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.