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.


lbarrios said...

You ask, what should we do with him? Indict him. Some funding for schools are based on these scores so his misrepresentation of them would seem to be malfeasance. Parents should be demanding his resignation or for BESE to fire him. Legislators who approved his letter grade system should be calling him up before the education committees for making them look like fools. Teachers should be refusing to administer the phony tests and parents should be refusing to allow their children to take them. The media needs to expose this farce for what it is before their reputation is further destroyed. Cowan Institute should close its doors because their reputation is already shot and they have no excuse for their poor research.

Michael Deshotels said...

Thanks Lee. But next time don't hold back!
Mike Deshotels