Monday, August 29, 2016

School Reform Still Failing; Virtual Schools Using Louisiana Flood to Recruit More Victims

 I just read this disturbing article about the most recent PARCC scores in Rhode Island. The article mentions that the Central Falls district had only 5.2% of their students scoring proficient in math. Some of my readers may remember that this is the district where all the teachers were fired several years ago as a school restructuring of so called "failing schools". So all those dedicated teachers were fired to produce this result! 

The CCSS and accompanying tests are widening the achievement gap between advantaged and at-risk students even though we were promised by the Common Core developers that the gap would be reduced. The major problem is that regardless of what the CCSS promoters said about the standards being designed for both college and career, they were really designed only to push college prep. And what's even sadder is that many experts are now saying that the new standards are not good at college prep either. The proponents of Common Core dismiss any criticisms by stating that non-college bound students need the tougher standards maybe even more than the college bound because of the competitiveness of the world job market. I believe this is totally misleading because students that are forced to struggle with common core standards are being prevented from receiving true career tech courses while they are still in high school. 

Recently, I checked the results of college attendance for the New Orleans RSD graduates and found that almost none are attending four year colleges even though many of the charter schools there sell themselves as being college prep. Many of these kids are being "given" empty diplomas because of the cheating and phony credit recovery that goes on in many RSD schools. They have the lowest ACT scores in the state and few qualify for TOPS. So college is out of the question for most of their grads, yet there are almost no career prep courses in the RSD. 

Trump Clueless About Failing Schools

Donald Trump recently addressed African American voter by telling them: "Yer schools are no-good!" He then went on to explain that he wants to give parents "choice" as a way of improving their child's education. Well we have seen plenty of that approach in Louisiana as a result of Jindal's move to more charters and vouchers. The data shows that most voucher students perform lower in their new voucher schools than they did in their old public schools. The RSD is supposed to be 100% choice, but their LEAP students score at the bottom one-fifth of the state averages and their ACT scores are dead last.

Just read this recent article in about the great charter school rip-off.

The problem is not "Yer schools are no good!" The problem is that we are neglecting to give full support to educators that are dealing with the massive problems of our poor and dysfunctional communities. I recently addressed one of John White's forums on implementing the new federal law replacing No Child Left Behind. I  pointed out that many of the teachers in D and F schools in Louisiana are often the most among the most dedicated and hardest working teachers in the state simply because they are dealing with students that are faced with the biggest obstacles to success. Instead of supporting these teachers, we label their schools as failing and do everything we can to run those teachers off!

DFER: Democrats for Education Reform Also Support the Same Choice Options as Trump and the Republican Party

To be fair, there are plenty of Democrats that are just as wrong on the "failing schools" and "choice" issue as Donald Trump. Former US Senator for Louisiana, Mary Landrieu was a strong supporter of the New Orleans charter schools. Now she is working for the Walton Foundation which pushes for school choice.

In Louisiana we have found that it is the charter schools that do the "choosing", trying to recruit the most motivated students and sending their discipline problems back to the real public schools. 

I would say this to Trump and DFER: You can't take a kid who is having to sleep in a car at night and get him to do better in school by sending him to a voucher school or a charter school.

Virtual Schools Making a Push to Recruit Flood Victims

Another form of "choice" here in Louisiana are the virtual charter schools that provide instruction to a student at his home using internet services. Radio commercials are inviting parents displaced by the recent floods to enroll their child in a free virtual school. Of course it's not really free. .. . . the Louisiana taxpayers pay for this program that is sucking money out of the real public schools. If flood victims enroll for so called "temporary schooling" and stay until the October 1 student count, the virtual school steals 90% of the funding for the first semester from the real public schools even if the student ends up dropping out or transferring back after that date.

Here is how our virtual schools work: Students enrolled in virtual schools, Connections Academy or K-12 Virtual Academy, are expected to sign in for their classes each day which are pre-programmed and do not necessarily require a teacher to deliver daily lessons. Teachers are available to provide one-to-one help. Sounds good to those who don't know how the system really works in practice.

In the real world, often no one checks to see if the student puts in the same required time he/she would spend in a real school. The kid may sign in to the virtual school in the morning and then spend the rest of the day visiting other web sites and maybe even playing video games. It is no wonder that this most recent study of virtual school results find them losing almost a year of progress for each year the student is enrolled.

