Monday, July 17, 2017

The Common Core Experiment in Louisiana is Stalling

Lackluster LEAP test performance and lax promotion/retention practices combine to shortchange students. Public records requests reveal the bleak truth.


The Louisiana Department of Education released LEAP test scores in math, English, and Science last week. The average test scores were stalled at approximately the same levels as 2016. Unfortunately since the new ESSA plan submitted by Superintendent White requires growth to mastery by 2025, the LDOE felt a need to spin the results using a three-year time span. The press release attempted to put the best face on stalled performance by combining the last two years and comparing the combined result to the first year of Common Core testing. Educators and many parents are not fooled.

State Superintendent John White claims that in recent years, Louisiana has raised expectations for student performance as measured by state tests. Actually, my public records requests show that the expectations of student performance have been lowered drastically to the point that they are almost non-existent! Also Public records data provides the evidence that Louisiana standards are not actually enforced as required by state laws affecting student promotion. The lack of expectations of students is resulting in many of our students being awarded meaningless diplomas after 12 years of schooling. Too many of our students are totally frustrated by being forced to sit through a curriculum that is not appropriate for their needs. A major part of the problem is that not every student can or should be prepared for college. Students are all different and capable in their own unique ways. They should not be treated like identical widgets.

One of my recent public records requests asked the Louisiana Department of Education to provide records on the number of students failing both of their all important state tests in English/language arts and math.  I also requested the number of students retained in their present grade level for the past school year. The data shows that over 25% of students in grades 3 to 8 failed both their ELA and math tests in 2016, yet only approximately 2.5% of students were retained in grade.  Pupil progression policies are supposed to relate promotion to academic performance. The actual data shows that there is almost no consequence to students who fail their critical courses. At the same time teachers are reporting extreme pressure to pass students to the next grade even though many students have no significant academic achievements in their present grade.

Here are the failure rates for students in grades 3 through 8 from the latest round of state testing: ELA 30%, math 38%, and science 35%.

Could it be that the new standards are so rigorous that students cannot be expected to excel for the early years of implementation of the Common Core related standards, but that they will benefit in the long run. Let’s examine how rigorous the new testing is compared to previous standards.

Students taking state tests in math, and ELA are assigned scale scores ranging from 650 to 850. The lowest passing scale score on these tests are all set at 725 out of 850. But how much do students really know when they achieve the minimum passing score on 725? The scale scores tell us nothing about how many questions the students got right on the state tests. To get that information, you have to make a public records request for the raw score to scale score conversion tables. That’s when you find out that a score of 650 actually means that students got zero points on their test. A Scale score of 725 actually represents only about 30% correct answers. Some of the passing scores are set as low as 25%.  Before adoption of Common Core based standards, passing scores were set approximately 20% higher. The official BESE standard for the lowest “D” is 67%, but apparently that does not apply to the supposedly “higher standard” state tests.

So if a student fails both his ELA and math tests, it is clear that he/she understood less than 30% of the course work in those two subjects. Yet when students fail to achieve even these ridiculously low standards, they are still promoted to the next grade. Even so, the new ESSA plan submitted by White proposes that the majority of students will achieve mastery performance by 2025.

So the best way to describe the rigor of the new standards and the expectations for our public school students is that there is little rigor and there are practically no expectations of achievement for students. A very large proportion of Louisiana students are being routinely moved up to the next grade even though they have learned almost nothing in the most basic academic subjects. What lesson do such students really learn when they are rewarded for zero performance?

I pointed out to the Accountability Commission during their hearings this past year that it is not appropriate to place all of the accountability on teachers and schools. Many parents do not regularly send their children to school, nor do they insist that students study and do homework. Yet the new system rewards such students with automatic promotion and a meaningless diploma.

On the other hand, most educators including this writer do not believe that massive failure of students is effective or desired. Students generally do not benefit from being separated from their similar age cohorts, and often demonstrate behavior problems when left behind with younger students. I am not proposing massive grade retention of students. Instead our public school system should address the needs of each student at his/her present level of achievement and performance.  Students who have learned almost none of the material taught at the 7th grade level will not benefit by being subjected to 8th grade material. Yet that’s how our present system works.

Proponents of the new standards believe (without any scientific basis) that all students perform better when confronted with higher expectations. The data does not support this assumption. Students just fall further behind to the point that they can no longer participate effectively in the classroom. Teachers in middle school are forced to practice a form of academic triage, where the students with low achievement are mostly ignored so that maximum effort can be concentrated on students who have some potential. That’s the kind of warped result we get when the system punishes teachers and schools that do not demonstrate the mandated overall growth. Some of the most at-risk students fall by the wayside.

My previous post below concludes that the Louisiana math standards for middle school students are not appropriate and teachable for the majority of our students. There was no field-testing of these standards before they were implemented. Instead all of our students became guinea pigs in a grand experiment in attempting to teach college prep math to all students. The results have been disastrous. The results with English/language arts and Science are almost as bad.

