Monday, September 25, 2017

School Letter Grades May be Arbitrarily, Drastically Lowered

This article in The Advocate predicts a drastic decline in school performance scores across the state as John White and his real boses at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) implement a new school rating system as part of the new ESSA plan. These lowered SPS scores and letter grades will have nothing to do with a decline in the quality of instruction, but will decline simply because the powers that be believe that our schools deserve to be rated more harshly. The LABI group in particular have appointed themselves as the primary decision makers on school standards and grading without regard to the concerns of professional educators.

John White and LABI have painted themselves and our public schools into a corner by claiming that schools can raise student test scores to any level they demand. They expect all "A" rated schools to tbring the majority of their students to a level of mastery on LEAP tests by the year 2025. This goal is based on a highly flawed set of Common Cores tests, that are based on an assumption that all students can and should be prepared for 4 year colleges. These tests are developmentally inappropriate for the majority of our students, with the present score statewide averaging somewhat less than 40%. The tests are so poorly designed that the passing raw score for students have been set at approximately 31% in math and English Language arts.

his new rating system is based on two major flawed assumptions:
The first fake assumption is the politically correct statement by John White claiming the following: Louisiana’s students—all of them, no matter race, disability, or creed—are as smart and capable as any in America. There is absolutely not one shred of evidence for this assumption. Louisiana students score consistently in the bottom 10% of the states on all their tests and measurements. There is not one indication in any of the testing, including the NAEP testing that show anywhere near average results for our students.  Nationwide, student performance is directly linked to poverty, not some utopian belief in the equality of all students. We know that even in any high poverty population, there are very smart students. But the statistical average performance of the high poverty population is significantly lower than more privileged groups. John White knows this assumption of compatibility with richer states is completely unrealistic, but it is useful to him in blaming our public schools and teachers for not accomplishing the impossible. It is also useful in promoting the privatization of our schools. So to set standards that demand our students magically raise their performance is a guarantee that our school letter grades will decline drastically.

The other assumption made by White and LABI that makes no sense is that test scores, graduation rates, and other measures will continue to improve at a steady rate each year. There is no mathematical basis for this assumption. On the contrary, all testing trends across the country and in Louisiana indicate that after a new set of standards is in place for a few years, student performance levels off and sometimes even declines after initial improvements. NAEP scores across the nation, initially improved slightly after the greater emphasis on test prep implemented by the No Child Left Behind law, then scores leveled off and declined slightly in more recent years. Louisiana LEAP scores in only 3 years have already leveled off and declined slightly since we switched to the Common Core standards. There is overwhelming evidence that the proposed state mandate for continuous annual improvement will cause school performance scores to decline drastically. That is even though our students in 8 years will in all probability be doing just as well as they are doing now.

Another unintended consequence of the reforms that have placed such extreme emphasis on English and math, is the disastrous performance revealed by the new social studies tests that were launched this last Spring. The LDOE delayed release of the Spring 2017 social studies scores by several months and have never notified the press of first year results. The atrocious social studies scores along with very low science scores demonstrate the extreme neglect of other critical areas caused by the skewed emphasis on math and English of our eduction deform movement.

John White indicated at the meeting of the Superintendents last Friday that there are no plans to  require students to improve their test performance in order to be promoted to the next grade. The score of Basic on one major area and approaching basic on another will be sufficient to get a student promoted to the next grade. But that low standard is far from actual practice in most schools across the state. My most recent analysis shows that 90% of students who fail both their ELA and math LEAP tests are routinely promoted each year. No wonder teachers in middle school are frustrated with trying to teach to the  current year LEAP tests when over half their students have not mastered the previous year's material. In fact it was made very clear to superintendents that they will be expected to promote almost all students (in direct violation of state law) even when schools themselves are expected to produce higher test scores jut to retain their present rating.

Here is a direct quote of state law relative to promotion of students: "A pupil progression plan shall require the student's mastery of grade-appropriate skills before he or she can be recommended for promotion." 

Concerning the promotion of 4th and 8th grade students, the law states: , "the state Department of Education shall establish, subject to the approval of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the level of achievement on certain of the tests or on certain portions of the tests given as required in this Subsection in fourth and eighth grades as definitive of the level of the student's proficiency in mathematics, English language arts, science, and social studies. Fourth and eighth grade students shall be required to demonstrate proficiency on such tests in order to advance to grades five and nine This state law is being routinely violated across the state.

