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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Poor, Minority Schools Get the Worst Teachers

capNew Orleans    The Center for American Progress in Washington issued a report recently on the distribution of teachers within public schools which was deeply disturbing, even if not surprising.   At the bottom line they found that public schools in high poverty areas were three times as likely to have teachers ranked as ineffective, and in public schools where there were greater percentages of minorities, teachers were two times as likely to be ineffective.   Essentially, that says that public school administrators are allowing the gaps between rich and poor, white and non-white to create great systematic, permanent gaps in our populations, particularly in our cities.

Most of CAP’s research data comes from a close examination of teacher distribution data from those states that collect such data as a requirement of the No Child Left Behind legislation dating from the Bush Administration.   All districts were required to reach a goal of having high quality teachers, or HQTs as they are called, by this point.  Sadly, the distribution of teachers still seems solidly skewed away from poor and minority schools that arguably most need the best teachers available in public schools, since the one thing that virtually all educational experts agree on is that good teachers are the single most important factor in creating the best educational outcomes.   Twenty-eight states submitted data requested, which is a poor showing, and, worse, only seven states submitted plans that were rated “acceptable” by the Department of Education.   Furthermore most of the states would be graded as “incompletes.”  The ones that fessed up did so for the most part in 2006 and though some reported modified plans in some in subsequent years, for the most part, most states just stopped coming to school on these standards.

In a poorer and more minority district, you are more likely still to have unlicensed teachers and teachers who are teaching outside their areas of expertise.  Not surprisingly teacher turnover is closer to 20% in such schools compared to single digit numbers in whiter, richer schools, all of which sentences students to poorer performance and reduced opportunity.  In this regard the CAP study builds on years of similar studies, like those that ACORN produced on educational “apartheid” in New York City and other districts, and documents the depressing lack of fundamental progress in creating educational equity in public schools.  The CAP report puts a game face on the numbers and correctly argues that there has been progress in teacher distribution, just not enough.

Part of the problem is that the federal government is essentially a lobbyist in the public school debate trying to leverage its 10% federal contribution to the great share of resources produced by local and state taxpayers.  Importantly, the report does argue that specialized programs at the federal level, like Title I, which only targets lower income students, needs to have its comparability provisions strengthened to ensure that “schools that serve low-income students receive the same share of local and state dollars, before federal funds are added, as schools that serve higher income students.”

For my money, it’s a scandal to think that lower income and minority schools continue to fall behind and that higher income schools are picking their pockets at the state and local level, by perverting the formulas for distribution of Title 1 monies from their intended sources, while saddling them with the worst teachers to boot.

How about a break?

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