Herb Bassett, a Louisiana teacher who is an excellent analyst of testing and standards has observed that in general when a state adopts new standards and a new regime of testing is implemented, the scores will usually go up after the first year as students and teachers adapt to the new tests. But there is no reason to believe that students will continue to improve significantly over a longer time frame. We get a new set of students each year! The results this year, even with maximum pressure on teachers and principals to continuously improve test scores, are not impressive. The expected improvement in test scores happened last year, but then stalled in the 2017 spring testing. There is no indication that Louisiana will come anywhere near meeting the ambitious goals set by John White by the 2025 school year.


The data shows that Louisiana is not succeeding in teaching the experimental common core standards to even the majority of students. Why are our amateur education reformers so determined to blindly follow this questionable course with an entire generation of students?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Louisiana Math Standards in Our Middle Schools Are a Disaster!

Louisiana is attempting to teach Common Core math. The recent legislatively mandated revision resulted in a change of only 5% of the standards. But the middle school math standards are poorly designed and are failing our students in every way possible. Students in the middle school grades are performing dismally on the new Common Core math tests. In my opinion, the middle school math standards are not age appropriate. We are trying to teach high school algebra and geometry to students who are not mature enough and who have not learned enough basic math to prepare them to succeed.

Let’s make one thing clear. The new tests that were implemented over the last two years are the curriculum! Nothing else matters in teaching math in Louisiana but attempting to prepare students for the annual spring LEAP tests. Everything the math teacher does now is geared toward preparing students for the math tests. And most of this effort is failing!

Here are the results of the new math LEAP tests now being given to our students:
  • The tests are so difficult and impractical that the LDOE and their testing company have lowered the passing grade for the 8th grade test to only 27% for the school year 2015-16. A student needs to only get 27% of the questions right on the math test right to get a passing grade.
  • In the 2014-15 school year, the first year the new Common Core aligned tests were given, the cut score for passing was set at only 22%.
  • But even with these ridiculously low passing scores, 45% of our students failed the 8th grade math test in 2015 and 43% failed in 2016.
  • In 2016, my best estimate is that the average 8th grade math score statewide was only 33%. Considering that large portions of the tests are multiple choice, many students can do almost as well on these tests by just making random guesses.

The test results are telling us that at least half of our 8th grade students know almost nothing about the math we are attempting to teach. Yet the BESE policy which Superintendent White recommended allows such students to be promoted to high school.

Find out for yourself about the 8th grade math test by taking the practice test by clicking on this link to the LDOE testing website.

So how are our 8th graders doing on the NAEP math test which compares Louisiana to all other states? Unfortunately, on the 2015 NAEP (which was the most recent NAEP) our 8th grade math scores dropped in overall points and in the rankings of the states. Louisiana's 8th grade math NAEP scores now rank only above Alabama and the District of Columbia.

During my teaching career, I taught physics to 11th and 12th grade students. Physics was probably the most difficult course at our school because of the difficult concepts and the math used in Physics. But if I gave a test where half of my students scored below 33% (that never happened), I would have immediately questioned either my teaching or the structure of the test or both. I certainly would not have continued doing the same thing, hoping that my students would do better.

In the case of our middle school math, I have concluded that both the curriculum and the math tests are not age appropriate, nor are they going to prepare most of our students for future careers. But in this brave new world of our state-dictated, test driven curriculum, the powers that be refuse to be questioned. And they hide the hideous results of the state testing by using an obscure scale score system. This is a system where if a student gets zero questions right, he/she still gets a scale score of 650 out of a possible 850 points. A scale score of 725 is considered a passing score even if is equivalent to only 27% correct answers. This does not represent higher standards. These are insane standards. Such standards are driving education into the ditch.

Someone told me recently that the debate about Common Core in Louisiana is over with and that the Common Core advocates have won. If this is winning, I just don’t know how we can explain to parents that their children are learning almost nothing in their middle school math classes.

Parents need to demand that this failed curriculum be junked before it does too much more damage to our students.



Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Lawsuit Aims to Vacate the Position of State Superintendent of Education

Ganey Arsement is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit to be filed today to have the courts declare the position of Superintendent of Education vacant subject to appointment by BESE and the Louisiana Senate.

The legal counsel for this lawsuit is State Senator John Milkovitch. Thank you Senator!

Here is the Educate Louisiana post about this lawsuit. Arsement deserves great credit for researching the Louisiana Constitution and state law that govern the appointment of various state offices including the Superintendent of Education.

The following is my fact sheet based upon research of the actual results of White's administration and leadership of K-12 education in Louisiana. In addition to his failure to produce real results, White has engineered a demolition of the healthy teaching and learning environment in our classrooms and converted it into a mind-numbing exercise in constant testing and test-prep. Many of our most dedicated and effective teachers have been driven from the profession, and many others have lost their love of teaching as this testing mania grows each year!

Louisiana School Superintendent John White’s
Performance Record

Should John White be reappointed as State Superintendent of Education?

Qualifications? John White was appointed state superintendent of schools in January 2012 with the backing of Governor Jindal requiring a special waiver of the credentials required by state law.  Some have suggested that only results matter. White was appointed with the understanding that he would lead Louisiana education to produce greatly improved results. The following are measures of White’s effectiveness in improving K-12 student performance in Louisiana.