Another alarming side affect of Louisiana education reform was raised in comments by several superintendents at the Friday meeting. Local superintendents complained that a growing number of school systems are experiencing serious shortages of certified teachers that are reaching alarming levels. Superintendents pointed out that many basic classes are being conducted by persons designated as permanent substitutes. In 2012 LABI and the Jindal administration basically destroyed teacher tenure in an effort to make it easier to fire teachers. But the real problem is not with firing more teachers but with replacing good teachers who left after becoming so disenchanted with their chosen profession. Those teachers are hard to replace because young people don't want to go into a profession where they are blamed for conditions over which they have no control.

The major education reforms in our state have accomplished the exact opposite of what they were intended to do.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Restart of VAM = More Unfair Teacher Evaluations = More Good Teachers Resigning

This Advocate article about the restart of VAM (Value Added Model) for evaluating teachers in 2017-18 reminds us about why teachers are advising young people to avoid the teaching profession as a career. More and more, teaching is just becoming something people do until they can get a better job where they get a little respect. Teaching in Louisiana is no longer a true profession.

Governor Jindal and John White helped change the law so that teachers in charter schools no longer need a degree in education, and Teach for America corps members can enter any public school classroom with only 5 or 6 weeks of training. But these folks are only interested in being in the classroom for three years or less. People being hired as teachers of the basic subjects of English, math, science and social studies don't need to be real teachers who try to inspire and teach a love of learning. They only need to be able to rehearse students for their all important state tests. But if they are unlucky, the VAM score of their students may run them out of teaching. Here is one example.

Four years ago, right after the first year of VAM I visited several schools to talk to educators about how the VAM rating system had worked. I spoke to a principal of a small rural school, where students generally scored above average on their state LEAP tests. The school was rated a "B" using the state rating system based mostly on student test scores. I asked the principal for her opinion about how effective VAM had been in identifying the best and worst teachers. She responded that actually, VAM had labeled her best math teacher as being ineffective. This had forced the teacher to be placed on remediation even though she was the most qualified in the school to teach a remediation course!

I asked how could that be possible? The principal said that this weird result occurred because she had moved the teacher from teaching 4th grade math to 5th grade math in the year where VAM was applied. The teacher ended up teaching the exact same students she had taught before when their test scores had been spectacular. But because the VAM formula raised the growth score prediction unreasonably and the students hit a plateau in their performance, the teacher got a terrible VAM score even though her students were still performing above grade level! The principal told me that this teacher was devastated by this result. She lost her tenure, was put on remediation, and was seriously considering leaving teaching. I wonder how many times this result was repeated all over the state.

Statistics tell us that VAM was extremely unstable and unreliable from year to year because of such factors as above. The worst result I heard about was the teacher who got a failing VAM because the teacher the year before had given the students the correct answers on the state test, causing them to have an inflated VAM which doomed the teacher the next year!

A major part of the problem with the application of VAM for teacher evaluations is that it is based on a system called stack ranking of employee evaluations. This system was first developed by the Microsoft Corporation. It ranks employees on their relative performance evaluations and guarantees that a certain percentage will be ranked unsatisfactory each year, without regard to other factors. Microsoft found out very quickly that such a system destroyed teamwork by pitting employees against each other and resulted in lower overall productivity. Microsoft has long ago abandoned this defective process, but that did not stop education reformers from putting it in all over the country. There is not one state where the prevailing opinion is that it works to improve teacher effectiveness, yet it survives in many places because reformers will never admit that they were wrong.

Representative Frank Hoffman, a retired educator who was the author of the original VAM legislation, has expressed serious doubts about the effectiveness of VAM, and has tried to pass new legislation to make make it optional for local school systems. But the education reform bosses at LABI and CABL who have never taught a day in their lives, said no and killed the legislation!

The new application of VAM for 2017-18 will be reduced from 50% to 35%, but if everything else is equal, it can still have a detrimental effect on teacher morale which ultimately drives good people away from the teaching profession. Just exactly the opposite of what VAM was supposed to do.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Links to Raw to Scale Score State Testing Conversion Tables

The recently released state testing results for grades 3 through 8 tell us how students across the state performed on English/Language arts and math. But to really understand how much of the test questions answered correctly you need the raw to scale score conversion tables. These are not normally released to the public and are not included on the LDOE web site. 

For the most recent three years of testing, I have made public records requests to obtain the raw to scale score conversion tables for ELA and math. This year, I have saved the conversion tables as Google docs.

If you simply click on this link you can access the conversion tables for ELA and math for the Spring 2017 tests.

Click on this link to view the conversion tables for the science tests given in grades three to eight in the Spring 2017.

