the Feds – and yet they don’t make it available to the parents and taxpayers in their districts.

    try it at the school in your neighborhood.

    go to school-digger or Pro-publica and find your school – look at the data then go to your own schools website and see if you can find any of that data on their website – or for that matter on the district website or the State”s DOE website.

    school-digger – by the way – is heavily used by people searching to buy a house – they look for the neighborhoods that have 4 or 5 star schools.

  12. First, the drop-out rate for Fairfax County is approximately 4%, so those taking the SOL’s will also be taking the SAT’s. In Fairfax County, 78% of the students take the SAT’s. That’s a large sample.
    Second, if you will send me the SAT scores by ethnicity for each of the Fairfax County high schools, I will try to explain the differences. I was unable to get such information. So far, I have shown only that the average SAT for each of the schools is mostly explained by ethnic mix.
    Third, the schools have an enormous effect on culture. Just think about what they have the students read and how they teach the social sciences. Just think about how they teach tolerance — of all but traditional ideas. They should teach the culture of the high-performance (Asian?) students.
    Fourth, my limited experience with Pacific Rim students indicates that they are superior students, no matter how poor they are.
    Fifth, my limited experience with Black students coming from families who have recently immigrated from Africa indicates that they are good students. The color of their skin surely has little effect, but there are too few to impact the averages, which are dominated by the Blacks who have been in the U.S. for many generations. Their cultures surely differ.
    Sixth, Thomas Sowell is certainly a brilliant Black who came from a family that was in U.S. a long time, showing that individuals differ from averages.

    1. ” First, the drop-out rate for Fairfax County is approximately 4%, so those taking the SOL’s will also be taking the SAT’s. In Fairfax County, 78% of the students take the SAT’s. That’s a large sample.
      Second, if you will send me the SAT scores by ethnicity for each of the Fairfax County high schools, I will try to explain the differences. ”

      how do you know these stats if you don’t have the data? Are you looking at stats for individual schools or district-wide stats that hide the disparities between schools?

      “I was unable to get such information.”

      really? I assume you are directly involved in the SATs and you can’t get the data from the schools? How can you assert the data then?

      “So far, I have shown only that the average SAT for each of the schools is mostly explained by ethnic mix.”

      are you not looking at results and positing the reasons?

  13. Larry,
    I had hoped that you would direct me to data that substantiates your claim that 40% of Blacks pass the SAT’s (or was it SOL’s) in one school but 60% in others. I spend my time dealing with data. So I ask again, will you please send me the reference for your numbers so I can study the data?
    I have the data to substantiate the percentages that I have been quoting.

    1. Fred – I did not say anything about SATs.. Jim posted the data but it came from the DOE build-a- table-tool on the DOE website that Hill City Jim had posted.

      it’s here:

      let me know if this doesn’t work for you or you need
      help using it (at least what I know).

    2. Fred – you may also want to read this:

      Close the Hidden Funding Gaps in Our Schools


  14. Larry,
    At your suggestion, I looked at the SOL’s — but only for seniors. The correlation coefficients between the SOL passing rate and the SAT scores is 0.63 for reading, 0.36 for writing, and 0.48 for math. That’s is not much correlation. They must be measuring different things. I think the SAT’s are more indicative of the quality of education because they measure native ability and what was absorbed of what was offered to all students (equal opportunity).
    I also compared the SOL’s passing rates for FRM (economically disadvantaged) and ESOL (limited English proficiency), as compared to the passing rates for all students. The results were surprising. As the following table shows, approximately 11% more FRM and ESOL students passed the math SOL’s than did the total population. (I wonder why parents are not more upset that the average pass rate for all students in math was only 48%.) The percents of FRM students passing in the other categories were not greatly different from the class average (approximately 85%); however, considerably fewer ESOL students passed in science, where the class average was 83%.
    I conclude from this that FRM makes little difference, but ESOL is not totally remedied. Perhaps ESOL students are enrolling not from first grade but in higher grades as they move in to Fairfax County.

    Pass rates: Avg minus … FRM ESOL
    English:Reading 2.2% 10.1%
    English:Writing 7.3% 12.2%
    History and Social Science 0.1% 6.5%
    Mathematics -11.6% -11.3%
    Science 9.5% 18.4%

    1. Fred – I’m pretty confused from your data…

      are you measuring state wide?

      where are you getting your SAT data?

      ESOL and economically disadvantaged have a higher pass rate than
      general population?

      1. Larry,
        The SOL data is for Fairfax County public schools. The SOL and SAT data comes from the FCPS website. You gave me the SOL site. Quite a shock, isn’t it, to find that the FRM and ESOL students have a higher pass rate in math than does the general population — but not in the other subjects, where the pass rate is so high for all of them.
        I am surprised that you weren’t stunned by the 48% math SOL pass rate for FCPS seniors.
        By the way, my averages are averages for the schools. They are not weighted by the number of students. The number of students is probably nearly the same for each, so the difference should not be great.

