Overprepping and Overtesting in Louisiana

I just received this letter from a parent named Stephanie Riley in Rapides Parish.  This letter echos the sentiments expressed by many parents across the state that I spoken with this year and last year. Education has been replaced with test preparation.  It’s a disgrace, and a reason many parents have abandonded public schools and started homeschooling their children.

If any folks in the traditional media would like to interview a mother that sees her children’s futures being stripped away in pursuit of a meaningless “score”, Stephanie would be a good person to contact.

The results of this test won’t measure what children learned, merely which parish wasted the most time on test preparation. Ironically districts with the highest test scores may have the least “educated” children.

This isn’t just about Common Core anymore, now it’s about Common Sense, and a lack thereof being shown by many of our current educational leaders.

To whom it may concern,

As a parent of 2 children in the Rapides parish school system in Louisiana I have finally reached the end of my rope. This letter is being sent to multiple individuals throughout Louisiana (and outside the state) for a reason. I have had enough and I want a response. Since returning from the Christmas holidays my children have done absolutely nothing but practice and prepare for the PARCC – like test. First, let me make it perfectly clear that both of my children have been opted out of this test. In this situation however, that is irrelevant. They have both been sitting in a classroom all day for the last 6 weeks training to take a test!They, and most every other child in this state grades 3 – 8 are been denied their right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education. Did you catch that? Federal law – F.A.P.E – is being broken. Drill and kill for ANY standardized test is NOT an appropriate education, which I pay for with my taxes.  I have questioned both of my children about activities in the classroom. While there is definitely a focus on testing for my third grader, it is even worse for my sixth grader. He has told me that they will no longer be using the textbook or stories from the curriculum this parish chose because neither addresses the ELA items on the PARCC – like test. Instead, they work every single day on practice writings for the PARCC – like exam. Half of an entire school year wasted with no reading!  And my third grader has only used her reading textbook a few times since January. Third graders not reading!! This is NOT a teacher issue. Teachers throughout this entire parish are being instructed to drill and kill. Practice, practice, practice! Test scores are what matter, not children.

Well, I am just a mom, so it has been easy for our school administrators to ignore me. Although I have had many positive interactions with our school board members (they do at least appear concerned) nothing has been accomplished and I feel as if we are all just trying to make it to the end of the school year. But that means that the children of Rapides parish are missing out. They are going to lose a minimum of a half of a year’s worth of instructional time (due to testing practice), and for some an entire year due to classroom instruction that has not been supported through the use of appropriate instructional materials. I am now reaching beyond our local administrators and will continue to reach beyond until someone listens. I am one of MANY parents with these concerns and we are not going away. 

I have already expressed my concerns locally that adequate instructional materials have not been provided for the math curriculum (Eureka), and now we have the same problem with the ELA material currently being taught in the classroom. Louisiana Title 28 Bulletin 1794 states that;        

“§505.   Local Implementation (of instructional materials)

A.            Adequate and Appropriate Instructional Materials

1.            Textbooks and materials of instruction for all curriculum areas at the local level shall be supported with adequate and appropriate instructional materials, equipment, and available community resources that support the stated philosophy and purposes of the school system”

where instructional materials are defined as;

“Instructional Materialslimited to items having intellectual content that by design assist in the instruction of a subject or course.”

Currently, neither of my children is in receipt of instructional materials in either math or ELA. Worksheets, practice pages in a binder, class room activities, etc… do not meet the definition of instructional materials under state law. I want my children to go back to a normal instructional environment in the classroom where emphasis on statewide testing is left where it belongs – on testing days. I want them to be TAUGHT not TRAINED! Let their teachers teach them! At least I know that they actually care about the well-being of my children!

Finally, I want clear, printed instructional materials for both of my children grades 3 and 6 for both the Eureka math curriculum and the Journey’s curriculum. These were the curriculums chosen by Rapides parish for this school year and if they are to be used then they should be supported in the classroom. There are no instructional materials for Eureka other than a “binder” that is filled with copies of computer print outs of classroom and homework practice problems. Textbooks were not purchased or provided by the district for this curriculum.

The ELA Journey’s curriculum has a textbook for each grade level and we received a copy of this at the start of the school year. However, this curriculum has been abandoned since the beginning of January in order to focus on practice for the PARCC – like exam. The provision of public education is not for the purpose of passing a single test (a test which is unproven and is not supported by ANY valid research I might add). Therefore, I also want my children to return to their regular educational and instructional activities in the classroom.

