Thursday, December 5, 2013

Education Amateurs Harm Public Schools

BESE this week adopted major changes in student, teacher, and school accountability as the Common Core State Standards implementation is being adjusted to a 10 year implementation schedule. Once again, educators and students will have to adjust to major changes in the ground rules.

Superintendent White, in response to concerns of parents and teachers, has proposed to gradually raise performance expectations related to the CCSS. Performance expectations as measured by the PARCC testing will begin in the Spring testing of 2015 and gradually increase to 2025. Acceptable performance on ELA and math will begin with achievement of a 3 out of a 5 point scale on test measures in 2015 and will go up to 4 out of 5 by 2025. New York state began this year by expecting achievement at a level of 4. This resulted in over 70% of tested students rated as unsatisfactory. I guess their leaders thought it was OK to use their entire student population as guinea pigs. White “believes” Louisiana can avoid the severe drop in student performance by using a more gradual approach. This gradual approach is supposed to give a reasonable time for students and teachers to adapt to the new learning standards.

Because of the change to the new testing system, no VAM ratings of teachers will be produced for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. The student performance part of all teacher ratings will be based on student learning targets (SLTs) for those two years.

Local school officials will be given authority to wave minimum state test score requirements for students to be promoted from 4th to 5th grade and will be allowed to move 8th grade students to the high school level even if they do not pass the 8th grade state testing.

During the first two years of the10 year CCSS implementation time frame, White and BESE have decided to adjust the grading system for schools by grading schools using a curve system. This system would keep the relative number of schools rated A through F the same as it is today. After the first two years the grading scale would be gradually raised to achieve proficiency targets by 2025. White has stated that the purpose of the new grading curve is to prevent schools from having their school grades lowered drastically as Common Core is implemented. But this school grade curve system has other implications that are less desirable.

For example, such a system would actually prevent most bottom rated schools from moving out of the F category for the next 10 years. Because of the state law mandating takeover of schools by the Recovery District, it would guarantee that more schools would be taken over by the state and probably converted to charter schools. These takeovers, for the most part have been a dismal failure. This is not good for students or educators.

Also by locking in the same number of schools statewide rated C through F, there will continue to be a huge pool of students targeted by voucher schools. The latest results on voucher school performance has also been extremely low, with at least 45% of students attending D and F rated voucher schools. In addition, our DOE does not even rate most voucher schools, so it is impossible to have any idea how well they are doing. Also, voucher schools are not required to implement the Common Core Standards.

Cynics however are suggesting that the slowdown in moving to more difficult standards is the need for the Jindal administration to avoid bad publicity that would result from a precipitous drop in school ratings. Low school grades were used to justify the Jindal reforms. Now ratings need to improve or at least remain stable to confirm that the reforms worked.

An important revelation of Herb Bassett's study on the present school rating system (see the previous post on this blog) includes statistics that show that on average low performing students actually are showing more progress on state tests if they are attending C, D, or F schools as compared to low performers who are attending B and A schools. This is an amazing revelation! Finally we have actual data that indicates what may be the most productive school setting for struggling students. This setting is the opposite of what was assumed by Jindal and the Legislature when the voucher choice system was proposed. Bassett's study indicates that Louisiana is doing a serious disservice to many students by encouraging them to transfer to voucher schools. In all likelihood, almost all of our public school students have reasonably good opportunities regardless of what grade has been assigned to their home school. I made that point over two years ago in this blog when I pointed out that Vietnamese refugee students who started school in some of our lowest rated inner city schools ended up being top performers and received some of the highest academic awards in their school systems. These facts demonstrate that the current school grading system is extremely misleading and unfair to students and educators. (BESE voted down a motion by member Carolyn Hill to suspend school grading) White claims he does not want to denigrate schools, yet the very grading system we have used has denigrated perfectly good schools and is set to continue to do so for at least the next 10 years.

There was one more instance of revealing testimony at the BESE committee meeting Tuesday that illustrated the absurdity and lack of validity of the current school grading system. Shawn Fleming of the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council pointed out to the Board that the DOE has run three schools for the last 30 or 40 years that are perpetually classified as F schools. Those are the School for the Deaf, the School for the Visually Impaired and the Special Education Center. It is very clear that the F ratings of these schools have almost nothing to do with the quality of instruction but almost everything to do with the high percentage of disabilities of the students attending.

(The following are my comments from here on) It is ironic that the three schools above are never considered for criticism and are not subject to state takeover because they are already run by the state! There are many other schools across the state that have their letter grades affected by the high percentage of students with disabilities and the level of poverty of the students they serve yet they are subject to state takeover. At the same time the reputations of the administrators and teachers of those schools are effectively destroyed by the Fs and Ds assigned by the state. Education researchers have concluded that 70% to 80% of student achievement in a school is determined by factors outside the control of the school, yet our state continues to use an arbitrary grading system for schools that perpetually guarantees that schools serving high poverty communities are denigrated.

Now let's talk a little about the infamous VAM system. Did you know that key elements of the system for rating teachers were actually recommended by Bill Gates based on a system implemented several years ago by the Microsoft Corporation in evaluating its employees. (see this Geaux Teacher blog) A key part of this system is the ranking of employee ratings and the dismissal of a certain percentage of the bottom ranked employees. Gates even went on the Oprah Winfrey program and recommended that this system be used to rid public school of its lowest performing teachers. He predicted that if such a system were used to purge the education profession that the U.S. would soon see its student achievement rise to the top ranking among industrialized nations.

