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!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Special Invitation

I just got an invitation to attend the 50th class reunion of the 1968 Zachary High school graduating class. I taught these students Chemistry in the 11th grade and Physics in the 12th. The 1968 class was actually my second year of teaching at Zachary high school. I started teaching at the age of 21 after getting my degree in Science Education from Louisiana State University. I believe LSU and the science eduction department had prepared me superbly for my teaching career.

In my email answer to the invitation, I informed the class secretary that I could still visualize her face and that of her high school sweetheart (now her husband) just as they looked in 1968. Only teachers can have the amazing pleasure of reviewing their life's work in this way. What a terrific reward for participating in the education of young minds!

Stimulated by this invitation, I have been reviewing my teaching career and its many wonderful experiences. Teaching was just part of my career because I went on to work as a staff member representing teachers with the Louisiana Association of Educators for quite a few years. I am saddened by the thought that I could never have enjoyed my teaching career if I were teaching in today's Louisiana public schools. I want to describe for my readers just one little incident that made my teaching career so rewarding:

Somewhere around my third year of teaching, I had an idea for improving the instruction of my General Science classes. Zachary was a fairly small high school, so I taught two classes of General Science mostly to 9th graders in addition to the Chemistry and Physics classes.

These students had been counseled into taking General Science by our counselor mostly because their junior high school science grades were below average and she wanted to improve their chances for graduation with at least one science requirement, since she doubted they could pass either Chemistry or Physics. I generally agreed with her judgement on this. In those days, teachers graded rather strictly and a significant number of high school students failed Chemistry and Physics and English IV. You see, in those days the schools were not rated based on their graduation rate. The teachers' decision on grades was seldom questioned.

I came to realize early in the school year that the curriculum in my General Science text books was not really relevant to most of my students. The General Science curriculum was mostly just watered down Chemistry and Physics. Even though the textbook tried to reduce and simplify the math needed for this course, I knew that most of my students could not really handle the math and some of the abstract concepts in the text. So I spent a good bit of time developing an outline of what I considered a practical general science course for non-college bound students. My goal was to teach the science as it applied to everyday life. For example, I created a unit on the internal combustion automobile and the science that makes it run. I developed a unit in household electricity and the wiring of a home with dos and don't of working with electricity. I developed units on air conditioning and heating, and many other everyday science applications. I took this outline to my principal and explained what I wanted to do to give my students a more practical science experience. He particularly liked my idea of bringing in guest instructors like auto mechanics, AC specialists etc. He agreed to the idea, and from then on I taught practical general science instead of watered down Chemistry and Physics. I believe my students enjoyed and benefited from this change. Those that did well and were motivated could still take the Chemistry and/or Physics, and some did.

If you are a teacher today, do you think you could get away with such a switch? I don't think so. Instead many teachers who email me tell me that they are required to teach the standards just as they are in the LDOE guide and they had better not vary one bit. In addition, teachers are expected to give their students some type of phony make-up or extra credit work so they can pass and get a diploma no matter what.

All I know is that if I had to teach in today's "reform" environment, I would have left teaching early in my career and would not have the wonderful memories I have today.

Gates Sponsored Teacher Evaluation Reform Discredited by Rand Study

Education Week reports here on a new Rand Corp. study concluding that half a billion dollars spent by the Gates foundation on three large school systems to totally revamp teacher evaluation produced no real improvement in student performance. Unfortunately, the Obama education department had convinced most of the country to implement the same defective evaluation system at the same time before we could see the results of the study. So just like implementation of Common Core, which was also pushed upon school systems by the Gates Foundation,  an expensive and time consuming teacher evaluation system was implemented without knowing if it would work. All that money and effort just drove a lot of good teachers out of the profession without improving student learning.

The new teacher evaluation system sponsored by the Gates Foundation and the Obama Race to the Top grants included basing teacher evaluations on student test scores and intensive observation of teachers using a strict rubric for teaching methods. The end result would supposedly identify the highly effective teachers as well as the ineffective ones. Then, teachers could be fired or awarded merit pay based upon their ranking in the evaluation system. Some reformers had theorized that such a system would dramatically improve student academic performance. There was even a theory that low performing students could be brought up to grade level performance by being exposed to highly effective teachers for only three successive years. It was believed that socioeconomic factors affecting student performance could be ignored by just fixing the teachers. These theories have now been proven wrong. Scapegoating teachers for problems of society just does not work, but it does drive good teachers out of the profession, and discourages bright young persons from entering the profession. Result: a serious teacher shortage.

