Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New Accountability Rules

News Flash, Added 6/7/12: Baton Rouge Advocate finally breaks with Jindal and criticizes his unconstitutional voucher boondoggle and strong arm tactics. Also click here for Diane Ravitch commentary on Louisiana's voucher debacle.

On May 29 the US Department of Education approved Louisiana's ESEA Flexibility Request. This approval means that Louisiana will be given flexibility in the use of ESEA Title I funds and will be granted a waiver from some of the mandates and possible sanctions of the No Child Left Behind Act. This waiver should allow public schools more flexibility in how they utilize Title I funds and may not force schools to implement programs and practices that have not been found to be ineffective in improving student performance.

According to Dr. Scott Norton, head of Accountability for the State, schools will now be exempted from some of the burdensome regulations and reporting requirements of No Child Left Behind.

In order to be granted ESEA flexibility, Louisiana had to submit a plan for improving student performance, evaluating teachers partially based on student performance, and implement plans for closing the gaps in student performance. This ESEA Flexibility Request contains major changes in Louisiana's Accountability system that will impact all public schools. The following are some of the major changes in Accountability that will take effect in the 2012-13 school year.
  1. The School Performance Score (SPS) system will be changed from a 200 point system to a 150 point system and the following schedule will determine school grades: 50-69.9=D, 70-84.9=C, 85-99.9=B, 100-150=A.
  2. The SPS system will no longer consider school attendance by students in calculating the SPS for elementary and middle schools.
  3. Dropout rates in grades 6-8 will go from a weight of 10% to 5% in the calculation of SPS.
  4. Each school with a B rating or less for the previous year is expected to grow its SPS by 10 points per year.
  5. Schools where at least 35% of students in new super subgroups (comprised of minority and low performing student groups) exceed value-added expectations will be awarded bonus points on the SPS system.
  6. The greatest changes in the SPS system will occur in the high schools (grades 9-12) where the new SPS will be determined by 4 factors: 25% based on the ACT average score for all students, 25% based on the end of course test results, 25% based on the graduation index, 25% based on the cohort graduation rate.
  7. Any school below B that does not grow by at least 10 SPS points in a particular year must participate in mandatory COMPASS training.
I hope you have time to review the critique of the Louisiana ESEA Flexibility Request by the Louisiana Association of Educators. This letter to John White dated Feb. 28, 2012 and also sent to the USDOE explains what LAE believes are serious deficiencies in the  flexibility request. LAE believes that valid concerns of educators were ignored and a very impractical accountability plan continues that places the entire burden for student performance on educators and none on parents and students. The Association pointed out that the new accountability plan would result in more pressure being put on teachers to teach to the test. LAE also pointed out that school takeover which is continued in this new plan has not been successful in turning around low performing schools and should not be used.

I want to express my appreciation to Joyce Haynes, president of LAE and to Mary Washington, the LAE representative on the Accountability Commission for allowing me to attend the Accountability Commission meeting as their representative at the meeting of May 29.

This Commission was to have had a major voice in approving the new accountability changes. Frankly I was shocked that the Commission had very little input into the initial proposals to the USDOE. For example, the Commission was apparently never told that Louisiana had been allowed several options for improving student achievement as part of the ESEA Flexibility request.  Superintendent John White instead decided that Louisiana should retain the old goal of 100% student proficiency in ELA and math by 2014. The Commission was  never allowed to consider a much more reasonable alternative that was acceptable to USDOE. I can only conclude that Jindal and White were only concerned with the PR value of such irresponsible goals and not at all with the guaranteed perception of failure this causes to be assigned to most of our public schools.

Members of the audience of the Commission meeting pointed out that requiring the ACT of all students in high school would not be appropriate and may result in distorted or unfair school performance scores.

In the course of the meeting I questioned Jessica Baghiam, (formerly JessicaTucker) the young consultant who helped draft the ESEA Flexibility plan, about the mandatory COMPASS training for schools not meeting the new 10 point SPS growth requirement. I asked if this mandatory training may amount to punish work for the teachers in such schools where they would be required to stay after school for failing to achieve an almost impossible goal. She assured the Commission that this was not the intent of the rule. But no one assured us that teachers would not be required to participate in such extra work without pay.

Later that day we heard that the USDOE had approved the ESEA Waiver request. Approval by BESE apparently will simply be a formality.