The Rigged Scoring on School Testing

Little Rock       If the process of test scoring isn’t a national issue yet, it’s going to be.  Fire fights have erupted in community after community at all levels, because there is no consensus on either the tests or what they measure.   New York City is being hammered for testing that has increased segregation in its schools, maintaining what an ACORN report labeled years ago as “secret apartheid.”  The College Board group that runs SATs that most colleges and universities use to evaluate applicants retreated from an “adversity” measure after withering parental complaints about assigning a number to neighborhood, environment, and other conditions as part of the score.  Locally, testing under the largely discredited No Child Left Behind regime and now the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act has been used to justify school takeovers by states to usher in privatization and charters in New Orleans and Little Rock with the fight be waged in earnest now in Houston as well.

To the degree that the test scores have become the “be all and end all” for school districts and the students, are they really the objective measures that many might presume them to be?  Evidence from Louisiana indicates that fingers are pressed on the scale at every turn.  I need to quickly add that I’m not talking about the systemic corruption that the testing paradigm has introduced into the educational system.  The testing not only perverts the education of students but also encourages competition on that basis between schools within a district and districts with each other and makes or breaks careers of principals and administrators encouraging cheating.  School after school in New Orleans and Louisiana have had to change management, fire or force resignations for test cheating scandals by adults, not students.

I’m talking about the way the scoring itself has been manipulated to protect jobs above, rather than education for students below.  As reported in the New Orleans Advocate / Times-Picayune on the current lack of progress in the New Orleans charterized system:

By 2025, as part of Louisiana’s overall plan, the state will designate an A-rated school as one in which students are proficient in literacy and math skills. That will be shown when they get a mastery or advanced — rather than basic — score on state assessments. The other levels, in descending order, are approaching basic and unsatisfactory.

As the state rolls out these growth metrics each year, officials will try to assess whether students are on track to get a score of mastery by eighth grade, if the student is in elementary or middle school, and by 10th grade if the student is in high school.

Each student is then given a target score each year to try and achieve. If they meet their target — which can be a small increase in points — they will get an A for growth.

If they don’t meet their target, they can still earn points for scoring higher than their peers. They are compared based on historical LEAP performance, economically disadvantaged status, English-learner status, disability type, discipline and attendance, according to state officials.

For students who are already very high-performing, the label can mean simply that they maintained high scores, even if they didn’t actually show growth.

The growth metric will make up 25% of an elementary or middle school’s overall performance score and 12.5% of a high school’s overall score.

Let this sink in.  One quarter to one-eight of the test results for a student will not be on educational achievement whatsoever but on what most favorably would be call subjective standards, which might be positive or negative for the student, but would likely be in the self-interest of the school and its administrators in padding the numbers for their own sake.  Furthermore, progress will be measured not against an objective standard, but relative to year-to-year “improvement.”

This doesn’t even count the way the local district and the state fudge the overall numbers by taking the charter away from operators that are low performing or caught in scandals which effectively erases their low scores and the impact on the overall district’s number.  The new operator is also given a grace period on scores for a couple of years so they don’t count either, and might end up with them bounced out, too.  Theoretically, it might be possible for a student to be trapped in a low-performing, failing charter school, and never have their scores impact the overall if this merry-go-round of miseducation and unaccountability were cycled throughout a child’s entire time in elementary or middle school.

Measurements are important for accountability, but in education, just like everything else, they have to be fair and objective, and in this case, in the students’ interest, or they are worse than wrong, they are criminal and life-damaging.

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Colleges Are Key for Wages and We’re Failing Students

New Orleans    Living in the southern and western states in the United States, sometimes it seems we just can’t catch a break.  Back to back analyses of critical income factors in the papers spell trouble on multiple fronts.  Walk with me on this a while.

More people are leaving a majority of the largest metropolitan areas of the country than coming.  Mainly this is happening in the ones where income levels are the highest, and educational requirements are also steep.  A series of charts in the New York Times established that for working stiffs on the low end of the service and production ladders, income gains were negligible to negative if someone picked up their family and made like the Joad family and moved to someplace like Silicon Valley from Oklahoma or Alabama. On the other hand, a lawyer on the same drive-by stood to make out like a bandit. Without saying it plainly, the outmigration in many cases is tracked to states with lower income prospects and outside of the major metros.  These are families and/or workers going back home where they can get a job and afford the rent and being displaced by the modern demands on the workforce.

In these cases, education at a certain higher-level matters.  Other recent reports are clear that just some higher education doesn’t do the job without a college degree, only moving the needle on projected income by 6 to 8% on lifetime earnings.  Message to many: if you’re going to go to college, you darned well better finish or you’re larding on debt for nothing for you or your family.

About one in three college entrants don’t make it to graduation over six years, but as Times’ reporters state clearly from looking at the data on 368 institutions, “the problem isn’t the students – it’s the schools.”  Get the hanging rope!

And, once you have it, you don’t have to walk too far.  Shamefully, in the top 15 schools that are failing the most in terms of expected graduation rates versus actual graduation rates, institutions in the south and west dominate.  At the bottom of the list is the University of Wyoming, but right next to it is the University of New Orleans hardly five miles away from me in one of the poorest cities in the US, and this is a clue to why.  Lamar in Beaumont, Texas less than four hours away is even worse.  You can see where this is going.  In the bottom fifteen, Arkansas is tragically well represented with the University of Central Arkansas in Conway right there along with Henderson State.  The University of Houston is on the list as well.  Two are in Oklahoma and North Dakota.  Not surprisingly Nevada, Alabama, and Nebraska are also on the list.  Two in Indiana and one in Minnesota make an appearance for the Midwest.

The ones that succeed, actually invest in their students and track them assiduously through the college process to see that more make it.  As the reports note, “When college leaders, in any region, decide they’re no longer willing to accept subpar graduation rates, they can do something about it.”  So, what about the rest of these laggards?  What kind of a crime is it to take young people with hopes and aspirations for the future, and lose them in the maze of inattention, saddle them with debt, and track their lives along with that of their communities, cities, and states down the low road to lives different than their potential?

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