Saturday, December 1, 2018

Another Fake School Conning Parents and Donors


Why did it take the New York Times to send a team of reporters to Louisiana to expose this fraud of a school? Where were the reporters of the Lafayette Advertiser and The Advocate while innocent children were being preyed upon and their parents conned into paying huge monthly tuitions to a "school" where their children were being beaten, humiliated, and taught to lie on their resume's so they could end up flunking out of elite colleges? The Times report exposes T.M. Landry near Breaux Bridge as just another fake "miracle school".

Its easy to promote miracle schools because we want to believe.
Why were so many so called "important people" taken in by these con artists? Why were TV personalities like those on the "Today Show and "Ellen" taken in by this scam that conned their viewers into making contributions to these crooks?

The so called education reforms where standardized test scores and graduation rates and "credit recovery" and "high performing" and "failing" schools have taken the place of real education have set the stage for a deluge of phony miracle schools.

Why are our public schools being forced to allocate a part of our public school budgets to buy television and radio ads in an attempt to prevent the bleeding of school funds to these fake schools?

Our politicians are on the take from education con artists
Our legislature and the federal congress has opened the floodgates allowing our public tax dollars to flow to con artists who are getting rich by faking school test results and graduation rates and college admissions rates, just to get our school tax dollars. The politicians are handing over our tax dollars to various non-educator con-persons because they themselves are "on the take" by receiving political contributions and various favors from these crooks who claim to be running miracle schools that can make all students into elite college goers.

Taxpayers wake up! We have a system for insuring that our school tax dollars are used to educate our children. We elect local school board members every 4 years who can be replaced if they don't spend our tax dollars wisely. Its not perfect, but its much better than allowing charter school operators who appoint their own boards so that they can pay themselves exorbitant salaries while hiring the cheapest teachers who often are not properly certified. But our politicians who are on the take to these charlatans have passed laws that make it easy for these privatizers to just hijack education funds from our local school boards.

Campbell's law tells us that if a school appears too good to be true, it probably is.
There is an important concept that applies to the ratings of public institutions such as public schools. Its called Campbell's law. This principle first articulated by social psychologist Dr Donald Campbell, tells us this: When a particular statistical/social measure is used to measure progress in any enterprise that carries with it high stakes, rewards, and punishments, that statistical measure is sure to be corrupted and/or misreported to the point that it becomes useless as a measure of success. If you make the graduation rate the measure of success of a school and you make the future of school administrators dependent on that graduation rate you will soon see a dramatic improvement in the graduation rate, mostly accomplished by handing out worthless diplomas. If you make high standardized test scores the criteria for keeping a takeover charter school open, you will get higher standardized test scores by hook or crook.

The education of children is a complex, difficult, but intrinsically rewarding job that has been done very well for many years in our country by dedicated professional educators. That job has changed and gotten more difficult in the last 50 years when our country set a goal of educating all children including those with disabilities and attempting to close the achievement gap between rich and poor, and white and brown students. That's when the myths about "good"schools and "bad" schools started proliferating and causing the diversion of our school tax dollars to privatization efforts by many non-educators who saw an opportunity for big profits. One of the most damaging myths is that anyone should be allowed to run a school even if they have no education credentials, as long as they can produce high student test scores. We have all been taken in by con-men who used these myths about eduction to extract our tax dollars. This is what creates this new rash of phony "miracle schools".

The con-man phenomenon is being modeled at the top.
It seems that we are living in a time of unbridled con-men and schemes to fleece the public that goes all the way to the top office in our government! Remember: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is; if the politician is promising to "make our country great again" while playing on peoples' prejudice and fears he is probably just a con-man. He probably needs to be locked up.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The New School Performance Scores and Grades Ignore Critical Factors

By omitting critical factors affecting test performance, the new public school grading system promotes the myth that all schools operate on a level playing field.
The new school grading system is very complex, requires many arcane calculations, and promotes the myth that schools are being rated in a fair manner.  Unfortunately the new school rating system amounts to a useless Rube-Goldberg ratings machine resulting in continued stigmatization of schools serving disadvantaged student populations. It operates with several serious flaws. (See the analysis below by Herb Bassett.) The school grading system tells us what we already knew without having to go through these complex calculations. That is that schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities produce lower test score averages year after year. Also schools that select their students by high academic ability and economic advantage produce higher average test scores year after year.

But when we look at the extremely detailed formula for assigning grades to schools, it seems to include almost everything but the factors that really matter. The addition of progress points changes little in the final result. It is my opinion that schools with high percentages of  disadvantaged students are just as handicapped in winning progress points as they are in attaining high average test scores.  All children can make academic progress but at different rates according to their varying environments and talents.

We know that acedemically selective magnet schools will always get high performance scores and an "A" letter grade almost without regard to the quality of instruction. That's because students selected based on good academic performance in the past will generally produce high test scores in the near future.

We also know that lab schools that admit mostly wealthy students will produce high average test scores and will also get rated as high performing schools. 

Alternative schools which receive mostly low performing and troubled students get the lowest grades year after year. 

Simply noting the designation "magnet" or "alternative" in the SPS tables has no effect on the calculation of the scores.

