Sunday, August 6, 2017

Restart of VAM = More Unfair Teacher Evaluations = More Good Teachers Resigning

This Advocate article about the restart of VAM (Value Added Model) for evaluating teachers in 2017-18 reminds us about why teachers are advising young people to avoid the teaching profession as a career. More and more, teaching is just becoming something people do until they can get a better job where they get a little respect. Teaching in Louisiana is no longer a true profession.

Governor Jindal and John White helped change the law so that teachers in charter schools no longer need a degree in education, and Teach for America corps members can enter any public school classroom with only 5 or 6 weeks of training. But these folks are only interested in being in the classroom for three years or less. People being hired as teachers of the basic subjects of English, math, science and social studies don't need to be real teachers who try to inspire and teach a love of learning. They only need to be able to rehearse students for their all important state tests. But if they are unlucky, the VAM score of their students may run them out of teaching. Here is one example.

Four years ago, right after the first year of VAM I visited several schools to talk to educators about how the VAM rating system had worked. I spoke to a principal of a small rural school, where students generally scored above average on their state LEAP tests. The school was rated a "B" using the state rating system based mostly on student test scores. I asked the principal for her opinion about how effective VAM had been in identifying the best and worst teachers. She responded that actually, VAM had labeled her best math teacher as being ineffective. This had forced the teacher to be placed on remediation even though she was the most qualified in the school to teach a remediation course!

I asked how could that be possible? The principal said that this weird result occurred because she had moved the teacher from teaching 4th grade math to 5th grade math in the year where VAM was applied. The teacher ended up teaching the exact same students she had taught before when their test scores had been spectacular. But because the VAM formula raised the growth score prediction unreasonably and the students hit a plateau in their performance, the teacher got a terrible VAM score even though her students were still performing above grade level! The principal told me that this teacher was devastated by this result. She lost her tenure, was put on remediation, and was seriously considering leaving teaching. I wonder how many times this result was repeated all over the state.

Statistics tell us that VAM was extremely unstable and unreliable from year to year because of such factors as above. The worst result I heard about was the teacher who got a failing VAM because the teacher the year before had given the students the correct answers on the state test, causing them to have an inflated VAM which doomed the teacher the next year!

A major part of the problem with the application of VAM for teacher evaluations is that it is based on a system called stack ranking of employee evaluations. This system was first developed by the Microsoft Corporation. It ranks employees on their relative performance evaluations and guarantees that a certain percentage will be ranked unsatisfactory each year, without regard to other factors. Microsoft found out very quickly that such a system destroyed teamwork by pitting employees against each other and resulted in lower overall productivity. Microsoft has long ago abandoned this defective process, but that did not stop education reformers from putting it in all over the country. There is not one state where the prevailing opinion is that it works to improve teacher effectiveness, yet it survives in many places because reformers will never admit that they were wrong.

Representative Frank Hoffman, a retired educator who was the author of the original VAM legislation, has expressed serious doubts about the effectiveness of VAM, and has tried to pass new legislation to make make it optional for local school systems. But the education reform bosses at LABI and CABL who have never taught a day in their lives, said no and killed the legislation!

The new application of VAM for 2017-18 will be reduced from 50% to 35%, but if everything else is equal, it can still have a detrimental effect on teacher morale which ultimately drives good people away from the teaching profession. Just exactly the opposite of what VAM was supposed to do.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Links to Raw to Scale Score State Testing Conversion Tables

The recently released state testing results for grades 3 through 8 tell us how students across the state performed on English/Language arts and math. But to really understand how much of the test questions answered correctly you need the raw to scale score conversion tables. These are not normally released to the public and are not included on the LDOE web site. 

For the most recent three years of testing, I have made public records requests to obtain the raw to scale score conversion tables for ELA and math. This year, I have saved the conversion tables as Google docs.

If you simply click on this link you can access the conversion tables for ELA and math for the Spring 2017 tests.

Click on this link to view the conversion tables for the science tests given in grades three to eight in the Spring 2017.

Click on this link to view the conversion tables for high school end of course tests given in the Spring 2017.

Click on this link to view the conversion tables for high school end of course tests given in the Winter of 2016.










Monday, July 17, 2017

The Common Core Experiment in Louisiana is Stalling

Lackluster LEAP test performance and lax promotion/retention practices combine to shortchange students. Public records requests reveal the bleak truth.


The Louisiana Department of Education released LEAP test scores in math, English, and Science last week. The average test scores were stalled at approximately the same levels as 2016. Unfortunately since the new ESSA plan submitted by Superintendent White requires growth to mastery by 2025, the LDOE felt a need to spin the results using a three-year time span. The press release attempted to put the best face on stalled performance by combining the last two years and comparing the combined result to the first year of Common Core testing. Educators and many parents are not fooled.

