Friday, July 31, 2015

Update on BESE Elections

LABI Makes it's First 4 Endorsements

If you like Common Core and PARCC;
If you think the Louisiana grading system for schools that punishes high poverty schools no matter how dedicated and hard working the educators are is a good idea;
If you think that VAM evaluations of teachers are just great;
If you think that school vouchers and predatory charter schools are wonderful;
and If you think that John White is a terrific and highly qualified leader for our schools;
Then you will want to support the LABI candidates described here for BESE 

Stay tuned for further developments . . . .


Friday, July 10, 2015

Your Guide to BESE Elections

Why the John White Controlled BESE is Wrong for Louisiana

All elected seats for BESE will be up for election in the October 24, 2015 primary election. There are 8 elected members on BESE that run in districts similar to the old Louisiana Congressional Districts. Five of the present elected members have been closely aligned with State Superintendent John White and have consistently voted for policies that have done great damage to our public education system and to the status and wellbeing of our professional educators. It is my hope that these individuals will be defeated and replaced by persons who believe in public education governed by local voters and our elected local school boards. We need candidates who respect professional educators and who value their professional opinion on education matters. 

There are three elected members of BESE that have stood for local control, and that have opposed policies that are harmful to public education who should be reelected. These very positive, pro-public education members of BESE are Dr Lottie Beebe representing the 3rd BESE district,  Mary Harris representing the 4th BESE district, and Carolyn Hill representing the 8th BESE district. I am asking my readers who live and vote in these three districts to please vote for and assist these good BESE members in getting reelected.

The flawed policies of the John White majority on BESE

·      Privatization of public schools: The John White controlled faction of BESE has consistently supported the approval of privately managed charters schools that use MFP funding over the objection of our local school boards. These charter managers are not responsible to the voters in each local district and can pocket a large percentage of our tax dollars without voter approval and at the same time deliver a substandard education to Louisiana children. Some takeover school managers have been allowed to choose their own governing agency and are not being returned to the local school boards as the original law intended.  This is an abuse of public trust. See this recent new story about a charter manager using our taxes for personal credit card expenses and his sweetheart deal with LDOE bosses.
·      Substandard accountability for Charter and Voucher schools: The John White controlled faction of BESE allows some voucher and charter schools to operate without proper professional staff and facilities. This shortchanges the students attending these schools financed by our tax dollars. Some of these privately managed schools use mandatory entrance interviews to cull out hard to educate students and serve fewer handicapped students, (This fact has been documented by a lawsuit against the Recovery District and the LDOE) Many charter schools dump discipline problems and low performers back to the real public schools, and counsel out students that would lower their school performance scores.
·      Unfair VAM Evaluations of Teachers: The John White controlled faction on BESE has approved BESE polices that require 10% of all VAM rated teachers must be found to be ineffective each year even if overall student performance on state standards improves. This inherently unfair and error plagued process for teacher evaluation that is driving away good teachers will not be changed as long as White controls the majority on BESE.
·       Damage to the Teacher Retirement System: Present BESE policy allows charter schools and voucher schools to opt out of the teacher retirement system while still retaining the full MFP allocation for each student. This policy puts a growing burden on our local school boards and provides a windfall profit to the charter managers.
·      Refusal to consider legitimate criticisms of Common Core by parents and teachers: The John White faction of BESE has repeatedly ignored legitimate complaints that portions of the Common Core standards are not age appropriate and that some methods required by the standards are impractical and counter-productive. The only reason the standards are now being reviewed is because the legislature and the governor have demanded it in recent legislation.
·      Control by Out-of-State Interests: The biggest problem with our John White aligned majority on BESE is that they are basically controlled by out-of-state and privatizer interests. Big contributors such as Michael Bloomberg, Lane Grigsby, K-12 Virtual schools, USA Charter Schools,  and Teach for America supporters, all make huge contributors to BESE campaigns with the condition that their candidates will support John White in basically all his policies. This puts one person (who is not even qualified to serve as an assistant principal) with a flawed philosophy in charge of our educational system instead of the parents and taxpayers. These BESE members must be changed if we are to restore local control of our public school systems and to prevent misuse of our tax dollars.  Our public education system was set up to insure that all children have an opportunity to get properly educated. It was not set up so that profiteers could make money using our tax dollars. The issue of school choice has been perverted to serve the interests of a few wealthy contributors to BESE and legislative campaigns who are misusing our school taxes while shortchanging students. Only the defeat of the John White "yes" men and women on BESE will change this trend.