The correlation of poverty and school scores in the new grading system could be observed by including a column listing the percentage of students in the school who are economically disadvantaged in addition to the "magnet" or "alternative" designations. But our LDOE has always failed to include the economic data next to the school ratings. Here is a sample of such data for the Natchitoches Parish school system: (Click on chart to enlarge it)


The 3 "A" schools in Natchitoches Parish don't just happen to be magnet and lab schools.  The 4 "F" schools include one alternative school and three schools that serve some of the most impoverished students in the school system. Student selection profoundly affects the school scores and letter grades. (Note: high poverty populations do have some high performing students. These are often siphoned off to magnet schools, further depressing the score of their original school)

It is not my intention to unfairly spotlight the Natchitoches School system. The same trends can be observed in any of the public school systems in Louisiana.  In addition, the school systems that have the highest district grades are invariably those with the lowest levels of poverty. The LDOE conveniently fails to provide the data to allow the public to make this comparison.

So what is the purpose of reporting to the public that such schools repeatedly have low average test performance? How does it help to add insult to injury for struggling schools? How does it help a school to attract good teachers when it is repeatedly rated as a "D" or an "F" no matter how hard the teachers work? If the ultimate goal is to help students perform better, then it must be obvious that the school rating system is counter productive.

This grading system continues to perpetrate the myth that "A" rated schools have the best teachers and the "F" rated schools have the worst teachers. A great way to destroy this myth would be to switch the teachers from an "A" rated school with the teachers from an "F" rated school for a few years. I would be willing to make a sizable waver that there would be little change in the performance of either school. But to my knowledge, this has never been done. Why do we continue to perpetuate the myth that school performance is mostly determined by the quality of the teachers when we have so much evidence that there are much more powerful factors at work?

But Superintendent White and his allies are irrevocably committed to the rating, blaming and shaming of schools for factors over which they have no control. The facts don't matter. The only thing that matters is the mistaken ideology that such tactics will somehow produce improved results.

We have shown in this earlier report that the LEAP test results have been inflated in recent years to give the illusion of progress, but this report shows that Louisiana is falling further behind on the Nation Assessment of Education progress which compares Louisiana to all other states. 

In Louisiana, this policy along with the imposition of the unteachable Common Core standards have only resulted in a lower ranking compared to other states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.




Monday, October 29, 2018

Interpreting Louisiana's Growth Scores for Schools:

Editor's note: The following post is by Herb Bassett, a teacher who has a commanding understanding of the complex school rating and grading systems imposed upon our schools by the Louisiana Department of Education. His analysis of the latest school rating system to be released by the LDOE on November 6 should be very helpful to parents and teachers in avoiding false conclusions about their schools. It points out serious flaws in the rating system that produces high and low scores often in an arbitrary manner.

Over the last six years, Bassett has documented the effects of changes to the methods of computing Louisiana's school performance scores and commented on the use of growth measures in school and principal evaluations. (Links to SPS articles: 2012,2013 predictions2013,2016 history) This analysis reviews the latest changes in the school rating system.

Interpreting Louisiana's Growth Scores for Schools:
A guide for parents, educators, and legislators.
by Herb Bassett, Grayson, LA
hbassett71435@gmail.com


Growth scores will be a new feature of Louisiana's school performance evaluations this fall. In the past, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) graded schools primarily on how many students had reached the levels of basic, mastery, and advanced. Schools whose students arrived at their doorsteps as high achievers were more likely to receive higher letter grades than schools who started with struggling students. In some schools, many students started far behind but made remarkable gains; however the schools were penalized because the students did not progress all the way to the higher achievement levels in a single year. Growth scores are an attempt to reward and recognize schools whose students make outstanding improvements regardless of the achievement level they attain.

Growth measures are simple in concept, but they are difficult to implement. In 2013, LDOE introduced a growth measure into its school accountability system. Called Bonus Points, they applied only to students scoring below basic. The initial implementation of the Bonus Points was problematic. Some schools that year were penalized because they moved too many students from below basic to basic. Had those students scored lower on the tests, those schools would have received a higher letter grade. LDOE later modified the rules to address that problem.

We now have a preliminary indication that the new growth scores will also present problems. 

LDOE released"Top Growth" rates in late August. While they are not the final growth scores, they indicate how many students earned an "A"-level of points for their schools. Students qualified either by being in the top 40 percent of a value-added-model (VAM) ranking[i]or by meeting a "growth-to-mastery/advanced" (GTM) target. Since the top 40 percent of the VAM ranking qualify, it guarantees that the statewide "Top Growth" rate will be at least 40 percent. While many students qualified by both measures, a significant number qualified strictly through GTM. Any "Top Growth" rate over 40 percent can be attributed solely to GTM.

Since the "Top Growth" rates indicate that GTM will introduce substantial biases, I offer the following advise to parents, educators and legislators to help them interpret the new growth scores.

1) You should not compare junior high schools and high schools to elementary schools.If you have children in both elementary and junior high schools, do not be alarmed if the junior high has a lower growth score than the elementary. This does not necessarily mean that the junior high is not helping students improve. GTM gives elementary schools a significant advantage over junior high schools and high schools. 