This article in also contains a disturbing video report on a Stanford University study of the sensational failure of online charter schools.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Spring 2016 Scores the LDOE Didn't Want You to See

Our State Department of Education has released the scale scores of all Louisiana students for the Spring 2016 testing. The tests in English language arts (ELA) and math were based on the  same Common Core standards as they were last year. The major differences are that the tests were shortened in length with fewer total points possible, and as a result of a legislative mandate, fewer than half of the questions were allowed to come from the PARCC consortium.

Note to readers: You may click on this link to view the full 44 pages of conversion tables for converting raw to scale scores for the 2016 LEAP tests in math and English language arts for grades 3 - 8. These tables were obtained by public records requests and are now part of my Google Drive files. 

Science and social studies tests for grades 3-8 have scale scores ranging from 100 to 500. Click here to view the conversion tables for Science. Social studies conversions are not available because they are still in development.

All End-of-course tests for high school have scale scores ranging from 600 to 800. Click here to see the conversion tables for the EOC tests given in May 2016.

The ELA and math tests form a major portion of the rating system for our schools and eventually are supposed to be used in evaluating teachers. The problem is that these scores are reported as scale scores, which we found out last year, tell us almost nothing about how much of the test material our students got right. Teachers and parents are accustomed to reviewing student test performance as raw scores which tell us how many questions students got correct on a test. On most tests, teachers and parents get to see what percentage of the possible answers each student got right. BESE has a policy on grading for all public schools that sets a score of 67% as the minimum passing score on tests. But that turns out to be far from being the case with standardized testing.

Unfortunately the LDOE and their testing companies prefer to obscure vital test results by reporting only what in the industry is known as "scale scores". Scale scores often have a skewed relationship to the actual percentage of questions a student got right. For example, if a student answers absolutely zero questions right, the present system for grading the Common Core related tests assigns the student a score of 650 out of a possible total of 850 points. Also, even though BESE has adopted a scale cut score of 725 as the minimum passing score on all of the Common Core related tests, that score could represent as little as 27.3% or as much as 39% correct answers on the actual test. To most parents and even to some teachers, this is a pretty confusing way to report student test results.

That's why I submitted a public records request to Superintendent John White and to the LDOE just as I did last year, for the raw to scale score conversion tables. I plan to make these available as a Google Doc. to anyone who wants to be able to convert any scale score to a raw score on each of the tests given this Spring. Also, I believe the LDOE will soon make these conversion tables available on their web site since the cat is out of the bag. For now, with this blog post I am reporting the total possible points on each Common Core related test for grades 3 - 8, the minimum or "cut score" for a rating of basic and mastery, and the actual percentage of correct answers represented by these cut scores.

Each year, the testing companies in consultation with their clients (the LDOE) usually change the test forms to reduce the possibility of cheating. (The tests use different questions assessing the same material from one year to the next) In most cases there is some variation in the difficulty of the various test forms, so the testing company applies an equating adjustment to attempt to retain the same level of difficulty in determining test results. This is the primary legitimate reason for reporting test results as scale scores instead of as raw scores each year. (There are other reasons in my opinion that are not so legitimate. . . . such as manipulating the test results to show either false improvement or declines in performance)  This was found to be the case several years ago in the state of New York where the whole whole state average of testing results was falsely inflated.

The table below represents the conversion from scale scores of 725 for basic and 750 for mastery to raw scores for the 2016 Spring testing in ELA and math. The results of scale to raw conversion vary from test to test, but overall, the average cut scores for the ratings of basic and mastery are very close to the percentage correct used in 2015 scale scores for math and English Language Arts (ELA). The tests covered the same standards as in 2015, and the cut scores for the two years represent close to the same percentage of correct answers. The average cut percentages were set slightly higher in 2016 than in 2015.

The LDOE reports that approximately 67% of our students achieved a rating of "basic" on these tests and 37% achieved a rating of mastery in 2016. Just as my fellow analyst Herb Bassett predicted, the percentage of students achieving basic and mastery has increased by a small amount over the first year of testing. (2% and 5% respectively) This seems to be a common trend after the introduction of a new type of test. I will encourage Herb to write a post describing such trends.

For now though, I encourage my readers to put yourself in the shoes of our young students taking these tests, and try to imagine how it feels to be able to answer only about 32% of the questions correctly. I am not convinced that these tests are appropriate or valid for our students.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Is Superintendent White's Praise of Louisiana Students Genuine?

