Friday, August 2, 2019

What's Really Wrong With Louisiana Education?

The article posted earlier this week on my blog may lead some readers to believe that I am "down" on Louisiana education. Nothing could be further from the truth. I also sincerely believe that our public school teachers are some of the most dedicated and hardest working teachers we have ever had.  This post by Ganey Arsement of the blog, Educate Louisiana, makes it clear that, Arsement at least, believes that my motives in publishing disappointing test results is to enlighten the public about the invalidity of our present state tests, and not to criticize the hard work of teachers. This blog post is an attempt to further clarify my findings about the current state of Louisiana education and to make suggestions about how we as citizens and educators may truly improve our public education system.

Our public schools are still the best choice by far
Many of the various posts of this blog demonstrate that our public education system is much more successful and reliable than the alternatives. Those alternatives promoted by the very rich supporters of so called "education reform" have included the establishment of charter schools and voucher schools in recent years that are vacuuming up and wasting many of our tax dollars, Those tax dollars should be going to the real public schools. Examples of charter failures in Louisiana are described here and here. There are many more. The voucher schools have failed even more dramatically.

The flawed assumption that has been promoted in recent years by wealthy donors to the cause of education reform, is that public schools would benefit from increased competition from privately run schools that are exempt of many of the oversight rules in exchange for a focus on results. It was believed that those privately run schools would lead the way in improving all schools. Much of the data we have provided in this blog and others demonstrate that these privately run schools have been generally inferior to public schools and have instead produced  numerous incidences of mismanagement, misappropriation of public dollars, and even scandals based on abuse and neglect of children.

It has been stated by reformers and legislators who support reform in the form of school choice, that parents are the best judge of the school  for their child. I respectfully disagree with this assumption as a blanket statement covering all parents. Certainly many parents are a good judge of what type of education would most benefit their children, but many parents don't have a clue about which school is best for their child. There is significant evidence that some parents are not choosing wisely. In my findings published in the previous post show, using official LDOE data, that voucher schools in Louisiana have produced lower average scores than the average for public schools on all state English and math tests. 

School choice is often a bad choice
The fact that some parents do not choose wisely about the education of their children is also borne out by the number of thriving post secondary schools across the country that are ripping off their students and awarding worthless diplomas. The fact that some parents do not choose wisely and make decisions that are not in their child's best interest is why we have the mandatory attendance laws requiring parents to send their children to school every day they are healthy and able to attend. That is because long ago in our history, it was determined that some parents were irresponsible when it came to sending their children to school. Often in the past some rural parents thought it was more important that children helped on the farm than attend school. But our legislators decided in favor of the future of children by passing laws that required parents to send their children to school. Now those laws are being seriously eroded by the education reformers. For example, the monitoring of home schooling is very minimal.

If we want to improve education we must start with the truth
The most important reason why I publish student test results using raw score averages and raw cut scores is to make parents and taxpayers aware of the truth in student performance. I have been particularly persistent in revealing the secret conversion tables used for converting raw test scores to highly obscure "scale scores". Unfortunately, as long as students are tested each year using standardized tests where the test questions change each year, there must be a system for making the test results compatible to other years. But that is no reason why the real raw scores and the percentage of possible points achieved by a student should be kept secret. In my opinion this system can and has been manipulated to falsify the true results.

It is also important for the public to have some idea of how much of the material on a test the students have actually learned. Some of those raw cut scores for a rating of passing on Louisiana tests recently have been so low that some students could almost pass a test by just making random guesses. This is wrong and needs to be exposed. John White and his "reformers" are trying to keep the truth hidden because they have failed miserably in their promise to produce. Their one goal of improving test scores has only made teaching and learning into a dull uninspiring exercise with poor results.

The real problem, in my opinion, with the low test scores our students are achieving on the new Common Core based tests, is that the material teachers are forced to teach is often not age appropriate, and often not really useful in preparing students for life. I think it's a travesty to force students to sit in their desks rehearsing for tests that are not relevant to them and that will not help them in the future. We need to completely revise the curriculum, the standards and the tests being used to teach children in Louisiana. Those revisions need to be based on student readiness and on the real needs of our children, not some untested theories about what will result in higher SAT scores.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

2019 LEAP and EOC Conversion Tables

The LDOE claims steady growth in student LEAP scores
The Louisiana Department of Education recently announced the results of the Spring 2019 LEAP tests. The results statewide and by school district and school are available on the LDOE web site at links given at the bottom of the press release, here. These tables represent the LDOE's decisions on how many and what percentage of students achieved each level of achievement designated by the following categories: Unsatisfactory, Approaching Basic, Basic, Mastery, and Advanced.

