Unintended Consequences and SOLs

It has been fascinating to observe the reaction to the disappointing news that Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores for reading and writing for Virginia’s major racial/ethnic groups declined in the 2018-19 school year, and that, despite strenuous efforts of school administrators to address racial inequities, the gap between blacks and whites grew wider.

The Washington Post, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and the (Charlottesville) Daily Progress all duly noted the erosion of black and Hispanic educational attainment. In none of the articles, however, did state education officials proffer an explanation for the regression. Certainly no one suggested that Virginia Department of Education’s relentless implementation of “restorative justice” disciplinary policies, designed to reduce the disparity in suspensions between black and white students, might have had unintended consequences.

I have warned that the emphasis on therapeutic interventions over suspensions and other traditional disciplinary policies was contributing to the erosion of classroom discipline, particularly in predominantly black schools. As far as I know, I am the only member of Virginia’s chattering class to stick out his neck and predict that black students, whose educations were disproportionately disrupted by this social engineering, would suffer the most. The proof, I suggested, would be seen in lower SOL scores for black students.

Well, the results are in. While all racial/ethic groups lost ground in reading and writing — the two disciplines in which apples-to-apples comparisons are possible this year — blacks and Hispanics backtracked the most.

The aggregate numbers seem to confirm my hypothesis. But I’m not patting myself on the back yet. Many different variables may have come into play, and I just might have been “lucky” in my prediction. In other words, I might have been right, but for the wrong reasons.

My hypothesis suggested that the decline in SOL scores (1) would have been greatest in schools where classroom disorder deteriorated the most, (2) that policies aimed at reducing the rate of suspensions of black students would have the greatest impact on schools with predominantly black student bodies, (3) that the victims of increased disorder would be disproportionately black, and (4) that black SOL scores would decline in comparison to white scores. I have not had time to conduct an analysis that demonstrates those linkages, so I am reluctant at this time to draw hard-and-fast conclusions.

There is no indication, however, that Virginia Department of Education officials gives any credence whatsoever to the possibility that their policies might be backfiring. Insofar as anyone is willing to acknowledge the existence of a problem, the likely explanation of racial-equity enthusiasts is that the new disciplinary policies need more time to work.

In commenting upon the continued “inequity” in the suspension rate of black students, a recent Virginia Commonwealth University report, “Understanding Racial Inequity in School Discipline Across the Richmond Region,” stated the following:

Implementation of discipline models such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Restorative Practices was complicated by a lack of communication between education stakeholders, inadequate staff training, and misconceptions about implementation for students with disabilities. As a result of these challenges, discipline practices varied from educator to educator, which led to inconsistencies in discipline referrals.

Discipline policies and practices lacked an explicit focus on addressing racial disparities, compromising their ability to address issues of racial disproportionality.

In other words, we’re in a messy transition phase. Things should get better.

We’ll see.

Undeterred by such complications, Governor Ralph Northam continues to pay penance for his blackface indiscretion 35 years ago by pushing “racial equity” in the Virginia public school system. Currently, the Virginia Department of Education is hosting a series of webinars for local “instructional leaders and administrators” to hear experts on “equity and related issues.” Topics include:

  • Applying an Equity Lens to Data you Already Collect
  • Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy
  • Strategies to Support Hispanic and Dual Language Learners
  • Communication Is not Engagement: Advancing Equity Through Family Efficacy
  • Equity in STEM Education

If the “racial inequity” theory is right, and racial bias is the root cause of black academic underachievement, then one would expect to see the SOL scores of black students to start nudging higher. Reforming public school systems is like turning a battleship — it takes a long time. It would be unreasonable to expect the Northam administration to close the black-white achievement gap in just a few years. But it is reasonable to expect the numbers to move in the right direction!

If the “racial inequity” theory is wrong, Northam’s acolytes in VDOE may be doing incalculable harm to the very people they purportedly want to help. One would hope they would be open-minded enough to acknowledge that given this year’s SOL results, maybe, just maybe, their policies aren’t working out like they hoped.

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8 responses to “Unintended Consequences and SOLs

  1. The racial disparity theory is wrong, and probably deeply counterproductive. Your theory about lax discipline is equally shaky. Education is a hard process, requires focus and work, definitely requires support from a parent or parents or some other adult mentor, and there is a false belief out there that failure is the fault of the school. Usually, it is not. Each year we add another grade of kids that have had their reading skills, attention spans and reasoning ability swamped by digitals screens. The boob tube was bad and the smart phones are worse. They are not re-wiring the brain, they are un-wiring the brain. Who needs skool? Think map reading skills now in the world of GPS…..ouch.

    But people (parents!) don’t want to hear it is up to them, their fault, and they expect somebody else to fix it. Like their health. We foolishly promise election after election that we will fix it. And like the health issues, we all pay in the long run and we’d better work on some solutions. If indeed these SOL scores mean the schools are failing, that is trouble for decades.

    Yet don’t ignore that plenty of students still thrive, that most passed all those tests, and a growing number have abandoned the public schools and the SOL straight jacket. That is a dead on sign that those parents are engaged, if nothing else, yet they also face the digital brain drain and expect the schools to do too much.

    • I may be wrong about school discipline. But I do cast my theory as a hypothesis, and I’m willing to have that hypothesis falsified by data from the real world. You can’t say that about the people at the top of Virginia’s educational establishment and their conviction that bias and racial disparity is what prevents black children from succeeding in schools.