When education reform is found to be ineffective, why are schools still required to continue doing it?

Louisiana went whole hog on VAM (basing teacher evaluations on student test scores) and highly structured teacher observation because we were told that there were findings that proved that any student could be converted into a high academic achiever after only three years of instruction by highly effective teachers. This theory developed by Hanushek and others unfortunately was not scaleable (didn't work) even though now our entire teacher evaluation system has been revised to supposedly identify highly effective as well as ineffective teachers. Louisiana law now bases teacher job security and even merit pay on highly dubious student performance measures. It turns out that VAM scores for each teacher are extremely unstable (and dangerously irrelevant) from year to year. It turns out that very little of a teacher's VAM score depends on her/his performance in the classroom. Socioeconomic factors and noise in the highly imprecise VAM formulas routinely outweigh the actual performance of the teacher. In addition, teachers teaching untested subjects have a major advantage over teachers of tested subjects in winning merit pay and job security.

Here is an interesting fact about Louisiana teacher evaluation reform: Did you know that the new teacher evaluation rubric was actually designed by a person (Rayne Martin) who had never taught or evaluated teachers. Before coming to the Louisiana Education Department, Martin had worked for the Housing Authority in Chicago. She had never received teacher training or evaluation training. This is typical of most of the education "deform" we have been subjected to in the last 13 years. Unfortunately, here in Louisiana, we are still stuck with VAM and the new observation matrix for the evaluation of teachers that was developed by a non-teacher who has long left Louisiana.

So what did the Rand study find in its nationwide evaluation of VAM and the accompanying high stakes evaluation of teachers? Basically it has made no difference whatsoever in student performance nationwide. Zero results! After all that money and after the gnashing of teeth by so many thousands of teachers. We have produced however a growing teacher shortage, probably because all those potentially "highly effective" teachers found that they could make more money in jobs that did not use a form of torture to rate their performance.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Enough is Enough; We Must Stop Trump's Abuse of the Presidency!

I am changing my long standing policy of limiting this blog to educational issues because I am convinced that it is necessary for ordinary citizens to publicly object to the insane actions of our president.  I do not intend, by this to criticize the many good citizens who voted for President Trump. I believe they supported Trump in good faith based on his promises and the belief that he was a businessman who could fix our problems. But he has proven to be dishonest and harmful to our country and those of us who see that should speak out and try to make a change.

This video by economist Robert Reich explains very clearly why President Donald Trump and his style of governing by the use of dishonest demagoguery is so dangerous for our country.

I do not believe that Trump really cares about the many ordinary citizens who voted for him based on his many insincere promises. Unfortunately many of his claims were unrealistic (like bringing back coal mining jobs) and he simply conned many people into electing him.  As Reich points out in his video, this presidency could be disastrous for our county and its citizens.

Look, I think I understand why so many people have put their complete faith in Trump. The world economy is changing more rapidly that ever, putting many jobs in jeopardy. People naturally hate change that could adversely affect their families' security. That's why Trump's message of going back to our old obsolete economy  was so comforting. But it is a false message from a cruel con man. There is no way that Trump's false promises will make "America great again". The only significant achievement of the Trump presidency is a tax cut that is a huge gift to the super rich that will be paid for by our children and grandchildren. That's because we will borrow from China and Japan to make up for the lost revenues since there was no cut in spending to match the tax cut. Trump went bankrupt 4 times by wasting other people's money on phony schemes, and he is getting ready to do it to the entire country.

Not only is Trump totally dishonest in all his dealings on behalf of our government, he is also totally incompetent in "making deals" for our nation. For example, he bragged at one of his fundraisers that he had made up false trade deficits in his trade negotiations with Justin Trudeau of Canada. Of course Trudeau found out about this lie, because Trump can't keep his mouth shut about his crooked negotiations. Now Trump has the nerve to claim that Trudeau acted in bad faith when he announced that he would match Trump's tariffs with equal tariffs from Canada on American products. Then Trump refused to sign the G-7 statement (which includes 6 of our trading partners) because he was mad at Trudeau! This is just plain stupid, and makes the U. S. into a laughing stock with our best allies.

