Thursday, July 31, 2014

Getting the Truth Out About Ed Reform

The education reform we are going through in Louisiana and in many other states is not true reform because it is not improving education in any way whatsoever. That is the truth. VAM is a sham because it is inaccurate, damaging to good teachers' careers, and subject to manipulation by the LDOE. That is the truth. Grading of our schools using A-F is is doing more harm than good because all it does is tell us which schools have the most at risk students (which we knew already) and it stigmatizes all the dedicated professionals who work in our most needful schools driving good educators away. That is the truth. The whole system of constant standardized testing, test prep, and structuring the school year around testing, is destroying all the creativity and joy in teaching and learning and also driving good teachers out of the profession. That is the truth.

And now we have Common Core. A new system of standards imposed by the Gates Foundation that drives curriculum in our schools and forces teaching shifts to gimmicky methods of teaching math and reading designed by people who have no classroom experience. It forces shifts to methods that are not productive and not as effective as methods most teachers have used for years. Common Core will not improve academic performance, it will certainly not close the achievement gap as claimed by the proponents, but it will drive more dollars to testing companies and to the growing Pearson monopoly of texts, ipads, and test rehearsal products. That is the truth.

Did you notice that most of the traditional (status quo) media reporting has not adequately explained the above truths about the so the called education reform movement which Diane Ravitch and Mercedes Schneider are now referring to as the corporate takeover of public education. But here in Louisiana I am very proud to report that many strong voices have emerged through the use of blogs and social media to tell the real truth about education reform and to expose  Arne Duncan and John White for their damaging tinkering with public education. And now I would like for my readers to hear from another independent educator who is blogging the truth about Common Core. She is Rev. Dr. Marie DeYoung and she teaches music in several rural public schools in South Louisiana. Please visit her blog, Our Inherent Worth,  at: Here is her post on Common Core:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Education Should Do No Harm - My Sunday Eunice News Commentary published July 27, 2014

Should Louisiana taxpayers “keep it simple,” and allow high-priced Common Core education contracts to be funded in violation of our state contracting laws?

That was the suggestion of Stephen Waguespack, LABI President, when he argued last Sunday that it was too late to remedy the badly designed Common Core Program by canceling the sole-source contracts the way our governor, Bobby Jindal, chose to do.

Mr. Waguespack does not seem to be aware of the public testimony of teachers, parents, and administrators who are clearly making the case that Louisiana's Common Core Program was disastrously adopted, recklessly imposed, without adequate design input from teachers, subject-matter experts, or education testing experts.

There have been dozens of hearings, media interviews, and expert testimonies in which education leaders argued that the Common Core Program is hurting our state public education system.

The legislature tried to halt the program, but, so many state legislators are financially beholding to education industry lobbyists, they dared not cross their patrons by voting down the Common Core, as their constituents asked them to.

Governor Bobby Jindal chose to halt the Common Core with a legal strategy. He vowed to restore some modicum of democratic process to the next phase of planning for Louisiana's public schools.

But, now, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is trying to force the Common Core through – no matter what the people and the experts say.

Enter Mr. Waguespack, spokesperson for the Louisiana Business Institute: Go through with the Common Core, because we've already invested four years in it. “It's just that simple.”

Mr. Waguespack did not address any of the critical concerns presented by dozens of nationally recognized educators. He ignored concerns expressed by thousands of teachers and parents who are worried that the Common Core is not age appropriate for younger school children, but at the same time, not rigorous enough for high school age children.

He minimized our concerns using the label “doubts,” then proceeded to argue we should do the easy thing: spend hundreds of millions of dollars MORE on tests that were never subject to scrutiny by experts in the field of education.

I can think of several disasters that resulted from this kind of thinking, this kind of inattention to fundamental design flaws.

Do you remember the Challenger Shuttle that was torn apart minutes after takeoff, killing six astronauts and the first teacher to travel in space? Days before takeoff, NASA engineers were still debating design flaws. NASA management chose to go through with the launch, because it was just that simple: they were fearful of the embarrassment guaranteed if there was another delayed take-off due to an inexpensive design flaw.

Do you remember our shock and awe as a nation, when the City of New Orleans was submerged under water – because design flaws in the New Orleans Levees resulted in devastating floods after Hurricane Katrina? Three months BEFORE Katrina, scientists were testifying that MRGO, a dirt moving project that was supposed to make it easier for ships to navigate to the port were rarely used, and they actually created a funnel for storm waters to surge through – guaranteeing major flooding. MRGO was nicknamed “Trojan Horse.” Warnings to correct the design flaw were not heeded. We know the rest of the story.

So many complex engineering plans have design flaws, but, we ignore them because “It's just that simple:” Disasters rarely happen.

Do you remember our disbelief as a nation when the Deepwater Horizon wells ruptured? This engineering project was rushed. Warnings of impending danger by trained staff were ignored. In the interest of getting oil to market quicker, managers took the simple solution. They rushed a job and ignored reports of design flaws. Eleven workers were killed.

The Deepwater Horizon Disaster caused one of the worst environmental crises in American History.