Click on this link to view the conversion tables for high school end of course tests given in the Spring 2017.

Click on this link to view the conversion tables for high school end of course tests given in the Winter of 2016.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Common Core Experiment in Louisiana is Stalling

Lackluster LEAP test performance and lax promotion/retention practices combine to shortchange students. Public records requests reveal the bleak truth.

The Louisiana Department of Education released LEAP test scores in math, English, and Science last week. The average test scores were stalled at approximately the same levels as 2016. Unfortunately since the new ESSA plan submitted by Superintendent White requires growth to mastery by 2025, the LDOE felt a need to spin the results using a three-year time span. The press release attempted to put the best face on stalled performance by combining the last two years and comparing the combined result to the first year of Common Core testing. Educators and many parents are not fooled.

State Superintendent John White claims that in recent years, Louisiana has raised expectations for student performance as measured by state tests. Actually, my public records requests show that the expectations of student performance have been lowered drastically to the point that they are almost non-existent! Also Public records data provides the evidence that Louisiana standards are not actually enforced as required by state laws affecting student promotion. The lack of expectations of students is resulting in many of our students being awarded meaningless diplomas after 12 years of schooling. Too many of our students are totally frustrated by being forced to sit through a curriculum that is not appropriate for their needs. A major part of the problem is that not every student can or should be prepared for college. Students are all different and capable in their own unique ways. They should not be treated like identical widgets.

One of my recent public records requests asked the Louisiana Department of Education to provide records on the number of students failing both of their all important state tests in English/language arts and math.  I also requested the number of students retained in their present grade level for the past school year. The data shows that over 25% of students in grades 3 to 8 failed both their ELA and math tests in 2016, yet only approximately 2.5% of students were retained in grade.  Pupil progression policies are supposed to relate promotion to academic performance. The actual data shows that there is almost no consequence to students who fail their critical courses. At the same time teachers are reporting extreme pressure to pass students to the next grade even though many students have no significant academic achievements in their present grade.

Here are the failure rates for students in grades 3 through 8 from the latest round of state testing: ELA 30%, math 38%, and science 35%.

Could it be that the new standards are so rigorous that students cannot be expected to excel for the early years of implementation of the Common Core related standards, but that they will benefit in the long run. Let’s examine how rigorous the new testing is compared to previous standards.

Students taking state tests in math, and ELA are assigned scale scores ranging from 650 to 850. The lowest passing scale score on these tests are all set at 725 out of 850. But how much do students really know when they achieve the minimum passing score on 725? The scale scores tell us nothing about how many questions the students got right on the state tests. To get that information, you have to make a public records request for the raw score to scale score conversion tables. That’s when you find out that a score of 650 actually means that students got zero points on their test. A Scale score of 725 actually represents only about 30% correct answers. Some of the passing scores are set as low as 25%.  Before adoption of Common Core based standards, passing scores were set approximately 20% higher. The official BESE standard for the lowest “D” is 67%, but apparently that does not apply to the supposedly “higher standard” state tests.

So if a student fails both his ELA and math tests, it is clear that he/she understood less than 30% of the course work in those two subjects. Yet when students fail to achieve even these ridiculously low standards, they are still promoted to the next grade. Even so, the new ESSA plan submitted by White proposes that the majority of students will achieve mastery performance by 2025.

So the best way to describe the rigor of the new standards and the expectations for our public school students is that there is little rigor and there are practically no expectations of achievement for students. A very large proportion of Louisiana students are being routinely moved up to the next grade even though they have learned almost nothing in the most basic academic subjects. What lesson do such students really learn when they are rewarded for zero performance?

I pointed out to the Accountability Commission during their hearings this past year that it is not appropriate to place all of the accountability on teachers and schools. Many parents do not regularly send their children to school, nor do they insist that students study and do homework. Yet the new system rewards such students with automatic promotion and a meaningless diploma.

On the other hand, most educators including this writer do not believe that massive failure of students is effective or desired. Students generally do not benefit from being separated from their similar age cohorts, and often demonstrate behavior problems when left behind with younger students. I am not proposing massive grade retention of students. Instead our public school system should address the needs of each student at his/her present level of achievement and performance.  Students who have learned almost none of the material taught at the 7th grade level will not benefit by being subjected to 8th grade material. Yet that’s how our present system works.

Proponents of the new standards believe (without any scientific basis) that all students perform better when confronted with higher expectations. The data does not support this assumption. Students just fall further behind to the point that they can no longer participate effectively in the classroom. Teachers in middle school are forced to practice a form of academic triage, where the students with low achievement are mostly ignored so that maximum effort can be concentrated on students who have some potential. That’s the kind of warped result we get when the system punishes teachers and schools that do not demonstrate the mandated overall growth. Some of the most at-risk students fall by the wayside.