A student's year-end GTM target is the number of points the student was below Mastery in the prior year divided by the years remaining to the end of the eighth grade. An eighth grader has only one year to the end of the eighth grade; a fourth grader has five years. Given the same baseline score, GTM requires an eighth grader to improve five times as much as a fourth grader to meet the target. [ii]

This puts junior high schools at a clear disadvantage and explains why elementary schools have significantly higher "Top Growth" rates[iii]

"Top Growth" avg. rates:           ELA                 Math
Elementary (no grade 8)               52.9%               45.3%
Junior High                                   44.7%               40.6%
                        
2) You should not compare the growth scores of schools with many high-achievers to those with many low-achievers.  If your child's school was an "A" school last year, do not be alarmed if the new growth score is not an "A". "A" and "B" schools have many students already at Mastery or above; GTM targets require them to make roughly twice as much improvement as lower achievers. 

The minimum score for Basic is only 25 points below Mastery; to reach Mastery from Basic, the most a student has to improve is 25 points by the end of the eighth grade. Students already at Mastery have to reach Advanced to earn points through GTM. A student at low Mastery has to progress about 50 points to reach Advanced by the end of the eighth grade.[iv]

Compared to schools with lower letter grades, "A" and "B" schools have many more students starting from Mastery or higher; such students were only half as likelyto earn "Top Growth" status solely through GTM as those who scored Basic in the prior year.[v](However, LDOE will partially compensate for this bias through its final scoring method.[vi]

3) Growth measures are unstable, and GTM yields erratic results dependent on the style of student growth.Your child's school's growth score will contain a lot of statistical noise.

LDOE will base its scores on growth data from two years rather than a single year. This will mitigate some year-to-year swings, but will also create winners and losers among schools based on how and when in the two-year cycle that students show growth. 

Slow and steady wins the race, even when students finish behind. GTM penalizes schools if students reach Mastery too soon. A student who crosses the threshold for Mastery in the first year is then assigned a much more ambitious target for the second year. If a student gets close to Mastery without going over, he is given an easier-to-meet target. Slow, but steady growth earns more points than growth in spurts, even when the two-year total of growth is greater through a spurt. In this way, schools may be rewarded for holding students below Mastery until they reach the highest grade in the school.

The table below shows the uneven scoring of different growth styles; Bobby had the least growth over two years but earned the most points:
The LEAP 2025 score range is 650-850; minimum scores for: Mastery - 750; Advanced (eighth grade) Math - 801, ELA 794. LDOE awards 150 points for meeting a GTM target. If the target is not met, points are awarded based on the VAM ranking. 150 points for the top 20 percent, 115 points for the next 20 percent, then 85, 25, and 0 for the next 20 percent cuts.

There is a corresponding but opposite effect for students who decline over two years. A student who declines slowly but steadily can earn fewer points than one who drops precipitously then rebounds, even if the total decline of the latter is greater.

Some elementary/junior high school pairs will be impacted. If student achievement spikes in the highest grade of an elementary school, the junior high the next year is disadvantaged; especially so if the elementary spikes the rate of students at Mastery. In junior high they would then receive harder-to-reach targets based on reaching Advanced.

Further study is needed to quantify this effect. I have found several examples of extreme swings in growth measures from feeder school to receiving school, but I do not have enough data to determine if the examples are part of a clear trend.

4) Public schools significantly outscored voucher schools in "Top Growth".If students are to be given school choices, then growth measures provide the most relevant information about which schools are the most effective, especially for struggling students. In the past, school letter grades essentially indicated how likely it was that the student in the next seat scored Mastery. It would be better to know the likelihood of a student in the school making significant improvement. That is what growth scores are meant to tell us. 

The "Top Growth" rates indicate that voucher schools overall made significantly less progress with students than the average public school.[viii]



While GTM introduces biases into the growth scores, the biases do not account for the lower overall "Top Growth" rates of voucher schools. Indeed, if voucher schools attract struggling students, the growth scores should be biased in their favor as described in the second point above. Since the rates are below 40%, they indicate that voucher schools must perform poorly on the VAM measure as well.

Thus, the data contra-indicate the state policy of awarding vouchers to students to leave public schools for voucher schools. In voucher schools overall, students are less likely to make substantial gains.

5) Finally, read any LDOE claims about growth with a critical eye.Because letter grades are tied to school choice options, LDOE sometimes spins data to support the policy of allowing students in "C", "D", or "F" schools to switch to "A" or "B" schools. If school choices are really about optimizing student growth, "A" and "B" schools are not necessarily the best choices. Read correctly, the existing growth measures indicate that "D" schools overall produce more student growth. However, in the recent past, LDOE has sorted data so as to skew the  "A" schools' average growth measures upward and the "F" schools' average growth measures downward. 

From one year to the next, schools with high growth may move up a letter grade; those with low growth may drop a letter. When averaging "A" schools' growth, LDOE has taken out schools that started the year as "A" schools if they dropped to a "B" at the end of the year. However, schools that had high growth and rose from a "B" to an "A" by the end of the year were put into the average. By systematically including high growth and excluding low growth from the average, the growth average for "A" schools was exaggeratedly high.

