YES, VIRGINIA! Santa came early to schools in Virginia. Weve ask Suzanne Tate to report: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MARCH 13, 2006
THE STORY-TO-DATE CONTINUES: It seems that Christmas came early for Maury Elementary of Alexandria, Virginia last year. In the spring of 2005, only 5 of Maurys 19 third-graders passed the states Reading/Language Arts test, a passing rate of 27 percent. (Statewide, 77 percent of third-graders passed. Well call this test reading from this point on.) But yes, Virginia—there is a Santa Claus! Thanks to bizarre statistical manipulations, the state ended up reporting that 17 of Maurys 19 third-graders had passed—and Maury was soon at the top of the Washington Posts front page, hailed as a study in pride, progress (full links below). How did five out of 19 become seventeen? How did an abysmal passing rate become a source of community pride? Simple—according to Alexandria testing director Monte Dawson, an undisclosed number of Maury fourth-graders also were given the third-grade test. When 12 fourth-graders passed the third-grade test, they were added to the third-grade total. We know, we know, it sounds impossible—but no, were really not making this up. Indeed, Dawson sent us a lengthy excerpt, apparently from a technical manual, which outlined the absurd procedure. What do you do when a schools passing rate exceeds 100? The excerpt even explained that!
Once again, were not making this up. And according to the material Dawson sent, this absurd statistical procedure has been used in Virginia since 2001; presumably, it may have inflated official passing rates at many other schools in the state. If this has occurred, then the state has been systematically defrauding its citizens through this public reporting (accountability!) system.
Have other schools displayed the pattern observed at Maury last year? Have passing rates been inflated statewide by the use of this absurd procedure? For example, have elementary schools in the Norfolk system had their passing rates inflated? As we noted last week, Norfolk won a prestigious national award for urban school systems last year, granted by the Broad Foundation. But did Norfolk win this national prize based on inflated school passing rates? This may be the worlds most obvious question—and its a question we simply cant answer.
For the record, this reader also told us that Norfolk elementary schools did display the pattern found at Maury. At these schools, the passing rate which the state is reporting exceeds the actual passing rates observed in grades 3 and 5. At present, of course, we cant confirm this claim, because the state has disabled its public records. We cant examine these public records, because theyve been taken from view.
Here at THE HOWLER, well follow this continuing story under the heading, Yes, Virginia! Last year, Santa Claus gave the Maury School just what it had always wanted—an utterly absurd statistical process which vaulted the school to page one of the Post. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa—but is there a news org in the state or the nation which is willing to report on this matter?
THE WASHINGTON POSTS SOFT BIGOTRY: Can you say soft bigotry of low expectations? Last year, 27 percent of Maury third-graders passed Virginias state reading test. This was an abysmal passing rate—about one-third the state average. But so what? The Post hailed Maury on its front page, calling it a source of pride. Do low-income children really matter? Or do they exist to be lied about, so the rest of us can feel real good inside? This week, were asking the states news orgs, as youll see in the segment below.
FIRST, THIS UPDATE: This morning, an e-mailer tells us—apparently from Hawaii—that the school report cards can be accessed fairly easily. How easily?
E-MAIL: I don't think you've highlighted the further absurdity of the "front page" for the school scores. Yep, the report is said to be "Temporarily unavailable—thank you for your patience ," but in reality, the report is still there. The links in your previous writings still work, as does: http://www.pen.k12.va.us/VDOE/src/vasrc-reportcard-intropage.shtml (click here)For the record, we didnt highlight this because we didnt know it. (Others had told us that data could be accessed through elaborate efforts.) Of course, no one in Virginia knows it, either; at the state web site, the link to school report cards is still missing, and a message continues to say that the cards are temporarily unavailable. In short, the state is still withholding these data from citizens. It just doesnt seem to have done so competently. (For the record, were not sure that this link has been active for the past several weeks. It did work for us this morning.)
Well report more on this matter tomorrow. But weve taken a quick look at passing rates in reading (third and fifth grades) in the first four elementary schools on Norfolks list. (Bay View, Bowling Park, Camp Allen, Chesterfield—the report for one other school wouldnt come up. Third and fifth grades were the only grades tested.) In all four schools, the passing rate found at the top of the schools report card is higher than the grade-by-grade rates buried in the charts down below. (This is the pattern we found with Maury—the pattern which Dawson explained.) At Chesterfield, for example, 70 percent of third-graders passed the reading test, along with 78 percent of fifth-graders. But at the top of the schools report card, the state presents the overall passing rate for the two grades combined—93 percent! Old saying: You cant get there from here. Grade school math forbids it.
Few schools scored as low as Maury in third-grade reading last year. But this cursory examination suggests that reported passing rates were being inflated around the state. Its time for news orgs to investigate this, as weve been urging—see below.
OUR E-MAIL TO TWO MAJOR NEWSPAPERS: To state the obvious, major news orgs should try to determine the facts behind this puzzling situation. To all appearances, the state of Virginia has employed an absurd statistical procedure to inflate official school passing rates—to inflate the basic data Virginia uses to fulfill its obligations under No Child Left Behind. No, it simply wasnt true; if Dawsons explanation is accurate, it wasnt true when Virginia claimed that 17 of Maurys 19 third-graders passed the third-grade reading test. But it did make the parents at Maury feel good—and it went to the top of the Posts front page. Behavior like this makes an utter joke of public reporting; defrauds those parents and the states other citizens; and makes it impossible to have a serious discussion about the problems of low-income ed. Do Virginias low-income kids really count? Does this blatant misconduct even matter?
Major news orgs should report this story, and follow the facts where they lead. With that in mind, we sent an e-mail to the Roanoke Times this Saturday. Well present the text of the e-mail below. But here is the list of people to whom we sent the e-mail:
Roanoke TimesOn Sunday, we sent the same e-mail to the following people at the (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot:
(Norfolk) Virginian-PilotToday and tomorrow, well send the same e-mail to appropriate people at the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Washington City Paper—and at some national news orgs as well. If a state has been systematically misinforming its citizens—as part of the No Child Left Behind program!—that is surely a national story. Its also a story when a state disables its public reporting to avoid public scrutiny.
Well continue to post the names of the journalists whom we contact. Here is the text of this weekends e-mail, as it was sent to Tate:
E-MAIL TO SUZANNE TATE, VIRGINIAN-PILOT (3/12/06):By the way, heres the state of the Virginian-Pilots mission statement (see link above): The Virginian-Pilot is proud to serve as the source of news, information and advertising for Hampton Roads, Virginia. With a half-million daily adult readers, The Pilot is...the largest-circulation newspaper in the state of Virginia. Their emphasis. We have a good friend who once worked at this paper. We hope it continues to serve.
NO, VIRGINIA: No, Suzanne Tate is not the person to whom we spoke on the phone last week. We assume that shes a dedicated scribe. We hope shell pursue this important matter. Shouldnt low-income kids really count?
BASIC LINKS: On February 2, Maury hit the top of the Posts front page. You know what to do—just click here.
We questioned this story the following week, See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/6/06, then click forward from there.
Post reporter Jay Mathews followed up on February 28. Click here and you can read every word.
We responded all last week—and the state of Virginia has hidden its data. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/06, for our first installment.