State Superintendent John White loves to talk about how smart our Louisiana students are. For example, he begins his Power Point presentation at each of the public forums on the new ESSA law with the following assertion:
  "Louisiana’s students—all of them, no matter race, disability, or creed—are as smart and capable as any in America. They have gifts and talents no lesser than those given to any children on this earth."

White came to us only four years ago from New York state with a minimum of education credentials, and no training in tests and measurement, yet he often makes this announcement at public meetings when discussing school accountability. This statement seems like a nice complement to Louisiana students, but as far as I know there is absolutely no documentation whatsoever that supports this assertion. That is unless White has secretly conducted  IQ or aptitude testing of all or a representative sampling of Louisiana students.  

When I first heard the statement, I thought is was a nice gesture to the citizens of Louisiana. But now I am beginning to believe there is a more sinister motive to this "complement" about our students. 

Education reformers such as White love to claim that their reform efforts are data driven. They want us to believe that everything they do is based on what is factual and what works, and is supported by education research.  So what does the data tell us about Louisiana students?

The data tells us that Louisiana ranks second to the bottom in the country in student poverty, just ahead of Mississippi. We also know that student achievement is more closely statistically connected with student poverty than with any other factor. No one really knows what our student potential really is, but we do know that areas of high poverty also have more students with disabilities, more students whose school performance is adversely affected by poor health and poor nutrition, and more students who miss school habitually. High poverty school zones have much fewer books in the home, and on average children from these zones begin school with a vocabulary only about half the vocabulary of middle income students. Tests on such students for suspected disabilities yield a higher percentage of students with cognitive disabilities than that demonstrated by the general population. So why would White insist on repeating such an unsupported assumption about Louisiana students?

This is my theory: White is in his fourth year as State Superintendent. He came from another state (New York) possessing no real education credentials, but with a reputation as an education reformer under New York mayor Bloomberg. Governor Jindal insisted on hiring White because he was the guy Jindal thought could greatly improve Louisiana's standing in the area of education. 

When he got the appointment despite the criticism of his lack of credentials, White must have felt a need to at least ingratiate himself with the citizens of Louisiana by expressing confidence in the abilities of the students in his adopted state. But White's entire educational reform program for Louisiana students and the expectations of the big business community, who supported White's appointment, is based upon improving student test scores. In order to be seen as a successful reformer, he has to show significant progress in improving student test scores and improving Louisiana's ranking compared to other states.  If that does not happen, White could be seen as a failure. For White to survive, there would need to be a some other cause for this apparent failure. It would not be seen as politically correct to blame the students or the parents, so there must be a scapegoat . . .  or more accurately about 45,000 scapegoats. If Louisiana students are just as smart and capable as any in America, then it must be the teachers who are to blame if we fail to improve our ranking in education. This may be the real reason for White's praise of Louisiana students.

But after four years of White, and all the major reforms,  Louisiana ranks just slightly below where we were in comparison to other states just before hurricane Katrina. This blog has pointed out that in the comparison of student performance between the states, the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests (NAEP),  continues to place Louisiana somewhere among the bottom 5 states. The most recent NAEP tests did show a small improvement in the ranking of Louisiana for 4th grade students in English and math, but there was also a slight decline in the ranking of 8th grade students on the same measures. This Advocate article still ranks Louisiana near the bottom of the states in student performance and a ranking by the group wallet places Louisiana dead last among the states in education.

White did not come to Louisiana promising to help our students reach their greatest potential. He came here promising to make radical changes that would raise student test scores to a level competitive with other states. In order to accomplish this he helped Jindal remove teacher job protections and base evaluations and teacher pay on student test performance. Those reforms were supposed to bring about dramatic improvements in student test scores. Instead they have resulted in flatlining scores while driving away some of our strongest, most highly respected teachers who refused to work in a system where they were required to spend the majority of their time rehearsing students for tests.

Now we are giving state tests in math and English where the passing scores has been reduced to an average of 30% correct answers. Our LDOE and its testing company somehow converts that 30% raw score to a scale score of 725 out of a possible score of 850. The average parent, many teachers and most BESE members have no idea how many questions the students actually missed on the tests, 
but we are told they are making gains. Even so, Louisiana's ranking on NAEP stays near the bottom.

Teaching to a narrow range of tests in limited subjects is not real education. Our students really are capable and deserving of much more.