Monday, September 25, 2017

School Letter Grades May be Arbitrarily, Drastically Lowered

This article in The Advocate predicts a drastic decline in school performance scores across the state as John White and his real boses at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) implement a new school rating system as part of the new ESSA plan. These lowered SPS scores and letter grades will have nothing to do with a decline in the quality of instruction, but will decline simply because the powers that be believe that our schools deserve to be rated more harshly. The LABI group in particular have appointed themselves as the primary decision makers on school standards and grading without regard to the concerns of professional educators.

John White and LABI have painted themselves and our public schools into a corner by claiming that schools can raise student test scores to any level they demand. They expect all "A" rated schools to tbring the majority of their students to a level of mastery on LEAP tests by the year 2025. This goal is based on a highly flawed set of Common Cores tests, that are based on an assumption that all students can and should be prepared for 4 year colleges. These tests are developmentally inappropriate for the majority of our students, with the present score statewide averaging somewhat less than 40%. The tests are so poorly designed that the passing raw score for students have been set at approximately 31% in math and English Language arts.

his new rating system is based on two major flawed assumptions:
The first fake assumption is the politically correct statement by John White claiming the following: Louisiana’s students—all of them, no matter race, disability, or creed—are as smart and capable as any in America. There is absolutely not one shred of evidence for this assumption. Louisiana students score consistently in the bottom 10% of the states on all their tests and measurements. There is not one indication in any of the testing, including the NAEP testing that show anywhere near average results for our students.  Nationwide, student performance is directly linked to poverty, not some utopian belief in the equality of all students. We know that even in any high poverty population, there are very smart students. But the statistical average performance of the high poverty population is significantly lower than more privileged groups. John White knows this assumption of compatibility with richer states is completely unrealistic, but it is useful to him in blaming our public schools and teachers for not accomplishing the impossible. It is also useful in promoting the privatization of our schools. So to set standards that demand our students magically raise their performance is a guarantee that our school letter grades will decline drastically.

The other assumption made by White and LABI that makes no sense is that test scores, graduation rates, and other measures will continue to improve at a steady rate each year. There is no mathematical basis for this assumption. On the contrary, all testing trends across the country and in Louisiana indicate that after a new set of standards is in place for a few years, student performance levels off and sometimes even declines after initial improvements. NAEP scores across the nation, initially improved slightly after the greater emphasis on test prep implemented by the No Child Left Behind law, then scores leveled off and declined slightly in more recent years. Louisiana LEAP scores in only 3 years have already leveled off and declined slightly since we switched to the Common Core standards. There is overwhelming evidence that the proposed state mandate for continuous annual improvement will cause school performance scores to decline drastically. That is even though our students in 8 years will in all probability be doing just as well as they are doing now.

Another unintended consequence of the reforms that have placed such extreme emphasis on English and math, is the disastrous performance revealed by the new social studies tests that were launched this last Spring. The LDOE delayed release of the Spring 2017 social studies scores by several months and have never notified the press of first year results. The atrocious social studies scores along with very low science scores demonstrate the extreme neglect of other critical areas caused by the skewed emphasis on math and English of our eduction deform movement.

John White indicated at the meeting of the Superintendents last Friday that there are no plans to  require students to improve their test performance in order to be promoted to the next grade. The score of Basic on one major area and approaching basic on another will be sufficient to get a student promoted to the next grade. But that low standard is far from actual practice in most schools across the state. My most recent analysis shows that 90% of students who fail both their ELA and math LEAP tests are routinely promoted each year. No wonder teachers in middle school are frustrated with trying to teach to the  current year LEAP tests when over half their students have not mastered the previous year's material. In fact it was made very clear to superintendents that they will be expected to promote almost all students (in direct violation of state law) even when schools themselves are expected to produce higher test scores jut to retain their present rating.

Here is a direct quote of state law relative to promotion of students: "A pupil progression plan shall require the student's mastery of grade-appropriate skills before he or she can be recommended for promotion." 

Concerning the promotion of 4th and 8th grade students, the law states: , "the state Department of Education shall establish, subject to the approval of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the level of achievement on certain of the tests or on certain portions of the tests given as required in this Subsection in fourth and eighth grades as definitive of the level of the student's proficiency in mathematics, English language arts, science, and social studies. Fourth and eighth grade students shall be required to demonstrate proficiency on such tests in order to advance to grades five and nine This state law is being routinely violated across the state.

Another alarming side affect of Louisiana education reform was raised in comments by several superintendents at the Friday meeting. Local superintendents complained that a growing number of school systems are experiencing serious shortages of certified teachers that are reaching alarming levels. Superintendents pointed out that many basic classes are being conducted by persons designated as permanent substitutes. In 2012 LABI and the Jindal administration basically destroyed teacher tenure in an effort to make it easier to fire teachers. But the real problem is not with firing more teachers but with replacing good teachers who left after becoming so disenchanted with their chosen profession. Those teachers are hard to replace because young people don't want to go into a profession where they are blamed for conditions over which they have no control.

The major education reforms in our state have accomplished the exact opposite of what they were intended to do.