For "F" schools the effect was the opposite. High growth schools that moved up to a "D" over the course of the year were excluded from the average while low growth schools that dropped to an "F" were included. This depressed the average to an exaggerated low.

It is important to note that parents make school choices based on a school's prior-year letter grade, not the one it will get at the end of the year. The data should reflect that reality.

In a proposal for the new growth measures, LDOE provided data to the accountability commission that exaggerated the average growth score of "A" schools. I cited that data in a public comment regarding ESSA and requested that the data be run again. LDOE complied and provided the following data table. Shown below are VAM-only growth score averages by the school letter grade of prior-year (2015) and end-of-the-year (2016). LDOE had provided the data only in the end-of-the-year (2016) sorting prior to my request. (This proposed measure, which was not the final method adopted, used the VAM ranking only - without GTM.)




When sorted by prior-year letter grades (2015), the span between the growth scores of "A" and "F" schools was reduced from 12.6 points to 5.2 points, and "D" schools were shown to outperform "B" and "C" schools. Thus, the data do not support the current state policy of using school letter grades as the determining factor for allowing students to transfer from "D" to "B" schools.

I urge you to bear in mind the biases described above when considering the new growth scores. For any given school, the growth scores are expected to vary more from year-to-year than the proficiency rates which have been the basis of school letter grades for many years now. Prudence dictates adopting a wait-and-see attitude before making significant course changes in response to these new and problematic measures.


[i]           VAM is an elaborate statistical process that competitively ranks students. It considers student characteristics beyond mere test scores. Now, in any ranking, there will be a top 40 percent, so VAM guaranteed a "Top Growth" rate for the state of 40 percent. However, some students qualified for "Top Growth" solely through GTM. The amount above 40 percent can be attributed solely to GTM.
[ii]          Students who scored mastery or advanced in the prior year receive similar targets with a goal of reaching advanced. For high schools students in grade nine and ten, targets are set based on reaching the goals by the tenth grade.
[iii]         . LDOE classifies schools as Elementary (only grades K-8), High School (only grades 9-12), and Combination schools (schools with at least one K-8 grade and one 9-12 grade. By cross-referencing LDOE classifications with multi-stats files from LDOE, it is possible to establish what grade levels a school contains. Here, I define a junior high school as an elementary school that contains grade 8 but no grade lower than 5. Combination schools and elementary schools that contain all grades 4-8 were excluded.
[iv]  The level for advanced is approximately 800, but varies from test to test. On the current LEAP 2025, the level for advanced in the eighth grade is 801 in Math and 794 in ELA. 
[v]   https://www.louisianabelieves.com/docs/default-source/test-results/2018-leap-2025-student-progress-media-briefing.pdf?sfvrsn=6.  Slide 11 of the presentation. The amount above 40% cam be attributed solely to growth-to-mastery. 





[vi]  For the growth score system, LDOE will award any student ending the year at Mastery a minimum of 85 points out of a possible 150 even if the VAM ranking would have only awarded zero points.
[vii]About eight percent of students who would have scored 85 points or less from the VAM rankings will earn 150 points through GTMSee this Accountability Commission presentation from January 2017slide 40.
[viii]       I identified these schools as scholarship program (voucher) schools in the "Top Growth" file and excluded those with NR data:



Saturday, October 27, 2018

An Important Analysis of the New School Rating System

A special message from the editor to readers of The Louisiana Educator:

I am pleased to announce, as a special service to educators and parents, this blog  on Monday, October 29, will feature an analysis by Herb Bassett of the new school rating and grading system. The Department of Education is scheduled to release the 2018 school performance scores and letter grades on November 6.

Mr Bassett, in addition to being a master teacher in LaSalle Parish, in my opinion, always produces the best independent analysis of our school evaluation systems.

Here are some of Mr. Bassett’s findings that are detailed in the report:
  • Voucher schools that receive public taxpayer dollars generally underperform compared to public schools 
  • Statistics show that, overall, students make as much or more progress in "D" schools than in "B" or "C" schools. 
  • The new Growth component of the school grading system is designed to give higher scores to elementary schools than to middle/junior high schools and high schools
  • The Growth scores also penalize schools with many students already at Mastery and Advanced.



Be sure to watch for this important analysis to be posted on this blog Monday.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Please Help Elect Public Education Advocates

Many of our public schools, particularly those in urban districts in Louisiana, are the targets of privatization efforts funded by out-of-state and local power brokers who continue to believe that school privatization works despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Fortunately there are active citizens here who have studied the facts and are determined to protect local control of our schools and our public education tax dollars. This blog post is encouraging local Baton Rouge voters to support one of those champions of our public schools.


Tania Nyman is a parent activist in Baton Rouge running for the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, District 7, who is dedicated to  local control of our public schools. I am encouraging my readers to study her platform here, and help elect Ms Nyman to the East Baton Rouge Parish school board.

For over ten years now, outside education reform groups have pushed for the takeover of local schools in Baton Rouge by privately operated charter schools in the belief that private operators could "cut through the bureaucracy" and raise the achievement of inner city students. The selling point for charter schools was that removing regulations on charter schools, including the requirement for hiring certified teachers, would allow the private operators to focus on raising test scores. According to state regulations, these schools would be allowed to keep their charters only if they succeeded in raising the achievement levels of their students.

