Saturday, February 7, 2015

An Experienced Teacher on the Louisiana PARCC

Erin Pizzaro is a public school parent and a 15 year teacher in Caddo Parish. This letter to the editor was reprinted from the Shreveport times.

This spring, Louisiana public school third- through eighth-grade students will take the PARCC test March 16-20 and May 4-8.
The PARCC test is designed to assess whether or not students in different states are on track for college and careers. On Jan. 15, the Louisiana Department of Education’s website said, “Louisiana will administer the PARCC paper-based assessments for grades 3 through 8 in English language arts and math in spring 2015. These are the same tests as those taken in PARCC-participating districts and states across the country and will include the same questions field-tested by 50,000 Louisiana students in spring 2014.”
However, it is important for parents to know that Louisiana has no contract with Pearson, the vendor of the PARCC test. We have a contract with Data Recognition Corporation instead, who according to the Louisiana Department of Education has a licensing agreement with PARCC. Louisiana is not listed on the Pearson site as a state taking the PARCC test. So how are we taking the same test as the other 10 states listed on Pearson’s site? Teachers, students, and parents throughout the state are completely baffled. What test are we taking?
In early December, the governor’s attorney charged BESE with the task of getting answers from Superintendent John White regarding the testing contract with DRC and the LDOE’s espousal that the state will take the PARCC test, the test created by Pearson. This information was likely discussed at BESE’s January meeting in executive committee, but that information is kept between committee members. Teachers, students, and parents still have no idea about what the upcoming test will be because BESE has not disclosed any information.
Dec. 16, 2014, Caddo Parish School Board voted to send a resolution to the governor, legislature, state superintendent, and BESE to have an “immediate moratorium on participating in PARCC testing by Louisiana students.” The majority of BESE didn’t even consider discussing it. A faithful four members still stood up for what’s right. Caddo is not the first parish to resolve this either. Iberia, Jackson, Jefferson Davis, St. Helena, St. Martin, St. Tammany, Washington, and St. Mary parishes have all submitted resolutions for a moratorium on PARCC testing this spring.
In schools, teachers are working themselves to the bone to prepare students for this “mystery” test. Teachers are also told to teach certain things, and then weeks later are told to teach the opposite, all at the expense of our children. Students and teachers are very stressed about this unknown test. Last year, 70 percent of New York State failed a PARCC-like test. Why would any of us think Louisiana would fare better?
Public records requests for information regarding the PARCC test have been submitted to the Department of Education, but the department has ignored and stymied them. Transparency is not a word in the Department of Education’s vocabulary. The department is deriding education on the backs of our students and duping us all.
Many teachers and principals are outraged daily because no one can get straight answers about this test. Teachers and schools will be evaluated based on the results of this test. Parents are outraged that their children will take a test (1) that is a real unknown and (2) that 70 percent of New York state failed.
If parents choose to opt their children out of taking the test, right now their children’s school will receive a zero for that student toward their school performance score, another wallop that the Department of Education added this year. Because of this punitive decision, parents are likely reluctant to opt their children out of this test simply because of their school’s performance score.
Feb. 3 Caddo Parish School Board submitted another resolution to BESE for a special meeting to decide to either (1) call for a moratorium on PARCC throughout the state or (2) eliminate the zero assigned to schools by students who opt out of the test.
So what can we as Louisiana citizens do?
Call the governor’s office and ask him to make this right. Write to legislators to tell them we are outraged. Demand a special session of the Legislature. Write to BESE, and tell them we are indignant about their lack of action. Write to Superintendent White and tell him we are appalled at his secretive actions.
There’s a great expression that says, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” Fellow Louisiana state citizens: I certainly hope you are paying attention. Our children’s future depends on all of us.
This letter to the editor was reprinted from the Shreveport Times. Ms Pizarro is a public school parent and a classroom teacher in her 15th year in the Caddo  Parish public school system.
Erin Pizarro lives in Shreveport.

Debbie Meaux, president of LAE also speaks out on the PARCC issue. See this letter.

Four BESE Members Respond

There are four members of BESE that listen to and respect the professional educators of this state. They are Dr Lottie Beebe, Carolyn Hill, Jane Smith and Mary Harris.
See this letter in the Monroe News Star World by these champions of public education on BESE.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Three Reasons Why VAM Fails in Louisiana

The Value Added Model (VAM) for teacher evaluation was adopted by the legislature as a way of improving or removing ineffective teachers and rewarding good teachers. It does a very poor job on both objectives. But in addition, VAM has some very destructive effects on the teaching profession and on student instruction.  Here are three reasons why VAM is counterproductive.

