Sunday, March 8, 2015

Rigging the Louisiana High Stakes Testing Game

I testified at BESE last Thursday about the manipulation of LEAP test scores last year to make it look as though our students were doing just fine with the new Common Core aligned tests.

Several of my readers have asked me to report on the mastery cut scores I got from the LDOE by suing John White last September. This post is timely now since the faux PARCC test is going to be administered in a few weeks. White has announced that he wants to set a goal of getting the majority of our students to the Mastery level in ELA and Math within a ten-year period. Actually that should not be very difficult, since the LDOE has ways of manipulating the test results to make them go up even if there is no real increase in learning by the students. Here is how it works:

Last Spring the LDOE issued a press release announcing that even though the new CCSS aligned test given in Spring of 2014 was more “rigorous” or difficult than the ones in previous years, the performance of our students as measured by the percent achieving the rating of “Basic” had remained steady.  In addition, the percentage of our students achieving the rating of “Mastery” had actually improved! Wow! So apparently White was beginning to make good on his effort to get our students up to the Mastery level. (Some of our reformers think that the secret to student achievement is to simply set goals and then order the educators to “make” the students learn at those levels. That’s all there is to it. This is education leadership.)

After reading that press release, I started wondering if the success was real or if it may be a result of lowering the cut scores for the ratings of Basic and Mastery. But when I first inquired, the LDOE informed me that the scale cut scores for Basic and Mastery had remained the same for the last ten years. I then realized that I was asking the wrong question! So next I asked for the LDOE to supply me with the “raw cut scores” for Basic last Spring compared to the raw cut scores of the two previous years. Well that information turned out to be harder to extract from all the layers of PR folks that get to decide on releasing the information. But finally, after two months of wrangling with the Dept. and threatening to sue them based on the public records law, I got the raw cut scores for Basic compared to the two previous years for ELA and Math. Here they are:

4th grade ELA – 2012 = 53.9%, 2013 = 51.5%, 2014 = 44.6% (So the cut score for Basic in this area was lowered significantly as the Common Core aligned test was phased in)

4th grade Math – 2012 = 52.8%, 2013 = 50%, 2014 = 47.2% (So the cut score for Basic in this area was lowered significantly also.

8th grade ELA – 2012 = 58%, 2013 = 58%, 2014 = 58.7% (So the cut score in this area remained pretty constant)

8th grade Math – 2012 = 55.3%, 2013 = 48.6%, 2014 = 40.1% (So the cut score here was lowered drastically over the last three years)

This information which was so difficult to obtain from the LDOE led me to believe that the press release about student performance at the basic level remaining steady as the state moved to the more difficult Common Core aligned tests was very misleading, if not an outright lie!

So next I asked the LDOE to give me the cut scores for the last three years for the rating of Mastery in ELA and Math.

Well, unfortunately that information turned out to be much harder to get released, even though I knew that it had been set since last May when the percentages for Mastery were tabulated by LDOE.

I ended up having to file a lawsuit to get the Mastery cut scores and did not actually get them until September 22 after a judgment from the 14th district court of Judge Downing. (Along with my court costs and lawyer’s fees)

Here are the results for Mastery for the last three years:
4th grade ELA – 2012 = 75.4%, 2013 = 71.5%, 2014 = 66.9% (So I concluded that the cut scores for mastery in this area had been significantly lowered)

4th grade Math -2012 = 75.7%, 2013 = 72.8%, 2014 = 68.8%  (So I concluded that the cut scores for mastery had been steadily lowered also)

8th grade ELA – 2012 = 73.9%, 2013 = 75.4%, 2014 = 75.4 (So I concluded that the cut scores in this area for mastery had remained essentially the same)

8th grade Math – 2012 = 86.8%, 2013 = 84.7%, 2014 = 74.3% (So I concluded that the cut scores in this area had been significantly lowered)

Now I think I know why it was so difficult to extract the raw mastery cut scores from the LDOE. Instead of student performance at the Mastery level improving as the Common Core aligned tests got harder, the scores in three out of four areas went down significantly. There is simply no excuse for such blatant misleading propaganda from our Department of Education. It should be renamed the Department of Education Propaganda. (LDOEP)

The only reason I can see why the LDOE would lower the cut scores for mastery so much was so that our students would seem to be performing well with the new CCSS aligned test. There would then be no reason for parents or the legislature to be concerned with the new curriculum.

BESE members, Dr. Lottie Beebe and Carolyn Hill passed a motion at this last BESE meeting to get a report on the cut score changes as we get the results of the faux PARCC test this Spring.  John White tried to muddy the water again by telling them that such cut scores may not be available right away. But that is total bull since the only way to report the results on the tests is to use the cut scores to calculate those results!
I told them that if I have to sue White again to get the cut scores I would be happy to do so.

Note: There is one other way the LDOE can manipulate the results of the state testing every year.  As long as Louisiana is not really a part of the PARCC Consortium, our LDOE works with the testing company, Data Recognition Corporation to actually select the questions that go on the test form. The form is changed every year so that students and teachers cannot teach the exact test by getting a copy of it. Well it just so happens that our test creators have a choice from a pool of questions that are rated according to difficulty. They can make the test harder or easier just by changing the mix of “easy” verses “difficult” questions.

One more thing: The LDOE claims that the cut scores are reset each year using scientific formulas that ensure that each test form is equal in difficulty to all other test forms. (Of course that negates their argument that the students did as well even though the test got harder) But if was a true scientific calculation to reset the cut scores, why did they wait until all the results statewide were in before calculating the new cut scores? My public records request also got me the emails between LDOE and Data Recognition Corp. indicating that the cut scores were approved by the LDOE after all the student scores were in. That way the gurus at the LDOE and DRC could sit a their computers and run simulations to see how many kids would pass based on different cut scores.

Do you get the feeling as I do that this is all just a cruel game being played by the LDOE and the testing companies with our students and teachers being the victims of efforts to discredit our education system and to push for further privatization?