Thursday, October 23, 2014

School Performance Scores Controlled by "Adjusting" LEAP Scores

38% is now a passing score on one of the new Common Core aligned state iLEAP tests. The raw cut scores for basic and mastery on LEAP and iLEAP were lowered significantly over the last 3 years. That’s how John White has been able to pretend that our student performance has remained “steady” even though students are taking harder tests.  What would happen to a 7th grade math teacher who set the passing score on his/her final at 38% and still had 27% of the students fail the test?  What should Louisiana do with a State Superintendent who claims that student scores are steady when he has really lowered the cut scores on some state tests by 28%? That’s what John White and his staff have done with some of the LEAP/iLEAP test scores over the last 3 years. The school performance scores are determined each year much more by the adjusting of the LEAP scores than by actual student learning.

John White got his training in education reform in New York State as one of the bright young administrators running the New York City public school system for Mayor Bloomberg. I believe his job there amounted to finding buildings to house the new charter schools that were springing up there at the time. Another thing that was springing up in New York State at that same time were the student test scores.  Right before John White left New York to take a job running the Recovery District in Louisiana, the education reform leaders in the Bloomberg administration including Commissioner of Education for New York city, Joel Klein, White’s boss, were celebrating their amazing turnaround of the performance of New York city schools. Joel Klein and his Lieutenants were hailed nationwide as successful education reformers.

There was only one problem. The standardized test scores had been manipulated by lowering the standards for passing the tests. Either the tests were made easier or students needed to answer  fewer of the test questions correctly in order to get a passing score.  When this “error” was found and corrected it turned out that the students in the New York City public education system were doing just barely above where they were before Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein took over. Two years ago, when the students in New York started taking the Common Core aligned tests, the scores plummeted again to produce a failure rate of 69%. This terrible result was hailed as a victory by the new administrators of the New York State system who claimed to be finally telling parents the truth about the lack of preparation of New York students for college and careers. That’s because the new State Chancellor, John King, had just started his term of office and he wanted to show how much his version of school reform were needed.

Now let's go back to this year’s LEAP testing results announced by John White after being on the job for 3 years in Louisiana. The results of the new Common Core aligned tests were considered a victory by the LDOE in that the percentage of students passing the new tests had remained "steady" despite the fact that the new tests were more rigorous and therefore supposedly harder to pass. But a public records request uncovered the fact that the raw passing scores had been drastically reduced in the last 3 years, and particularly reduced in 2014. How much have the passing scores been “adjusted” you ask?

In 5th, 7th, and 8th grade math the percentage of correct answers needed to pass have been reduced by 25%, 20%, and 28% respectively. The 3rd grade ELA cut score has been reduced by 11.5%. How low is that? For the 2014 LEAP/iLEAP testing, a 7th grade student only needed to get 38% of the math questions correct in order to pass the test, and still 27% of the students failed it. A student in 8th grade only needed to get 41% of the questions right to pass that test, but 35% of those students failed the test.  For 3rd grade ELA the students needed to know only 48% of the material to get a passing grade.

So what happened to all those students who still could not pass the tests with the drastically lowered passing scores? Because John White and BESE decided students should not be penalized as Louisiana goes through  the process of transitioning to the more difficult Common Core standards, most of the students failing LEAP and iLEAP have been passed on to the next grade.

Now imagine you are an 8th grade math teacher this year and 27% of your 2014-2015 class is made up of students who could not score at least 38% on the 7th grade iLEAP. What kind of a challenge are you going to face in getting them to pass the 8th grade LEAP which is supposed to be even more “rigorous” than the one Louisiana gave this last Spring? Since math is a subject where you have to build on previous knowledge, students who failed the test in 7th grade have to first learn the 7th grade material before they are ready to learn the 8th grade material. Yet the teacher is expected to bring those kids up and still keep all the other students from being bored to death. Do you wonder why Louisiana may soon be facing a severe shortage of 8th grade math teachers? Could it be because soon teachers will be rated again on how their students do on the standardized tests?

John White has announced that he wants to move our students up to the level of mastery instead of just basic. No problem. Would it surprise you to learn that the cut scores for mastery have been lowered significantly too?

It’s easy to understand how “Louisiana Believes” that John White can make it happen.  Just remember that John White got his training in school reform in New York.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Now is the Time to Recommend Changes to the COMPASS/VAM Evaluation System!

Important Reminder!

Representative Frank Hoffmann of Monroe, who was the author of Act 54 which originally created VAM and COMPASS has had second thoughts based on numerous accounts of problems with VAM and COMPASS. As a result, he authored Act 240 this last legeslative session which mandated that the Accountability Commission with the addition of practicing teachers would form a subcommittee to  conduct a review of the entire evaluation system and report their recommendations to BESE and the legislature.

