Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bassett Analyzes Progress on High School Tests

Note to Louisiana Educator readers: Herb Bassett, an educator in LaSalle Parish, has for the past several years proven himself to be an excellent independent analyst of data on student testing. His work has been featured before on this blog.

The 2012 reforms referred to by Mr. Bassett include primarily the Jindal backed Acts I and 2 of the 2012 legislative session. Act I drastically reduced teacher tenure protections, did away with teacher seniority rights, and introduced a merit pay system for teachers based partially on student test scores.  At the same time, the lack of state funding for the merit pay plan caused many school systems to greatly reduce automatic pay increases for teachers based on years of teaching experience. Act II greatly increased the availability of charter schools and vouchers as alternatives for parents to choose in educating their children. Enough time has now elapsed to allow us to begin to see how these reforms have affected student test scores. This analysis relates only to high school end-of-course testing.

LDOE quietly posted the individual high school End-Of-Course scores Tuesday, Aug 2. This testing data for various critical high school courses lets us compare how students in Louisiana performed before and after the education reforms of 2012.

In a nutshell, the progress Louisiana's students and teachers were making statewide before the reforms has slowed dramatically and is beginning to stall completely.

The legislature passed a package of strong education reforms in the Spring of 2012. The test scores earned in 2012 are the result of progress being made before the reforms. I use that as a baseline to then measure progress post-reform. Growth up to 2012 is the product of Louisiana's teachers and students pre-reform. Statewide growth since 2012 I credit to the reformers.

High School students take six End-Of-Course tests; English II, English III, Algebra I, Geometry, Biology, and U. S. History. The six tests were phased in one per year from 2008 to 2013; we can measure growth up to 2012 of four that became part of the school accountability system that year, before the reforms influenced achievement.

All four of those subjects showed robust proficiency growth prior to the education reforms. Afterward, growth slowed to a crawl.

The table shows the initial proficiency rate, the 2012 proficiency rate and the current (2016) proficiency rate for each subject (statewide data). While growth has continued since the education reforms, it has slowed dramatically in these subjects.

Before the reforms, overall proficiency growth in the four subjects averaged 6.71 points per year. After the reforms, the growth slowed to merely one point per year. This is the difference between a car on a highway traveling just over the speed limit of 65 m.p.h.  and a car slowly crawling along at ten m.p.h. in a parking lot.

We were cruising down the highway before the reforms, now we are in the parking lot.

Test score gains over time have been the driving forces in education since No Child Left Behind.

Test score gains, made rapidly, are the reformers' preferred measures of success.

The reforms have utterly failed to hasten or even maintain the rate of progress we were already making.

The reforms of 2012 - and the reformers who pushed them - have now failed by their own measures.

There always is nuance worth exploring, but I will save that for another time. Reformers want fast test score gains - we see only the slowing of progress here.

Herb Bassett


J-BIRD-MEDIC said...

This would explain why JW is discussing getting rid of EOC tests in place of the ACT?

Kimberly Domangue said...


1) Has the level of complexity of items on the EOC assessments differed in a) content or b) language-load in a significant manner for the test results referenced?

2) What is the general notion of professionals who have been in the classroom from 2010-ish until now with regards to these assessments referenced?

I am an ESL/elementary educator, so the only experiences I can reference are those of my own two children. When I attended high school, the ACT was necessary for those pursuing within-state university education. There were no EOCs required of us.

I think the standards and assessments are essential to maintain educational equity. I personally remember far too many students who were left to flounder by a school system laden with institutional racism and classism. My educational gaps had to be addressed in middle school, opened by my church home.

In our zeal to correct the past wrongs and to rid ourselves of those who seek to selfishly gain, may we not "over correct" so as to lose important gains in educational civil rights for students.

Alter ego said...

J-BIRD and Kimberly,

I am hoping to do a follow-up soon to go into the nuance I mentioned at the end of the article. A large part of the nuance goes directly to the reformers continually changing the tests. There are some trends common to all of the EOCs that show that cycling tests can produce an illusion of ever-rising proficiency. The GEE, which the EOCs replaced, had peaked, stabilized, and then gone into decline. By switching tests to the EOCs, growth could be shown again.

J-BIRD, I share your view of changing tests; three of the four EOCs in the article are now below their peaks. Biology is currently 7 points down from its peak. Switching tests could allow for growth again. However, to be fair to LDOE, there is some argument to be made to moving the traditionally 11th grade tests (English III and US History) to the earlier grades to accommodate the extensive 11th and 12th grade requirements of the pathways in Jump Start. I fear that Jump Start will prove to be too cumbersome, but I support the return of a vocational option in high school.

Kimberly, yes, over time some of the tests have been modified. Of course, LDOE and the testing company hold that they have statistically adjusted the scaling to maintain consistency.

I do question whether those statical methods really work. English II had a redesign in 2013 and the proficiency rate spiked at 75 percent (up from 66 in 2012). Since then proficiency has fallen to 70 percent. What caused the spike was is unclear; the decline since is the legacy of the reformers.

Part of the reform package of 2012 was implementing the teacher evaluation system with its focus on student or group and subgroup growth. Now SLTs require pretest, posttest and three checkpoint tests. Clearly on the EOCs - the high school level -, that focus on growth has not lead to more rapid proficiency growth. Certainly some individuals may have benefitted from that focus, but how many more might have been helped without the excessive time spent on generating data and the test prep associated with that?

As a band director, I have a hard time accepting the premise that the testing regime is somehow tied to educational civil rights of students. From my side, I have seen how the tests and school accountability systems keep students from exploring the arts and take significant amounts of time away from music classes. That seems to violate student rights to explore their interests and develop intellectually through means other than the straight classroom, test-driven setting.

H Bassett

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