Tag Archives: John Butcher

Truancy Morass

by John Butcher

In a follow-up to his post on chronic truancy in Virginia, Capt. Sherlock writes, “We have decided, with laws reflecting our decisions, that children must attend school.” (Emphasis in original).

If only it were that simple.
Va. Code § 22.1-254 provides:

Except as otherwise provided in this article, every parent, guardian, or other person in the Commonwealth having control or charge of any child who will have reached the fifth birthday on or before September 30 of any school year and who has not passed the eighteenth birthday shall, during the period of each year the public schools are in session and for the same number of days and hours per day as the public schools, cause such child to attend a public school or a private, denominational, or parochial school or have such child taught by a tutor or teacher of qualifications prescribed by the Board and approved by the division superintendent, or provide for home instruction of such child as described in § 22.1-254.1.

That’s wordy but clear enough: The parent or other person in loco “shall … cause” the kid to attend school. Continue reading

2022 SOL Data: Economically Disadvantaged Gap Widens

by John Butcher

2020 was the first spring since 1998 without SOL tests in Virginia.

Then came 2021, when participation in the testing was voluntary. The VDOE press release said, “In a typical school year, participation in federally required tests is usually around 99%. In tested grades in 2021, 75.5% of students took the reading assessment, 78.7% took math, and 80% took science.

So, the ‘22 data are the first post-pandemic numbers with a claim to measuring anything beyond individual performance.

But first: as we have seeneconomically disadvantaged students (“ED”) underperform their more affluent peers (“Not ED”) by around twenty points, depending on the test. This renders comparisons of the school and division and state averages meaningless because of the varying percentages of ED students. Fortunately, the VDOE database offers data for both groups. Hence the more complicated analyses below.

First, the state data for the reading tests. Note: the decreases in 2013 were the result of the adoption of new, tougher reading tests. Continue reading

Counting Parents

In this post John Butcher, author of CrankysBlog, explores the relationship between K-12 academic outcomes, as measured by Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores and single-parent households. His conclusion: the data imply “a strong relationship” between the two. — JAB

by John Butcher

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Web site includes Virginia household single-parent percentages by race and by Hispanic culture or origin. Juxtaposing those data for calendar 2010 to 2018 with the SOL pass rates for 2010-2011 through 2018-2019 produces some interesting graphs.

Note: The VDOE database offers data for students who are, or are not, “economically disadvantaged” (here abbreviated ED and Not ED). The criteria are largely driven by eligibility for free or reduced price lunches. The ED/Not ED distinction is interesting in the SOL context because ED students generally underperform their more affluent peers by some fifteen to twenty points, depending on the subject. So, let’s look at the data for both ED and Not ED students. The ideal dataset would provide single-parent counts for both economic groups. The Kids Count data are totals for each race or culture so we’ll make do with that limitation.

To start, the graph atop this post shows the reading pass rates over the nine-year period for Not ED Asian, Black, Hispanic, and White students v. % single-parent homes for ED + Not ED members of each group. Continue reading

Where Have All the Students Gone?

by John Butcher

The estimable Jim Bacon recently posted on declining enrollments in many public schools. He used VDOE data comparing the fall division enrollments (aka division “memberships”) in 2021 with those in 2019. Those data showed the largest drops in “rural, non-metropolitan” areas.

Of course, most Virginia school divisions are in such areas.

Highland County, with the smallest enrollment in Virginia, provides an extreme example. Here are its enrollments, back to the fall of 2011, compared to the state totals. Enrollments are presented as percentages of 2019 in order to fit the disparate enrollments onto the same graph. Continue reading

2021 SOLs Don’t Tell Us Much of Anything

by John Butcher

2020 was the first spring since 1998 without SOL tests in Virginia. Then came 2021, when participation in the testing was voluntary.

The VDOE press release says, “[2020-21] was not a normal school year for students and teachers, in Virginia or elsewhere, so making comparisons with prior years would be inappropriate.” The first line of the very next paragraph of the press release then quotes the Superintendent making a comparison: “Virginia’s 2020-2021 SOL test scores tell us what we already knew—students need to be in the classroom without disruption to learn effectively.”

Let’s look at some data and see whether they offer any principled implications.

But first: As we have seeneconomically disadvantaged students (“ED”) underperform their more affluent peers (“Not ED”) by around twenty points, depending on the test. This renders the school and division and state averages meaningless because of the varying percentages of ED students. Fortunately, the VDOE database offers data for both groups. Hence the more complicated analyses below.

