Monday, August 8, 2011

The Tip of The Iceberg

This blogger applauds the decisive actions taken recently by Acting Superintendent Ollie Tyler and BESE President Penny Dastugue in revoking the charter of Pelican Foundation to operate Abramson Charter school. BESE was right also in approving their recommendations despite the threat of lawsuit by Pelican. Many education observers however, believe the Abramson Charter scandal is just the tip of the iceberg of abuse and cover-up in the charter school community. The linked Advocate article here describes concerns by the Dept. of Education about limited special education services and the high number of uncertified teachers employed in another Pelican school.  Several other charter operators in Baton Rouge and New Orleans seem to have problems ranging from inadequate special education services, to unsafe campus environments, to questionable LEAP rehearsal materials, to grade inflation and to questionable dropout figures (See my guest research paper at Research on Reforms.

Now some education researchers are looking at statistically improbable results of some LEAP and ILEAP testing results in RSD schools. At the same time, word is leaking out about teachers who claim to have observed testing irregularities such as LEAP test papers with identical answer sheets for different students, written test responses in the handwriting of the supervising teacher, and test rehearsal using test items almost identical to the actual LEAP tests.

These are the kind of abuses warned about by Psychologist Donald Campbell when accountability stakes are raised to such critical levels. Dr Campbell formulated an adage in the 70's that has become known as Campbell's law. Campbell's law states that "the more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social process it is intended to monitor. Thus the pressure to cheat on or game the school performance indicators.

Unfortunately now that our education policy makers have created this test based accountability monster, it is incumbent upon state education officials to step up monitoring and investigations to prevent cheating from totally distorting school performance results. If state officials do not act decisively now to prevent and expose test cheating and unethical test prep activities, they should be held responsible for any new scandals that may be exposed.

Acting State Superintendent Ollie Tyler has announced her intent to propose improved oversight of accountability requirements as implemented in state charter schools. Ms Tyler has indicated that she welcomes recommendations from all stakeholders. OK, then as a taxpayer and educator, I have a few recommendations. The following are proposals that I believe would increase the confidence of taxpayers that gaming of the system of accountability would be discouraged and hopefully minimized.
  • BESE should adopt a policy that prohibits any form of retaliation (whistle blower protection) against any school employee who reports to the Department or BESE any alleged violation of state laws or policies related to school accountability.
  • The Department should adopt a policy of investigating and monitoring schools that demonstrate statistically improbable LEAP or ILEAP test results or dropout data.
  • The Department should investigate any alleged improper test preparation materials to determine if such materials should be disallowed.
  • Strong sanctions should be imposed on schools or school systems that are determined to have violated accountability policies.