Friday, March 24, 2017

John White's Plan for the Implementation of the New ESSA law should be rejected

Notice: Special BESE meeting for consideration of the Louisiana plan for the implementation of ESSA, Wednesday, March 29, 1:00 P. M.

John White is a one trick pony. He still believes that the only reason our students don't perform at a level of average or above on state tests is that the teachers are not teaching properly. He apparently never heard the Mark Twain quote: "Tis sad but true that half the members of the american public are below average." White's education reform for Louisiana is based on somehow forcing most children to produce above average scores on state tests. Education has been reduced to test rehearsal and testing. And if our students don't produce the impossible, then it must be the teacher's fault, and the failing teachers and failing schools must be punished.

White has proposed that Louisiana must educate students to a level of "proficient" as measured by the National Assessment of Educational progress (NAEP). NAEP has been used for many years to measure the performance of students in all states in the subjects of reading and math. The problem is that experts such as Diane Ravitch who served on the board of directors for NAEP, have made it clear that the level of "proficient" was intentionally set at a level well above average performance. Only about a third of students nationwide score proficient or above on NAEP. Barring some type of brain transplant for american students, most students will not achieve the level of "proficient".  But White like Donald Trump operates in his own version of reality. He has announced that if BESE sets a high standard, our teachers will magically teach to that standard and the students will produce the expected test results. That's the standard that White's plan for implementation of the new ESSA law which he wants BESE to adopt next week.

In his ESSA plan White and his staff have devised complex point awarding systems based primarily on student test scores in each school. There is also a set of points awarded to schools that improve their student test scores from year to year. But what happens if a school has a major improvement one year and then a slight drop or leveling off the next year? These complex formulas could cause wacky results in the grading of schools from year to year just like what happened when the LDOE used a value added system to rate the performance of teachers.

There is a much more direct and accurate way of grading schools relative to student performance than the complex formulas developed by White. Simply rate the schools using a combination of average student poverty and the percentage of students with cognitive disabilities. The schools with a high proportion of economically advantaged students with fewer disabilities would get A's and B's and schools with high poverty and more disabilities would get D's and F's depending on how unlucky or underprivileged its students are. Just like the present system assigns an Fs to the school for the Deaf and the School for the Visually impaired (Both run by John White's staff) and to all the alternative schools that serve the most at risk students.

If we used the method above (percentage of at-risk students) to rate schools we would not even need to test students to find the lowest ranked schools. We could save millions by not hiring expensive testing companies and we could do without some of the LDOE's highly paid staff that do almost nothing but rate schools using test data. Maybe we could use that money to actually help educate the students that need the most help. Now that would be true education reform!

But that would also show that we don't even need John White. In order to keep his job White knows that he must keep on blaming and punishing teachers and stigmatizing schools that don't measure up to his impossible goal.

The following is the testimony I plan to give to BESE next week opposing this ill conceived plan. The testimony is brief because BESE is expected to limit individual input to three minutes:

My name is Michael Deshotels, and I live in Zachary

I appear before you today to ask that BESE reject or at least delay action for the ESSA implementation in Louisiana.

The plan proposed by the Superintendent should be rejected because it is unrealistic, misleading, and represents a false promise very similar to the original promise made to the american public by the No Child Left Behind law. No Child Left Behind was a failure because the premise upon which it was based was wildly unrealistic. The exact same is true of this proposed ESSA plan.

No Child Left Behind promised the American people that within a ten year period every public school would educate each child to a standard that was known by any educator to be unattainable. As a result almost every public school in the the country was designated a failure.

We cannot educate children by decree from on high that ignores the major principles of learning theory and statistics. BESE can solemnly decree that by 2025, we will educate children to perform at a level which is above the statistical average for normal children, but that will not make it happen. Instead such a decree will end up labeling many educators and many schools as failures because of factors over which they have no control. Either that or it will cause educators to cheat to avoid being labeled as failures.

In my opinion, cheating is already occurring at the state level, I must point out that the very design of the state testing program is a form of cheating and manipulation of results to create the illusion of success in achieving unachievable goals. 

About three weeks ago I mailed each of you my analysis demonstrating that the test score results in Louisiana have been inflated so that many students can achieve close to passing results by simply guessing on the multiple choice portion of state tests.

We have been assured that level 4 performance on our state test is equivalent to the level of "proficient" on the NAEP test. This assertion is entirely inaccurate.  I believe this amounts to a violation of the state law upon which our testing program is based. Our level 4 grading standard on the LEAP test is claimed by the LDOE to be comparable to the proficient level on the NAEP, yet the chart you were given by the Department shows that there is a great disparity between the two and that the gap is widening rapidly with each year of testing. In one case, our testing is claiming that over twice as many students are proficient as measured by NAEP. All the other test results are also significantly inflated.

This entire scheme for the implementation of ESSA is an exercise in false advertising. We should not saddle our students and teachers with this bogus system.

Thank you

Please call or email your BESE member and ask that he/she vote to reject the ESSA plan and take the extra time suggested by the governor to develop a plan that provides a well rounded education to children with less emphasis on test prep.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good luck tomorrow, and thank you!

I have a question and a comment: Was there a leadership change in BESE? I didn't see anything published in the Advocate.

There is another great reason for us to wait for the second deadline. DeVos hasn't hired the staff necessary to even read over these reports. I read a listing of the executive vacancies she has yet to fill, but I can't find the link right now. The article made it sound like USDOE was running on a skeletal crew. Whatever gets sent in now will sit collecting dust. The longer it sits, the more likely she'll change course, making the whole process obsolete.

As disheartening as it is to see her ineptitude, I admit it's slightly satisfying seeing the corporate (charter) reformers squirm as their airplane gets built while in flight. She can change their rules every other week, keep them busy scrambling, and then maybe we can just teach.

Michael Deshotels said...

As expected, BESE approved John White's proposal for ESSA, but there is also a good chance that BESE will approve amendments to the plan that will incorporate the changes pushed by LABI in some of the remaining BESE meetings before final adoption. Remember that big business interests pretty much bought BESE in the last election. In addition to the continued obsession with rating of schools using almost exclusively student test scores, LABI wants no curving of school grades to maintain the past ratio of A's B's etc. LABi wants the school grades to reflect the worst possible result as the state ratchets up John White's proposal for Mastery as the new minimum acceptable score on the state tests. The business community seems to be determined to portray our public schools in the worst possible light. So this is supposed to improve the climate for attracting business to Louisiana? These ideologies are convinced that if they just put enough pressure on teachers and school administrators, our students will magically perform above what statistical averages tell us is possible. So they want to continue this cycle of bashing schools which will make it harder to maintain tax dedications to our public schools and which will drive away some of our best teachers and which will do absolutely nothing to educate students.