Naturally it was assumed that the richest man in the world must have put his finger on the solution that would transform the entire public education system in this country to one of the best in the world. The Gates Foundation staff were intimately involved in helping Louisiana to revamp its teacher evaluation system as part of our application for Race to the Top funding. (funding we never won). The chief administrator for the development of COMPASS (the new evaluation system) had never taught a day in her life. So it was decided by all these non educators that a VAM system would be implemented for teachers teaching the core subjects. All the core teachers in the state would be ranked by their VAM score and the bottom 10% would be immediately stripped of tenure and seniority rights and placed on a path to dismissal in as little as two years if they did not show improvement.

Meanwhile at the beginning of 2013, the evaluation system at Microsoft Corporation had finally been in effect long enough to judge its effectiveness. When the Microsoft managers got together and compared notes they concluded that the new evaluation system which was supposed to improve the competitiveness of Microsoft was actually doing harm to the company. You see, they way the system actually worked was that by ranking employees for effectiveness, the company was killing the motivation of their employees to work in a collaborative manner. The employees were jealously guarding their ideas instead of sharing them with their teams, because of fear of not getting proper credit toward their evaluation ranking. So just a few months ago, Microsoft junked the whole system.

It turned out that this highly touted Bill Gates system for improving public education was a disaster for his own company. So how did it work out for education? Morale in the teaching profession nation wide as measured by the annual Met life study has fallen to an all time low because of the punitive nature of the new evaluation systems being implemented all over the country. In Louisiana, we have seen record numbers of early retirements of teachers. Many local superintendents have complained about the loss of some of their best teachers. The interest among young people in pursuing a career in teaching has fallen drastically.

But Louisiana can't do what Microsoft did to correct their mistake. Our new evaluation system is now in state law and BESE policy. Public institutions cannot turn on a dime and change policy instantly the way private companies can. Also, politicians and top public administrators don't like to admit they are ever wrong because it is more important to them to protect their political careers than to worry about the morale and effectiveness of school employees.

So Louisiana will keep the dog and pony show that is known as COMPASS, and we will temporarily suspend the VAM program until we establish a new “baseline”. Most of our teachers will continue to soldier on because they have their students and their own families to consider. Meanwhile the amateurs that run education in Louisiana will pat themselves on the back and complement each other on their wisdom in moving forward with education reform, and away from the status quo.

Monday, December 2, 2013

School Grading System for 2012-13; "Quite A Mess"

Independent education researcher, Herb Bassett has produced his annual report on the Louisiana SPS and school grading system and has characterized this year's school grading system by the LDOE as "Quite a mess".
Mr Bassett has sent his analysis of this past year's school grading system to all members of the House and Senate Education Committees and to BESE members. Let's hope they will actually read the report and consider appropriate legislative action to correct the flaws in the system.

You may access each of the documents in the report by clicking here for Bassett's primary report and here for additional resources and examples..

Mr Bassett's report shows how the use of the new bonus point system by our Louisiana Department of Education has produced several glaring injustices in the resulting grades for schools across the state.

The following is the cover letter for the SPS Report by Mr Bassett:

To: Members of the House Education Committee,
Members of the Senate Education Committee,
BESE Members,
I present the attached report on the 2013 School Performance Scores issued by LDOE. To put it bluntly, they are quite a mess. In its attempt to redefine excellence, LDOE created a system that failed to reward high performing schools and gave a significant boost to low performing schools without requiring greater performance.
I do understand that it is the responsibility of BESE and LDOE to define through the formulas what an A school is and what a failing school is. They have the right and the responsibility to set performance standards, and to change them when necessary.
However, any assessment system must apply to all schools equally, and even more importantly, higher performance must yield higher scores. If, when all other factors are held constant, a student's making a higher assessment score causes the school's final performance score to go down, the system is flawed.
When that problem is pervasive and introduced into the system in more than one way, the system is a failure.
I have found that:
1. Under the flawed Bonus Points rules, many schools that moved students from non-proficiency to proficiency across years received a final SPS lower than if they had not improved those students as much;
2. Sixteen high schools that met the qualifications for Top Gains ($8500) lost that status and reward because of a capricious rule recommended by LDOE. Three schools, had they made less growth, would have earned the rewards.
3. LDOE changed the Bonus Points rules (Bulletin 111 Section 301. D.) three times between the issuance of last year's SPSs and this year's. One change actually inverted the scoring method so that students who had scored Unsatisfactory earned twice as many points as students who had scored Approaching Basic.
4. The Bonus Points rules were designed to boost F and D schools through the "number or percent" formulation and the scoring inversion. The scoring inversion favored RSD schools over the state average.
5. Bonus Points, as an indicator of a school's performance with non-proficient students, show that D and F schools are considerably better at improving non-proficient students than A and B schools. Awarding school choice and vouchers based on school letter grades is not supported by the data.
6. Over $1.4 million in Top Gains rewards were based on schools earning ten Bonus Points through the rules designed to boost F and D schools. One third of schools with Growth scores of F and D earned the ten Bonus Points required for Top Gains. (Some of these were disqualified through subgroup component failure.)
Attached are two documents. The 2013 SPS Report Bassett document provides explanation of the above. The second document 2013 SPS Report Additional document includes extended remarks about the myriad changes to the Bonus Points rules made by LDOE this year.
Mr. White and LDOE now ask for increased liberty in handling the school assessment system. I ask that instead, you provide greater controls and oversight.

Herb Bassett
Grayson, LA