Friday, April 21, 2017

Parents and Teachers Deserve Better Reporting of Student Test Results

House Bill 203 was introduced in this legislative session to require that more helpful information be provided to teachers on the results of LEAP testing.

Important Notice: This link is to a survey on state testing being conducted by Ganey Arsement of the blog Educate Louisiana.  Please take just a few minutes to respond to this excellent survey!

This link to a petition concerning the reappointment of Superintendent John White is also being made available by Arsement.

The following is taken from a sample report provided on the LDOE website to teachers and parents on the English/language arts LEAP test taken last Spring:
"Your student scored 714 on a scale of 650 to 850, and performed at the Approaching Basic level. Students performing at this level will need significant support to be prepared for further studies in this content area."

The above statement is the first part of a sample report to parents on their child's performance on the English/language arts portion of last year's state testing. The reports provided to teachers on the performance of each student provides just a general rating on major components of the ELA test. A major problem with this report is that it was received at least two months into the new school year, which made it difficult for the child's teacher to address the significant support the student would need in order to improve his/her performance.

What does a score of 714 on a scale of 650 to 850 tell the parent or the teacher about the student's actual performance on the state test? Answer: Almost nothing!  Nothing in this one page report tells the parent that a score of 714 is considered a failing score! Instead the information on the report may  lead the parent to believe that the student is doing OK on most of the test, since a score of 714 out of 850 looks pretty good to most people. (714 is 84% of 850, but that's not the percentage of the questions the student got right)

Do you think the parent would be surprised to learn that a score of 714 on the state ELA test means that the student answered correctly on only 24% of the possible points on the test? This is a fact, revealed by a public records request I made last year. If you were the parent or the teacher, which score would be more useful to you in determining how much of the tested material the student got wrong on the test? The nebulous scale score of 714 out of a possible 850, or the raw score indicating that the student answered only 24% of the questions correctly? Right now the only way that a parent can find out the child's actual (raw) score on a state test is to make an appointment with the Department of Education and travel to Baton Rouge to view the student's test performance. Why is this information top secret? Why are parents being shielded from finding out their child's actual performance?

Later in the one-page report on the student's test performance, the parents and the teachers are told that the student scored three stars on literary text, two stars on informational text, and one star on vocabulary. The report tells us that three stars represents "strong performance", two stars represents "moderate performance", and one star represents "weak performance". We can infer from this report that the student needs to work on vocabulary or his/her recognition and knowledge of a larger number of words in the English language. But we still don't know which of the state standards for ELA the student answered incorrectly.

So what the the teacher is being told is that the student has a weak vocabulary, and needs more exposure to informational reading material. But the report tells us nothing about the student's reading comprehension, his/her writing skills, grammar, spelling, phonics skills, syntax, and understanding of many other state standards in the English/language arts curriculum.

What about providing a report to teachers identifying the standards that were actually tested on the Spring ELA test? What about informing teachers about how students across the state performed on the tested standards? Which standards may require more instruction and practice to improve our student scores for next year?

Out of a total of 32 anchor standards in ELA and several component standards under each anchor, the report to teachers and parents only references a few broad categories. How can such a report delivered late in the school year actually be of value to teachers? Why can't the LDOE and their testing company tell us exactly which standards the students missed and what percentage was that of the total possible points and what areas of ELA are presenting the most challenge to teachers and students? All of the above issues are important also concerning the math test results. Why does the state spend millions of dollars on state testing and still not inform the teachers any better than this about each student's strengths and weaknesses?

That's why we need to urge the legislature to vote "yes" on HB 203 by Representative Bagley. This bill would require that teachers receive a much more informative report on each child's performance on state Spring tests at the beginning of the next school year. Teachers would receive an item analysis on each test given to his/her students and a report on the student's raw score, or percentage of correct answers. The teacher would be able to see exactly which state standards the student missed on the state test and how students statewide performed on each standard tested. The teacher could see immediately which standards require extra attention in their teaching for the current school year.

Please ask your State Representative to vote "yes" on HB 203.

Friday, April 7, 2017

White's New School Accountability Plan . . . Guaranteed to Fail

The new Federal Every Student Succeeds (ESSA) which is replacing the failed No Child Left Behind law requires that each state submit an accountability plan to implement the new federal law.

Last week, BESE ignored the requests of most local superintendents and about 96% of the school principals and tentatively approved an accountability plan submitted by John White with some adjustments on a motion by BESE member Holly Boffy.

Only in Lake Wobegon are all students above average
I pointed out in my 3 minute presentation to BESE that the plan, even as amended, is seriously flawed. It will fail because it is based on the false premise that all students, no matter what their poverty level. no matter their cognitive and other disabilities can all achieve mastery on the state tests. Sure, there are fudge factors in the plan that are supposed to make allowances for low performing students, by allowing extra points for students who improve above their predicted VAM score. But in the end they are all supposed to end up performing above average. Not Possible!

