White’s Lies and Louisiana’s Faux School Improvement – Part I

Posted on January 5, 2013

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When I first saw a press release some months ago from the Louisiana Department of Education heralding scads of school improvement and data that showed almost all of the state’s high schools had significant gains, suffice it to say I was a tad skeptical.  I know all too well of some of the tricks LDE has employed in the past with some creative reporting, as well as the decimation and phase out of most competent data personnel in favor of political lackeys and TFA toddlers.  I also knew at the same time most of the accountability folks (the folks who calculate the School Performance Scores “SPS” and Report Cards) were fleeing as fast as they could find a new home, LDE was choosing to make changes to the actual tests used to create the SPS scores.  From previous research, and over the course of several other posts and post , I examined and explained how LDE was creating a shell game, by changing the total score points, tests, labels (going from stars to grades) etc.  My point was that this was being done to make the scores so confusing no one would be able to understand them or the fact that they would essentially become meaningless for comparison purposes.  I explained that John White would capitalize on this fact to tell the public and media exactly what they wanted to hear, that all the initiatives of John White and the reform movement were working!  This would provide him the necessary PR capital to continue his evisceration of our educational system and to even vastly accelerate his education “deforms”, as most informed opponents refer to the over testing/school privatization/VAM bowel-inspired movement.

However I was wrong.

occasionally it does happen, but I am happy that it did in this case.

You see, two researchers with bigger brains than this little crustacean (and obviously more free time) were able to identify what was going on and even to quantify it!  If you are curious about the details or know someone that might be, please pass along this report and letter.

LA_High_School_SPS_Inflation_Report

SPS_Scoring_Bias_2

Apparently the scores are skewed move than 11 points which pushed most schools with grades 9-12 (which take the new End Of Course “EOC” test) up a full “letter grade.”  These increases mislead parents and the general public into believing “something” happened more significant than simply changing a test that students score higher on, that yields a 11+ point increase to schools’ SPS scores.

You can even see this skewing trend in LDE’s own chart from a table include in their press release.

Note the percentage of high schools receiving “A” grades compared to the grades given to k-8 schools.  Instead of trumpeting their achievement, LDE should have tried to verify if it was legitimate. . . Or perhaps they did realize but figured no one would notice?

Fall 2012 By Letter Grade and Grade Configuration
Letter # K-8 % K-8 # Combin % Combin # High Sch % High Sch # Total % Total
A 80 8% 35 18% 48 35% 163 13%
B 216 22% 63 32% 29 21% 308 24%
C 297 31% 41 21% 21 15% 359 28%
D 253 26% 26 13% 28 20% 307 24%
F 115 12% 30 15% 12 9% 157 12%
T 8 1% 0 0% 1 1% 9 1%
Total 969 100% 195 100% 139 100% 1303 100%

These researchers seem to believe this press release and these SPS scores were calculated and labeled so as to intentionally mislead BESE and the general public.  With a few notable valiant exceptions, most of BESE is the property of Jindal and the charter schools that funded their campaign so i don’t think BESE needed to be mislead to parrot whatever John White tells them to say.  However I will give them the benefit of the doubt on the general public.

a) The Transition Baselines are in a column mislabeled “2011 Baseline School Performance
Score” and found only on the second sheet of the spreadsheet document. The mislabeling of the
Transition Baseline in the 2012 School Performance Scores/Letter Grades – Alphabetical by
District document on the LDOE website gives the appearance of impropriety.
BESE was provided data with the Transition Baseline column labelled correctly.
It appears that there was intent to divert attention from the existence of the Transition Baseline,
as it is key to understanding the SPS inflation.  [excerpt from Herbert W. Bassett's report]

There is an additional layer to this “transition baseline” issue.  I postulate that DOE knows they did not correctly calibrate the scores because they tried to hide the “transitional baseline” in plain sight in the 2012 school performance score spreadsheet on the DOE website.  First, the “transitional baseline” is hidden on the second page of the spreadsheet.  “Surely,” one could argue, “this is not intentional; after all, it’s so much data.  It was better divided into two spreadsheets.”  That may stand as a valid argument. However, on that second page, the “transitional baseline” is hidden under a false name: 2011 Baseline School Performance Score.  Now, there IS a real column with this name on the first page of the spreadsheet, and it really is the 2011 baseline scores.  Who would think to compare the data from the 2011 baseline as listed on the first page to the 2011 “baseline” on the second page?  Who would figure out that the mislabeled column is really the “transitional baseline”?  Who would realize that the high/combination school scores are inflated from looking at a single, mislabeled column on the second page, if even one thought to check for a second page to the spreadsheet?

Not most people.

One could certainly argue that this false labeling of the “transitional baseline” is intent to deceive.

The score inflation is most obvious when one compares the 2011 baseline to the transition baseline.  That is where I noticed it first, in the clearly labeled spreadsheet sent to BESE prior to 2012 school performance score release. [excerpt from Mercedes K. Schneider, Ph.D. letter to Superintendent John White]

They seem pretty convinced that this is true subterfuge and not merely incompetence.  I’m inclined to believe them, more than this guy.

Look thataway!

Look thataway!

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