The North Korean dictator hoodwinked Trump into stopping our military exercises in Korea while all the experts believe that they do not intend to give up their nuclear weapons in any verifiable manner. Yet Trump declared "mission accomplished"; "no more nuclear threat". What a negotiator!

Trump will lose his trade war with China. They can retaliate much more effectively than the U. S. can. Trump has already backed off of our very effective sanctions against China telecom giant ZTE which was accused of stealing our patents, violating our North Korea embargo,  and using spyware. Part of the deal for Trump's capitulation was apparently the awarding of several new exclusive China patents to Trump's daughter who is making millions off of the Trump presidency.

Trump has lied to us about almost everything. He started off his political career by claiming that he had investigators in Hawaii, and "they can't believe what they have found" (About the lie that president Obama was born outside the U. S.) And Trump has only gotten worse from there. His latest lie is that the Democrats are making him separate children from their parents at the Mexico border. I am not going to repeat the 3,000 large and small Trump lies in between those two. Just look carefully at the Reich video, because he is summarizing it very well.

Regular Americans need to start speaking out about the Trump lies and bad policies and then we need to vote against all politicians who would continue to support Trump and his dishonest policies.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Scripted Lessons: A Great Way of Killing the Joy of Teaching and Learning.

Pat Austin Becker is a writer and a teacher who writes the blog And so it goes in Shreveport. Pat Austin is a highly experienced English teacher who should be listened to when she offers an opinion about what works and what doesn't work in teaching English to our present day students.

Here is Pat Austin's latest post on the subject of scripted lessons. It seems that Pat's school system has adopted a strict step-by-step mandate for teaching English II. Each English II teacher in the system is expected to follow the same script for each lesson in lock step, "with fidelity". One of the stated reasons for such a mandate is that it assures that if a student transfers to a different school in the parish, he/she will continue English lessons with no gaps in the instruction. But we know the real reason is an attempt that is becoming a trend in many school systems to "teacher proof" instruction. It is an attempt to try to guarantee that all teaching will prepare all students for the all important end-of-course test. Its all about test prep.

Here is another excellent post by a teacher from another state who was driven out of teaching by the standardization of teaching.

Much of this trend to scripted teaching has happened because our Louisiana Department of Education has created a system of rating and grading schools based almost totally on the test scores of students in certain required subjects. The School Performance Score (SPS), the school letter grade, and the entire image of a school depends on the test scores of its students. The natural result of such a system is to force each school to do almost nothing but test prep all year long. As a result teachers in some school systems are now expected to teach a scripted curriculum.

The scripted curriculum looks to me like a mind-numbing, boring exercise that has almost no relation to the life and needs of a typical student. This entire curriculum based almost totally on the Common Core standards was developed by what many have concluded was a group of elitist thinkers from the world of standardized testing and college prep for-all. It ignores the fact that the majority of our students will not attend four year colleges and who cannot, and will not, relate to many of the abstract concepts these elitists feel are so vital. A good example is the lesson described by Pat Austin in her blog, on the unit for teaching the concept of rhetoric in various written and spoken passages. I could barely keep my eyes open while reading the scripted lesson the teacher is expected to follow with fidelity. Here is an excerpt:

"With the unaltered slide displayed, the teacher is to say:
Throughout this unit we will read texts that use language to achieve a purpose. At the end of the unit, you will be asked to select one of the texts and write an essay about how that text uses language to achieve a purpose. You will also research a topic of your choosing and write a speech about that topic. Finally, you will demonstrate your ability to analyze the language of a new text. To do this, we will need to study the specific choices authors make in order to achieve their purpose and advance their argument. We will read speeches, essays, and informational texts.
The teacher is then directed to distribute handouts, highlighters, and Reader Response Journals. It's a lot of paper.  Students also receive a copy of "What is Rhetoric" by Gideon Burton."  