This blog has provided readers with much evidence that demonstrates that the state test results are subject to manipulation to produce whatever results White and his testing company want. But that does not fool the outside observers who don't give credibility to Louisiana's inflated LEAP tests and end of course tests.

The proposed ESSA plan is in violation of state law which requires our state tests to be comparable in rigor to NAEP.
State law requires that our Louisiana state tests must be equivalent in rigor to national tests including the NAEP tests. John White has repeatedly claimed that our state tests are designed to be equivalent to NAEP, but the data shows something quite different. White claims that the performance of our students on LEAP at the Mastery level (level 4) or above is set by our testing company to be equivalent to the proficient level or above on NAEP. Here are the latest comparisons of Louisiana LEAP results to NAEP: (Click on the chart to enlarge it)

In all cases, Louisiana's LEAP results are highly inflated compared to the latest NAEP results.
But to make things worse, the LEAP results have been increasingly inflated in recent years.

Inflation of our state test results will not fool anyone in the long run, because NAEP is the real standard for state comparisons.
In 2003 our students were rated as preforming better on NAEP than on the LEAP test. By 2016, the results for LEAP had zoomed to a level much higher than the Louisiana results on the most recent NAEP test.

It is true that Louisiana students have improved on all parts of the NAEP since 2003, but this improvement is not dramatic considering all the resources and emphasis Louisiana has put into the incessant testing of students. Meanwhile, our school curriculum has been deformed, reducing the emphasis on other non-high stakes subjects. Vital instruction in health/physical education, social studies, the arts, music, and vocational education have been sacrificed so that students can spend more time in rehearsal for math and English tests. Our students are now less active, less healthy, and more obese than students a generation ago, yet our schools are doing nothing to address their real needs. Vocational education in high school has been decimated just at the time Louisiana industry is facing a  severe shortage of skilled workers for many high paying jobs. Louisiana is in the process of importing workers for the construction industry, for high paying plant jobs, and even the health care industry. Many of our current graduates seem to be prepared mostly for working at McDonald's and Popeye's.

I'll be honest and admit that I don't really understand the complex system White is proposing for calculating the school performance scores under the new ESSA plan. I rely on my friend and technical expert, Herb Bassett, to explain it to me. But since the plan is in flux based on the most recent actions of BESE, and may change more, no one really knows where this is heading.

LABI is apparently determined to trash our public school system
I do know one thing for sure. If Louisiana students are expected to perform at the mastery level on NAEP, many more of our schools will receive unreasonably low grades. John White is the fair haired boy of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). White and LABI are pushing hard for further ratcheting up the highly punitive system of grading our schools and our educators. What is the purpose of such harsh ratings for our schools? Will these ratings encourage business and industry to come to Louisiana?

We don't blame our doctors and hospitals if obese patients with diabetes refuse to diet and exercise, but we blame our teachers and schools if our underprivileged students don't excel in school.
We don't blame our doctors and hospitals because Louisiana has one of the highest rates of diabetes and heart disease in the nation. If an obese patient refuses to lose weight and exercise, we don't blame his doctor, but we do insist on blaming teachers who teach our most at-risk students because those students don't perform at an above average level.

California does no better than Louisiana on national tests.
Just to demonstrate how unimportant these score comparisons really are for success of a state economy,  consider the fact that probably the most successful state economy is that of  California, whose students score at about the same level as Louisiana on national testing. That's not because their schools are bad. It's because they have just about the same proportion of high poverty and at-risk students as Louisiana. Their ranking on national tests has apparently no effect on the success of their economy.

California has a great economy for many reasons including the development of high tech companies and because the state has great natural resources which they know how to utilize. Louisiana has great natural resources because of the oil and chemical industries, yet our educational system fails to take advantage of this by preparing our students for jobs in the industries that are expanding in our state.  Our educational system has shifted emphasis away from career and vocational education just at the time that our industries have the greatest need for skilled workers. So why is LABI so determined to trash our educational system and blame it for the problems of our state? Their entire campaign is based on the false assumption that our teachers are lazy and incompetent. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Louisiana education system could become a winner if we focused on our strengths instead of our weaknesses.
Louisiana will continue to be seen as a loser if we insist on comparing ourselves with other states that have more favorable demographics. We will always be seen as failures if our educational system continues to be skewed too much towards college prep and not enough toward practical education and high tech job training. What we are doing under the rule of John White and LABI is insanity! When will Louisiana take back its public education system from the clutches of non-educator reformers.

One thing you can and should do: Ask your State Senator to vote against the renewal of John White's contract, and insist that a real local educator be appointed.

Friday, March 24, 2017

John White's Plan for the Implementation of the New ESSA law should be rejected

Notice: Special BESE meeting for consideration of the Louisiana plan for the implementation of ESSA, Wednesday, March 29, 1:00 P. M.

