Saturday, September 5, 2015

Louisiana's Phony Graduation Standards

Part I: Outrageously Low End-of-Course Passing Scores Used to Artificially Boost the Louisiana Graduation Rate

Note: The revelations in this post are only possible because of the expertise and tenacity of my attorney, Mr J. Arthur Smith of Baton Rouge. Mr Smith is the main reason I have been able to receive important information that John White and his staff have attempted to hide from public scrutiny. Mr White employs a team of hard line public relations experts whose primary purpose is to make the LDOE, John White, and his Recovery District look good to the public and the media. In my opinion, they are not there to provide the public the information to which we are entitled. They are employed with our tax dollars to suppress and shape the messages the public receives about education.

Last Friday, Mr Smith filed the fourth public records lawsuit on my behalf against John White and the LDOE to get information that used to be available to all citizens. (Notice that the pro-White news media does not even cover this) So far, the first two lawsuit judgements were completely in our favor with the judge ordering the release of the information we requested and assessing court costs and fines to the Dept. for violation of the Public Records law. The third lawsuit is being delayed as long as possible by White and his attorney. In addition, I have now been notified for the third time that my legal efforts are being followed by a right wing group that seeks to discourage lawsuits against their favored individuals. I want to thank Attorney Smith for his vigilance in obtaining the information presented in this blog post. This information, for a change, was provided without the need for us to file suit.

The Secret Cut Scores

Our Education Reform superintendent, John White, loves to tell the business community and the newspapers that he is insisting on high standards for high school graduation. He claims to be preparing every student for college and career by implementing rigorous standards. He reports that he has raised the bar and that our students and teachers have responded to his leadership by rising to the challenge and clearing that bar in greater and greater numbers.  He points to Louisiana’s improved graduation rate as proof that he has turned Louisiana education around. Please allow me explain how this is all just a lot of baloney!

Even before White arrived on the scene, the previous reformer superintendent, Paul Pastorek had attempted to raise the bar by pushing more and more students to enroll in Louisiana’s Core 4 College Prep curriculum. Never mind that our guidance counselors had been warning that many of our students would not do well in college prep and that such a push may cause more students to drop out. But Pastorek and now White believe they have figured out how to award more high school diplomas even with a larger proportion of students taking college prep courses. A big part of this “winning strategy” is accomplished by secretly setting extremely low cut scores for the high school End-of-Course tests in several required courses.

Would you consider a passing score of 36% on an end-of-course test for Algebra I to be a “high standard”? What about a passing score of 34% on Applied Algebra? But wait; the passing score for Geometry is now only 32%! Did you know for example that on a multiple-choice test, a first grader could score an average of 25% by just making random choices? With just a little luck and 2 or 3 tries (which we routinely allow for EOC tests), that first grader may actually hit the passing percentage of 32% in Geometry. . . . a course he never took! How’s that for high standards?

Does our business community know anything about our low cut scores for the high school end-of-course tests? I don’t think so. This stuff is top secret! I had to threaten a lawsuit to get John White to hand over the information. I spoke recently to an accountability supervisor in one of our local school systems and found that she had never been briefed about the cut scores. But she did tell me that the LDOE was suggesting that teachers should be urged to put more and more weight on the EOC test results in deciding whether or not a student should be given a passing grade on the required courses. This is simply a way of artificially boosting the Louisiana graduation rate by just giving students passing grades for very little accomplishment.

I spoke also to BESE member, Dr. Lottie Beebe and found out that BESE has never been consulted or even briefed on the passing scores for End-of-Course tests.  BESE is the official body that is supposed to set education standards, yet BESE has been kept completely in the dark. Neither has BESE been informed by White or his staff that in recent years, the passing scores have been steadily lowered from extremely low to ridiculously low! Cut scores for applied Algebra and Algebra I used to be 38% and 40% and now they are 34% and 36%. The English III passing score used to be 43.8%, now its 37.5%. Geometry used to be 38%, now its 32%. These seemingly minor reductions can make a huge difference in the percentage of students passing when such adjustments are made at the low end of the scale.

Let me hasten to inform my readers however, that the official LDOE line is that standards for passing the tests are not really changed from year to year. What may look like a lowering of standards is really just an adjustment for a more difficult form of the test. If you believe that one, I have a bridge over the Mississippi river I want to sell you.

The real purpose of these weak standards in my opinion, is to boost Louisiana’s graduation rate so that it will look like our reformer superintendent and his supporters on BESE have made dramatic progress. Just in time for the BESE elections on October 24!

Have you wondered why the results of the new PARCC-like test won’t be released until probably December? Maybe that’s because those results may be bad news. Never mind that our schools will not be able to use the results for any useful purpose since they will be reported so late. Also the Common Core standards review committee will not get to see which concepts are not working in time to be used in their revisions of the standards. Some just think it is not be a good idea to report bad news right before the BESE elections.

Please watch for Part II of this story, in a few days when we take a look at bogus credit recovery courses, violations of the mandatory attendance law, and phony college enrollment figures. 

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