      You may be right that digital media are affecting school children negatively. But such an explanation applies to all children. We need to explain why test scores for blacks and Hispanics fell more this year than it did for whites and Asians. Did they start using digital media more?

      The biggest change in Virginia educational policy the past few years has been the implementation of restorative justice. That’s a logical place to look for an explanation.

      • On Jim’s comment above, I hold a different view, namely: we know what the problems are. Just can’t face them, so we allow demagogic leaders to grab scapegoats to aggregate and gin up their own political power and monetary advantage at the expense of innocent people, including children, even those disadvantaged. This current racket is just another version of Antisemitism. Never buy into it. Never tolerate it. Or pamper it. Call it out by name. And reject it forcefully.

        For more See: https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/how-the-sjw-race-obsession-hurts-black-students/

    • Steve’s above comment is brilliant, going straight to the heart of a complex problem.

      How does his comment mesh with this by Caroline Moorehead:

      “It was in the spring of 1942, as the Germans occupying France began rounding up Jews for deportation, that the inhabitants of the remote Vivarais-Lignon plateau opened their doors to refugees fleeing capture. Situated in the Massif Central region of southern France, high in the mountains and cut off from the rest of the country by thick snow during the winter months, the Vivarais-Lignon had a long tradition of resistance. In the 16th century, it was a stronghold for the Huguenots during France’s wars of religion. Now, as the Nazis and the Vichy government intensified their own persecutions, Catholics, Protestants and Darbyists—followers of John Darby, a 19th-century English preacher—offered sanctuary to Jews. Some hid them in barns and attics; others pretended that they were family members. Many of these saviors were dour, silent people, accustomed to hard lives, who shared a belief that sheltering strangers was not only important but fundamental to who they were.

      Much has been written about the plateau and its people, whose selflessness helped save thousands of lives, including many Jewish children. Historians have pored over the area, tracing both the individual acts of courage and the rivalrous interpretations of the past to be found there. In “The Plateau,” Maggie Paxson recounts the story of one brave young teacher who arrived in the region late in the summer of 1942. She also discovers, during the course of her research, something that has been happening on the plateau since 2000, when it became an outpost for the Centres d’Accueil pour Demandeurs d’Asile, a nongovernmental organization that provides assistance to asylum seekers fleeing war and persecution. Kindness to strangers, the author suggests, is imbued in the very soil of this area. “The sacred here” she writes, “feels quiet, steadfast …”

      For more of article go here:

      Meanwhile, to answer how Steve’s comment meshes with Wall Street Journal Bookshelf book review by Caroline Morehead, note its Title words “A Culture of Selflessness”, not of A Culture of Selfishness.

  2. “We need to explain why test scores for blacks and Hispanics fell more this year than it did for whites and Asians.” I disagree. All children matter. None of those false constructs matter because the data clearly shows various levels of success all across those categories. By engaging in the debate on that front, you are conceding the point to Northam. Poverty, family structure and support, cultural focus on education as a goal, those things matter. If they need to be addressed, but you push it out as a black/white/Latino/Asian thing and not an all families thing, the seed falls on stone.

  3. Steve’s comment outlines the correct path forward. Too many children are failing, skin color be damned. Who cares what color they are and no level of each skin type failing is acceptable. We need to end the tribal warfare, and simply state the current education system is failing too many children. This is unacceptable because they are people we are paying taxes to educate.
    Tucker Carlson said this the other night in another sense. He stated the racial narratives being pushed as a strategy to keep the working class peoples from joining together to confront the political/ wealthy elites.

  4. There is no question that Steve is correct–strong, cohesive families with parents who are engaged in their children’s education and who encourage reading and creativity are the best recipe for children succeeding in school.

    However, there are many, many children who do not have such families. There are many reasons for this. Asians come from a culture that feature tight knit families that value education. They see education as a means for success. The grandparents of many of today’s black children were not only not encouraged to get a good education, they were prohibited from doing so. The unintended consequence of some government policies contributed to the breakup of their grandparents’ and parents’ families. These cumulative experiences contribute to creating a culture.

    So, these kids don’t have the positive influence of strong families. What do we do? Say, that’s too bad?

    The schools are about their only salvation. However, there is evidence of racial bias in school discipline. See my comments in this post: https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/how-the-sjw-race-obsession-hurts-black-students/

    Jim says, “Well, the results are in.” Yes, they are. But, I don’t think they lead to his conclusion. Just as DOE may say there has not been enough time for restorative justice to work, there has not been enough time to say that it leads to unintended consequences. There has been no evidence provided that there is more disruption in schools which have undertaken active steps to lessen the racial bias in school discipline.

    The results do show something wrong, unrelated to racial bias. The statistics included in the DOE press release have limited value. They cover all students at all levels. What is helpful, and alarming, are the data at a detailed level. I consider reading the key to success. The DOE data show the reading pass rate for children at the third grade level decreasing from the 2016-2017 school year to the 2018-2019 school year for every demographic group. This is alarming. If a child is behind in reading at the third grade level, it is tough to catch up. For the pass rate in every group to go down over a three-year period (even for the Asians), there is something wrong. Maybe Steve is right on this, too—kids are engaging in too much screen time.

    Soapbox summary: DOE needs to focus on why the reading pass rates are falling in the early school years in addition to trying to lessen racial bias. Perhaps the methods of teaching reading need to be revisited and (horrors) scrapped and something else put in their place.

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