Here’s how K-12 accountability works in Virginia. School districts administer Standards of Learning (SOL) tests to measure school children’s mastery of basic skills and concepts. Schools that meet minimum state standards for student achievement — 75% adjusted pass rates for English, 70% for math, science, and history — are deemed to be accredited. Schools that fall short can be designated with a variety of partial accreditation classifications, and they must demonstrate that they are making progress. De-accreditation is a good stick for motivating schools. Although schools don’t lose money, they do lose status, endure the scorn of their communities, and suffer VDOE oversight and meddling.
Just one problem: Schools are motivated to improve their scores, which is not the same thing as improving the academic achievement of their students. The operative word in the paragraph above is “adjusted.” Schools must achieve adjusted pass rates.
Almost no one in the established Virginia media, to my knowledge, has tried to penetrate the logic of VDOE accreditation policies. I could never do it. I am not equipped cognitively or temperamentally to decipher the dense, inscrutable verbiage of VDOE regulations. Outside of the state and the school districts themselves, I know of only one man who has made the effort, and he is a lawyer accustomed to reading impenetrable prose: John Butcher, publisher of Cranky’s Blog.
The numbers for the 2016-17 school year have come out, and Butcher has been digesting them. In the graph at left taken from this post, he compares the actual scores on the 2017 math SOLs to the adjusted scores. In nearly every case, the adjusted scores improve — sometimes significantly so. Coincidentally (or not so coincidentally), large adjustments tend to kick in around the 70% pass mark — enough to shift a school scoring a 68 or 69 percent pass rate into 70+ territory.
As Butcher notes: “There are 37 schools with 69% math pass rates but only five with that adjusted rate. The average adjusted rate for those 37 schools is 74%.”
How about that.
In a follow-up post, Butcher hones in on his home town, Richmond, and finds that adjustments pushed eight schools over the 70% mark for math SOLs. The average bump was four percentage points per school. One school, E.S.H. Greene Elementary, received a 26 percentage-point boost.
In yet another post, he drills down to the E.S.H. Greene data. Greene, with a largely Hispanic student body, has appallingly low SOL scores. But thanks to massive adjustments for English as a Second Language students, Greene is classified as accredited.
Concludes Butcher: “This official mendacity gives Greene bragging rights while failing to teach nearly half its students to read or reckon. … More fundamentally: Accreditation — or lack of it — is meaningless.”There are currently no comments highlighted.