Friday, December 15, 2017

School Reform Produces Massive Corruption

Here are the major issues and conclusions of this post:

1. A Recent Study By NPR Shows That Misguided School Reform is Producing Massive Corruption in at least one Washington D.C. school.
2. The Question Arises: Is it Worth Improving the Graduation Rate at the Expense of the Quality of the Diplomas Awarded?
3. Is Louisiana Following the Same Model of Phony Success Developed by This Washington D.C. School?

This recent study and report by National Public Radio on phony success at a Washington D.C. school may be an indication of widespread corruption of measurements of school performance in many states including Louisiana. It raises the question: “Is it ok to improve the high school graduation rate by simply awarding worthless diplomas to students who have demonstrated no real academic achievement?

The title of the npr article is: What Really Happened At The School Where Every Graduate Got Into College. This PBS report is a follow-up on initial reports of dramatic success in a Washington D.C. school (Ballou High School) revealing that almost all measures of success for this school were bogus. The report indicates massive corruption of an accountability system that was designed to ensure that schools were effectively educating students. Since mostly the same accountability requirements and school goals are mandated in Louisiana, we should try to determine if the same corruption is happening here.

Here is a summary of the findings of the Washington D.C. investigation:     
  • Many students were allowed to graduate even though they had unexcused absences of more than half of the total number of school days. This was a direct violation of a rule that prohibited students for receiving credit for courses where students missed class more than 30 times. The majority of Ballou’s 2017 graduating class missed more than six weeks of school.
  • Some students were allowed to graduate from Ballou High School even though they could not read or write.
  • Teachers reported pressure from the school administration to pass students who had failed almost all of their tests.
  • Teachers were asked to give students who missed tests at least a 50% grade on such tests so that it would be easier to give them an overall passing grade.
  • Teachers are expected to give students with unexcused absences and failed tests makeup work as a way of giving them passing grades without regard to legitimate learning of the course material.
  • Students in their senior year who had failed numerous classes were routinely placed in shortened “credit recovery courses” lasting only a few weeks so they could make up failed courses and receive enough credit to graduate.
  • Students often skipped credit recovery course sessions but received credit anyway.
  • If teachers objected to passing students who failed their classes, the objecting teachers would receive bad evaluations and often were fired.
  • Teachers would receive good evaluations and bonus payments ranging from $15,000 to $30,000 if they went along with giving students passing grades for minimal or zero class performance.
  • School authorities regularly ignored laws that required reporting of chronically absent students to the court system. School attendance records showed that all but 11 graduates should have been reported to the courts for absenteeism but only 25 students were actually sent to court services.
  • More than a quarter of the Ballou teaching staff left during the 2016-17 school year, indicating a huge level of attrition. Students often had large numbers of classes taught by substitute teachers.
  • In the 2016-17 school year, only 9% of students passed the English standardized test and none passed the math test. But they graduated anyway.
The 100% college acceptance rate for Ballou graduates is totally bogus. It turns out that even though 183 graduates were accepted at a local community college, only 16 actually showed up for that college in the fall.

Based on the above facts it is obvious that the initial reports of dramatic success for Ballou High School were totally bogus.

Now lets look at the implementation of accountability in Louisiana schools. 

How does the performance of Louisiana students compare to the students of Ballou High school in Washington D.C.?

We don't have a direct comparison of test scores in Louisiana High schools with Ballou High school but we do have good overall comparisons using the NAEP tests for grades 3-8 and the ACT for high school. Thankfully, Louisiana standardized test scores are better than the average for Washington D.C. schools even though our schools rank in the bottom 10% of all states.  The real problem is that  teachers in Louisiana are experiencing the same practices that allow promotion of students who miss excessive school and students who fail most of their tests.
  • Teachers in many Louisiana schools are expected to give makeup work to students who fail tests or who miss excessive school.
  • Credit recovery courses are also used in Louisiana to give course credit to students who fail courses or who have excessive absences. BESE policy states that students can miss no more than 10 unexcused days in a semester in order to receive course credit. This state policy is routinely ignored when students are enrolled in credit recovery courses.
  • Out of the huge numbers of students in grades 3 though 8 failing both their state math and English tests, only one out of 10 are actually retained in grade.
  • So the real Louisiana state policy is to promote practically all students regardless of absences, and without regard to failure of state tests. Our so-called “tougher standards” are totally bogus. In fact, there are basically no standards for promotion of students and for awarding diplomas in Louisiana.
  • The new Common Core standards are a disaster in Louisiana, with the average student scoring just over 40% on all their state tests in math, English and science. The recently added social studies tests are producing even more dismal results. The scale scores on all these tests mask the true results of the raw scores indicating extremely low percentages of correct answers.
  • State Superintendent John White has discouraged the grade retention of students who fail state tests and has gotten BESE and the Legislature to basically do away with the requirement that students must pass their math and English tests in 4th and 8th grades in order to progress to the next grade.
  • White’s highly touted increase in students taking Advanced Placement courses is also meaningless. Louisiana now ranks 3rd from the bottom of all states for the percentage of students actually achieving a passing grade on their AP courses.

So the public has been led to believe that Louisiana is now demanding higher standards of our students, but a more accurate assessment is that there are basically no standards for students in Louisiana.