Louisiana’s Educational Facade

On June 26th, The Advocate published its article, State Plan to Revamp Public Schools Wins Compliments from Two Groups, giving praise to Louisiana’s new ESSA plan which was submitted to the U.S. Department of Education on May 3, 2017. The State’s plan has received accolades from national groups for its “ambitious goals” to improve public education in Louisiana. The two groups mentioned in this particular article are the Collaborative for Student Success (CFSS) and Bellwether Education Partners (BEP).

I was not at all surprised to see these organizations offering their credibility to support Louisiana’s ESSA plan; nor, was I impressed. These organizations exist because they are part of the very large network of nonprofit organizations that have been established through the collaborative philanthropic efforts of billionaires to provide credibility to education reform efforts. A quick visit to the CFSS website reveals who funds their efforts, and you may remember the blog I did in October 2016 on Bellwether Education Partners. I could go on and on about the endless efforts and bottomless pockets of the nonprofit network, but that really isn’t the focus of this blog. What I want to take a look at is the feedback letter that the U.S. Department of Education sent to Supt. John White on June 30th, along with the notes from the peer reviews conducted at the USDOE.

In its feedback letter, the USDOE expresses several areas of concern related to the plan that was submitted in May and allows the Louisiana Department of Education a very limited 15 days to revise and resubmit. The areas addressed are too many to cover in one writing, so I just want to focus on the ones that are not only contrary to the praise received from CFSS and BEP, but were also opposed by numerous groups considered to be stakeholders in the Louisiana education system which includes association representing school boards, superintendents, principals, teachers and parents.

ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT INDICATOR
In the new ESSA law, it is carefully spelled out what should be used to measure academic achievement, and USDOE expresses it concern with Section A.4.iv.a: Academic Achievement Indicator and says this:

“In its State Plan, LDE includes, within the Academic Achievement indicator, student
achievement on reading/language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies assessments.
For the Academic Achievement indicator required under ESEA section 1111(c)(4)(B)(i)(I), a
State may only include measures of proficiency on the annual assessments required under
ESEA section 1111(b)(2)(B)(v)(I) (i.e., reading/language arts and mathematics); a State may
include performance on assessments other than those required under ESEA section
1111(b)(2)(B)(v)(I) (e.g., science, social studies) in the indicator for public elementary and
secondary schools that are not high schools as required under ESEA section 1111(c)(4)(B)(ii)
(i.e., the Other Academic indicator) for elementary and secondary schools that are not high
schools or in the School Quality or Student Success indicator for any schools, including high
schools.”

What this section addresses, in layman’s terms, is one of the main concerns that was expressed by the State’s education groups regarding testing in all subjects. As stated in the sections referenced above, ESSA allows for academic achievement to be  measured in ELA and Math. The Louisiana ESSA plan indicates that it will measure achievement in ELA, Math, Social Studies and Science. The ESSA law goes on to say that it is perfectly fine to use Social Studies and Science in the “other academic measures,” but that doesn’t carry near the weight that achievement does in the calculation of a school performance score. In essence, Supt. White, LDOE and BESE are in support of testing in two areas that can’t be included in the calculation, and therefore, is a complete waste of a whole lot of money for assessments in those subjects.

Participation Rates
In the peer review notes, it is indicated that there is no clear description of how the 95% participation requirement will factor into achievement, or how the state will encourage participation other than assigning zeros. In the Louisiana plan, there is no plan to encourage participation; only a penalty for students who don’t take the test. The 95% participation is suppose to filter down to the subgroups, as well. In other words, if a school has 20 Hispanics students enrolled, an effort has to be made to encourage at least 19 of the students to take the test. It isn’t sufficient to maintain an expectation of 100% participation and assign zeros to those who don’t take the test.

How the SEA Determined Minimum N-Size (ESEA section 1111(c)(3)(A)(ii))
In this particular section, the peer reviewers expressed the same concern about N-Size that was expressed in the ESSA plan that was submitted by New Mexico. Simply put, N-Size refers to the number of “units” needed for accurate statistical analysis. Notice that I said “units” and not “students.” In general, it is recommended that an N-Size no less than 30 be used for achievement reporting, but in contrast, a subgroup N-Size should not be larger than 10. In the plan submitted, Louisiana indicates that the N-Size for both achievement reporting and subgroup size is ten. This will result in incorrect statistical analysis. In addition, the reviewers note that Louisiana provided no evidence of stakeholder collaboration in determining N-Size and relied strictly on “historical practice.”

“LA relied on historical practices to determine n-size – it was not a collaborative
process.”

Weighting of Indicators
The peer reviewers indicate that the weight of the assessment is far too much at all grade levels. It is also worth noting that the use of Advanced Placement courses in the calculation of achievement is problematic. As indicated in the first section, the ESSA law allows for the use of ELA and Math in the reporting of achievement. Yes, Advanced Placement courses exist in those subjects; however, these courses aren’t offered at every high school in the state. Therefore, the academic indicator is not available to “every student” in the state. Louisiana is still a largely rural state. We still have rural high schools with graduating classes no larger than ten.

Summary
What is it that we should take from the independent reviews, USDOE feedback and peer reviews? Well, most importantly, the praise given by the various education reform groups has little to do with the plan’s actual adherence to the ESSA law and its ability advance our state in the quest to climb in educational rankings. Put simply, they praise the plan because of its strong resemblance to the previous waiver acquired under the No Child Left Behind law. The same plan that after a decade (the last five under Supt. White’s waiver plan) still leaves Louisiana’s educational ranking at the bottom. Never in the last ten years have we ranked above 47th. Why do you suppose that is? Could it be because the focus is on the wrong thing?

The passing of the new ESSA law gave us an opportunity to start from scratch and address the needs of our students. We didn’t do that. BESE didn’t allow us to do that. John White didn’t allow us to do that. USDOE and the peer reviewers indicate a lack of evidence of stakeholder engagement. The actions taken by the current superintendent, the current BESE, and the previous BESE have not resulted in improvement. Why continue with the same?

 

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