Number one: VAM drives away some of the best potential teachers from the basic skills subjects of Math and ELA. Only one-third of teachers are rated by VAM because the majority of teachers teach non-state tested subjects. VAM ratings focus primarily on Math and English language arts teachers. The rest of the teachers are rated by their effectiveness in reaching student learning targets. But since VAM scores are so erratic, many excellent teachers do not want to subject themselves to the possible humiliation of an "ineffective" rating if they are qualified to teach some other subject.  Present law states that any teacher getting an ineffective rating immediately loses tenure and must undergo intensive remediation. Also, statistics based on the first year of VAM and several years of simulations demonstrate that VAM rated teachers are only one-third as likely as non-VAM rated teachers to get a “highly effective” rating on the quantitative part of their evaluation. (I will explain why under reason number two).  Since the new state mandated merit pay system rewards mostly teachers rated as highly effective, VAM teachers are much less likely to get merit pay.  For these reasons, many good Math and English teachers are opting out of teaching those subjects.

Number two: The VAM quota system does not allow for a general improvement of teacher evaluations as student scores go up from year to year. The way VAM is supposed to work is this: Complex formulas calculate each teacher's expected composite class scores on the state tests each year based on student's past records and socio-economic factors. The VAM than rates teachers on how well their students perform compared to their expected test scores. The problem is that no matter how well students statewide do from year to year, the LDOE limits the percentage of teachers that can receive each classification of ratings. The LDOE ranks all 16,000 VAM teachers from highest to lowest VAM scores and rates them based on mandatory percentages for each level of the ranking system. For example, teachers ranking in the top 20% of the rankings get "highly effective" and teachers ranking in the bottom 10% get "ineffective".  How the teacher ranks compared to other teachers determines the teacher’s final VAM rating. So if students statewide progress greatly from one year to the next, you still have the same 10% of teachers who get a failing score and only 20% of teachers getting an excellent score. The system guarantees that the same percentage of teachers will fail each year no matter how students progress or regress on state tests.

Number three: The VAM system guarantees that in the basic skills subjects, experienced teachers will be systematically replaced by less experienced and probably lesser trained teachers. Since the VAM system rates 10% of teachers "ineffective" every year no matter how well students do, the system will cause much more turnover of teachers in the basic skills subjects. New teachers with less experience and training usually replace these teachers. So the actual quality of instruction in the basic skills will most probably go down instead of up.

Present law requires that 50% of a teacher's evaluation is based on her/his VAM score. It has been suggested that the percentage of a teacher’s evaluation based on VAM should be reduced as a way of mitigating its effect on the teacher's overall rating. But reducing the percentage based on VAM just means that VAM will do less damage to the teaching profession and to the instruction of children. Since VAM does nothing positive to improve teaching, it should not be used for any percentage of the evaluation system.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The RSD ACT Disaster

Mercedes Schneider reveals here the latest disastrous ACT scores for the Recovery District. Students graduating from the all charter NO-RSD schools in 2014 averaged only 15.7 on the ACT. That's not enough to get into anything but one of those rip off internet colleges. This average score is down from the 2013 score I reported in my post of December 2013  for the NO-RSD of only 16.3. Where is the miracle progress of the RSD? Unfortunately the progress is backward.

In my report on the ACT scores last year I concluded that only 80% of the New Orleans RSD graduates had taken the test although it had been mandated that all students take the test starting that year. Probably the drop in scores for the NO-RSD is due to more students taking the test this last year.

But that's not all. Last year the graduation rate for the RSD was only 59.5%. So over 40% of the students in the RSD are not getting a diploma at all, and those who do are poorly qualified for anything. But if you go into most of these TFA staffed charter schools you see banners plastered all over asking the question: "Where will you attend college?" Other banners respond:  "Harvard!, Columbia!, Yale!" etc. This is a terrible hoax being perpetrated on the students and their parents and also on the taxpayers of Louisiana.

Some of the teachers in those schools have complained that students in the RSD schools often brag to their teachers who are trying to get them to get serious about their school work: "I don't have to worry. If I flunk your class, I can just take a credit recovery course and get credit for the class in just a few days!"

When these schools were taken over by the RSD and given to various charter operators they were described as dropout factories. Now they can be described as dropout factories and diploma mills at the same time.

Ten years ago the legislature designated these schools as failures and handed them over to the RSD and then to the charter operators. In addition to all the MFP money, many of the schools got millions of dollars in grants from the federal government and many private foundations. At one time it was estimated that the average RSD school was getting about two times the state average in funding per student. They have frittered away all that money and given the students almost nothing.