Friday, February 22, 2013

Two Flaws in Accountability

I served on a panel in Lafayette Thursday for a discussion of the status of education in Louisiana sponsored by the Louisiana Association of Educators. As part of the panel presentation I pointed out two serious flaws in the Louisiana school accountability system. After the forum, a couple of teachers asked me to write a post on those two issues so that the teachers and other educators who were not able to attend the forum could also utilize this information in discussions with their legislators. Here they are:

Some legislators may wonder why so many teachers are frustrated and even angry about the education reforms passed recently by the legislature. I would like to just point out two major accountability issues that teachers believe are extremely unfair to students, schools and teachers.

The first is the letter grade labeling of all our public schools. We need to point out that no such labeling of private schools exists even though the legislature has approved vouchers for our tax dollars to fund such schools.

It was assumed by the legislature that the school letter grade system which was left up to the State Superintendent to implement would be accurate and fair. It is neither.

The letter grade system imposed by the State Superintendent totally ignores the percentage of high poverty students in a school. Many experts believe that the level of poverty in a school can account for as much as 80% of student performance. But the Louisiana school grading system ignores this important factor. My research has shown that a low poverty school (such as a school with only 45% of its students on free or reduced lunch) will almost always score at a “B” or “A” level in Louisiana. A school with twice the poverty or 90% free or reduced lunch will generally score at a “D” level even if all the other factors at the two schools are equal. This means that you could actually switch the teaching faculties and administrators of those two schools and the letter grades would remain generally the same.

So what the DOE pretends is a level playing field condemns high poverty schools, their students, and their teachers with a label of failure. Such a system may easily destroy parental support for our struggling schools just at the time when we most need positive parental involvement. Imagine what it does to the morale of the dedicated teachers and administrators who have chosen to take on the incredible challenge of giving the best education possible to high poverty students. This letter grading system tells us very little about the relative efforts and expertize of the educators in wealthy compared to high poverty schools.

Another reason the school grading system is unfair is that it uses exactly the same factors to compare magnet or accelerated schools which select the best performing students, to schools such as our alternative schools whose enrollments generally include the least motivated and lowest performing students. Is it any wonder that all true academic magnet schools are rated “A” while all alternative schools are rated “F”? This rating system tells us absolutely nothing about the caliber of teaching going on in either type of school.

The other big issue with teachers is the unfairness and inaccuracy of the new Act 54 teacher evaluation system. I will just give one example of the many flaws teachers have seen in this program: The State Superintendent has decreed that the bottom 10% of teachers rated by the Value Added Model will be designated as “ineffective”, will immediately lose their tenure, and will be placed on a path to dismissal if their scores do not improve. Such a system may not be so objectionable if the VAM system were fair and accurate. It is neither.

The data collected by the DOE itself on the stability or reliability of VAM proves that it is unreliable and erratic. For example, over a two year period, only about 25% of teachers rated the first year as ineffective would be rated again as ineffective the second year even if they did not change their teaching methods or effort in any way for the second year. That means that the VAM evaluation system has a 75% probability of incorrectly labeling teachers as ineffective in the first place. But when this happens, the teacher immediately loses her/his tenure without right of appeal. That is because the ALEC model legislation adopted by our legislature states that the evaluation itself is the only proof needed to condemn a teacher as ineffective. And to further insult professional educators, this flawed VAM system overrules the Principal's evaluation of the teacher even though the law stated that the two portions of the evaluation were supposed to be weighted equally.

Members of the panel pointed out many other flaws in the evaluation system related to special education teachers, librarians and others We also explained that the only teachers that have now been granted a waiver of the vicissitudes of VAM are teachers of high performing students who because of an amendment by Superintendent White will not be required to show the academic gains originally demanded by the VAM formula. How does White explain that to all the other teachers in the bulls eye of VAM?


Ray Hodges said...

Mike we also had a great discussion in Pineville on the unfairness of Louisiana's flawed accountability program.

Michael Deshotels said...

Thanks Ray. I suggest my readers click on the link at the beginning of the third paragraph to see what just happened in Indiana with school grades.