Should you have any questions I can be reached at this email address or at the cell phone number listed below. I look forward to a response as soon as possible.


Stephanie Riley,

cell# 504-669-0803

LDOE’s statistical methods and reports are beyond useless according to Harvard professor

(Provided by Mary K. Bellisario)


Question: Have press releases issued by the LA Dept. of Education been accurate,especially regarding specific analysis ofresults of student AP tests, possibly ACT tests,  PARCC preparation, and the VAM– Value-added Method for teacher evaluations? 


Further:  Should legislators base their decisions, and vote their support, oninformation contained in state press releases about public education whichcould be inaccurate?


An independent, nationally-recognized data analyst, Dr. A. J. Guarino, is doubtful that data from the LA Dept. of Education is being analyzed or presented accurately.  He gives his reasons below. He calls into serious question analysisprocedures and “selective” reporting in three specific areas:  AP test results (and possibly ACT results), PARCC preparation, and the VAM method of teacher evaluation.


Attached above and below is an unsolicited critical analysis of information that has recently come from the LA Dept. of Education, describing Louisiana’s purported progress in public education.  The analyst, Dr. A. J. Guarino,is a professor of biostatistics at the Harvard University teaching hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital of Health Professions. He and his graduate students routinely collect and analyze media reports from around the U.S. for their accuracy.   Dr. Guarino has ties to Louisiana, where he formerly served as president of the Louisiana Education Research Association (LERA). 


If you have further questions, or want to verify his credentials, Dr. Guarino can be reached at:  ajguarino@mgh.harvard.edu


Among Dr. Guarino’s conclusions are: 

“When looked at collectively, there is a troubling trend of either the misrepresentation of statistical outcomes or the incorrect application of statistical principles.”


Further, Dr. Guarino concludes: 

“Based upon my professional experience, I believe the Department of Education and Superintendent White have created both of these scenarios.  My intent is to bring attention to these problems so that legislators and policy makers can make informed decisions moving forward.”


Teaching, learning, and assessment: The closed circle

A. J. Guarino*

I certify that there is no conflict of interest with any financial organizationregarding the content of this letter.

The intent of this posting is to report on findings and policies that are based uponincomplete information or misapplication of statistical principles.

        I am a professor of biostatistics at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions in Boston (teaching hospital for Harvard) where I teach basic and advanced quantitative methods to graduate students in the health sciences. To document the need to be “statistically literate,” I present reports from media sources purporting major findings while failing to provide essential information, which often contradicts their “major findings.” As the former president of the Louisiana Education Research Association (LERA), I continue to follow the educational developments in Louisiana.  Over the past weeks and months, I noticed “press releases” and other media containing only selective information, which made the reported findings suspicious. After securing the full information, my analyses did not replicate those of the press-releases.

        Decisions must never be derived from findings that fail to provide complete information. At this stage of my career, my community-service is to report possible data misrepresentations that appear in the media. I would never seek nor accept compensation to provide statistical consultation.   

1.      Reporting of AP Test Scores

A recent press-release by Superintendent White noted that AP passing rates increased 24.6%, the highest in the nation, from 5,144 in 2013 to 6,407 in 2014. What is conspicuously missing is the ratio between successful tests and unsuccessful tests for each year.  The first number (5,144) represents a reported 5.3% passing rate while the second number (6,407) represents a 4.1% passing; in other words, the AP passing rate actually Decreased 22.64% from 2013 to 2014.

(5.3 – 4.1) /5.3 = 1.2/5.3 = .2264 (22.64%)

The failure to provide the essential information grossly distorts the interpretation. In order to review the actual passing rates for the latest round of tests, I had to obtain that information from a newspaper article the next day.  Here is the summary:  Of the 55,000 or so additional tests in 2014, only 1,263 (approximately 2.2%) passed. These data were never mentioned in the press release. 

Calculating the percent increase from the raw data without taking into consideration the contexts of those numbers is complicity. This is like saying more people finished the Boston Marathon this year than last year only because more people entered the race.  Given the ever increasing monies expended by the state to provide for students to take AP exams, it would be appropriate for those holding the data to inform those who need the data to make informed decisions that, last year, approximately 156,000 total AP tests were given and around 6,407 passed (i.e., 4.1%).

