Savvy Squash is back with a brand new Accountability invention. (Courtesy of John White.)
My comments are in green and encapsulated in [braces]. [CCF]
Crazy Crawfish has reported twice on LDOE’s insistence on circumventing accountability for special education students (Bobby Jindal and John White Decide to Experiment on Special Education Students & Louisiana Believes – SPED students should be reclassified before test time to optimize test scores). Well LDOE is at it again and this time with a little help from the legislature, via Acts 151 and 291.
On November 19, 2013 LDOE’s News Letter to school districts including the following piece of information:
Update on Implementation of Act 151 and Act 291 of 2013 Legislative Session
Acts 151 and 291 of the 2013 Legislative Session addressed the testing of high school students with disabilities whose Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) state that they will not pursue a high school diploma. The laws stipulate that such students shall not be administered a state standardized test unless the IEP team indicates that the assessment is appropriate for the student. This is not a change from current policy or practice; IEP teams have always determined the appropriate pathways and assessments for students with disabilities and should continue to do so.
These laws do, however, make changes related to state school accountability policy, although federal requirements regarding testing participation remain in place. If the transition plan within a high school student’s IEP indicates that the student is not working toward a high school diploma and the IEP team determines a state assessment is not appropriate, the student will not be counted as a “non-tested student” or a “non-participant” within the accountability system. In other words, a score of zero will not be assigned when these particular students do not take the state standardized test.
The Department is working to develop guidance for IEP teams related to the implementation of this law and will share a draft with the Special Education Advisory Panel for its feedback in December. In addition, the Department will host webinars related to the new law and its implementation this winter to provide technical assistance and answer questions. Finally, as we work to develop recommendations regarding high school diplomas and career education, a stated goal of this work is to ensure that students learning the mainstream standards have a viable diploma pathway. If you have questions in the interim, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of course, the statement “federal requirements regarding testing participation remain in place” concerned many, wondering what the distinction would ultimately be – where would the zeros be and where would they not be. Clearly they had to be somewhere since federal policy requires ALL students test at least once in high school. [Essentially this means the federal requirements will remain in place, but simply be ignored.]
Alas, Monday January 13th, LDOE held a webinar explaining that students who are classified as ‘non-diploma’ track will be exempt from standardized testing (EOC & ACT). Additionally, the school and district will be exempt from receiving a penalty for failure to test such students. This is inconsistent with the ESEA waiver recently granted to Louisiana. LDOE explained that although schools/district would not receive a zero for the assignment of School Performance Scores and Letter grades, they would receive ‘zeros’ for students in the subgroup AYP calculations. Well, if you’ve read the waiver you know that’s no accountability at all. The only thing subgroup AYP is being used for under the ESEA waiver is 1.) Participation Rate and 2.) Top Gains schools.
There is no real accountability measure there, no real consequences to not meeting AYP anymore; unless of course most high schools in LA start failing AYP participation. Maybe that will get the attention of someone at USDOE, who has seemed quit relaxed in their efforts to ensure states follow their own waivers.
LDOE’s ESEA waiver from the Feds, as last amended in April 2013, clearly indicated that:
As reiterated in the ESEA Flexibility guidance (FAQ C‐15), the USDOE will no longer allow modified assessments. Therefore, Louisiana is beginning to prepare for the phase out of its LAA 2 assessment by the 2014‐2015 school year (p.37).
Maybe LDOE and the legislature thought that ‘phase out’ simply meant they just wouldn’t give those students the test. Oh wait, if you keep reading further in the waiver you see this:
At the high school level, students who were previously eligible for the LAA 2 assessment will participate in the first statewide administration of the ACT beginning in Spring 2013 (p. 38).
Keep reading the waiver and there is no mention of LAA 2 students or non-diploma pathway. I realize the change from the legislator came after April 2013, but it doesn’t appear LDOE has even mentioned this new policy to USDOE, although under waiver guidance they are required to submit every change in the form of an amendment to USDOE.