The following candidates have great credentials and platforms to serve on BESE and have made it clear that the John White privatization machine will not control them:

District 1; Candidate Lee Barrios, is a retired educator who has been very active in supporting parents and educator rights. This district includes St Tammany, Northern Jefferson and part of Orleans. Ms Barrios' campaign website is http://electleebarrios.blogspot.com/p/donate.html. Contributions may be sent to Lee Barrios Campaign, P.O. Box 1456, Abita Springs,  LA 70420.

District 2; No challenger has announced yet for the district, which includes much of Orleans, St Charles, St John and St James.

District 3; Incumbent Dr Lottie Beebe represents southern St. Landry, southern Pointe Coupee, St. Martin, Iberville, Iberia, St Mary, Terrebonne, Lafourche, southern Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines. She is the local superintendent for St. Martin Parish Click here for her Facebook page. Email is lotteb@cox.net.

District 4; Incumbent Mary Harris is a school principal in Caddo Parish and has proven that she will be independent and support professional educators and parents. This district includes Caddo, Bossier, Webster, Bienville, Red River, Desoto, Sabine, Natchitoches, Winn, and Vernon. Click here for her Facebook page. Email is HarrisforBESE4@yahoo.com. 

District 5; Candidate Johnny Fatheree is an excellent well educated candidate who supports reading improvement in the place of endless testing and opposes Common Core. He believes in supporting professional educators. This district includes the parishes of: Claiborne, Union, Morehouse, E. Carroll, W. Carroll, Madison, Richland, Ouachita, Jackson, Caldwell, Franklin, Tensas, Concordia, Catahoula, LaSalle, Grant, Rapides, and Evangeline. Click here for his Facebook page. Email: fatheree1953@yahoo.com. Campaign contributions to: PO Box 976 Farmerville, LA 71241.

District 6; Candidate Jason France is a parent of public school children, is an expert in state education policies and opposes Common Core and state and federal interference in our schools. His blog, Crazy Crawfish has exposed some of the most serious improper conduct of John White and his administration. This district includes the southern portion and far North portion of East Baton Rouge Parish,  and all of Ascension, Livingston, Tangipahoa, and Washington Parish. Click here for his web site. It includes a contribution button and volunteer button. Email is jasonfrance@hotmail.com

District 7; Candidate Michael Kreamer is a school principal who has made his position clear in opposition to school privatization and interference in our schools by federal authorities. This district includes Beauregard, Allen, Calcasieu, Jeff Davis, Acadia, Lafayette, Vermilion and Cameron. Click here for his Facebook page. Email: kreamermt@cox.net. Contributions may be sent to MikeKreamerforBESE7, 2851 Johnston St., Lafayette, LA 70503.

District 8; Incumbent Carolyn Hill is a professional school social worker who has repeatedly taken firm stands against the John White machine. She has shown true compassion for our students and supports parent and educator rights. This district includes Avoyelles, North St. Landry, North Point Coupee, West Feleciana, East Feleciana, St. Helena, and West Baton Rouge, and North EBR. Click here for her Facebook page. 

Another important source of BESE election information is the Flip BESE Facebook Page.

Please visit the Facebook page of the candidate in your district and offer them the support they will need to go up against the big money supporting the John White faction of BESE. Small contributions from many people can make a big difference. Please "like" your candidates' Facebook page and send it to all your friends with your recommendation of support. Or you could help in the old fashioned way by just talking to your friends and relatives about supporting the good candidates that will help us to Flip BESE!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Standardized Test Score Setting is Looking More and More Like Sausage Making

Forget About Common Core; Forget About the New Revised Louisiana Standards Now Being Drafted; It’s the State Tests and Their Cut Scores That Are the Real Standards!

Most professional educators working in our public schools have figured out by now that the standards and the curriculum in our schools today are one thing and one thing only: the state tests. The annual LEAP and iLEAP tests are the only things that determine what the basic skills teachers will be forced to teach. In addition, the cut scores  on these tests that are set by non-teacher testing specialists will determine what percentage of students will score Basic, Mastery or Advanced. Also the cut scores will determine what grades will be ultimately assigned to each of our public schools.

The newly appointed standards review committees, the Accountability Commission and then BESE think that they are making real decisions about the standards, but their decisions are greatly overshadowed by the test designers and the cut score deciders. Superintendent White knows he can adjust the standards in any way he wants from year to year by either changing the ratio of difficult to easy questions on state tests or by changing the cut scores.