To start, let’s look at the numbers of students tested by year for reading in Richmond and statewide. Continue reading

2020 Teacher Salaries

by John Butcher

It’s Spring and the data in the lower half of the 2020 Superintendent’s Annual Report have sprouted.

Table 19 reports on salaries in some detail. As well, it provides an overview report of division average salaries of “All Instructional Positions” (classroom teachers, guidance counselors, librarians, technology instructors, principals, and assistant principals). Here is a summary of those summary data:

Continue reading

2019-20 School Year Attendance

by John Butcher

It’s Spring! The Narcissi are standing tall and promising blossoms. The Croci are in flower. Data are sprouting in last year’s Superintendent’s Annual Report.

Table 8, “Number of Days Taught, ADA, ADM,” gives us an early measure of the impact of the pandemic-related shutdowns on school attendance.

The City of Richmond’s end-of-year count of days taught was 120, just two-thirds of the statutory minimum. Richmond’s total was one day more than those of Hampton and Newport News, three days more than Norfolk, and 6.6 days short of the division average.

Continue reading

Counting Teacher Licenses: An Exegesis on Bureaucracy

by John Butcher

An earlier post discussed the remarkably large number of unlicensed teachers in Richmond City public schools, as reported in the 2018 USDoE Civil Rights Data Collection.

An email from the Richmond public schools chief of staff responded that only four of about 2,100 Richmond teachers now are unlicensed, unless you also count 38 whose paperwork is hanging at VDOE because of COVID-related backups.

If true, that would show an astounding improvement in just three years. Unfortunately, it was not true, at least in the sense of the federal data. Continue reading

Watering Down the SOLs. Again.

by John Butcher

If you want to boost the pass rates of the Standards of Learning exams, you have three choices (aside from the one perfected at Richmond’s Carver Elementary): Improve teaching, make the tests easier, or relax the scoring.

On the 2019 revision of the math tests, the Board of “Education” chose the last option: They adopted cut scores in five of six cases that were less than the level necessary to retain the same level of rigor as the earlier tests. The results were predictable (and, of course, fed the false notion that student performance was improving).

The Board now has jiggered the English tests to the same end. The recommendation (teacher-driven; no pretense here of objectivity) was for every cut score to be lower (easier) than the level necessary to maintain the rigor of the tests. Continue reading

More Data on SW VA’s Breakout School Performance

by John Butcher

We have seen that the divisions in SW Virginia (“Region 7” in the VDOE system) formed their own organization, the Comprehensive Instructional Program (“CIP”), that brought nice improvements in student performance.

While we wait to see whether the Board of “Education” will punt on the 2021 SOL testing, I’ve been looking over the 2019 data (there being no tests in 2020). The data for Region 7 paint a lovely picture.

You may recall that, since undertaking the CIP, Region 7 has seen major improvements in the pass rates of its economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students.

Continue reading

Money Don’t Buy You Learning

by John Butcher

It’s December. The Generous Assembly is about to return and the demands for more education funding (see Executive Summary at p.4) resound throughout the Commonwealth.

The data would suggest that these demands are misplaced.

VDOE won’t post the 2020 expenditure data until sometime this spring and there were no 2020 SOLs, so we’ll use the 2019 expenditure and SOL data. The expenditure numbers below are the those for “day school operation” (the sum of Administration, Instruction, Attendance and Health Services, Pupil Transportation, and O&M spending). Student counts are the year-end average daily membership.

One wrinkle: Statewide, “economically disadvantaged” (here, “ED”) students underperform their more affluent peers (“Not ED”) by some 17 to 22 points, depending on the subject. Thus the division average pass rates depend both on student performance and the relative numbers of ED and Not ED students. We’ll avoid that issue here by looking at the rates for both groups.

Here, then, are the division average reading pass rates for the two groups plotted v. the division day school expenditure per student: Continue reading

Bring Back SGPs (Student Growth Percentiles)

I suspect John Butcher was writing tongue-in-cheek when he headlines his latest post on Cranky’s Blog, “Why Do the New Tests Punish the Poorer Kids?” As shown by the graph (left), when the Virginia Department of Education introduced new Standards of Learning (SOL) tests reflecting higher standards a few years ago, average test scores dropped for both students classified as disadvantaged (qualifying for free school lunches) and those not so qualified (referred to as non-disadvantaged). But scores dropped harder and further for the disadvantaged kids. The gap in pass rates between the two groups has increased from around 13 percentage points to about 20. Continue reading

More Money for What?

by John Butcher

The tug-of-war between the School Board and City Council over school funding enters a new era of speculation: Will the recent election results produce more funds for Richmond schools?