Another part of the lesson looks like this:

"Suggested Pacing: ~ 12 minutes Directions: Be sure students have access to dictionaries. Have students retrieve the vocabulary log they received at the beginning of class.
Say “You will add to this log throughout the unit. It is very important that you keep track of this handout.”
 Select a student to read the sentence in grey, using an established class procedure.
 Place a blank handout under the document camera.
Fill in the word “rhetoric” and prompt the students to do the same.
 Ask: “What part of speech is the word rhetoric?”
 Prompt the students to look up a concise definition for the word “rhetoric”.
 Fill in the definition under the document camera as students follow along.
 Ask students to locate a synonym, antonym, and/or related word for “rhetoric”.
 Fill in the fourth column under the document camera as students follow along.
 Have students record the source sentence from the slide.
 Prompt students to turn-and-talk for 30 seconds to a partner about their understanding of the term “rhetoric.”
Keep time. Have partners switch. Monitor the room during the turn-and-talk, checking for understanding.
 Guiding Questions and Prompts: In your own words, what is “rhetoric?”
Turn-and talk to a partner for 30 seconds.
 Student Look-Fors: Access a partially completed vocabulary log under the Additional Materials tab. Students should fill out the first row of the vocabulary log along with you.
 Rhetoric is a noun.  Be sure to clarify what you mean by “concise”
 Not all words have synonyms, antonyms, and word families, but each word has at least one of the three.
Refer to the partially completed handout for guidance for each word throughout the unit. Students should copy the source sentence directly from the slide, including the citation.
Additional Notes: Consider collecting the logs and storing them in the classroom to prevent student loss. You could also have the students store the log in their class folder, if that fits in your daily class routine. Develop a system for soliciting individual student feedback early and use it often (i.e. a cold-call system)."

How do you think the typical 15 year old student will respond to this drivel?

Remember the term academic freedom? This is an almost forgotten concept in today's world of test teaching and scripted learning. But academic freedom has allowed the american education system to foster creativity in both teachers and students for many years before this recent trend of standardized education. It was an education system that has made the U.S. the world leader in scientific achievement, literature, and art. It is not a good idea to abandon academic freedom in hopes of small increases in standardized test score.

Need something to smile about at this point? Here is a little YouTube jingle written and performed by a teacher from another state who was also suffering through the creativity killing mandates of constant test prep.

This almost fanatical push to continue the standardized testing based implementation of Common Core is incomprehensible! Since the adoption of Common Core, Louisiana has seen the biggest drop ever in academic achievement of our students compared to other states as measured by the NAEP. Why is our business supported state level management of education so intent on continuing to double down on a failed policy that is harming our students?

Friday, June 1, 2018

Court Throws out VAM Teacher Evaluation System in Texas

This article describes the basis for a court decision in Texas throwing out the VAM based teacher evaluation system there. The same arguments against VAM are valid in Louisiana.

Here are the key findings in Texas against the use of VAM for evaluating teachers:

  • The VAM system which was originally designed to measure farm efficiency is not comparable to teaching effectiveness.
  • The American Statistical Association found that the impact of teacher quality on student scores was 14% at most. All the other factors such as socioeconomic deficiencies make the teacher portion almost insignificant in determining VAM.
  • Some administrators were found to be basing the teacher observation portion of the teacher evaluation on the teacher's VAM score which totally invalidated the observation portion.
  • High stakes tests which are used as the basis for VAM were never designed for teacher evaluation.
  • The stability of VAM scores was found to be so erratic that it could not be relied upon to reliably evaluate teachers.
In addition to the flaws found in Texas, other states have fired teachers based on VAM only to find out later that the teacher from the previous year had cheated or otherwise improperly boosted student scores causing the next year VAM to be artificially low.

The major proponent of continuing to use VAM in Louisiana is the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). LABI has appointed itself as the expert on teacher evaluation, and uses its power over the legislature to keep the VAM evaluation going. LABI likes the VAM system because it results in stack ranking of teachers, with the bottom portion of the ranking being subject to dismissal or humiliation leading to resignations. It is interesting to note that when stack ranking was used in private business it was quickly abandoned because it resulted in productivity losses. Why then is LABI insisting it be used on teachers?

LABI also does not take into account that only about 35% of teachers are subject to VAM because the other 65% do not teach students taking state tested subjects. This fact puts VAM rated teachers at a disadvantage in receiving merit pay or facing dismissal. Why would Louisiana want to continue a system of evaluation that punishes only certain teachers teaching core subjects? This is serious discrimination!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Educators May be Taking Charge of Their Profession

This recent article in The Guardian suggests a promising new activism by the members of the teaching profession. Up until the surprising recent job actions by teachers in several states I had assumed that teachers would continue to be bullied and blamed for problems in education with new waves of recrimination and reform while public funding for schools continued to be reduced to finance tax cuts for huge corporations.