Nonetheless, here is what the webinar provided:
According to Nancy Hicks, who hosted the webinar, the decision about whether a student is diploma track or not will be dependent upon IEP teams. To make decisions, the teams will use guidance sheets such as this:
My personal favorite is question #3. It’s essentially a question that says this student isn’t going to score well on tests for accountability so non-diploma pathway might be the way! High schools, grab your list of students who failed the 8th grade test, or a previous year’s EOC and get to classifying them as non-diploma pathway. You think anyone at LDOE is going to check whether a student listed as non-diploma pathway actually stays on diploma track and graduates? What’s the prevention mechanism? You could theoretically have students who never get included in 50% of the high school score because they are non-diploma track and then magically for the 50% cohort part of the score, many of them graduate with diplomas.
This is a system set up for abuses. Let me count the ways:
Some shadow schools can now come out of the dark and operate in the light with no accountability.
How you ask?
I turn my alternative shadow school into a real school with a grade configuration of 9-11 and classify every student I have as non-diploma pathway. I don’t get assessment results and I don’t get cohort graduation results. I’m now a fully visible alternative school with ZERO accountability.
Ordinarily, students who are getting accommodations on tests would be required to have such accommodations at least 30 days prior to testing, as to avoid schools scrambling to classify kids a certain way to circumvent accountability. Well, not anymore. For the current year, due to timing according to Nancy Hicks, LDOE will allow schools to classify students as non-diploma pathways as long as it’s “before the start of the test date.
Well that’s perfect!
Have a meeting, sit around the table the week before testing and figure out who you think won’t pass, then write up a fancy IEP, call them non-diploma track, and just like magic, no accountability test scores!
How early is too early?
All 8th grade students are expected to have graduation plans.
Could you then conceivable say that an 8th grader is on a non-diploma track?
I’d make a bet that 99% of the new 9th-grade-transition students will be non-diploma track.
Someone on the webinar even inquired as to whether 6th grade was too early!
We’ve seen this kind of accountability trickery before. Once upon a time LDOE allowed students to take the Applied Algebra test in place of Algebra I EOC. The first year, only a handful of students in the state took that test. Once word got around that students could take Applied Algebra and have that count in accountability instead of Algebra I, Applied Algebra classes and tests grew exponentially.
Leave the door open, and someone will find a way to make more kids non-diploma pathway students.
Now let’s look at this slide from the webinar:
LDOE is so cute in their belief that a small minority of LAA 2 students will be classified as non-diploma pathway. It’s the same thing they thought about Applied Algebra at one time, and look how that turned out.
Arguably, there is case to be made that students test ‘too’ much or certain students need a different test but that is NOT what is going on in the scenario. Students who are LAA 1 will still have to take the LAA 1 test, students who are Regular Ed or Gifted/Talented will still need to take EOC and ACT exams, so in essence it is only this group of students, arguably those most likely to be our work-force ready group, who are not testing and for whom schools and districts will not be held accountable for.
Are these kids not valuable?
Do they, their parents and the community not deserve to know if the school or district is serving them well?
Perhaps those tests don’t truly measure the pathway of the students, I can buy that. But neither LDOE nor the legislature has offered an alternative plan to measure their success. The legislative body and LDOE has simply explained that they do not have standards for these students and do not wish to measure whether they are being served well by public education.
So what’s the big deal?
Schools and districts should be held accountable for the job they do or do not do in ensuring students on non-diploma pathways are provided the best and most appropriate education. Providing appropriate education, especially to students with additional needs, requires funding, lots and lots of funding. [It makes fiscal sense, if not moral sense to find ways to reduce these costs] The real worry here is that USDOE finally does something about these policy violations and starts withholding education funds from LEA’s for something LDOE and the legislator cooked up. The even bigger worry is that US DOE strips some special education funding away for failing to test special education students, as required by federal law.
[We will still be on the hook for paying for these kids if this happens, not just through education costs but through a lifetime of incarceration, institutionalization and welfare benefits. What it sounds like is happening to me is LDOE and John White took the reasonable request parents were making: to exclude our most severe profoundly disabled students from being required to take the ACT, and turned it into a boondoggle where many districts and charters will be able to classify many struggling students as non-diploma pathway, especially if they are already have an IEP, and improve their test scores by simply excluding them from the calculations. John White has driven off all almost all of his staff capable of auditing this data and has not hired new ones because data validation is not something he worries about. My sources tell me White does not audit the data of anyone except districts he is trying to oppress and intimidate. I’m told St Helena has been audited as many as 7 times in the last few years while most charters and RSD schools have never been audited.]