Louisiana K-12 education performance compared to other states: In the most recent ranking of Louisiana students by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) tests, Louisiana tied with Alabama and California for 48th compared to the 50 states and D.C.

The Quality Counts ranking by Education Week is a more comprehensive ranking of the states on major elements of K-12 educational achievement.  In the December 2016 ranking, Louisiana placed 49th among the states and the District of Columbia in K-12 achievement. This is the lowest ranking Louisiana has ever registered on this report.

Education Standards: State law and BESE policy require that students demonstrate satisfactory knowledge of state standards in order to be promoted to the next grade. Under the direction of White, the actual standards for English and math performance have been lowered to an average of 32% correct answers on state math and English tests for grades 3 though 8. The present passing scores for high school end of course tests for Geometry, Algebra, and English II have been reduced to 32%, 36%, and 36% respectively.

ACT and Graduation Rate: Average ACT scores for Louisiana students are presently only 19.5 for a carefully manipulated cohort that includes the best score of only graduating students. Even so, Louisiana ranks in the bottom third of states that mandate the ACT for all students. The Louisiana graduation rate has been artificially inflated by the lowering of end of course cut scores and by credit recovery courses that allow students to be taught minimum test material while ignoring attendance requirements and all other BESE passing standards.

State Recovery District: State law requires that the State Department of Education take over failing schools for the purpose of upgrading their performance to satisfactory levels. Of the local schools taken over by the state, only a small fraction have received a satisfactory rating after up to 12 years of state operation. Almost all schools taken over in East Baton Rouge, Pointe Coupee, St Helena and Caddo are still considered failing. Several have been returned to local school systems after crippling losses of student enrollment and almost total collapse of school operations. Many RSD schools have been cited for corruption and other violations such as cheating on state tests. Other schools operated permanently by the state Department of Education, such as the School for the Deaf and the School for visually impaired are repeatedly rated F.

Transparency of Education Records: John White, as custodian of public records has been successfully sued numerous times for unlawfully withholding public records. This unlawful behavior has cost the state many thousands of dollars in court costs, legal fees and penalties. At present, the superintendent is using state attorneys to appeal more than $29,000 in personal penalties assessed to him because of public records violations.


You be the judge. Does Louisiana need more of John White?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Accountability Gone Berserk

Penalties for public schools failing to prepare students for college!
Berserk Accountability. That's the only way I can describe what happened in the Senate Education committee on May 11th. The committee meeting began with the defeat of two bills by Senator Morrish (SB 13 and SB 87) that would have removed favored treatment of voucher schools and profit-making non-profit charter schools. I want to thank Senator Morrish for attempting to reduce the abuses of vouchers and charter funding. The big business lobbyists representing LABI and CABL want the favored treatment to continue. But then the committee turned to blaming public schools for students who fail to prepare for college!

New legislation would allow school boards to be assessed the cost of college level remediation courses. The school accountability movement is being driven to absurd levels as some senators seek to assess damages to public schools when some of their students need remedial courses to attend college. Those senators are apparently forgetting that education requires the cooperation of parents and students in the education process. They are attempting to hold teachers and schools totally responsible for preparing students for college, even when parents and students refuse to do their part. Society does not hold doctors responsible if patients refuse to take their prescribed medicine or if diabetes and cardiac patients refuse to correct unhealthy lifestyles, but some policy makers want the public school systems to be responsible for forcing knowledge upon uncooperative students or pay for remediation at the college level.

Most Louisiana colleges have abandoned funding remediation courses because they don't work for most students. Students who failed to be responsible in high school usually fail to be responsible in college. But that's not stopping some legislators finding an innovative way of funding these remedial courses.

SB 82 by Appel: Senate Bill 82 began as a seemingly routine bill to specify testing requirements, but then amendments were made by the author to do something totally different. As amended in the Senate Education committee, this bill would require public school boards to pay some college remediation costs for certain students who scored below college readiness levels on the ACT for English and mathematics. LAE representatives and school board representatives testified in committee that such a requirement sets up an unbalanced application of accountability to hold the schools totally responsible for the negligence of some parents who don’t send their children regularly to school and some students who don’t apply themselves to their studies. 

Important Update: SB 82 was killed in the Senate Finance Committee! This time reason has prevailed.

The bill ignores the fact that any student regardless of ability can enroll in college prep programs and then fail to study, or find that he/she is not able to master the material. The school should not be held responsible for students' lack of ability or motivation.  I will be asking my readers to help in defeating this bill when it comes to a vote on the Senate floor. We cannot allow fanatic and unfair application of skewed accountability to be put into Louisiana law.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Join the Less Testing, More Learning Campaign

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. You can do your part to support both teachers and students by joining the Less Testing, More Teaching Campaign sponsored this week at the State Capitol by the Louisiana Association of Educators. If you can get to the Capitol Tuesday, May 9th you can help lobby for more emphasis on learning in the classroom rather than just boring test prep.

Click on this link to the LAE Campaign. You can sign up to help lobby Tuesday or send your State Representative a message on Less Testing More Teaching, or do both. If you click on the "Take Action" button, you can send a letter of support for HB 572 (Which would reduce testing) to your state representative.

Thanks,
Mike Deshotels

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.