This entire effort has failed miserably, and instead charter operators are allowed to profit from our tax dollars even though almost all such schools have shortchanged students and taxpayers.

The latest student test scores for the great majority of Baton Rouge charter schools are well below the state average even when compared to the similar socio-economic students in our real public schools.

The state has basically reneged on its promise to close down non-performing charter schools and the operators continue to reap ill gotten profits from our tax dollars. This is wrong for the children and unfair to taxpayers who are supposed to be able to hold such operators accountable, but who are excluded from the management of such schools. This is taxation without representation!

Tania Nyman is running for school board against a political machine heavily funded by privatization interests, many of which benefit directly from our school taxes.

Please read Ms Nyman's platform information here and encourage Baton Rouge voters in District 7 to return our schools to local control!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

How German Schools Produce a More Relevant Diploma

My recent posts on this blog make the point that John White may have convinced the business community that he has imposed high standards on Louisiana schools, but the actual standards are really laughingly low.

Many school reformers are obsessed with comparing our standards and practices with other advanced countries. So a trip to Germany by a group of teachers described here by Education Week may give us valuable insights about what really works in K-12 education.

The American teachers learned about how a large proportion of students in Germany go through extensive vocational training and actual on-the-job experience while in high school.

Germany has long been recognized for having a superior vocational and technical training program that starts in high school. Many credit that vocational and apprenticeship training with Germany's dominance in many manufacturing areas. German machinists, auto technicians, and tradespersons are considered by many to be the best in the world. In the U. S. politicians often try to blame unfair trade deals for crippling American manufacturing, but industry experts would point to our weak vocational training programs as the main culprit.

For years the education reform movement in the U. S. has been obsessed with attempting to prepare all students for college to the determent of vocational education. In Louisiana, when Paul Pastorek, Bobby Jindal, and John White with the support of LABI set us on a course of Common Core and test prep, they just about killed the vocational programs in Louisiana schools. Now the chickens are coming home to roost, forcing White to lower the Geometry EOC test to only 11.8% correct answers for passing. Algebra and English test scores are also extremely low. Obsessive test prep and college for all has failed, resulting in many students getting empty diplomas.

John White belatedly realized after several years of strict college prep "for all" policy that the Louisiana legislature had passed a career diploma law just a few years before he took over education. I personally had worked with local superintendents and legislators to help pass this law (Act 246) in the 2009 legislative session. Between former Superintendent Pastorek and now White, the career diploma law had been ignored and vocational education had been starved. So White belatedly started the Jump Start program about 8 years too late, after vocational and distributive education had been just about stamped out. Since there are now very few viable vocational programs in our high schools, White has pushed to establish cooperative programs with community colleges throughout the state. One of the big problems in implementing this system is that some high schools are not close enough to a community college or technical college to allow high school students to attend for part of the school day.

All of a sudden, business leaders are complaining that our high schools are not producing the kind of highly trained workers they need most. Schools are producing almost no skilled carpenters, electricians, plumbers, AC specialists, or even practical nurses and caregivers for our aging population. But by golly we are still trying to teach everybody Geometry with a passing score of only 11.8% on the EOC test! It is ironic, that it was the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) that had teamed up with the "know nothing" reformers to push Common Core and college prep at the expense of Vocational. Those same non-educators are still claiming that John White and his pitiful standards are a success.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

It’s worse than I thought!

Have we ever seen a passing score as low as 11.8%?
My previous post on this blog lamented the erosion of standards for promotion and graduation. But the erosion is worse than I thought.

Herb Bassett, a highly respected math and band teacher,  read the blog post below and sent me an email correcting some critical assumptions in my analysis of standards for graduation. The new passing scores are now even more ridiculously low.

Herb pointed out that the policy for passing our new high school End-of-Course tests is set at Approaching Basic, not Basic, as I had assumed in my previous post. (See question #7 in the FAQs provided by the LDOE on the new testing.) So the new cut score for passing Algebra I is not based on 23.5% of the questions answered correctly.  The true passing score is only 14.7%. The English I passing score is now down to only 17%.

Also, the minimum passing score on the Geometry test is now really only 11.8%! John White had originally told the local superintendents last fall that the cut score for passing would be basic. Somewhere along the way, for high school EOC, the minimum cut score got changed. The elementary passing scores on LEAP are still at Basic. But that doesn't matter much since there are no longer any minimum test scores required for promotion from one grade to the next.

Herb also pointed out another instance where the percentage of our students achieving mastery on LEAP went up when in the same year, the NAEP scores showed a decline.

What if the driver's license test could be passed by getting only 11.8% of the written questions right? Would we trust that this person was capable of operating a vehicle safely on our roads? Who would trust these students who passed a math course with as little as 11.8% correct answers to go to college or get a job that involved math?


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

How Valid are the Louisiana LEAP tests?


School reform in Louisiana was supposed to eliminate social promotion and the awarding of worthless high school diplomas. 
Superintendent John White has staked his entire career as an education reformer on improving state standardized test scores of Louisiana students. To reformers like White, test scores are everything. In their philosophy of education, you can’t trust teachers to tell us and parents whether students are learning and progressing and are going to be ready for college or careers when they graduate. Reformers believe that Louisiana needs an objective way of finding out if our students are getting diplomas that indicate that they are ready to compete with students from other countries for the best jobs in the world economy. 