My previous post below concludes that the Louisiana math standards for middle school students are not appropriate and teachable for the majority of our students. There was no field-testing of these standards before they were implemented. Instead all of our students became guinea pigs in a grand experiment in attempting to teach college prep math to all students. The results have been disastrous. The results with English/language arts and Science are almost as bad.

Herb Bassett, a Louisiana teacher who is an excellent analyst of testing and standards has observed that in general when a state adopts new standards and a new regime of testing is implemented, the scores will usually go up after the first year as students and teachers adapt to the new tests. But there is no reason to believe that students will continue to improve significantly over a longer time frame. We get a new set of students each year! The results this year, even with maximum pressure on teachers and principals to continuously improve test scores, are not impressive. The expected improvement in test scores happened last year, but then stalled in the 2017 spring testing. There is no indication that Louisiana will come anywhere near meeting the ambitious goals set by John White by the 2025 school year.

The data shows that Louisiana is not succeeding in teaching the experimental common core standards to even the majority of students. Why are our amateur education reformers so determined to blindly follow this questionable course with an entire generation of students?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Louisiana Math Standards in Our Middle Schools Are a Disaster!

Louisiana is attempting to teach Common Core math. The recent legislatively mandated revision resulted in a change of only 5% of the standards. But the middle school math standards are poorly designed and are failing our students in every way possible. Students in the middle school grades are performing dismally on the new Common Core math tests. In my opinion, the middle school math standards are not age appropriate. We are trying to teach high school algebra and geometry to students who are not mature enough and who have not learned enough basic math to prepare them to succeed.

Let’s make one thing clear. The new tests that were implemented over the last two years are the curriculum! Nothing else matters in teaching math in Louisiana but attempting to prepare students for the annual spring LEAP tests. Everything the math teacher does now is geared toward preparing students for the math tests. And most of this effort is failing!

Here are the results of the new math LEAP tests now being given to our students:
  • The tests are so difficult and impractical that the LDOE and their testing company have lowered the passing grade for the 8th grade test to only 27% for the school year 2015-16. A student needs to only get 27% of the questions right on the math test right to get a passing grade.
  • In the 2014-15 school year, the first year the new Common Core aligned tests were given, the cut score for passing was set at only 22%.
  • But even with these ridiculously low passing scores, 45% of our students failed the 8th grade math test in 2015 and 43% failed in 2016.
  • In 2016, my best estimate is that the average 8th grade math score statewide was only 33%. Considering that large portions of the tests are multiple choice, many students can do almost as well on these tests by just making random guesses.

The test results are telling us that at least half of our 8th grade students know almost nothing about the math we are attempting to teach. Yet the BESE policy which Superintendent White recommended allows such students to be promoted to high school.

Find out for yourself about the 8th grade math test by taking the practice test by clicking on this link to the LDOE testing website.

So how are our 8th graders doing on the NAEP math test which compares Louisiana to all other states? Unfortunately, on the 2015 NAEP (which was the most recent NAEP) our 8th grade math scores dropped in overall points and in the rankings of the states. Louisiana's 8th grade math NAEP scores now rank only above Alabama and the District of Columbia.

During my teaching career, I taught physics to 11th and 12th grade students. Physics was probably the most difficult course at our school because of the difficult concepts and the math used in Physics. But if I gave a test where half of my students scored below 33% (that never happened), I would have immediately questioned either my teaching or the structure of the test or both. I certainly would not have continued doing the same thing, hoping that my students would do better.

In the case of our middle school math, I have concluded that both the curriculum and the math tests are not age appropriate, nor are they going to prepare most of our students for future careers. But in this brave new world of our state-dictated, test driven curriculum, the powers that be refuse to be questioned. And they hide the hideous results of the state testing by using an obscure scale score system. This is a system where if a student gets zero questions right, he/she still gets a scale score of 650 out of a possible 850 points. A scale score of 725 is considered a passing score even if is equivalent to only 27% correct answers. This does not represent higher standards. These are insane standards. Such standards are driving education into the ditch.

Someone told me recently that the debate about Common Core in Louisiana is over with and that the Common Core advocates have won. If this is winning, I just don’t know how we can explain to parents that their children are learning almost nothing in their middle school math classes.

Parents need to demand that this failed curriculum be junked before it does too much more damage to our students.