The information used in our ranking was drawn from the Virginia Department of Education's 2010-2011 School Report Cards. Before developing criteria and assigning weights, we consulted public school educators and experts on education from nonprofit organizations and academia. We turned to VCU's statistics department for help with the statistical model. Graduate student Morgan Owdom, under the direction of department chair Dr. D'Arcy Mays, created the model, downloaded figures from School Report Cards and calculated the results.
We relied on a typical measure of school performance, Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores but used them in an atypical fashion. We weighted pass/advanced scores more heavily than pass/proficient scores because educators describe the lower score as a minimum standard that schools should exceed. (A student can get about 50 percent of the answers correct on any given SOL test and still receive pass/proficient, while a pass/advanced is the equivalent of about a 90 percent or a B+.)
We assigned the relatively low weight of 6.25 points for the pass/proficient scores in the subjects of English, writing, math and science. We assigned 15 points for the pass/advanced scores in English and writing and 20 points for the pass/advanced scores in science and math; the last two subjects were most heavily weighted because knowledge of math and science is expected to become increasingly important for the U.S. labor pool.
We created a criterion that reflects student misconduct, because educators agree that kids cannot learn in an unsafe environment. It reflects offenses reported by schools to the Virginia Department of Education and described as offenses against students, staff and other persons; alcohol, tobacco and other drug offenses; property offenses, and disorderly or disruptive behavior. The sum total of all offenses at any given school was divided by the number of its students to come up with an average per student. Since misbehavior detracts from the learning environment, it was assigned a negative weight (-5).
Finally, the ranking took into consideration the 2010 and 2011 Governor's Awards For Educational Excellence, given to middle schools that meet federal and state benchmarks and goals for the number of students able to take Algebra 1 by eighth grade. Since only a handful of schools received those awards, they were not part of the statistical model. Instead, we gave schools that got those awards an extra 1.25 points for each year that they received it.
To see our rankings of the Richmond region's middle schools, download this PDF .
Back to the The Worry Years