Blank Check 

Richmond Public Schools struggle to find the basic data that determines the superintendent’s bonus.

click to enlarge Dana Bedden

Dana Bedden

How much of a bonus the new chief of the Richmond Public Schools will be paid — as much as $22,500 — depends on what improvement the district shows in 10 performance standards spelled out in his contract.

But while the ink has been dry on Superintendent Dana Bedden’s contract for more than a month, school officials were left scrambling when asked to provide the baseline data used to measure those improvements.

They include school accreditation rates, overall attendance and dropout rates, state standardized test pass rates, the number of students going to post-secondary education and bench mark reading scores.

When Style Weekly requested the information, the Richmond Public Schools had yet to compile the data. In all, it took two weeks to produce the figures.

“Most of this data should be at our fingertips,” School Board Vice Chairman Kristen Larson says. “That it took so long is definitely a concern.”

Taken as a whole, the data shows what’s already known — that the district needs help. But it also quantifies Bedden’s starting point.

Among other challenges, the information suggests that the longer elementary pupils are enrolled in the district, the worse they perform in reading. Of kindergarten students, 91 percent met or exceeded the Phonological Awareness Literary Screening spring reading test last school year, while only 81 percent of third-graders did.

The information provided by the district also underscores how few students are entering two- or four-year colleges upon graduation: 58 percent after the 2012 school year. According to the baseline data, last school year 1,229 students took the PSAT, a practice test for the SAT exam, which is required by most colleges for admission. Only 509 students went on to take the SAT. How many juniors and seniors were eligible to take those two tests is unclear because the district didn’t provide that information. Test-taking rates are considered a key indicator of student performance.

When devising the bench marks, Larson says, the board didn’t request this data. She says the board is still developing how the superintendent’s performance will be measured in each category, and his priorities, as a part of an overall evaluation process.

In reviewing the bench mark data provided by Style, Larson says she was struck most by the reading scores. “There’s some sort of disconnect,” Larson says. “If you are not reading at grade level, you can’t do your other subjects.”

First District Representative Glen Sturtevant says that in addition to his concern about how long it took to unearth the numbers, he has doubts about the reported attendance rate of 93 percent.

“I’d have to question the accuracy of that number,” he says. “There’s an Orwellian way of reporting stuff like attendance and truancy. There’s a lot that doesn’t necessarily get picked up.”

Superintendent Bedden says he isn’t concerned that the board pegged his bonus pay on a list of measures for which it lacked specific data. “I’ve come with the intent of doing the job to build a better district with or without incentives,” Bedden says. “That’s not something I’m focusing on.”

As to the data’s accuracy, “I can’t speak for what’s been done in the past or what their concerns are,” Bedden says. “Our goal is always to report accurately.”

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