Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More and More Testing; Diminising Returns

Most of our non-educator education reformers believe that the primary purpose of K-12 education is to get all students ready for college. The high school Redesign Commission under the direction of previous Superintendent Pastorek several years ago adopted a goal that most students would graduate by completing the college prep Core 4 curriculum. (See my post of 1/29/2010) That's also why State Superintendent John White has decreed that starting this year all 8th through 11th graders in public schools will be required to take the ACT (See the Louisiana ESEA Flexibility Request page 54).
 
A few educators have warned that college prep for all is a serious mistake. We believe that not all of our student population can and should be prepared for college. We believe that scheduling all or most students in college prep courses results in a watering down of instruction. When more than half the class is not ready for Algebra, Geometry or Advanced English, the teacher ends up teaching only the minimum needed to get students to pass the end of course tests. As a result the true college prep students do not get the rigorous course content they need and most are bored to death.
 
The non-college bound students are hurt even more by this system. They struggle to get through the Core 4, and some have to take credit recovery courses to try to graduate on time. They have no time to take vocational courses that could allow them to pursue a valuable career. These students barely graduate from high school with no salable skills and very little chance of succeeding in college. Some that attempt college end up dropping out with a huge load of college loans and still no career. The reformers then simply blame teachers and administrators for not pounding square pegs into round holes.
 
The push for college for all has been the policy in Louisiana for several years.
How successful has Louisiana been in preparing all students for college? ACT test averages for all states were released last week for test takers in the 2012 school year. Louisiana students scored an average of 20.3. The Louisiana Department of Education put out a press release claiming improvement for our public school students over last year and a narrowing of the achievement gap. One important item that was not mentioned in the LDOE press release is an analysis by the ACT experts concluding that only 17% of Louisiana students met the benchmarks that would predict success in all major categories of college course work.
 
ACT testing administrators also published a 5 year listing of average scores for each state. The 2012 score for Louisiana students is exactly the same as the average score of 20.3 in 2008. So if one looks at the most recent 5 year period, Louisiana shows no overall increase in the average ACT score. The 5 year period covers the last part of the administration of Paul Pastorek, the non-educator guy who set us on this course.

A complicating factor in using ACT scores to estimate improvement in public education in Louisiana is the fact that scores are averaged for all students taking the test including both public and private school students. It is impossible to know whether a gain in the average is due to public school students or to the fairly large number of private school students taking the test. The State Department of Education however, is claiming that the flimsy one tenth point improvement this year in the overall average means that public schools are improving. I hope that is true, but I would first like to see a breakdown showing separate averages for public and private schools.

I participated in a meeting of the High School Redesign Commission a few months ago, where the group was informed that the State Department of Education will start requiring all high school students to take the ACT and that 25% of the all important School Performance Score will be based on the ACT average score. Some of the Commission members grumbled that this would not give the high schools time to set up special ACT prep courses. But not wanting to seem to be against this latest reform, they dutifully voted to endorse the new testing scheme. So it looks like many more of our teachers will be singing the Test Teacher Song. (Click on the link and you'll see what I mean.) 

It used to be that high schools in addition to producing literate and well rounded citizens would prepare students for either vocational/career work or for entry into 4 year colleges. Now the goal has been carefully reshaped by our non-educator reformers so that schools are supposed to produce adults who are College and Career ready.  The reformers are telling us that if we achieve the goal of college prep, we will also automatically be preparing students for careers that require less than a 4 year college degree. The problem is there are only so many hours in the school day. That's why many school systems have been forced to sacrifice many of their vocational-technical programs to allow more time for the Core 4 curriculum.

No other industrialized country attempts to prepare all its students for college. They know that the modern work force needs skilled and vocational workers just as much as it needs college educated workers. Why do our school reformers insist on doing exactly the opposite of what the most successful countries are doing?

It is ironic that business leaders have been telling the Louisiana Workforce Commission that what they need are skilled workers in many jobs that do not require a college degree. That's why one element of the Jindal reform legislation will now allow high school students to leave their home campus and attend vocational courses by private providers. The problem is most of these kids are not able to go in two directions at one time.