But the author of the Guardian article, Thomas Frank, believes that teachers are achieving a new level of respect and support from the public and even the politicians who have been bashing teachers in recent years. Here is his account of this apparent change in attitude of teachers:

"For decades we have been told that the way to fix education is to fire people but red-shirted marchers across the country have shown the power of solidarity.

What I like best about the wave of teachers’ strikes that have swept America these last few months is how they punch so brutally and so directly in the face of the number one neoliberal educational fantasy of the last decade: that all we need to do to fix public education is fire people.

Fire teachers, specifically. They need to learn fear and discipline. That’s what education “reformers” have told us for years. If only, the fantasy goes, we could slay the foot-dragging unions and the red-tape rules that keep mediocre teachers in their jobs, then things would be different. If only some nice “tech millionaires” would step in and help us fire people! If only we could get a thousand clones of Michelle Rhee, the former DC schools chancellor who fired so many people she even once fired someone on TV! "

Here is an interesting reform fact: The idea of value added evaluations (VAM) and the accompaning "stack ranking" of teachers' evaluations based upon the standardized test scores of their students came from a similar evaluation program that was developed at Microsoft Corp. (you know, Bill Gates' company). The idea was to fire the bottom 5 or 10 percent of the employees and give merit pay to the top 5 or 10 percent. Microsoft abandoned the evaluation system after only a couple of years because they found out that it damaged collaboration between employees and actually resulted in lower overall productivity. The value added system in Louisiana education has had the same negative result, but our big business bosses at LABI have refused to admit it was a mistake and still instruct their puppets in the legislature to keep VAM (as a reduced percentage of the teacher evaluation). 

The Guardian article continues:
"Now just look at what’s happened. We’ve seen enormous teacher protests in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona, with more on the way. Actions that look very much like strikes by people who, in some of these states, are legally forbidden to strike. It was the perfect opportunity for education “reformers” to fire people, and fire them en masse. It was the politicians’ chance to show us what a tough-minded boss could do."

And in most cases, it was state governments that capitulated. It was hard-hearted believers in tax cuts and austerity and discipline who caved, lest they themselves get fired by voters at the next opportunity. 

Only a short while ago it looked as though organized labor was in deep trouble, with Republican governors declaring war on public employees and a supreme court case threatening to defund public-sector unions. 
Now, in a beautiful reversal, it is the shibboleths of the conservative era that are shaking. Not because the DC punditburo has changed its mind about things, of course. It’s happening because vast throngs of people in red T-shirts have gone marching through the streets of their red-state towns to let the world know they’ve had enough."
Now that the non-educators have had free rein to experiment with students and teachers for almost 20 years resulting in stagnation of test scores and a total demoralization of teachers, maybe we should give professional educators a chance.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Teachers Have Strong Support and Respect by the General Public

Teachers who took the extreme action of temporarily shutting down schools in several states to push for better teacher salaries and funding for materials of instruction have been pleasantly surprised by almost unanimous public support! Teachers who have been demoralized by low pay and a lack of respect from governors, and legislators have found out that the general public supports them and wants them well paid and respected. What a surprise for teachers who for the past twenty years have been told by politicians to just shut up and teach better! Now several state legislators and governors have responded by approving teacher raises and more funding for instruction. As teachers wrap up the school year, exhausted and burned out by the latest round of standardized testing abuse, they can at least hold up their heads with the knowledge that most parents really like them and respect them.

In addition, in response to the teacher job actions, most news stories and commentators have also been firmly on the side of teachers. There has been almost no condemnation of the teacher strikes by opinion makers in the media. I think that most people respect teachers for standing up for themselves and their students.

This is a welcome relief from the years of teacher bashing by politicians and self appointed education reformers. Teachers have been the targets of education reformers since the passage of "no child left behind" federal law in 2001. Teachers have been and still are blamed for the lack of academic performance of many of their students even though many other public school students are doing quite well. It has been assumed by most non-educator education reformers that if some students have low scores on standardized tests that it must be because of bad teachers. Our state even tried to tie teacher pay to student performance Reformers have classified schools as failing based on student test scores.