  15. Hold on! I am still checking the data on SOL passing rates. Using the same website that I used to get data on individual schools, I got what the site says for all FCPS seniors:
    Pass rates: All students FRM ESOL
    English:Reading 83.0% 78.0% 75.3%
    English:Writing 93.5% 91.2% 90.6%
    History and Social Science 82.6% 74.6% 64.8%
    Mathematics 45.8% 40.5% 43.5%
    Science 83.5% 68.6% 54.7%
    The FRM and ESOL rates differ greatly from what I got from the data for individual schools. The differences from the previous “All students” data is a few percent, probably because I averaged the schools instead of the students. (I am using the data for the 2012-2013 school year.) I am currently trying to reconcile these numbers with what I got for the individual schools.
    The Math pass rate is appallingly low. I looked at the Algebra II SOL practice tests. They are not at all difficult.

  16. In checking my data, I did find some errors (in copying from the website). Here are the results based on the averages over the students (as published on the website) and my average over the schools — not weighted by the number of students. They are in good agreement, so we can proceed with confidence with these numbers.
    Notice that the Math pass rate is appallingly low. I looked at the Algebra II SOL practice tests. They are not very difficult.
    The correlation between the SOL’s and the SAT’s is the same as I reported previously (there were no errors in the data for all students): 63% for reading, 36% for writing, and 48% for math. I find these strangely low.
    The data:
    Pass rates: All students FRM ESOL
    Averaging over all students
    English:Reading 83.0% 78.0% 75.3%
    English:Writing 93.5% 91.2% 90.6%
    History and Social Science 82.6% 74.6% 64.8%
    Mathematics 45.8% 40.5% 43.5%
    Science 83.5% 68.6% 54.7%
    Averaging over all schools except Jefferson
    English:Reading 85.06% 80.52% 78.38%
    English:Writing 94.31% 89.22% 91.40%
    History and Social Science 80.61% 73.66% 60.19%
    Mathematics 48.14% 47.08% 41.83%
    Science 81.89% 68.41% 55.59%

    1. Fred – where are you getting this data?

      did you check the DOE website for the pass rates for the sub-groups because the subgroups you cites FRM (free and reduced?) and ESO are lower than the general population.. not higher.

  17. FRM is Free and Reduced-Price Meals. Those qualifying for FRM are assumed to be economically disadvantaged.

    1. fred – where are you getting pass data for the economically disadvantaged sub groups?

  18. The data I report comes from
    Be sure to look at my postings of a few hours ago.

    1. Fred – I did but I’m getting conflicts between the data you go and what is on the DOE website …

      I don’t see any way to extract only the FRM folks from the build-a-table anyhow but the idea that the economically disadvantaged and ESL folks score higher than the rest of the school .. well.. it”s not what is shown on the DOE website.

      do you verify the data you got from the build-a-table was consistent with the DOE SOL report for Fairfax?

      my suspects are that something is wrong .. but I’m keeping an open mind until I understand where the data came from.

      Can you provide me with the parameters that you initialized the build a table with so I can try to replicate ?

  19. Thanks for taking the time to check my work. Apparently I had not been consistent in generating the tables for all schools (as opposed to the individual high schools), so the minority and disadvantaged students were shown to score higher than average.
    The settings were Grade 12 under Student Characteristics, Economically disadvantaged under Student
    Subgroups, EOC under Test Level and All under Test, Pass Rate under Statistics, and 2012-2013, Division,
    and Fairfax County under the last category. For which I get:
    2012-2013 Fairfax County 12 EOC FRM English:Reading 78.41%
    2012-2013 Fairfax County 12 EOC FRM English:Writing 91.17%
    2012-2013 Fairfax County 12 EOC FRM History and Social Science 74.60%
    2012-2013 Fairfax County 12 EOC FRM Mathematics 40.80%
    2012-2013 Fairfax County 12 EOC FRM Science 68.62%

    1. Fred – when you check FRM for the subgroups what does that do?

      doesn’t it add it or not add in the FRM effect to the total score – as opposed to excluding the non-FRM scores?

      In other words if you run your scenarios WITHOUT FRM checked and
      then you go back and check FRM – what is the difference in the scores?

      are you looking at the scores of the entire school – with and without the influence of FRM as opposed to looking ONLY at FRM scores?

  20. Larry,
    If we use email, we can make this discourse more efficient. You can get my email at The email as shown is correct if the blank spaces are removed. Using email, I can send you my Excel worksheets.
    I think that each category is considered separately. FRM is all FRM students (if “all students” is selected). You can get the data on White people who are also on FRM by selecting White (instead of all) and FRM. The percentages seem to be computed each time you request the data, because they can differ from request to request. I have seen differences as high as 5%, although most of the time there is no difference.
    So send me an email so we can exchange more information with less time and effort.

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