John White is a one trick pony. He still believes that the only reason our students don't perform at a level of average or above on state tests is that the teachers are not teaching properly. He apparently never heard the Mark Twain quote: "Tis sad but true that half the members of the american public are below average." White's education reform for Louisiana is based on somehow forcing most children to produce above average scores on state tests. Education has been reduced to test rehearsal and testing. And if our students don't produce the impossible, then it must be the teacher's fault, and the failing teachers and failing schools must be punished.

White has proposed that Louisiana must educate students to a level of "proficient" as measured by the National Assessment of Educational progress (NAEP). NAEP has been used for many years to measure the performance of students in all states in the subjects of reading and math. The problem is that experts such as Diane Ravitch who served on the board of directors for NAEP, have made it clear that the level of "proficient" was intentionally set at a level well above average performance. Only about a third of students nationwide score proficient or above on NAEP. Barring some type of brain transplant for american students, most students will not achieve the level of "proficient".  But White like Donald Trump operates in his own version of reality. He has announced that if BESE sets a high standard, our teachers will magically teach to that standard and the students will produce the expected test results. That's the standard that White's plan for implementation of the new ESSA law which he wants BESE to adopt next week.

In his ESSA plan White and his staff have devised complex point awarding systems based primarily on student test scores in each school. There is also a set of points awarded to schools that improve their student test scores from year to year. But what happens if a school has a major improvement one year and then a slight drop or leveling off the next year? These complex formulas could cause wacky results in the grading of schools from year to year just like what happened when the LDOE used a value added system to rate the performance of teachers.

There is a much more direct and accurate way of grading schools relative to student performance than the complex formulas developed by White. Simply rate the schools using a combination of average student poverty and the percentage of students with cognitive disabilities. The schools with a high proportion of economically advantaged students with fewer disabilities would get A's and B's and schools with high poverty and more disabilities would get D's and F's depending on how unlucky or underprivileged its students are. Just like the present system assigns an Fs to the school for the Deaf and the School for the Visually impaired (Both run by John White's staff) and to all the alternative schools that serve the most at risk students.

If we used the method above (percentage of at-risk students) to rate schools we would not even need to test students to find the lowest ranked schools. We could save millions by not hiring expensive testing companies and we could do without some of the LDOE's highly paid staff that do almost nothing but rate schools using test data. Maybe we could use that money to actually help educate the students that need the most help. Now that would be true education reform!

But that would also show that we don't even need John White. In order to keep his job White knows that he must keep on blaming and punishing teachers and stigmatizing schools that don't measure up to his impossible goal.

The following is the testimony I plan to give to BESE next week opposing this ill conceived plan. The testimony is brief because BESE is expected to limit individual input to three minutes:

My name is Michael Deshotels, and I live in Zachary

I appear before you today to ask that BESE reject or at least delay action for the ESSA implementation in Louisiana.

The plan proposed by the Superintendent should be rejected because it is unrealistic, misleading, and represents a false promise very similar to the original promise made to the american public by the No Child Left Behind law. No Child Left Behind was a failure because the premise upon which it was based was wildly unrealistic. The exact same is true of this proposed ESSA plan.

No Child Left Behind promised the American people that within a ten year period every public school would educate each child to a standard that was known by any educator to be unattainable. As a result almost every public school in the the country was designated a failure.

We cannot educate children by decree from on high that ignores the major principles of learning theory and statistics. BESE can solemnly decree that by 2025, we will educate children to perform at a level which is above the statistical average for normal children, but that will not make it happen. Instead such a decree will end up labeling many educators and many schools as failures because of factors over which they have no control. Either that or it will cause educators to cheat to avoid being labeled as failures.

In my opinion, cheating is already occurring at the state level, I must point out that the very design of the state testing program is a form of cheating and manipulation of results to create the illusion of success in achieving unachievable goals. 

About three weeks ago I mailed each of you my analysis demonstrating that the test score results in Louisiana have been inflated so that many students can achieve close to passing results by simply guessing on the multiple choice portion of state tests.

We have been assured that level 4 performance on our state test is equivalent to the level of "proficient" on the NAEP test. This assertion is entirely inaccurate.  I believe this amounts to a violation of the state law upon which our testing program is based. Our level 4 grading standard on the LEAP test is claimed by the LDOE to be comparable to the proficient level on the NAEP, yet the chart you were given by the Department shows that there is a great disparity between the two and that the gap is widening rapidly with each year of testing. In one case, our testing is claiming that over twice as many students are proficient as measured by NAEP. All the other test results are also significantly inflated.

This entire scheme for the implementation of ESSA is an exercise in false advertising. We should not saddle our students and teachers with this bogus system.

Thank you

Please call or email your BESE member and ask that he/she vote to reject the ESSA plan and take the extra time suggested by the governor to develop a plan that provides a well rounded education to children with less emphasis on test prep.