Tuesday, May 8, 2018

State policy produces more diploma mills than ever

One of the oft stated objectives of education reforms in Louisiana was the elimination of “diploma mills”. Diploma mills were generally described as schools that award diplomas to almost all students, even those that had minimal academic achievement or were considered functionally illiterate.

Now after over 13 years of intensive education reform under State Superintendent John White, our Department of education is handing out more worthless diplomas than ever before. The new policies adopted by BESE at the urging of John White and the LDOE funnel almost all students to automatic graduation without regard to actual academic achievement. Here are the two portions of law that are supposed to implement "The Louisiana Competency Based Education Program":

  1. State law allowing for promotion of students in 4th and 8th grades to the next grade is defined as follows by Act 275 of 2012: "Fourth and eighth grade students shall be required to demonstrate proficiency on such tests in order to advance to grades five and nine, pursuant to rules adopted by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in accordance with the administrative Procedure Act. Such proficiency shall be set with reference to test scores of students of the same grade nationally."
  2. Another part of the law on competency based education states the following: "The department shall establish, subject to the approval of the state board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the nature and application of various intervention options in the case of failure to demonstrate proficiency, which may include remediation, retention in grade, an alternative placement in succeeding grades, or any other option which will support a student's achieving the required proficiency lovel
The LDOE and BESE originally implemented the laws above by adopting a policy that prevented students from being promoted to the fifth and ninth grades if they did not achieve at least "basic" on their LEAP tests. That portion of BESE policy was quietly repealed this year.

An Important Note: My opinion expressed many times in this blog is that the new state LEAP tests are totally invalid and should never have been used to determine promotion or failure of students. The real problem is that teachers are being pressured to promote students who have not demonstrated any level of achievement in their course work.

BESE policy now allows almost any "intervention" when a student fails some or even all of his/her LEAP tests. All the educators have to do is write up a proposed plan of action to address the academic deficiencies of the student. But there is no required follow-up. There is no day of reckoning for students who repeatedly fail either their class work or their state tests or both. How do I know this? Because I have submitted public records requests that reveal that even though 21% of all students regularly and repeatedly fail both their math and ELA LEAP tests, they are promoted to the next grade. Statewide, an average of only 2.5% of students are retained in grade even if the failure rate on two state tests at a time holds steady for each grade at about 21%. Teachers in most schools tell us that even if a student fails all of his/her teacher made tests, teachers are expected to somehow provide make-up work that allows an excuse for passing the student to the next grade.

In addition to elementary and middle school automatic promotion, when students are provisionally promoted to the ninth grade after failing all of their eighth grade LEAP tests, after one year, they are automatically given full status as high school students. Then if they fail their required courses, they are allowed to take computerized "credit recovery" courses that may take as little as one week for the student to be granted credit.

The problem is that the present school rating and grading system provides an incentive for circumventing standards. A school gets zero points on the state rating system for maintaining high standards, but the school gets lots of credit for graduating more and more students.

The true, overriding, unwritten policy of most school systems is to graduate as many students as possible without real regard for standards of any kind. We how have the ultimate diploma mills.

See my next blog above for specific examples of our "standards free" promotion policy.