I believe that forcing students who are not suited to, or have no interest in college prep to take such courses is very bad policy. It is discouraging and damaging to the students and guarantees that our public schools will continue to look like failures. For educators it's more and more testing with diminishing returns.



11 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is killing the kids, the teachers and the schools. We are now giving the EXPLORE test immediately prior to the LEAP. Now we are going to give them the ACT? ALL kids? Even the ones reading at the 5th grade level? This is horrible.

Anonymous said...

To which average will a school's ACT score be compared: the state or national average? When state and school average scores are compared to the national average, don't you think our scores will show a decline once ALL students are required to take the ACT? The national average will not reflect the scores of EVERY junior in the United States since other states do not require their juniors to do this!

Once again, LA public education and teachers will be a target for criticism.

Michael Deshotels said...

Yes I agree that the average will go down when all students are required to take the ACT because then the average will include the lowest academic performers. It is totally unnecessary that Louisiana education go through more self flagellation. This additional 25 % of our students are not college bound anyway.

Anonymous said...

this will also eat up the one free chance to take the test and leave kids with a low score that will haunt them in the future. Many parents flat out will not or do not have the money to pay for the test for a child who MIGHT want to go to college. Then if the child changes their mind later that low ACT acore will still be on file. What a waste.

Anonymous said...

where can we read about this decision by White?

Anonymous said...

I am about to celebrate my 50th class reunion. Long, long time ago, huh? Not everyone of my classmates had a desire to go on to college. Just as it is today. There was no one who forced us to take a college entrance test. Those who wanted to did. Those who didn't, didn't. I don't think the decision either way hurt any of us. Those who wanted to attend college were counseled to take what was called a college prep course. Those that didn't and had the desire to go into the workforce soon after graduation or into a field that needed some other kind of education took courses that would give them those skills they were most interested in. If I recall, we didn't have too many, if at all, any dropouts. Could this have been why? I firmly believe these new test requirements will be more harmful than helpful. Of course, we had educators as principals, local superintendents and an educator at the state level. Not TFAers.






Anonymous said...

Mike, I just had this delightful little song, "Little Programs" appear in my e-mail. I just had to share it. Fits the theme of your blog and so many other articles about ed reform here and elsewhere. Enjoy!

http://soundcloud.com/barrylane55/little-programs

Michael Deshotels said...

To the reader who wanted to read more about White's decision to require the ACT to be taken by all students: The ACT for all requirement was written into Louisiana's waiver of the No Child Left Behind Law. My understanding is that this proposal was sent to Arne Duncan even before BESE approved it. I will put a link to this document in the blog, but you will have to flip through about 45 pages before you get to the part about the ACT requirement. This is also the document that proposes to find 10% of teachers "ineffective"each year and put them on a path to dismissal.

Karla Kiper said...

The ACT push certainly helps ETS. The Baton Rouge area needs workers in construction and manufacturing according to the Baton Rouge Advocate. How does sending all of our young people to college to rack up student loan debt help?

http://theadvocate.com/news/business/3720501-123/br-area-gains-2400-jobs

Karla Kiper said...

Also readers on this blog should chew on this: Louisiana's college graduates in 2010 carried an average of $24,000 in student loan debt. While this doesn't mean that we don't want our youngsters to go to college, we should certainly view our reformer friends waving posh college banners in their faces with some sketicism. Projectstudentdebt.org reports that 41% of LSU students are in an average of $20,000 in debt. Our state ranks 16th nationally in average college debt for grads. In April 2012, half of America's new college grads were jobless or underemployed: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/04/53-of-recent-college-grads-are-jobless-or-underemployed-how/256237/. Again, while we know that the unemployment rate for college grads is only 3.9 or 4% nationally, we need to make sure that high school kids in LA are being steered toward schools/colleges holding tution costs under control and majors that will pay off relative to the debt they must incur. Just like kids and poverty, the reformers just ignore the data reality. Take a LA student who is already from a poor family and drop 5-10 grand a year student debt on them. Then couple that with no job or working at Mickey D's and it becomes easier to see the difficulties with this reform policy.

Karla Kiper said...

Sorry, spelled skepticism wrong on my last post! :)