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?

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

"Many parents do not regularly send their children to school, nor do they insist that students study and do homework."

Mr. Mike,

This sentence right here is one of the biggest reasons why we're going to be stuck on this plateau for a while. We have no control over what happens at home. I'd be pretty safe in saying that there's a rather strong correlation between students who study / do homework at home and those who score the highest on tests, whether it's on regular classroom tests or standardized ones. John White can set all the goals for 2025 that he wants, but until home support improves, we're just spinning our wheels.