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Oh yes! There is trouble in River City And it “ain’t spelled pool”! - Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hear the Echoes No. 24




Oh yes! 

There is trouble in River City

And it "ain’t spelled pool”!



Recent headlines in the Times-Picayune and the Advocate hint that there may be a need to evaluate testing gains being reported in Recovery School District (RSD) schools.  The reports often flow from third party non-profit groups.  Apparently Gov. Jindal and the Louisiana Department of Education are so dedicated to showing the nation that Louisiana is a model of performance management that they are in denial of potential misdeeds in the classroom.


But, there is an emerging body of evidence that the pressure of high stakes testing virtually demands cutting corners in the classrooms.  The advent of evaluating teaching and school performance on the basis of test scores has brought about varied responses in the classroom.  The responses to pressure may be intensive professional development to bring about better teaching.  Teachers may also respond by "teaching to the test.”  Leslie Jacobs once allowed:  "What’s wrong with teaching to the test…so long as the tests cover the standards?”  How well the LEAP and iLEAP tests do cover the Louisiana standards, let alone the newly emerging Common Core Standards, is open to question.


A graver consideration emerges with the appearance of irrational claims of giant improvement in low-performing scores in the RSD schools.  Irregular "scrubbing” practices that appear to have been imported to the RSD by Paul Vallas leave many test units administered by unaccounted for in school performance scores (SPS).  Apparently, a set of computer filters are set to screen out from consideration any student scores that meet select criteria (less than  120 days in school, failing the test, failing to enroll in summer remediation, and failing to pass the summer retest).  Analysis reveals that as many as one in every eight RSD tests may have been eliminated in the calculation of its SPS by employing this screening.


Now there are reports seeping out of the RSD that teachers may have been forced to aid students during testing.  Should these reports be taken with a grain of salt?


More than 30 counties in Florida have been found to cheat on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.


There was widespread cheating found in the Washington D.C. system during the tenure of Michelle Rhee.  A USA Today report that found there were erasures on high-stakes standardized tests flagged as outside the norm in 102 schools at least once since 2008.


There was a recent report that widespread cheating on standardized tests occurred in  the Atlanta public schools where 56 schools were examined in a state investigation that found cheating in 44 (78%) of them.  Reportedly, 178 teachers and principals were found to have cheated on the tests.


In one location 55 classrooms were flagged for having excessive numbers of erasures on student tests submitted for grading with 47 of them (85%) sporting standard deviations that exceeded five, and 32 classrooms exceeding ten standard deviations.  Test developing companies have shown that the probability that the number of wrong-to-right answers occurring without adult intervention (or cheating) is one in a million when there is a five standard deviation.  At ten standard deviations, the probability is no better than one in a trillion.


Proponents of so-called "reform” like to raise the defense that teacher unions are responsible for such breakdowns in the classroom.  But, with cheating scandals arising across the nation, including a number in non-union districts, it’s becoming clear that the unions are not the cause.  In fact, although Atlanta teachers have no collective bargaining rights, some of them belong to the American Federation of Teachers and it was the local AFT chapter that first reported cheating to the district.


It is clear that the tests, and the stakes attached to them are the issue.  It is not rational to look at widespread cheating on tests and conclude the existence is about individuals.


In all of these cases, reported nationally, the investigators reported there was a climate of "fear, intimidation and retaliation” in the schools investigated.  The system put pressure on teachers and principals to meet specific standardized test score targets.  The pressure, reports say, was the biggest factor in the cheating scandal.


One cannot view the current climate in the RSD as anything less than highly pressurized.  Promises of a three-year turnaround cycle were made to legislative committees, and in public relations campaigns launching the RSD take-over.  Now after five years of state management most RSD schools fail to meet the state average or their own contracted goals for achievement.  Just this weekend the Communications office of LDOE issued a warning to all DOE staff not to respond to outside questions related to investigations, but to refer them to the departmental attorney.


Aren’t the individuals who manage the RSD schools in Louisiana under the same pressure  that transformed teachers and principals in Florida, D.C. and Atlanta into rule-benders?


In many RSD schools there have been reports of excessive turnovers of teachers and principals during the school year.  Might that constitute a sign that internal pressures are too great?


Don Whittinghill


7/27 2011


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