Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Practical Approach to Revising Our Louisiana Curriculum Standards

Note to readers: The following is an email I sent to members of the committees of educators and citizens charged with making revisions to the Louisiana Curriculum Standards. I believe that the process for revision of the standards currently being implemented by the LDOE is designed to simply make minor changes and basically rebrand the present common core standards as genuine Louisiana standards. In passing Acts 329 and Act 342 of the last legislative session, I believe the Louisiana Legislature expected more than just minor revisions. 

Dear Standards Review Committee Members:
Please consider the following as my recommendations as a citizen and as an educator for revisions of the Louisiana Academic Content Standards being conducted as directed by Act 329 of the 2015 legislative session.

As an experienced educator, I have a concern that the Standards Review Portal at the Louisiana Department of Education website tends to limit comment to the current Common Core State Standards that were first tested extensively in the Spring of 2015. The portal does not provide much opportunity for parents and educators to compare and contrast the new Common Core standards with those that were in use prior to adoption of Common Core.  Those prior standards were considered by some experts to be both rigorous and effective. Also it is a fact that most teachers and administrators in our schools are very familiar with the previous standards used in Louisiana and could easily substitute them for any of the new CCSS if they are judged to be more effective and appropriate in educating our students.

My first recommendation is that the previous Louisiana standards often referred to as the Louisiana Grade Level Expectations for math and ELA be provided to the standards review committees, to be reviewed alongside the new Common Core standards. This would facilitate the consideration and comparison of the two sets of standards with which our educators are most familiar.

My second recommendation relates to the use of the recent standardized tests administered in the Spring of 2015 as part of the standards review process. It is my belief after extensively studying the annual LEAP and iLEAP tests for the last several years that the tests themselves serve as a critical part of the standards implementation process.  I believe that the actual performance of our students on individual test questions that are designed to measure student proficiency on each of the standards provides valuable insight into the grade level appropriateness and usefulness of each of the standards.  For example, even though a particular standard may look good on paper, it is only when we attempt to test that standard with an actual question on the annual test that we can judge the true effectiveness of that standard.  Teachers regularly conduct an analysis of their teacher made tests to constantly refine and improve both their teaching and test construction.

I am therefore recommending that BESE and the Standards Review Committees request that the Louisiana Department of Education make available to all committee members, as soon as possible, an individual item analysis of each test question that was utilized in the Spring 2015 testing along with the identity of the corresponding standard which it was designed to test. This item analysis should include the percentage of Louisiana students who answered each item correctly. This would provide the Review Committees with some insight into the effectiveness and appropriateness of each standard as well as to any flaws in the test questions now used for measuring each standard. 

It is my understanding that Act 342 of the 2015 legislative session requires that no more than 49.9% of the new Assessments to be given in the Spring of 2016 can be derived from the PARCC assessment. (Note: this is a slight correction to the original email) This means that a significant portion of the 2015 test questions cannot be reused in their present form on future tests, yet the analysis of these test questions would provide the review committees with an excellent opportunity to use the test questions to judge the appropriateness of each standard tested.  It would be a tremendous missed opportunity if the review committees were denied an opportunity to review the actual testing of the standards that are so critical to the education of our students.

Finally, I am recommending that in addition to the individual item analysis of the LEAP and iLEAP tests given in the Spring of 2015, that the review committees and BESE be provided with the raw cut scores (that is the minimum of correct answers or partial credits needed for each performance level) for each of the tests given this year along with a comparison to the raw cut scores for previous administrations of the comparable tests. This information would also provide the review committees with some measure of the effectiveness and appropriateness of each test and the corresponding set of standards for each grade level. For example, if the report of raw cut scores shows that a particular grade and subject test was assigned an extremely low or an extremely high cut score, the grade level appropriateness of this material may be adjusted in the revised standards.

Thank you for considering my suggestions for the Louisiana Academic Standards. If you have any questions, I may be contacted at or at 225-235-1632.

Michael Deshotels
Zachary, LA

Sunday, August 9, 2015

New RSD Propaganda Machine Whitewashes Dismal Performance

The latest Recovery District propaganda machine is called the Research Alliance for New Orleans. It was founded by Tulane University professor of economics, Douglas Harris. In this article printed in Education Next, Harris makes an attempt to paint the struggling Louisiana Recovery School District in New Orleans as a big success despite the dismal facts about student performance.

This faux research technique is used primarily to prevent us from noticing the extremely low performance of the New Orleans RSD in the ten years since Katrina

Harris uses a very dense and confusing array of research strategies to convince us to disregard the most basic data on the actual performance of the New Orleans charter schools comprising the RSD. He attempts instead to make obscure comparisons of growth in performance by matched groups that show that the RSD is succeeding in greatly improving student performance in New Orleans. Based on these obscure caparisons he concludes that the New Orleans "portfolio model" should be a model for turning around struggling schools across the nation. Harris utilizes a comparison of the RSD schools using a "difference between the two differences between the treatment and comparison groups" that supposedly "yields a credible estimate of the policy effect." This stuff is just gobbledegook! This faux research technique is used primarily to prevent us from noticing the extremely low RSD performance in the ten years since Katrina.

Don't believe your lying eyes! Harris wants to distract us from the actual performance of the charter schools administered by the RSD and have us focus only on his complex growth comparison analysis

Harris produces almost no actual data about the real performance of the New Orleans RSD. He does not tell us how the RSD now ranks in student performance (after ten years of reform) compared to all other school systems in the state, he does not tell us what the RSD graduation rate is, he does not discuss the average ACT scores, and he never mentions the RSD dropout rate. For most researchers (And for the parents of RSD students) these actual facts are very important as they paint a very sad picture of the real performance of the RSD. But Harris wants us to disbelieve our lying eyes and instead take his word for it that the RSD is a tremendous success and a model for reform across the Nation.

Here are the indisputable facts as verified by Louisiana Department of Education Data:

  • The latest performance of the N.O. RSD schools as a whole places them at the 17th percentile in students who performed at the basic level on state tests. This means that 83% of the other school systems in Louisiana produced better results than the RSD.
  • ACT scores in the RSD now average 16.6. That's not enough for a student to be funded to enter even the least demanding Louisiana community colleges. 94% of Louisiana school districts produced better ACT results than the RSD.
  • The RSD graduation rate is dead last in the state! 61.1% not counting the kids who drop out as early as 7th and 8th grades. That's last place out of 72 school systems! The RSD is still the biggest dropout factory in the state, with many low performing students being pushed out as early as the 7th and 8th grades. (See this latest report from Research on Reforms)
  • Even though most RSD schools tout themselves as college prep, only 5.5% of their students who take Advanced Placement courses in the RSD score high enough on the AP tests to get credit. Again, one of the lowest results in the state. 

So let's summarize:

The title of Douglas Harris' article about the performance of the New Orleans RSD was Good News for New Orleans. The author makes the following statement: "The rest of the country wants to know how well the New Orleans school reforms have worked. But the residents of New Orleans deserve to know." Yet the article did not cite a single statistic that compares the performance of RSD students with the rest of the students in the state or with the rest of the country. We are just supposed to take Harris's word that the RSD is on a great trajectory of improvement. That might have worked for the first few years of the school takeover. But now it's been 10 years!  The real statistics show very poor results. Any other states' leaders that choose this method of school turnaround should have their heads examined!