It has been considered politically incorrect to ever utter the term "failing students". Students who score poorly on the latest standardized tests are referred to as "struggling students". The implication is that such students are somehow being held back by inferior schools and teachers.

Legislators claim to have implemented higher standards, but most recently in Louisiana, our State Board of Education has effectively removed all standards for promotion of students from one grade to the next. This blog has pointed out the lack of student standards in recent posts.

Only teachers and schools can now fail according to our latest regulations. Students who score poorly are assumed by reformers to be the victims of our failing schools and teachers. None of this makes any sense at all.

The fact is that many students who perform poorly in school are not struggling with school. Some are not making even the tiniest effort to learn the required material in school. There are many factors that cause students to lack motivation to perform in school. The real culprits are usually poverty, hunger, illness, lack of sleep, insecurity, physical and mental abuse, and terrible role models. Many children start school knowing only half the words that are understood by typical middle class students and  often have no books in their homes. Some have no permanent homes and have no assurance of their next meal, much less  time for homework.

Many of the reformers who formed "no excuses" charter schools claiming to be able to overcome the effects of poverty on student performance, are often looking for ways to dump their low performing students either to the real public schools or even the streets. Does anyone remember "Advance Baton Rouge".

Our LDOE is no longer interested in taking over failing schools because takeover schools have often done worse under state control.

I can only hope that teachers everywhere will insist on being treated as professionals who should be given proper control over their profession just as other professions. Teachers who are teaching in challenging schools need to be supported and rewarded not bashed for conditions over which they have no control.

My advice to teachers today: Join and get active in your teacher union, (Not the fake one, but the LAE or LFT) which is your mechanism for improving your lot and that of your students. Vote out the enemies of public education and continue insisting on being treated as professionals even if you have to go on strike!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Schneider Tallies up the cost LEAP testing

This is the link to the latest post on the Mercedes Schneider blog where she totals up the cost of LEAP testing over a five year period.

As Schneider points out, the cost of ACT related testing is not included in her analysis.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Louisiana Recovery District's Performance

In my most recent post below, I provided statistics obtained by public records requests that showed that an extremely small percentage  of Louisiana public school students who fail both their math and English-Language-Arts LEAP tests each year are denied promotion to the next grade.

The precise statistics for the 2015-16 school year revealed that a total of 66,209 students in grades 3 though 8 failed both their math and ELA LEAP tests. That's approximately 21% of students enrolled in grades 3-8 statewide.

The purpose of this post is to compare the performance and promotion rate of students in the Louisiana Recovery District (the RSD) with the average for all other public school students.

Starting in the fall of 2005, the state took over approximately 70 schools from local school boards and created a new school system called the Louisiana Recovery District. The purpose was to upgrade the performance of these so called failing schools and to convert them into successful schools. Most of these takeover schools were chartered to a mix of non-profit and for-profit charter management organizations that were expected to boost performance of students to acceptable levels.

For the first few years after the state takeover and conversion of the RSD schools to charter schools we saw press releases from the state department of education proclaiming that student performance on state LEAP tests were improving at a much faster rate than that of other public schools. I wanted to know how these schools compared more recently to other public schools after all these years of greater growth. So I requested the most recent statistics on student performance and also on grade retention rates.

At the end of the 2015-16 school year, the Louisiana Recovery District was operated under the BESE as the charter authorizer. Public records obtained from the LDOE reveal that the failure rate of RSD students in both ELA and math for the 2015-16 school year totaled 49% of all students enrolled in grades 3 though 8.

After 11 years of state control of the RSD and operation of its schools by charter managers, approximately half of the students in such schools failed both their math and English-Language-arts tests. Statistics also obtained from the LDOE indicate that only 2.9% of students in grades 3 though 8 in the RSD were denied promotion to the next grade. That's almost the same rate as the students that were retained in grade by all other public schools under the administration of local school boards even though their failure rate on state LEAP tests was much lower.

So what was the result of transferring control of all these so called failing schools to BESE and to charter management organizations? Approximately half the students in such schools failed to score even 30% correct answers on their math and ELA state tests. Yet almost all of these students were promoted to the next grade. And each year these takeover schools continued graduating more and more uneducated students.