Rep. Hoffmann has requested that any teacher or administrator who has experienced problems or knows of examples of how the system has malfunctioned or incorrectly rated teachers should communicate those examples directly to this special subcommitte. Senator Appel has also requested to hear about the successes of the program. The subcommittee meets in Baton Rouge on November 3rd. (the meeting date was changed from November 7). This is probably your best chance to have your concens heard if you have been unairly burned by VAM or COMPASS.

That's why I am listing for you the email addresses of all the subcommittee members as a group so that you can compose one email and use the group in your address line and send it to all of them at once. Don't expect someone else to carry the ball for you on this. I am hopeful that the subcommittee members will hear from real educators who are working in the trenches. Please refer anyone you know who has a legitmate gripe about the evaluation system to this blog so that they can also use the email list below to contact the subcommittee members.,,,,,,,, burnsj@REGENTS.LA.GOV,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
Rep. Hoffmann and Senator Conrad Appel are also voting members of this subcommittee and it is critical that they receive your recommendations. They are included in the group of emails above.  Knowing the attitude of BESE, our best chance for meaningful change is for the legislature to take action.

Please click here to review my post of September 27 which will give you more details about the problems with VAM and COMPASS.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Louisiana Recovery District: Still Failing

This article in the Times Picayune reports on a major retraction of a flawed study by the Tulane based Cowen Institute claiming that the New Orleans Recovery District was “Beating the Odds” in educating the at-risk students in the New Orleans area.  In its retraction of the entire study the Cowen Institute apologized for the report and admitted that its methodology and conclusions were wrong. This is no surprise to those of us (The Louisiana Educator, Crazy Crawfish, Mercedes Schneider, and Research on Reforms) who for years now have been reporting that the claims of amazing success by the RSD and their Charter schools are a complete fraud.

This blog has posted three different reports in the last 10 months exposing the following: (1) The dismal results on ACT scores by the RSD even though the publicized goal of most RSD schools is college prep. (2) The fraudulent misreporting of dropouts as transfers for years by the RSD, resulting in a highly inflated graduation rate. (3) The accurate comparison of RSD charters with other public schools in Louisiana showing that RSD charters consistently perform in the bottom third of all schools.  So why has the Louisiana Recovery District been touted across the nation as the miracle model for school reform and for the turnaround of low performing schools? That has happened because supposedly prestigious groups like the Cowen Institute in the past had issued glowing reports of progress by the RSD using carefully selected data, much of which was bogus and covered up the truly poor performance of the RSD.

The sad part of this education reform hoax, is that thousands of students and teachers have been harmed in the process. Dedicated teachers were unfairly fired; thousands of students have been pushed out into the streets while the new charter managers cooked the books, and the charter operators made off with huge profits from our tax dollars. This is what the Cowen Institute and charter advocacy groups like Educate Now have promoted to the public, our state legislature, and even to the "do gooder" national news shows like Morning Joe, where both conservative and liberal opinion makers touted the New Orleans RSD school “miracle”.  

So several other states have created their own Recovery Districts and Achievement Zones patterned after the New Orleans model, only to produce disastrous results, because they were fooled by the corporate reformers and privatizers of public education. Politicians in some states are including in their platforms privatization plans based on the New Orleans Recovery District model. Never before have I seen both a local and national news media more complicit in the proliferation of false propaganda that benefits con-artists like the privatizers and charter promoters portrayed in the RSD model. Yet the retractions of these bogus reports are rare and the hoax goes on.

The most recent Cowen report has been totally removed from the web site so it is impossible to fully analyze it in detail for its methodology, and the Cowen Institute is not eager to discuss the reasons for their retraction. But here are a few key flaws in the report: (1) The report continued to use inaccurate and inflated graduation rates for RSD schools and concluded that many of the schools had “Beat the Odds” in graduating a higher than expected percentage of at-risk students. The truth is that these schools had pushed out the lowest performing students and called many of them transfers so they would not be counted in the calculation of the graduation rate. The LDOE recently reported that the overall graduation rate for the RSD in New Orleans was now a dismal 59.5%. And this does not even count the students forced out before they get to 9th grade. (2) The Cowen study used an inaccurate value added calculation for students which produced the conclusion that even though the at-risk students in the RSD were performing poorly on state tests, they were still doing better than their socioeconomic status would predict. This conclusion is easily discredited when one observes that the report admits that RSD at-risk students on the whole still perform below similar students in our regular public schools across the state. (3) The inclusion of more advanced placement courses in the RSD has demonstrated the utter failure of the charter schools in preparing students for college. The pass rate of only 5% on the AP tests is the lowest in the state. An appallingly low percentage of these students are being adequately prepared for college even though college prep has been the primary stated goal of the RSD charters.

The entire structure of the RSD and its charter schools is a house of cards built upon an obsessive drive to privatize schools and enrich the operators at the expense of the students and the taxpayers. But now there are so many legislators "on the take" from charter operators, who are still protected by the compliant news media, that it will take some time to clean up the mess and get back to solid basic education practices that really focus on the students and take into account the real issues in dealing with high poverty communities.

Take notice, Lane Grigsby and Baton Rouge Area Chamber!