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. 

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.

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.