John White was selected by former Governor Jindal to be our State Superintendent at the beginning of 2012 with the mission of implementing new laws that would evaluate, reward and fire teachers based on student test scores and to implement the replacement of many public schools with independent charter schools. The charter schools would live and die based on the attainment of high student test scores.

From the very beginning of our Louisiana education reforms, the reformers announced that they wanted to eliminate diploma mills that turned out graduates that had no real education and were not going to be fit for the job market or college. Corporate education reform was no longer going to allow diplomas to be awarded to functionally illiterate young people. Reformers believed that it was time to eliminate social promotion, whereby children were automatically promoted to the next grade even though they had not achieved satisfactory results on their math and ELA courses. The gate keepers would be cut scores on state tests that would indicate proficiency or failure.

The primary reform to ensure well educated graduates was to require state standardized testing to determine promotion and graduation. Key language of the Louisiana accountability laws required that students could not be promoted from grade 4 to 5 and from 8 to 9 if they failed to demonstrate proficiency on math and ELA state tests. Then students could not graduate unless they passed certain critical subject matter tests in critical courses such as Algebra, Geometry, Biology, US History, and both English I and English II or III. 

John White, a TFA corps member with experience in Chicago and New York was selected as state superintendent to implement test based accountability. 
John White was hired as State Superintendent in January of 2012. Even though White had no formal training in education, his experience as a manager in the New York City school system where he had worked for Mayor Michael Bloomberg installing school reforms was considered the best qualification to reform Louisiana schools. Part of White's job was to launch Charter schools to replace public schools. Charter schools are privately run schools that are relieved of most state regulations in exchange for test-based accountability. A charter school could be run any way the manager wanted as long as they produced good student test scores. If the student test scores on state tests were not satisfactory, the charter school would lose its charter and could be taken over by a new charter operator (not by its school board because school boards had been considered incapable of turning around a failing school)

But everything in the White administration revolves around increasing student test scores. The school rating system installed by White and his TFA cronies applies maximum pressure on school administrators and teachers to do almost nothing but attempt to raise student test scores.

Louisiana state law requires that our state tests be compatible with the National NAEP test so that our student performance can be compared to other states.
The education reform laws also required that the new Louisiana standardized state tests must be compatible to nationally recognized tests including the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In other words, a student rating of proficient on the state tests should be the same as proficient on the NAEP test.  It was decided that a rating of Mastery on the state tests should be equivalent to a rating of Proficient on the NAEP.

So how reliable are our state LEAP and End-of-Course tests, compared to the NAEP? Does the progress of our students from year to year on LEAP match the progress measured by NAEP? Are we finally moving our students to proficiency and awarding them diplomas that future employers can trust are indications of real academic skills? Since the legislature had decided at the beginning of the reforms that we couldn’t trust the teachers to tell us whether a student was worthy of getting a diploma, did they also insist on a check-up system to see if we could trust the State Department of Education and their standardized tests to certify that a student was worthy of a diploma? 

Oops, it looks like the legislature forgot to set up an independent check on our Department of Education to see if they were faithfully holding up their end of the bargain to end social promotion and grant real diplomas. There is no one officially checking to see if the LDOE tests are really measuring proficiency  as comparable to the NAEP tests. But there is a way of checking the validity of our state tests compared to NAEP. There just is no law requiring anyone to make the comparison.  So here is my effort to provide a legitimate comparison of the two testing systems.

Based on the LEAP testing conducted in the Spring of 2011, the last year of testing before White, the following table gives the percentage of students achieving Mastery or above ratings. Those are the ratings that are supposed to be equivalent to the rating of Proficient on the NAEP.


4thgrade ELA: 28% of our students statewide achieved Mastery or above on LEAP
4thgrade math: 28% of Louisiana students achieved Mastery or above on LAEP
8thgrade ELA: 25% of Louisiana students achieved Mastery or above on LEAP
8thgrade math: 9% of Louisiana students achieved Mastery or above on LEAP

How do the above results compare to our student performance the same year on the National NAEP test? Here are the percentage of LA students achieving at least Proficient on NAEP in 2011.

4thgrade Reading: 23% of LA students achieved Proficient on NAEP 
4thgrade math: 26% of LA students achieved Proficient on NAEP
8thgrade Reading: 22% of LA students achieved Proficient on NAEP
8thgrade math: 22% of LA students achieved Proficient on NAEP

So in 2011, the Louisiana results on LEAP and NAEP are pretty close In three out of four categories. There was however a large difference in the results for 8thgrade math. The LEAP test indicated a much lower percentage of students achieving the Mastery rating than the % reaching the Proficient rating on NAEP. So probably the state LEAP math  test cut score was set too high compared to the NAEP 8thgrade math test..