State Superintendent John White claims that in recent years, Louisiana has raised expectations for student performance as measured by state tests. Actually, my public records requests show that the expectations of student performance have been lowered drastically to the point that they are almost non-existent! Also Public records data provides the evidence that Louisiana standards are not actually enforced as required by state laws affecting student promotion. The lack of expectations of students is resulting in many of our students being awarded meaningless diplomas after 12 years of schooling. Too many of our students are totally frustrated by being forced to sit through a curriculum that is not appropriate for their needs. A major part of the problem is that not every student can or should be prepared for college. Students are all different and capable in their own unique ways. They should not be treated like identical widgets.

One of my recent public records requests asked the Louisiana Department of Education to provide records on the number of students failing both of their all important state tests in English/language arts and math.  I also requested the number of students retained in their present grade level for the past school year. The data shows that over 25% of students in grades 3 to 8 failed both their ELA and math tests in 2016, yet only approximately 2.5% of students were retained in grade.  Pupil progression policies are supposed to relate promotion to academic performance. The actual data shows that there is almost no consequence to students who fail their critical courses. At the same time teachers are reporting extreme pressure to pass students to the next grade even though many students have no significant academic achievements in their present grade.

Here are the failure rates for students in grades 3 through 8 from the latest round of state testing: ELA 30%, math 38%, and science 35%.

Could it be that the new standards are so rigorous that students cannot be expected to excel for the early years of implementation of the Common Core related standards, but that they will benefit in the long run. Let’s examine how rigorous the new testing is compared to previous standards.

Students taking state tests in math, and ELA are assigned scale scores ranging from 650 to 850. The lowest passing scale score on these tests are all set at 725 out of 850. But how much do students really know when they achieve the minimum passing score on 725? The scale scores tell us nothing about how many questions the students got right on the state tests. To get that information, you have to make a public records request for the raw score to scale score conversion tables. That’s when you find out that a score of 650 actually means that students got zero points on their test. A Scale score of 725 actually represents only about 30% correct answers. Some of the passing scores are set as low as 25%.  Before adoption of Common Core based standards, passing scores were set approximately 20% higher. The official BESE standard for the lowest “D” is 67%, but apparently that does not apply to the supposedly “higher standard” state tests.

So if a student fails both his ELA and math tests, it is clear that he/she understood less than 30% of the course work in those two subjects. Yet when students fail to achieve even these ridiculously low standards, they are still promoted to the next grade. Even so, the new ESSA plan submitted by White proposes that the majority of students will achieve mastery performance by 2025.

So the best way to describe the rigor of the new standards and the expectations for our public school students is that there is little rigor and there are practically no expectations of achievement for students. A very large proportion of Louisiana students are being routinely moved up to the next grade even though they have learned almost nothing in the most basic academic subjects. What lesson do such students really learn when they are rewarded for zero performance?

I pointed out to the Accountability Commission during their hearings this past year that it is not appropriate to place all of the accountability on teachers and schools. Many parents do not regularly send their children to school, nor do they insist that students study and do homework. Yet the new system rewards such students with automatic promotion and a meaningless diploma.

On the other hand, most educators including this writer do not believe that massive failure of students is effective or desired. Students generally do not benefit from being separated from their similar age cohorts, and often demonstrate behavior problems when left behind with younger students. I am not proposing massive grade retention of students. Instead our public school system should address the needs of each student at his/her present level of achievement and performance.  Students who have learned almost none of the material taught at the 7th grade level will not benefit by being subjected to 8th grade material. Yet that’s how our present system works.

Proponents of the new standards believe (without any scientific basis) that all students perform better when confronted with higher expectations. The data does not support this assumption. Students just fall further behind to the point that they can no longer participate effectively in the classroom. Teachers in middle school are forced to practice a form of academic triage, where the students with low achievement are mostly ignored so that maximum effort can be concentrated on students who have some potential. That’s the kind of warped result we get when the system punishes teachers and schools that do not demonstrate the mandated overall growth. Some of the most at-risk students fall by the wayside.

My previous post below concludes that the Louisiana math standards for middle school students are not appropriate and teachable for the majority of our students. There was no field-testing of these standards before they were implemented. Instead all of our students became guinea pigs in a grand experiment in attempting to teach college prep math to all students. The results have been disastrous. The results with English/language arts and Science are almost as bad.

Herb Bassett, a Louisiana teacher who is an excellent analyst of testing and standards has observed that in general when a state adopts new standards and a new regime of testing is implemented, the scores will usually go up after the first year as students and teachers adapt to the new tests. But there is no reason to believe that students will continue to improve significantly over a longer time frame. We get a new set of students each year! The results this year, even with maximum pressure on teachers and principals to continuously improve test scores, are not impressive. The expected improvement in test scores happened last year, but then stalled in the 2017 spring testing. There is no indication that Louisiana will come anywhere near meeting the ambitious goals set by John White by the 2025 school year.


The data shows that Louisiana is not succeeding in teaching the experimental common core standards to even the majority of students. Why are our amateur education reformers so determined to blindly follow this questionable course with an entire generation of students?