6407/156000 = .0410 (4.1%)

One final note on this matter: It appears that the ACT results have been reported in a similar fashion to the AP scores.  If that is the case, and the increases in the number of tests that were scored at 18 or higher are due to increased numbers of students taking the tests then those results are equally distorted.

2.      Preparation for PARCC Exams

A recent press release from the Superintendent of the State Department of Education states: Since 2010, teachers and state assessment staff in more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia have developed questions, accommodations, and policies that make for an improved blueprint for standardized testing.

At first glance, the statement appears to be quite informative. However, my graduate students were quick to notice the missing essential information, i.e.,Curriculum. It is significant to note that a “Test” is a type of assessment that evaluates academic achievement. Downing & Yudkowsky (2009) explain, “…assessment and instruction are intimately related. Teaching, learning and assessment form a closed circle, with each entity tightly bound to the other” (p. 9) .

Superintendent White broke the “closed circle” by suggesting that neither Eureka Math nor any other curriculum is favored for state testing.  In a note to a high level government official who was expressing concerns about Eureka Math, Superintendent White replied:  “We will also continue to insist, as you urge, that state tests be aligned to high expectations for our students’ skills and not to any particular curriculum (emphasis added).” 

In other words, Superintendent White is suggesting that Louisiana should give high-stakes exams to studentsirrespective of the fact that students, teachers, and stakeholders have not been given a clear curriculum on the first day of school.  How do you test what you are supposed to know at the end of the year if you haven’t communicated those expectations at the beginning of the year?  Lack of clarity for curriculum guarantees that profit-driven entities will provide their own curriculum, all of which purportedly provide the best means of preparing students to meet expectations laid out by high-stakes exams.  This guarantees a process that is costly, inefficient, and ill-defined.

The DOE discreetly recognizes this unfortunate reality by designating certain curriculum derived by outside sources as “Tier 1.”   However, no outside entity can provide to parents and teachers on the first day of school what students should know and how they will be expected to demonstrate that knowledge; this responsibility falls squarely to the DOEand to this point in time it is a responsibility that has not been met. TheDOE tacitly acknowledges its failure to generate curriculum when it continues to insist that school systems are free to use whatever curriculum they choose. 

The lack of a state generated curriculum that is available on the first day of school short circuits end-of-course exams..Results are tainted since there has been no defined path presented to articulate the criteria, much less communicate how the criteria will be met. 

3.  The Evaluation of Teachers via a Value-Added Model (VAM)

The Louisiana Department of Education has implemented the Value Added Measures (VAM) as part of a teacher’s performance evaluation. However, implementation of any educational interventions must be supported by the best available research results (evidence) or more formally known as Evidence-Based Practice (EBP). For example, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) require that schools use programs, curricula, and practices based on “scientifically-based research” “to the extent practicable.” The best available research from the American Educational Research Association (AERA)  reports the following, “…weak to nonexistent relationships between state-administered value-added model (VAM) measures of teacher performance and the content or quality of teachers’ instruction.” Implications of these resultsfail to support the utility of VAM data for teacher evaluations. Concurring with the AERA findings is the American Statistical Association , the largest organization in America that represents statisticians and related fields.  The Louisiana Department of Education’s implementation of theValue Added Measures (VAM) as part of a teacher’s performance evaluation is in conflict with Evidence-Based Practice (EBP).


When looked at collectively, there is a troubling trend of either the misrepresentation of statistical outcomes or the incorrect application of statistical principles.  If the results aremisrepresented, you do not have all the necessary data to make an informed decision (#1 above).  If the statistical principles are incorrectly applied, you have created a fundamentally flawed process that provides no meaningful interpretations (#2 and 3 above). 

Based upon my professional experience, I believe the Department of Education and Superintendent White have created both of these scenarios. 

My intent is to bring attention to these problems so that legislators and policy makers can make informed decisions moving forward.


Bio:  Dr. A.J. Guarino

*A. J. Guarino presently teaches biostatistics at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions in Boston. In 2011, Dr. Guarino was awarded the 2011 Nancy T. Watts Award for Excellence in Teaching – the highest prize given to a faculty member at Boston’s health sciences graduate school.  He received his bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and his doctorate in Educational Psychology with an emphasis in statistics and psychometrics. He has published over 50 refereed research articles in a variety of fields in health, education, psychology, assessment, and statistics and presented nearly one-hundred papers at national and regional conferences. Dr. Guarino has also coauthored five graduate level statistics textbooks.  A partial list of recent scholarship is provided below.  Dr. Guarino has also served as president of the Louisiana Education Research Association (LERA). 