That overlooks the more fundamental question: What is the School Board doing with all the money it now is spending?

The most recent data from VDOE are from 2015-16. Here, from that year, are the per-student disbursements by division for Richmond, three peer divisions, and the state average for school divisions. I’ve left out the sums for facilities, debt service, and contingency reserve.

The largest single cost for schools is salaries, so it’s no surprise that Richmond’s excess of $3,051 per student mostly went to the instruction category.

Expressing the Richmond data as differences from the state number, we get:

Or, multiplying those differences by the Richmond enrollment of 21,826:

Multiplying the $3,051 Richmond total excess by the 21,826 enrollment gives the excess Richmond expenditure total: $66.6 million.

We can account for some of that.

The 2016 average salary in Richmond was $51,263 vs. the state average of 56,320. That is, Richmond saved $11.3 million vs. the state average by underpaying its teachers.

At the same time, Richmond has a lot more teachers than average:

At the average salary of $51,263, that comes to an extra cost of $18.5 million.

Combining those data leaves Richmond with an excess cost v. the division average of $59.4 million.

This overlooks the question of what those extra teachers are doing for the RPS students.  To judge from the SOL scores, it’s more a question of what they are doing to the students. Continue reading

School Accreditation Process Violates State Law

Some unfortunate Virginia Department of Education administrator will be tasked with the job of poring through the public responses to proposed rules for granting and denying public-school accreditation. I would pay good money to watch his hair catch on fire when he reads the comments submitted by John Butcher, author of Cranky’s Blog. Here’s how John summarizes the accreditation process:

“VA. Code § 22.1-253.13:3.A provides:

“[The Boar of Education’s] regulations establishing standards for accreditation shall ensure that the accreditation process is transparent and based on objective measurements. …

“The current accreditation process is in wholesale violation of that law:

  • The Board increases pass rates at some high schools based on the performance of students who do not attend those schools;
  • The Board fails to adjust accreditation scores for a major factor known to affect test scores, poverty, and the Board has abandoned its measure of academic progress, the Student Growth Percentile, that is not affected by poverty;
  • The Board’s indifference to misclassification of students as “disabled” and the abuse of relaxed testing procedures for those students continues; and
  • The Board’s opaque and byzantine ‘adjustments’ increase accreditation.”

Read the short version of his comments here. Or read the full and unadulterated version here.

It’s Performance, Not Poverty

by John Butcher

The popular sport in the Richmond “education” establishment has been to blame the kids for the awful performance of our schools. We particularly hear about our less affluent (the official euphemism is “economically disadvantaged”) students.

We have some data on that. Again.

Here are the average reading pass rates by grade of the economically disadvantaged (”ED”) and non-ED students in Richmond and the state.  “EOC” indicates the End of Course tests that generally must be passed to receive “verified credits” that count toward a diploma.

Both in Richmond and on average, the ED group underperforms the non-ED group.

To the point here, the Richmond ED students underperform their peers in the state averages, as do the non-ED Richmond students.

We can calculate the differences between the Richmond groups and state average to measure that underperformance.

Here we see Richmond’s ED students underperforming their peers by about 7% in elementary school while our non-ED students average some 9% below that group statewide.  In middle school the difference increases to roughly 19% for the non-ED students and 25% for the ED group.

The math test results show a similar pattern.

These data tell us two things:

  • Richmond students, both ED and not, underperform their statewide peer groups on average; and
  • The average SOL performance of Richmond students, ED and not, deteriorates dramatically in middle school.

As I have demonstrated elsewhere, the large percentage of ED students in Richmond (64% in 2017) does not explain our low pass rates.  So we are left with (at least) two possible explanations: Either Richmond students are less capable on average than students statewide or our schools are less effective than average.

If Richmond’s students were just less capable, it would explain the low elementary school scores but not the drop in pass rates after the fifth grade.

The plummeting performance of our students when they reach middle school tells us there’s a (big!) problem with our middle schools.  And there’s every reason to think that the school system that has terrible middle schools might also have problems with its elementary schools. Continue reading