Virginia's monumental state-wide failure to make Adequate Yearly Progress -- only nine of 132 divisions qualified -- may become even more of an embarassment if newspaper reporters in the various localities can take the time to carefully examine the data the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) is reporting.
What they may find is that divisions across the Commonwealth -- Richmond is a prime example -- are attempting to avoid AYP sanctions on Title I schools by simply declaring that the school is no longer Title I. For example, anyone familiar with the City of Richmond knows that Armstrong High School has a student population that draws heavily from some of the city's poorer neighborhoods and several housing projects. To be considered Title I, a school must have at least 40 percent of its students enrolled for free and reduced lunch.
And, according to data on the VDOE website for nutritional accounting purposes to the federal government, 89.23 percent of the students at Armstrong are enrolled, yet for educational accounting purposes the school doesn't qualify. To see the full list of Richmond's schools and their respective AYP status, visit my friend John Butcher's website. Many thanks to John for his help today. Be warned, the list will shock anyone who understands the demographics of Richmond's schools.
What can Richmond and VDOE possibly hope to gain by engaging in such lack of real accountability? Have they no sense of shame? We already know they had no problem turning a collective blind eye to the cheating that various divisions engaged in by claiming kids had disabilities in order to jack up their SOL scores. Comes now the news that the U.S. Department of Education earlier this year put an end to all states tacking on automatic bonus points special education scores.
Called "proxy percent," the rule had previously allowed schools where special-education students scored poorly to tack 15 percentage points onto Standards of Learning reading pass rates and 16 percentage points onto math pass rates. Closing that loophole caused many area schools to fail for low pass rates for students with disabilities. [The Virginia General Assembly sent a message last session to VDOE when it unanimously passed HB304 and directly that the VGLA alternative testing be phased out. More on that in my next post].
Allowing VDOE and the various divisions to get away with playing Title I games only helps weak principals, even weaker superintendents and the ensconced bureaucrats at VDOE avoid career-crushing consequences.
And, it is undeniable that it hurts the children who attend these persistently low-achieving schools.
Thank goodness the feds are fed up. Let us hope they are serious and can figure out a way to hold the adults who continue to find clever ways to cheat at accountability standards responsible for this abuse. When you cheat children of their right to a decent education and you waste tax dollars, it is way past time for us all to get fed up.
I'm inclined to agree with a comment Education Secretary Arne Duncan made in The Washington Post last December justifying the get-tough standards of the Obama Adminsitration: "After years of school improvement efforts, there are far too few examples of persistently low-achieving schools that have significantly and rapidly improved performance. We believe that, in part, this is because turning around such schools generally requires fundamental changes in leadership and often in governance and staff, changes that many [local education agencies] are reluctant to make."
Telephone calls to Richmond Public Schools and the Virginia Department of Education for comment were not returned at post time. Check back later.