This Spring, our students in grades 3 through 8 took their usual LEAP and iLEAP standardized tests in science and social studies accompanied by Common Core aligned tests in math and English language arts based on the new PARCC test. Schools and parents were told that grading would take much longer this year and that the results would not be released until sometime in the Fall. The test results will contain no diagnostic results for individual students. They are designed mostly to measure the effectiveness on the schools and teachers in teaching the new Common Core standards. It is believed by some reformers that just requiring the new Common Core standards and testing students each year will somehow drive our schools to a higher level of excellence that will prepare our students to be much more competitive in the world job market. You know, just the way that No Child Left Behind got every student to the level of proficiency over a ten year period.

Over the previous three years, state tests had already been incorporating increasingly more Common Core aligned test questions in preparation for the 100%  PARCC test given this Spring. Upon release of the Spring 2014 test results, the LDOE announced that even though the tests in math and ELA were more challenging, our students performed just as well as the year before according to the number of students achieving a level of Basic on the tests. The press release also stated that the percentage of students achieving Mastery had increased slightly. What they neglected to tell us was revealed as a result of a public records request and a public records lawsuit. That is the fact that the cut scores for both Basic and Mastery had been lowered significantly on 3 out of 4 tests to basically insure that the number of students scoring at those levels would not drop. The students actually performed significantly lower on the new tests but the grading scale was lowered to make it look like they had done just fine.

The official score range for achievement of Basic on the 7th grade math test for 2014  was from 292 to 375 out of a total possible 500 points. This was the same standard scale score range that was used for the 2013 7th grade math test. But what the state didn’t tell us was that the percentage of correct answers that was translated to a scale score of 292 was only 38%. That 38% is what is called the raw cut score. The year before, it was 41%, which was translated to 292 and the year before that it was 47.5%, which also translated to a scale score of 292. So the actual performance in 2014 for a score of Basic was quite a bit lower than it was two years before Louisiana moved to testing more Common Core math. A similar lowering of the underlying performance was engineered for the level of Mastery.

Also the raw cut score for 8th grade math was lowered from 55% to only 40% over a three-year period. The cut score for 3rd grade ELA was lowered from 54.6% to 48% over the three-year period. 4th grade ELA was lowered from 53.8% to 44.6% in three years. Third grade math however was increased slightly from 53% to 55.5%.  All of these cut scores were adjusted by the contracted testing company, Data Recognition Corporation, with approval of certain testing specialists at the Louisiana Department of Education. This process is called “leveling” and is supposed to make the necessary adjustments in scoring from one test form to another. As far as I can tell, last year, the testing specialists made these decisions without consulting teachers in the field.

I was informed by one of my readers that in the past, small teams of education practitioners were asked to give their blessing to the recommendations of the testing experts. One amusing story related to me was that one year, the ELA practitioners found out that the math practitioners had changed the cut score more than the experts recommended so they demanded that their ELA scores be adjusted in a similar way.  This process does not look very scientific to me. It looks more like making sausage, a process the consumers are not normally allowed to see. Maybe that’s why the experts decided to skip that part of the process in 2014. More likely I think this was done because John White had promised the local superintendents that he would not allow the conversion to the more rigorous Common Core standards to denigrate our students or educators. Hence the lowering of the cut scores to make it appear that our students were doing just as well on the harder tests.

But my question is, how can we justify a passing score of only 38% or 40% on the new tests? I believe such low cut scores basically make the tests invalid because, students can come close to a passing score by just making random choices of most of the multiple choice answers. They don’t have to know very much of the supposedly more rigorous new content to make a passing grade.

How much will the cut scores on the new PARCC-like test be lowered this year? Our State Department of Education does not intend for us to know these internal secrets of the test makers and test graders. I guess we just can’t handle the truth!  Teachers and parents are supposed to accept the decisions these non-educators are making for our children and our schools. I think it is amazing that the Accountability Commission which is being asked to make it harder for schools to achieve certain grade ratings, are not informed about how these state test scores are manipulated. The Accountability Commission has been used for years to rubberstamp the decisions of the LDOE and to make it seem like the public and the real educators approve.  It was done 15 years ago when the state decided to mandate that almost all students complete the Core 4 curriculum to the determent of all our Vo-Tech programs in our high schools. Now John White is belatedly trying to bring back Vo-Tech with the Jump Start program.


As an experienced educator, I have to tell you that I don’t have any confidence in the people who are designing the tests and making the cut score decisions on these tests. Decisions on tests that have such a huge impact on our public schools! As a state we have taken the authority for important education decisions away from our teachers and handed it to testing technicians, many who have never set foot in a classroom as a teacher. This is another staggering insult to our teaching profession and it assumes that our parents are fools whose opinions about public education can be manipulated by these non-educators who are now making education policy through the construction and grading of these state tests.