Monday, October 23, 2017

Test Based Reform Likened to Failed Soviet Centralized Planning

The Testing Charade, A new book by Daniel Koretz, a testing expert who teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, claims that test based accountability as it is now used in our public schools is doing more harm than good. This is disturbing conclusion considering the recent action by our BESE in adopting a new school grading system that intensifies the pressure on Louisiana public schools to improve standardized test scores.

Much of Koretz’s criticism of test-based accountability is based on a social science principle called Campbell’s law. Campbell’s law is a well-documented theory that exposes the self-defeating effects of imposing high stakes rewards and punishments on individuals and institutions based on the achievement of arbitrary social goals.

Campbell’s law, proposed in the 1970’s by social scientist, Don Campbell states that when a particular quantitative indicator is used to determine success in producing a certain outcome, the indicator itself will be subject to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the outcome it was intended to measure.

Koretz points out that test based accountability is failing to improve education in the same way that Communist production goals based on centralized planning doomed the economy of the Soviet Union. Yes, Koretz claims there are great similarities between the arbitrary math and Language Arts testing goals used to grade schools and the arbitrary industrial production goals that helped bring down the communist bureaucracy that ruled Russia for over 70 years.

Communist dictators were convinced that Russian factories could be forced to boost production by simply imposing upon factory managers a system of rewards and penalties based on arbitrary production goals. Today’s education reformers believe that setting  arbitrary learning goals measured by standardized tests and rewarding or punishing educators based on the achievement of these goals will produce improved student achievement.

It turns out that in both cases, Campbell’s law results in false progress by producing shoddy manufactured goods in communist factories and by producing score or grade inflation in public schools. Koretz produces facts and figures that prove that most test based educational gains are not real, and amount to false score gains when compared to other more objective tests. This blog has given numerous examples of test score manipulation and inflation in our Louisiana accountability system.

One of the major goals of test-based accountability was to close the achievement gap between various racial and socioeconomic groups. The goal was to insure that black, Hispanic and high poverty students would improve their school performance compared to white, Asian and more privileged students.  Koretz shows that the achievement gaps have actually widened slightly since the introduction of test based accountability. (Coincidentally,  common core standards advocates confidently claimed that introduction of their test based standards would close the same achievement gaps. They have not.)

We learned over 30 years ago, that top down arbitrary goals and high stakes penalties imposed by a central government somehow always get circumvented and eventually fail. In fact the entire Soviet economy failed because of Campbell’s law.

Koretz provides numerous examples of how test based accountability has resulted in various forms of test inflation based on bad test-prep schemes and even by outright cheating by educators. The blaming and shaming of educators for student test scores has resulted in truly shameful behavior by some educators. I am personally saddened to see my chosen profession degraded and de-professionalized by this unfair system. 

Some educators are now rationalizing and condoning the use of what educators would once have considered unethical behavior used solely for raising test scores. Some educators have gone to jail for erasing and changing student test answers or for manipulating test groups to produce higher scores. But the embarrassment is so great when schools are rated D and F even though educators are giving their very best,  that it pressures educators to implement the corruption of educational practice predicted by Campbell’s law. 

Why do I call this test based accountability system unfair? Here is just one example: BESE member, Doris Votier,  pointed out at the last BESE meeting that all of the alternative schools across the state that serve at-risk students and students with discipline problems are rated F. Is it possible that all of these educators in many different school systems are all incompetent or lazy? Of course not. The test based accountability system unfairly rates all schools serving at risk students at the bottom of the scale no matter how hard they work to help these needy students. The same principle applies to schools that serve high poverty neighborhoods.

In his book, Koretz also shows how many important and critical educational practices are being neglected because of the overemphasis on test scores. He gives examples of truly innovative teachers who are forced to drop techniques that motivate and stimulate students with the joy of learning because more time has to be devoted to test prep. Let me give you a personal example: My teaching specialty was high school science. My supervising teacher taught me to teach science using an inquiry based approach where students use laboratory work to observe first-hand the principals of science. Laboratory work is more time consuming than lecture and drilling using worksheets as a way of teaching science. But all the experts point out that the inquiry approach is much more motivating and stimulating for promoting the love of science in students. Yet this approach is now being minimized as teachers are forced to do more test prep by the perverse incentives of this system. If we are truly interested in promoting STEM careers in Louisiana, our present accountability system is self-defeating.

Please take just a few minutes to read this recent article in U.S. News by Daniel Koretz which touches on the corrupting influence of test based accountability.

Here is a petition you can sign to oppose the Gates Foundation's disastrous efforts to tinker with public education.

Monday, September 25, 2017

School Letter Grades May be Arbitrarily, Drastically Lowered

This article in The Advocate predicts a drastic decline in school performance scores across the state as John White and his real boses at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) implement a new school rating system as part of the new ESSA plan. These lowered SPS scores and letter grades will have nothing to do with a decline in the quality of instruction, but will decline simply because the powers that be believe that our schools deserve to be rated more harshly. The LABI group in particular have appointed themselves as the primary decision makers on school standards and grading without regard to the concerns of professional educators.

