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We judge schools and now teachers In spite of Suspicions - Friday, August 5, 2011

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We judge schools and now teachers

In spite of Suspicions




Louisiana judges schools using a School Performance Score (SPS) based largely on how students perform on the annual LEAP, iLEAP and GEE tests.


Louisiana students are subject to remaining in grade if they fail to measure up on those tests.  The words high stakes are used to describe the process.


The companies that design tests most often caution against misuse of the tests for purposes for which they were not designed.


Now we read charges that some charter schools operated by the Recovery School District (RSD) may have been cheating to make it appear that their students are progressing faster than they really are.


Now we read that there is systematic cheating in Atlanta, Baltimore, the District of Columbia, and



Every Chicago student  in 3rd through 8th grade who took the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills in 1993 through 2000 was evaluated by University of Michigan researchers and they found 4% to 5% of tests showed evidence of "serious” cheating.


In Arizona, State University researchers surveyed 3,000 teachers and found that 10% reported that they knew of colleagues who had engaged in the most egregious forms of cheating.


Montgomery County ( Maryland), Utah, East St. Louis (ILL), Los Angeles, Camden (NJ), Texas,  the District of Columbia, have all fired personnel.  Los Angeles shut down six charter schools over cheating on tests.  In Atlanta 44 schools were found to have long-standing patterns of cheating.  The University Preparatory Charter Academy in Oakland (CA) faces charges of test cheating and its principal and founder resigns.  In Texas, 114 north Texas schools were found to have suspicious scores.


When cheating happens, it renders the use of standardized tests as a diagnostic tool meaningless.


Now, word of possible test irregularities in a couple of RSD charter schools is being heard all across Louisiana.  Voices are being heard that question whether or not these two charters are but the tip of the iceberg. 


A close evaluation of Abramson Science & Technology Charter scores for the last four years provides cause to wonder.  In 2008, 22% of that charter’s students tested proficient.  A year later the percent rose to 69%, and then promptly fell in 2010 to 49%.  In 2011, proficient scores were accomplished by 53% of test takers.


A random review of RSD school performance shows several such roller-coaster four year records.  Harriet Tubman Elementary managed only 41% in 2008 at proficient, then 38% in 2009, then 30% in 2010, and then vaulted to 59% in 2011.


Such patterns, according to test analysis experts, raise suspicions and often trigger closer examination of test documents.  Through patterns in erasure analysis it can often be determined whether or not there was systematic cheating.


When the patter of year-to-year change is irregular and the trend inconsistent, there is reason to be suspicious of such results.


As diligent as is Scott Norton, the long-standing chief of the student and school accountability group in the Louisiana Department of Education, his limited staff can serve as physical monitors of test taking in a small minority of schools.  That they were able to detect such suspicious patterns in the Pelican Charters speaks highly of the diligence present. 


Nevertheless, questions arise, not only about potential school building cheating, but also about how the process of local districts are permitted to "scrub” the data prior to award of School Performance Scores (SPS).


When asked directly if they understood the method used to clean up data prior to awarding an SPS, five local superintendents attending a meeting in Baton Rouge confessed they did not know the process used.  Dr. Norton’s response to the question was that perhaps he should try to put something in writing as a guide. 


For some time after Dr. Barbara Ferguson published a report that as many as 2,500 test units in the New Orleans RSD schools were not accounted for in the department core student data, there was a suspicion that Paul Vallas had been purging some of the test failed students.  Subsequently, it was found that a 4-filter program was used to cull students from being included in the SPS.


Department officials deny that this is the case, however, they also admit that they have no good explanation as to why there are somewhere between 1,500 and 2,500 missing students.


Louisiana School Board Association officials are mulling a formal petition that the state accountability commission evaluate testing policy and most importantly reinstating routine erasure analysis of every test administered.


Don Whittinghill




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