He can be reached at: ajguarino@mgh.harvard.edu 

Recent Scholarship


Meyers, L., Gamst, G. & Guarino, A. J. (2013). Performing Data Analysis: Using IBM SPSS. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Meyers, L., Gamst, G. & Guarino, A. J. (2013). Applied Multivariate Research Design and Interpretation Second Ed. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Meyers, L., Gamst, G. & Guarino, A. J. (2006). Applied Multivariate Research Design and Interpretation. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Gamst, G., Meyers, L., & Guarino, A. J. (2008). Analysis of Variance Designs. New York: Cambridge Press.

Meyers, L., Gamst, G. & Guarino, A. J. (2009). Data Analysis Using SAS Enterprise Guide. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publication.

Refereed Articles and Presentations

Matthews, L. T., Ghebremichael, M., Giddy, J., Hampton, J., Guarino, A. J., Ewusi, A., Carver, E., Axten, K., Geary, M., Gandhi, R. T., Bangsberg, D. R. (2011). A Risk Factor-Based Approach to Reducing the Likelihood of Lactic Acidosis and Hyperlactatemia in Patients on Antiretroviral Therapy. PLoS ONE 6(4), 1-7.

Nahas, S. J., Young, W.B., Terry, R., Kim, A., Van, D. T., Guarino, A.J., & Silberstein SD. (2010). Right-to-left shunt is common in chronic migraine. Cephalalgia 30(5), 535-42.

Chesser, S., Forbes, S. A., & Guarino, A. J. (November, 2011).  Investigation of intra-individual response of the stress hormone cortisol to varying educational environments (single vs. mixed sex groupings). Poster presentation at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Washington DC.

Lopez, R. P., & Guarino, A. J. (2013). Psychometric Evaluation of the Surrogate Decision Making Self-Efficacy Scale. Research in Gerontological Nursing 6(1), 71-76.DOI: 10.3928/19404921-20121203-02

Certain, L., Guarino, A. J., & Greenwald, J. (2011). Effective Multilevel Teaching Techniques on Attending Rounds: a Pilot Survey and Systematic Review of the Literature. Medical Teacher, 33, 644-650.

Hastie, P., & Guarino, A.J. (2013). The Development of Skill and Knowledge during a Season of Track and Field Athletics. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sports.

Lopez, R.P., & Guarino, A.J. (May, 2011). Confirmatory factor analysis of the Surrogate Decision Making Self-Efficacy Scale (SDM-SES). Poster presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Society, Washington DC.

Eaves, R.C. & Guarino, A. J. (2006). Dunn’s multiple comparison test. Encyclopedia of Measurement and Statistics, 293-296.

Are the RSD (Recovery School District) and LDOE (Louisiana Department of Education) actively covering up school wide test cheating that bolsters their performance?

Are the RSD (Recovery School District) and LDOE (Louisiana Department of Education) actively covering up school wide test cheating that bolsters their performance?

I have been told the RSD and LDOE are actively covering up cheating on student test scores so I have embarked on a quest to discover the truth. My quest is ongoing but I have learned some things from evidence presented to me and responses I’ve had to my Freedom of Information Requests to the LDOE. I’ve gotten no response from RSD, which has been defined in numerous cases as a non-juridical entity incapable of suing or being sued. They are legally considered a part of LDOE, but they have a separate e-mail system and LDOE does not appear to supply any information on their behalf.  Nifty Catch 22 or a violation of state law, you be the judge.

Case 2:11-cv-01588-SSV-JCW

The court noted that both the Department of Education and the State

Board of Elementary and Secondary Education are a “body

corporate” under the Louisiana Revised Statutes. Id.; La. Rev.

Stat. 36:642 (Department of Education); La. Rev. Stat. 17:1

(Board of Elementary and Secondary Education). The court also

noted that while Louisiana Revised Statute 17:51 “makes a parish

school board a ‘body corporate with power to sue[,]’ [t]he

statute authorizing the RSD (La. Rev. Stat. 17:1990) contains no

equivalent language . . . .” Id. at 357-58. For these reasons,

the court held that “the RSD does not function independently of

the DOE and BESE as it is not a body corporate capable of being

sued or suing directly.” Id. at 358.