A general analysis of all state "recovery districts" or so called "achievement zones" patterned after the Louisiana Recovery District finds that such takeovers have had pretty much the same phony results as our model reform district.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

State policy produces more diploma mills than ever

One of the oft stated objectives of education reforms in Louisiana was the elimination of “diploma mills”. Diploma mills were generally described as schools that award diplomas to almost all students, even those that had minimal academic achievement or were considered functionally illiterate.

Now after over 13 years of intensive education reform under State Superintendent John White, our Department of education is handing out more worthless diplomas than ever before. The new policies adopted by BESE at the urging of John White and the LDOE funnel almost all students to automatic graduation without regard to actual academic achievement. Here are the two portions of law that are supposed to implement "The Louisiana Competency Based Education Program":

  1. State law allowing for promotion of students in 4th and 8th grades to the next grade is defined as follows by Act 275 of 2012: "Fourth and eighth grade students shall be required to demonstrate proficiency on such tests in order to advance to grades five and nine, pursuant to rules adopted by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in accordance with the administrative Procedure Act. Such proficiency shall be set with reference to test scores of students of the same grade nationally."
  2. Another part of the law on competency based education states the following: "The department shall establish, subject to the approval of the state board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the nature and application of various intervention options in the case of failure to demonstrate proficiency, which may include remediation, retention in grade, an alternative placement in succeeding grades, or any other option which will support a student's achieving the required proficiency lovel
The LDOE and BESE originally implemented the laws above by adopting a policy that prevented students from being promoted to the fifth and ninth grades if they did not achieve at least "basic" on their LEAP tests. That portion of BESE policy was quietly repealed this year.

An Important Note: My opinion expressed many times in this blog is that the new state LEAP tests are totally invalid and should never have been used to determine promotion or failure of students. The real problem is that teachers are being pressured to promote students who have not demonstrated any level of achievement in their course work.

BESE policy now allows almost any "intervention" when a student fails some or even all of his/her LEAP tests. All the educators have to do is write up a proposed plan of action to address the academic deficiencies of the student. But there is no required follow-up. There is no day of reckoning for students who repeatedly fail either their class work or their state tests or both. How do I know this? Because I have submitted public records requests that reveal that even though 21% of all students regularly and repeatedly fail both their math and ELA LEAP tests, they are promoted to the next grade. Statewide, an average of only 2.5% of students are retained in grade even if the failure rate on two state tests at a time holds steady for each grade at about 21%. Teachers in most schools tell us that even if a student fails all of his/her teacher made tests, teachers are expected to somehow provide make-up work that allows an excuse for passing the student to the next grade.

In addition to elementary and middle school automatic promotion, when students are provisionally promoted to the ninth grade after failing all of their eighth grade LEAP tests, after one year, they are automatically given full status as high school students. Then if they fail their required courses, they are allowed to take computerized "credit recovery" courses that may take as little as one week for the student to be granted credit.

The problem is that the present school rating and grading system provides an incentive for circumventing standards. A school gets zero points on the state rating system for maintaining high standards, but the school gets lots of credit for graduating more and more students.

The true, overriding, unwritten policy of most school systems is to graduate as many students as possible without real regard for standards of any kind. We how have the ultimate diploma mills.

See my next blog above for specific examples of our "standards free" promotion policy.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Update on SB 465

I am pleased to report that Senate Bill 465, which is described in the post below, has been extensively amended to remove those changes in the student discipline law that many practicing educators believed would have decreased the rights of teachers and principals to maintain discipline in the classroom and on school grounds.

The bill has been amended to continue the work of the discipline advisory council that was set up last year. Unfortunately the advisory council has been expanded to include more special interests representatives that may have little knowledge of real classrooms. The council would be required by the amended bill to make a report of its findings and recommendations to the Senate and House education committees before the next legislative session.

I want to thank the Louisiana Association of educators and other groups that continue to support teacher rights to maintain an orderly classroom for their work in amending this bill.

As the bill goes to the senate floor and then to the House, it could still be amended to restore some of the objectionable changes to Louisiana student discipline laws. 

Please continue to communicate with your legislators to oppose harmful changes to our discipline laws!