The Department, in its press release, reports that Louisiana students are making steady improvement over last year on LEAP scores. This conclusion is based on the slight improvement in scale scores over last year, but since the LDOE has the authority to change the raw scores equivalent to scale scores, this conclusion is highly questionable.

The cut scores for each level of achievement may be manipulated
Each year the cut scores for each category of achievement remain the same, with the lowest passing score on LEAP tests (Basic) for grades 3-8 set at 725 points. However, the Department (LDOE) in consultation with its testing company sets the real raw scores equivalent to each level of achievement after the raw test results are in. Those raw cut scores change by a small amount each year. Some independent researchers, including myself, believe that this process allows the LDOE to manage or manipulate the reported performance of our students. Maybe that's why Louisiana's NAEP scores have dropped compared to our LEAP scores.

Scale scores are not really proportionate to the raw scores
Scale scores for each subject and grade tested run from a minimum of 650 to a maximum score of 850. If a student gets none of the answers right on a particular test she/he still gets the minimum score of 650. (This scale score seems to imply such students have actually achieved something even though they got nothing right) If the student gets all the points possible on a particular test he/she gets a score of 850. Other than those two end points, the scale score system does not tell us much about how many answers or points a student actually got right on a particular test. The actual points a student earns compared to the total possible points is called the "raw score". If we know the raw score and the total possible points on a particular test, we can calculate a raw percentage score by dividing the raw points earned by the total possible. The raw percentage score tells us how much of the material on the test a student actually got right. Unfortunately most parents never get to see their child's real raw percentage scores on state tests.

Using the "secret" conversion tables
Each year the LDOE and their testing companies create raw score to scale score conversion tables for each LEAP and End-of-Course test given. This should allow anyone to determine the scale score a student receives based on the number of points he got right on each test. But for some reason, the raw score to scale score conversion table is never made public on the LDOE web site. I believe the State Superintendent had originally intended to keep that information out of the reach of independent researchers and parents, but he was pressured to make the information available after receiving one of my public records requests that happened to be signed also by several key legislators. So now the raw score to scale score conversion tables are considered public records that can be obtained by any citizen upon making an official request. For the convenience of my readers, this third year in a row, I have requested the conversion tables. Each of the last three years, I have made the conversion tables available on my Google Docs site so that interested educators and parents could see how many points out of the total possible or what percentage each student scored on each of their state tests.

Shockingly low raw scores
This link will take you to my Google Docs site where you can scroll though the LEAP test conversion tables for the 2019 tests. So if you know a student's scale score on a particular test, you can look up how many points he/she got right on the test. Then if you divide that raw score by the total possible points on the test you can see what percentage of the test questions the student got right. Readers will find that these raw and raw percentage scores are shockingly low for most students. For example, the average cut score for Basic for grades 3 through 8 in ELA and math represents only 27% of the questions answered correctly. Some of the cut scores for a rating of Basic are as low as 22% (5th grade ELA)  and only 26% (7th grade math). Average statewide student performance in 2019 in ELA for grades 3 through 8 was only 38%. Average statewide student performance in 2019 in math for grades 3 through 8 was only 39%.

We learn by reviewing these conversion tables, how few answers a student has to get right to score a passing score of Basic. The passing raw percentage scores on LEAP vary quite a bit from test to test, but each year average about 30% for English and math. So students can pass most of the LEAP tests each year by knowing an average of less than one-third of the material on the test. Also the cut scores for Mastery are quite low, averaging 43% for ELA and only 51% for math. Maybe that's why Superintendent John White, who loves to brag about how he has raised school standards in Louisiana, was not anxious to make the raw scores easily available to the general public.

Raw cut scores for high school End of Course tests are ridiculously low
I have also received the raw score to scale score conversion tables for the high school End of Course tests for the 2018-2019 school year. Readers can click on this link to see the conversion tables for the English I, English II, Algebra I, Geometry, and American History End of Course tests for this past year. The cut scores for passing EOC tests are even lower than those for elementary and middle schools. Students only need to get a rating of "Approaching Basic" to get a passing score. The geometry test can now be passed by a student getting only 10.3% of the questions right.

Voucher students earn consistently lower scores than students who attend regular public schools
I requested and received the average scores (statewide) for public school students taking all of the LEAP and End of Course tests in the 2018-2019 school year and the 2017-2018 school years. Use this link to access the report of average LEAP scores. In addition, readers can use the same table to view the average scores of non-public school students. These are the students that have received "opportunity scholarships" to allow them to take their MFP money with them to attend a private school in Louisiana. This was Governor Jindal and John White's plan to allow students to "escape" so called "failing schools" and go to a school where they would get a better education. Unfortunately for the image of this highly touted program, the figures reported here show that for every grade and every test, the average scores for the students attending private schools at public expense are lower than the average scores for students attending public schools.