Moreover, RSD’s organizing statute clearly states that RSD

“shall be administered by the state Department of Education,

subject to the approval of the State Board of Elementary and

Secondary Education.” La. Rev. Stat. § 17:1990(A)(2). This

power structure further contrasts RSD with parish school boards,

which “must comply with State laws . . . [but] are autonomous

political creatures that are separate and distinct entities

providing the framework for education in their respective

parishes.” Hamilton v. City of Natchitoches, 903 So.2d 1247,

1250 (La. App. 2005). Here, however, RSD is by statute an

“intermediate educational unit” that is not capable of selfadministration.

La. Rev. Stat. § 17:1990(B)(1)(a). Accordingly,

the Court finds that the RSD is not a juridical person capable of

suing or being sued under the Roberts analysis. See Adams v.

Orleans Parish Recovery Sch. Dist., No. 11-30751, 2012 WL 612777,

at *1 (5th Cir. Feb. 27, 2012)(noting that “RSD is not an entity

that can sue or be sued”).

(For any lawyers out there seeking to bring a case against RSD, make sure you bring your case against LDOE or your case will be dismissed too.)

To be clear, I do not have conclusive evidence of cheating at this time but I do have evidence that no investigations were made and reprisals were made against the teacher who reported this situation. My case is steadily building and this will be but the first of several articles revealing what I’ve learned and continue to learn.

The case, as it was presented to me, is as follows:

In the Spring of 2011 Mary D. Coghill Elementary, an RSD direct run school headed by principal Aisha Jones and overseen by John White when he was superintendent of RSD, reportedly pulled as many as 70 3rd through 8th graders out of their classes during Spring testing to have teachers read the test aloud to these students in small groups. A partial list of the alleged proctors of the small group read aloud students with student counts was provided to me and is displayed below.

This 70 student figure amounts to about 20% of their total students tested.

Prior to this pullout, teachers were asked to provide lists of their students who could likely pass the LEAP and iLEAP tests if the tests were read to them. Each teacher was reportedly required to supply this list to the main office, and these students were subsequently removed from their classes during test time for the purpose of having tests read to them, rather than reading the test and answers themselves. This is what is called a testing accommodation. A small percentage of students classified as Section 504 (under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1973) are defined as handicapped by a mental or physical limitation that does not rise to the level of being defined as disabled or requiring Special Education services. In a typical school around 7% of students will be classified as 504. These are students that are diagnosed with a recognized medical diagnosis such as ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, minor vision impairment not classified as blindness, emotional disturbance, or a broken/injured llimb with a recovery time longer than 6 weeks, etc.. Additionally these students must have been classified as having trouble in school over an extended period of time as a result of their handicap as evidenced by low grades. Students cannot have A’s and B’s and be defined as section 504. They cannot simply be classified as 504 because they have low grades or struggle in school without a specific diagnosis. Typically these are students with below C averages or who have been held back one or more years in school to qualify as 504 students, and these students would have an associated IAP (Individualized Accommodation Plan) [not to be confused with an IEP for SPED students] that would list accommodations needed such as more time on tests for dyslexic students, or larger print for vision impaired students. Of the very small percent of students classified as 504 (which is a subset of students who have a specifically diagnosed disability) only a small percentage of those would require tests to be read aloud to them perhaps dyslexic students but not students with ADHD. If you know anyone with ADHD, which is one of top 504 diagnoses, you understand why that would never work.) Additionally, these accommodations would need to have been defined on a student’s IAP before the test, students would receive these accommodations from their teachers throughout the year on all other tests. These accommodations would have to be notated on the tests booklets that were submitted to our testing company. Those scores and testing accommodations then end up on test files at the Louisiana Department of Education, if they are notated. In this case, and perhaps many other across RSD and the state, these accommodations were not notated, they were not provided to students throughout the year, and these students were never identified as 504.

The insinuation made is that these students who had the test read to them received an unfair advantage over kids who did not. I’ve made numerous inquiries to former accountability, testing, RSD and New Orleans folks and discovered a few interesting things that add some dimensions to this situation.

I have been told that students who do not receive accommodations regularly before the tests do not see improvement according to research:

Accommodations should be routinely applied in the classroom, so that would mean that for all those kids they are reading all of their normal tests aloud as well.  This is probably done poorly in a lot of places.  When they don’t routinely use the accommodation, research shows the kids don’t benefit from it on the state test.