In just 7 years the LEAP tests became highly inflated compared to the National tests. The average inflation amounted to 59%.
Now lets look at the 2018 results on LEAP for the percentage of students achieving proficiency compared with the 2017 results on NAEP. (2017 is the most recent NAEP test given)

4thgrade ELA/reading % earning Proficient: LEAP = 44%, NAEP = 26%
4THgrade math % earning Proficient: LEAP = 38%, NAEP =27%
8thgrade ELA/reading % earning Proficient: LEAP = 45%, NAEP = 25%
8th grade math % earning Proficient: LEAP = 28%, NAEP = 19%

Do you see the dramatic inflation of our LEAP scores from 2011 to 2018?  The LEAP results are telling us that Louisiana students have made dramatic improvement in all 4 categories since 2011. But the NAEP results tell us that our students made very little progress from 2011 to 2017. In fact for 8thgrade math, the NAEP tells us that our students are doing worse now than they were doing in 2011. Yet the LEAP tells us that our 8thgrade students have improved from only 9% achieving mastery in 2011 to 28% achieving mastery in 2018. The average proficiency rate inflation for the 4 key state tests compared to the National tests in 2018 was 59%. This is a direct violation of state law and basically invalidates all of the 4thand 8thgrade LEAP tests. So why are our students being required to take these invalid tests each year?

So not only are our LEAP tests incompatible with national NAEP test as was mandated by state law, but in at least one critical area, the LEAP results indicate improvement where there was actually a decline in performance as measured by the national test.

Students no longer need to pass their state tests to be promoted to the next grade.
But that’s not all. Superintendent White has recently convinced BESE to drop the requirement that students in 4thand 8thgrades pass their math and ELA tests in order to be promoted. Public records show that in 2016 even though 21% of our students statewide failed both their ELA and math tests, only 2.5% or one tenth of the dual failures were actually retained in their current grade. That was in violation of law in 2016 but now that BESE,  based on John White’s recommendation, has dropped all requirements for promotion, it will be OK to allow full social promotion of almost all students who fail their state tests.  According to the new BESE policy, all the schools have to do for a student failing every standardized test is to promise to give him help to catch up.

According to state testing, John White is a big success. Louisiana’s public school students are improving dramatically, and are well on their way to achieving Mastery or Proficiency by 2025. But according to national testing, achievement scores have barely improved in three areas and have dropped in 8thgrade math. Louisiana is near the bottom of the NAEP rankings. Most independent agencies now rate Louisiana as the lowest performer out of all the states in the measures of school performance.

Common core standards may be not be teachable for at least half of our students.
My opinion, which I can’t prove, is that the lack of progress in student proficiency is really a result of implementing the common core standards which are basically unteachable for at least half of our students.

Louisiana is allowing the same abuses that have resulted in charges of fraud in the reported graduation rate of the Washington D.C. school system. 
Now, not only are Louisiana students being promoted who demonstrated unsatisfactory test performance, but schools are allowed to waive the attendance requirement for promotion and graduation. Now students in high school who missed much more than the allowed absences and who failed their state tests,  often still get a diploma by just taking a few hours of credit recovery courses. For example, students can now pass their Algebra I EOC test by scoring only 23.5% correct answers.  This is exactly the same situation that caused the graduation rate in the Washington DC schools to be declared fraudulent. But here in Louisiana, no one in an official position is blowing the whistle. 

So if you think there were illiterate students getting diplomas in the old days, that’s nothing compared to the rampant awarding of diplomas to anyone with a pulse today. I certainly do not believe that the state tests are valid enough to be used as the promotion standard. I have much more faith in the judgement of teachers. Unfortunately the law that is supposed to prevent the pressuring of teachers on promotion decisions is also being ignored in the push to boost the graduation rate at all costs.

A simple comparison of LEAP to NAEP shows that our state tests are just not reliable as a measure of proficiency and eligibility for graduation.


Raw Score to Scale Score Conversion Tables

The following are links to the conversion tables for LEAP tests given to Louisiana students in the Spring of 2018. This reveals how the LDOE and their testing company produce their scale scores from raw scores. By looking at each table a teacher or parent can find the raw score equivalent to a scale score on a particular test. Even though the cut scores for Basic, Mastery and Advanced are the same for all tests,   the raw scores equivalent to these cut scores can vary greatly.

Here is the link to the raw score to scale score conversion tables for converting from raw scores to scale scores for the Spring 2018 LEAP tests for grades 3 through 8. This link is to my Google Docs. The tests included are ELA, math and social studies. There are a total of 37 pages of LEAP conversion tables.

Here is the link to Spring 2018 high school End of Course tests for English I, Algebra I, Geometry, English II, and American History. There are a total of 11 pages of EOC conversion tables.

My next post on this blog (above) will include an analysis of the validity of the various LEAP tests in comparison to the nationally administrated NAEP tests. NAEP stands for National Assessment of Educational Progress.



Friday, July 20, 2018

Raw Cut Scores for 2018 State Tests

I want to thank the Louisiana Association of Educators and Senator Blade Morrish for passing a bill in the 2018 regular session that will finally report the actual performance of each student on each of their state tests. What the legislation does is provide the raw scores for each student on each test taken in Spring 2018 to their 2017-18 teacher and to the receiving teacher for the 2018-19 school year and for all future year tests. So the teachers and parents will finally be told how many points the student got right out of the total possible on each test in addition to the "fake" scale scores they have been getting so far.