John White and LABI have painted themselves and our public schools into a corner by claiming that schools can raise student test scores to any level they demand. They expect all "A" rated schools to tbring the majority of their students to a level of mastery on LEAP tests by the year 2025. This goal is based on a highly flawed set of Common Cores tests, that are based on an assumption that all students can and should be prepared for 4 year colleges. These tests are developmentally inappropriate for the majority of our students, with the present score statewide averaging somewhat less than 40%. The tests are so poorly designed that the passing raw score for students have been set at approximately 31% in math and English Language arts.

his new rating system is based on two major flawed assumptions:
The first fake assumption is the politically correct statement by John White claiming the following: Louisiana’s students—all of them, no matter race, disability, or creed—are as smart and capable as any in America. There is absolutely not one shred of evidence for this assumption. Louisiana students score consistently in the bottom 10% of the states on all their tests and measurements. There is not one indication in any of the testing, including the NAEP testing that show anywhere near average results for our students.  Nationwide, student performance is directly linked to poverty, not some utopian belief in the equality of all students. We know that even in any high poverty population, there are very smart students. But the statistical average performance of the high poverty population is significantly lower than more privileged groups. John White knows this assumption of compatibility with richer states is completely unrealistic, but it is useful to him in blaming our public schools and teachers for not accomplishing the impossible. It is also useful in promoting the privatization of our schools. So to set standards that demand our students magically raise their performance is a guarantee that our school letter grades will decline drastically.

The other assumption made by White and LABI that makes no sense is that test scores, graduation rates, and other measures will continue to improve at a steady rate each year. There is no mathematical basis for this assumption. On the contrary, all testing trends across the country and in Louisiana indicate that after a new set of standards is in place for a few years, student performance levels off and sometimes even declines after initial improvements. NAEP scores across the nation, initially improved slightly after the greater emphasis on test prep implemented by the No Child Left Behind law, then scores leveled off and declined slightly in more recent years. Louisiana LEAP scores in only 3 years have already leveled off and declined slightly since we switched to the Common Core standards. There is overwhelming evidence that the proposed state mandate for continuous annual improvement will cause school performance scores to decline drastically. That is even though our students in 8 years will in all probability be doing just as well as they are doing now.

Another unintended consequence of the reforms that have placed such extreme emphasis on English and math, is the disastrous performance revealed by the new social studies tests that were launched this last Spring. The LDOE delayed release of the Spring 2017 social studies scores by several months and have never notified the press of first year results. The atrocious social studies scores along with very low science scores demonstrate the extreme neglect of other critical areas caused by the skewed emphasis on math and English of our eduction deform movement.

John White indicated at the meeting of the Superintendents last Friday that there are no plans to  require students to improve their test performance in order to be promoted to the next grade. The score of Basic on one major area and approaching basic on another will be sufficient to get a student promoted to the next grade. But that low standard is far from actual practice in most schools across the state. My most recent analysis shows that 90% of students who fail both their ELA and math LEAP tests are routinely promoted each year. No wonder teachers in middle school are frustrated with trying to teach to the  current year LEAP tests when over half their students have not mastered the previous year's material. In fact it was made very clear to superintendents that they will be expected to promote almost all students (in direct violation of state law) even when schools themselves are expected to produce higher test scores jut to retain their present rating.

Here is a direct quote of state law relative to promotion of students: "A pupil progression plan shall require the student's mastery of grade-appropriate skills before he or she can be recommended for promotion." 

Concerning the promotion of 4th and 8th grade students, the law states: , "the state Department of Education shall establish, subject to the approval of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the level of achievement on certain of the tests or on certain portions of the tests given as required in this Subsection in fourth and eighth grades as definitive of the level of the student's proficiency in mathematics, English language arts, science, and social studies. Fourth and eighth grade students shall be required to demonstrate proficiency on such tests in order to advance to grades five and nine This state law is being routinely violated across the state.

Another alarming side affect of Louisiana education reform was raised in comments by several superintendents at the Friday meeting. Local superintendents complained that a growing number of school systems are experiencing serious shortages of certified teachers that are reaching alarming levels. Superintendents pointed out that many basic classes are being conducted by persons designated as permanent substitutes. In 2012 LABI and the Jindal administration basically destroyed teacher tenure in an effort to make it easier to fire teachers. But the real problem is not with firing more teachers but with replacing good teachers who left after becoming so disenchanted with their chosen profession. Those teachers are hard to replace because young people don't want to go into a profession where they are blamed for conditions over which they have no control.

The major education reforms in our state have accomplished the exact opposite of what they were intended to do.

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.