I was even told a New Orleans school tried this strategy before, but ended up with students scoring worse:

An Orleans school – pre Katrina – There were two warring factions in the school – the new principal and her supporters vs the anti-newcomer squadron.  They found out about 504 shortly before testing and during the last week that they could identify a kid as 504, they identified all the boys as having 1 disability and all the girls as having another.  Everyone got the “test read aloud” accommodation.  The school did substantially worse that year than the year before.  Accommodations are supposed to be used in regular classroom assessments.  These kids had never been read to.

I was also told that this is not a recent phenomenon but was a common situation in New Orleans even before charters and RSD, because they had so many kids that couldn’t read they needed all the help they can get:

For the 504 question- yes, if it’s Orleans

When I worked in NOPS before Katrina it was common to get as many on 504 accommodations as they could because many kids could not read

I imagine the charters have followed suit

Despite what many ignorant reformers tout or believe, I do not believe New Orleans was a bed or roses before Katrina, nor do I pardon their transgressions. I merely don’t excuse the same corruption after Katrina because it’s “less” or different folks engaging in it, or because you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet reform approach. (For instance, I do not believe RSD can neglect John McDonogh, simply because Orleans parish did after they were given 34 million dollars by the federal government to fix it up, and after John White promised to start renovations 2 years ago on nationally syndicated television while no hammer has been lifted.)

No matter how many statistics come from the Louisiana Department of Education showing the substantial gains in student achievement in New Orleans schools since 2005, there’s a stubborn knot of naysayers who insist that the stats are the result of a conspiracy by a dishonest government and power-hungry reformers.

They seem to mourn the chaotic, inept, even corrupt system of schools that existed before Katrina finally gave state officials an excuse to seize most of them.

Pro reformers, like Dawn Ruth who styles herself a freelance journalist, believe they can misrepresent the opinions of folks they’ve never met or spoken to, and lie about them willy-nilly, and without the barest notion of research, to discredit their opinions. One example of this from her article was trying to dismiss and characterize me as a vengeful former employee by telling folks mater-of-factly, and entirely falsely, that I was “fired” rather than voluntarily quitting after giving my 2 week notice to start my new job and my blog to speak out about the abuse and corruption under John White. (But I digress, that will be a post for later for my new fanclub member.)  Unlike most pro-reformers I do not get paid for my opinions or endorsements.

This e-mail from a teacher, “Coach” Frank Buckley says it all. Coach reported the testing irregularities to his superiors, testing authorities at LDOE his superintendent (John White) and the de facto head of LDOE Erin Bendily. For his trouble Coach was retroactively fired back to May. He subsequently filed a whistleblower suit which is still being litigated, although not without plenty of legal maneuvering over proper venue and whether RSD is a juridical body capable of suing or being sued.

When I asked LDOE to provide me any correspondence into investigation of this report I was given this e-mail chain along with what appears to be the extent of investigation conducted by LDOE. They decided to let John White handle it, who chose not to investigate.

Coach Buckley was fired shortly thereafter as part of a reduction in force of one. Him. Shortly after his retroactive firing Aisha Jones apparently immediately advertised for the need for a new teacher. This position was never offered to Coach Buckley, who was theoretically terminated simply as a reduction in force.

The below is from Coach Buckley’s legal filings.

It seems pretty clear to me from my reading of e-mails that no investigation took place and that coach was terminated because he was raising uncomfortable questions. It is abundantly clear from the documents released (and lack of documents released) that John White knew about this situation and did nothing to investigate it despite warnings from even LDOE staff that this looked suspicious. From my conversations with Coach it appears many of his math students that were better prepared did poorer on the math portion of the LEAP test than the 16 students that were removed for tests to be read aloud in small groups. There is no question that Coach should have been notified if those students were 504 students prior to the date of the test. It is statistically impossible that every student he identified as struggling, and only the ones he identified as struggling in his class, were secretly 504 students with an exceptionality that required tests to be read aloud in small groups.

If a student cannot read a test they will not do well on a test. If you read a test aloud to students this gives students who cannot read an advantage other students in other comparable situations would not have. This in and of itself might lead to increased test scores and is also not legal if the children were not properly classified as 504. But reading a test aloud also allows teachers and proctors to emphasize correct answers, intentionally or unintentionally, by changing the tone of one’s voice, tone, facial expression etc. When you have schools blatantly and on a systematic and school-wide basis violating state and federal rules and laws in regards to test administration for personal and professional gain, it is that much more likely to have occurred. (When teachers and principals are retained or fired based upon student performance you build personal and professional gain into the system.)