Here is my point: A score of Mastery on the Algebra I test for LEAP 2025 is 750 scale points out of a possible total of 850. To the regular teacher or parent, that seems to be a pretty good score. But the real raw score equivalent to a scale score of 750 in Algebra I is 23 points out of possible 68 points or about 34%. Not so great. The official reason for the use of scale scores in reporting test results is that scale scores allow the comparison of various test forms that may contain a different number of difficult questions compared to easier questions. But it also allows possible manipulation of test results from year to year and obscures the actual performance of the student. For example, the official BESE policy for the lowest passing score on school work is 67%. Not at all the percentage for passing on state tests. This scale score system is confusing to say the least.

The following table was composed using my latest public records request for the conversion tables for raw score to scale score conversions. It gives teachers and parents a little advance information on the cut scores for each of the Spring 2018 LEAP tests for grades 3-8. (Click on the table to enlarge)



The following table lists the cut scores for high school End of Course tests for Spring 2018.
I need help from my readers who are informed on the most up-to-date requirements for satisfactory scores meeting graduation requirements. For example I am not sure which of the old standards (Fair, Good, etc) that are equivalent to the new (Basic, Mastery etc) ratings. If you have clarification on this please add a comment to this post. (I just made a guess at the possible equivalency)


Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Effect of Poverty on State Test Performance

All Louisiana school districts struggle with the adverse effects of student poverty on academic performance
The following chart ranks the school districts in Louisiana according to overall student performance on the 1018 LEAP and end of course tests. Note that even the wealthiest school district (The Central Community School District) has 37.5% of its students who were classified as economically disadvantaged. (This is based on the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch) I have divided the ranking of districts into 4 groups based upon approximately 10 percentage point changes in performance on state tests. The average performance and the average poverty rates are listed at the bottom of each group. The top two performing groups are the following: (Click on the figure to enlarge it)


The highest performing school systems in Louisiana, unfortunately, have an average of 55.8% of their students who are economically disadvantaged as determined by free lunch eligibility. Only 48.3% of the students in the top performing group of school systems achieved a score of Mastery or above on their state tests. Note: Be aware also that the Louisiana raw cut scores are set so low, that mastery performance on some tests could mean that as low as only 39% of the questions on the test were answered correctly. 

Just a few school systems score well despite fairly high poverty
It looks like two school systems (Lafourche and Paquemines) in the top performing group, achieved relatively high test performance despite the fact that they had over 70% of their students classified as economically disadvantaged. The effectiveness of teachers in those two districts may be significantly improving test scores in such moderately high poverty districts. There may also be other, more positive socio-economic factors such as stronger family units and better role models in such districts which could also boost scores. This could be an interesting area for further study by social scientists.
School districts with extreme poverty have seemingly unsurmountable obstacles to academic achievement
The following is a ranking of the lowest two performing groups of school systems: (Click on the figure to enlarge it)
























Now take a look at the lowest performing group of school systems on the chart above, and note the extremely high average percentage of students (90%) who are classified as economically disadvantaged. Note also that only 16% of their students achieved a score of Mastery or above on the state tests.

It seems that when a school system gets to the 90% poverty level, its student test performance plummets to extremely low levels. Apparently, teacher effectiveness is not overcoming the extreme effects of poverty on test performance.

These data demonstrate why it is unfair to grade schools based on student test scores. The American Statistical Association tells us that the expertise of teachers in schools has only about 10% effect on the average performance of students. The data for Louisiana shows that year after year, the school systems with the highest percentage of students who are economically deprived score consistently in the bottom quartile of the rankings and consequently their schools are labeled as D or F. Generally we can predict the letter grade of a school based purely on the percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged. So what is the purpose of repeatedly listing such schools as failing schools? Does anyone still believe that the teachers in schools serving a large percentage of economically disadvantaged students are not competent or dedicated?

There are several factors other than poverty that also affect the performance of students on state tests, but they are not as big a factor as poverty. According to the data released by the LDOE, students that are English language learners have the lowest average performance, but these students also usually attend schools in high poverty school zones. 

Vouchers have not provided solutions
For years we have heard from education reformers that we have to free students trapped in failing schools by allowing them to transfer to private schools. Well that experiment has now been tried in Louisiana for several years by allowing vouchers for such students to attend private schools. But the Research Alliance of New Orleans from Tulane University has found that such voucher students perform at an equal or lower level after they make their escape from public schools.

The relatively high average percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged in even the highest rated public systems in Louisiana demonstrates why Louisiana as a whole does not produce anywhere near the test score average of states with much fewer students living in poverty.  Massachusetts, for example has 32% of their students, statewide, who are economically disadvantaged. This is significantly less than the 56% of students with economic disadvantage for the highest performing group of Louisiana school districts.

Louisiana is not alone in the effects of poverty in student test performance. States like New Mexico, Mississippi, and Alabama are fighting the same battle with their national test score rankings. It just does not make sense to blame the teachers and schools for such strong socio-economic effects. Constantly blaming and shaming schools does nothing for the students affected by poverty.

Maybe what we need instead of school reform is for our society to deal more effectively with reducing poverty!