There's no reason to rush the Common Core Program through, now that design flaws and contracting flaws have been made obvious to our legislators, our Governor, and our parents and community leaders.

Sometimes, it's smart to pull the plug on badly engineered structures. It's just as smart to pull the plug on badly designed education programs.

In the short run, superintendents and directors and public leaders may be red-cheeked with embarrassment at the sudden change of course. After all, they've been forced to publicly endorse a very badly designed program that is already doing a lot of harm to our children.

But, in the long run, we can produce lasting positive changes in our schools by adopting research-based curriculum and testing strategies that meet the real needs of our diverse students and our 21st century workforce --- without doing harm in the process.

Public Education should do no harm. It's just that simple.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

White Refuses to Release Raw LEAP Cut Scores

A press statement accompanying the release of the Spring 2014 LEAP and iLEAP testing results announced that the percentage of students receiving a rating of "mastery" on the LEAP had improved this year and the percentage of students rated "basic" remained steady this year despite the inclusion of more "rigorous" Common Core aligned questions on this year's tests. The press release from the LDOE stated:

"The Department of Education today announced that on LEAP and iLEAP tests aligned to more challenging learning standards, the percentage of students performing at the state’s 2025 expectation of “mastery” (level 4 out of 5) increased in both English Language Arts and math, while the percentage of students performing at the state’s expectation level established in 1999, “basic” (level 3 out of 5), remained steady."

Using critical thinking skills to decipher the real meaning of the above statement, I began to ask myself "Does this press release mean that more students got a higher percentage of answers correct on this year's test than they did last year even though the test was supposed to be more difficult?" Also I wondered: "Does performance at a level of 4 out of 5 mean that students got 80% of the questions on the test correct? Does a rating of "basic" mean that a student got at least 60% (3 out of 5) of the questions right?" But after studying the technical explanations at the LDOE website, I concluded that the press release tells us nothing about what percentage of correct answers are represented by the ratings of "basic" and "mastery".  It also really tells us nothing about whether students got more or fewer right answers on this year's test compared to last year. To figure that out we would have to know the raw scores equivalent to such ratings. . . . and John White is not telling us the raw scores: the percentage of correct answers required to produce a rating of basic or mastery.

You see it turns out that the raw scores, or percentage of correct answers for the ratings of "basic" and "mastery" can be changed from year-to-year based upon judgements made by the LDOE and the testing company employed by the Department to design and grade the tests. The policy of the Department is that if the test for a particular year contains more difficult questions (in the opinion of the DOE and the testing company), the decision can be made to lower the raw cut score (the percentage of correct answers) for a rating of either "basic" or "mastery" to "adjust" for the greater difficulty of the new test. The following is the technical explanation given by the LDOE for adjusting or resetting the raw cut scores from one test form to the next: (From the DOE Technical Summary Report page 6)
"Equivalency is established by first building the forms to be equated according to tight content specifications. Then the form scores are placed on the same scale, such that students performing on an assessment at the same level of (underlying) achievement should receive the same scaled-score, although they may not receive the same number-correct score (or raw score).(emphasis added) The raw-to-scaled-score relationship performs this leveling function based on form equating studies. Theoretically, differences in the raw-to-scaled-score relationship between the two forms can be partially due to differences in the samples utilized for calibration and the differences in item difficulty."

So until we know how the raw cut scores compare this year with previous years, we really don't know whether on not student performance at the basic level "remained steady" or that the percentage of students performing at a level of mastery has improved.

That's why on June 10th I made a public records request of John White as the custodian of public records for the LDOE to provide me with the percentage of correct answers needed for students to receive a rating of basic and mastery for this year compared to the previous year. I also asked for a copy of any communications between the LDOE and the contracted testing company concerning any adjustments in test scores from last year to this year. But after more than a month of wrangling with the attorney representing John White and the DOE I was informed Friday that the Department is not in possession of the information I requested. How can the DOE not have the information it used to to give ratings on LEAP and iLEAP to approximately 500,000 Louisiana students?

What is the definition of a public record anyway? According to the Public Affairs Research Council which for years has advised the public in Louisiana on the meaning of the public records laws, the definition is: "Generally anything having been used, being in use or prepared for use in the conduct of public business is a public record, regardless of physical form." Based on this definition, I believe that the raw cut scores for a rating of basic and mastery on the LEAP tests are public records and should be provided to any citizen requesting them.

Our state superintendent, John White, before coming to Louisiana worked in the New York system of Education. The New York state agency was notorious for manipulating the cut scores used for determining the performance of students and schools in New York. It has been revealed recently that the raw cut scores were changed drastically over a 10 year period to first make it seem that student performance had improved dramatically and then last year the cut scores were changed to show a drop in performance when probably no real change had occurred. Is something similar now happening in Louisiana? We won't know unless John White provides us with the raw percentage scores for the ratings of basic and mastery over a period of years. We have a right to know if data is being improperly manipulated. We need to know if moving to Common Core testing is going to cause our students to perform higher or lower on the state tests.

I have offered to meet with White or his staff to resolve this matter amicably but that is not happening and it seems like my only option now is legal action once again to simply get White to follow state law.