I was not in those classrooms where tests were read and cannot say one way or the other whether this took place, but it is a possibility. Based on research and past experience, these children should have done no better or much worse than their counterparts without this intervention, however the opposite appears to have happened, and happened consistently enough that based on the report provided by LDOE below, it appears this school, Mary D Coghill of RSD, employs this reading accommodation with virtually every flagged 504 student too.

According to a recently released report in response to a FOIA filing I made last month in 2010-2011 Mary D. Coghill reported to the state that they had 51 students in grades 3 -8 identified as qualifying for 504 services, and all but one student required their tests read aloud and all students required small test group administration (where tests were read aloud whether students needed them read aloud or not.) According to my Coach, who was a teacher who reported this as an irregularity and quite likely indicative of intentional cheating by teachers, as many as 70 students were pulled out of classes, 20% or 1 out of every 5 students taking the LEAP or iLEAP test at Mary D. Coghill. According to self-reported data from Mary D. Coghill to the state, virtually every student identified as 504, every year for which data was reported, had their tests read aloud to them. However if Coach is accurate, the totals may be far higher than this, and certainly not restricted to simply students identified as 504, but any student identified as struggling academically. If this is true, and not a phenomenon confined to Mary D. Coghill, we may be seeing one of the secrets to RSD’s recent modest success. As far as schemes go, this is a pretty good one, and unlike the amateurish cheating scandal in Atlanta, shows a more sophisticated take on cheating the High Stakes testing system with a mind toward eluding detection. However, in order for this scheme to succeed, there would have to be tacit buy-in by those in charge. That would mean the principal as well as the head of RSD at the very least.

In 2011 John White was still relatively fresh on the RSD scene. He may not have known what was going on initially, but when this situation was reported to him directly in e-mail, via phone, in person and to his superiors at the LDOE it would be hard to deny he was aware of this situation and allegations. Unlike charter schools, which have their own boards of oversight, Mary D. Coghill was one a dozen or so direct run RSD schools, directly run by none other than then RSD superintendent John White, now the State Superintendent of Education. John White did not have responsibility for the hundreds of schools he has responsibility for now, just a dozen or so, so you would think he would take a keen interest at any allegation of cheating in his first stint as a Superintendent anywhere. The only significant action that I see taken by RSD was the firing of the teacher reporting the testing issue.

When you cover-up for cheating you are encouraging it. When you punish those who report it, you embolden cheaters and discourage whistleblowers. When you reward those who improve their test scores and School Performance Scores through cheating with renewed contracts and financial incentives and rewards you are violating state and federal laws related to fraud as well as a violation of the False Claims Act. When you assist others in covering up their fraud, you are aiding and abetting fraud, which is also a criminally prosecutable crime. The test score erasure scandal in Atlanta landed many teachers, principals and the superintendent in criminal court as may very well be appropriate here. More investigation is certainly needed and long overdue. I will be releasing more information in the coming days and weeks, however I would recommend the following changes be submitted to the legislature and for consideration at the next BESE meeting.

  • I recommend that the legislative auditor’s office heretofore investigate all reported instances of cheating and that the legislature encode this into law. (for charters, RSD, vouchers schools and traditional public schools)
  • I encourage a formal investigation into whether federal laws relating to fraud were violated if any federal funds were disbursed as a result of these fraudulently obtained test scores, and reporting the findings to relevant authorities.
  • I recommend an expansion of the whistleblower law for greater protections of teachers reporting cheating.
  • I recommend an audit of all direct run RSD schools and test scores from 2007 to present with particular care paid to accommodations and relevant IEP and IAP paperwork.
  • I recommend tapes be made of tests being read for review.
  • I recommend new guidelines be published for when and which accommodations are appropriate and the accommodations being provided are not solely used for high stakes testing. If these kids are really struggling with a disability, it is much more important that children get these accommodations throughout the year to facilitate their actual learning of the material. It is much more important to the children, and the furtherance of their education, that these accommodations be made while they are learning this material rather than just when they are being tested on it once for a school grade.

To be continued. . .

Did you miss me?


Let’s talk about CCSS (Common Core State Standards) and the CCSS Wars

Let’s talk about CCSS  (Common Core State Standards) and the CCSS Wars
Had to try an make this topic at least "look" a little more interesting. . .
Had to try an make this topic at least “look” a little more interesting. . .

If you are a teacher, you know what CCSS is, but for those of you who don’t let me give you a refresher from what I can recall off the top of my head. Forgive me if this is incomplete and feel free to fill in the blanks or correct me.

Some years ago

in a galaxy not so very far away

the NGA (National Governor’s Association)

with some funding from Bill Gates

and prodding by the US Department of Education

embarked on a journey

to develop a single set of “standards”

Standards that would be universal

across the 50 states

and miscellaneous territories.

This was intended to be grassroots,

educator lead process.

While the AFT (American Federation of Teachers)

lead by Randi Weingarten

has claimed to have been instrumental

in crafting these standards,

many AFT folks seem to disagree.

During the drafting process,

Corporate empires funded and usurped

much of the drafting of these standards

to institute a fierce regime

of high stakes testing

and to sell many new text books and tests

to unsuspecting districts

innocently adopting these standards

in the belief that they were doing so

for the good of “the children.”

Now that these standards have been created

and seem to be gaining Empirewide acceptance

Many groups across the political spectrum

would like to see the implementation of CCSS delayed,

in particular the attachment of high stakes testing and outcomes.

There seems to be some consensus

(although certainly not universal)

that this process was co-opted by Corporate interests,

that teachers nationwide are currently ill-prepared

to teach these standards,

and that introducing these standards midstream on students

may have discouraging or deleterious effects

(since they will not be phased in starting with lower grades

but introduced all at once,

regardless of whether students have been introduced

to much of the material they are expected to know in the higher grades.

It also seems to be widely accepted and anticipated

that there will be much testing involved

in verifying students are acquiring the skills

the CCSS lords dictate they learn.

This is where our story begins. . .


The amount of testing may be subject to some debate, but the clear intent of developing a Common Core set of standards is for comparability of student achievement across the states.  It’s probably pretty hard to compare something, without measuring anything, so I’d say it’s a fairly reasonable guess that there will be much testing involved here.  If it is a significant amount it is pretty clear it will cut into instructional time and possibly have a negative impact on student achievement.  Testing companies are very excited about promoting these standards, because all this testing will mean big bucks for them.  Some of the problems I’ve seen mentioned about the tests developed to date (in a number of articles) are:  incorrect answers, multiple correct answers for non-multiple choice tests, and corporate product placement in exam questions such as: (if Tommy drinks an 8 oz. Coca Cola, and then eats 3 Doritos flavored Tacos from Taco Bell before cleaning his hands with some Johnson & Johnson wipes, how much will Pierson earn on the backend for including these products in their testing materials?)

Could the testing be limited to something reasonable and perhaps replace existing tests? Perhaps, but based on all the companies getting into the test prep and evaluation business and looking to market massive data intensive student and teacher evaluation tools like inBloom, Ed-Fi, Amplify, Wireless Generation, and others, the expectation of many vendors and investors is that this will be a enormous money making market going forward.

Non-public schools have adopted, or are planning to adopt CCSS too. Some non-pubs are resisting, but that may be a losing battle if these standards truly become widespread, and “standard” as any tests that might be used to compare their children to public children will eventually be geared towards verifying CCSS mastery, and without being taught this material at the right times. . .  well they probably won’t compare very favorably.

For the most part I have only heard negative comments and discourse about CCSS, but admittedly this may be related to the company I keep.  :)  Some of the criticisms I’ve seen are that the math curriculum is light on the basic memorization of multiplication tables and practice, and heavy on the use of calculators and word problems. I’ve heard the math is very confusing and complex to children who are unprepared for learning this way, and that the math, particularly at the higher grade levels is typically less rigorous than most current math standards.  I’ve heard and read that the English curriculum is light on traditional literature, like your Beowulf, Hemingway, and Shakespeare and heavy on the non-fiction technical guides and historical non-fiction, particularly in the higher grades.  In Louisiana, many teachers have reported they are currently ill-prepared for CCSS, and that they and their students will be evaluated based on CCSS tests and teacher evaluations.  From what I’ve gathered preparation for teachers varies widely by school and school district and may be dependent on local resources and independent research done by teachers.

Here are some stories that have been sent to me:

Teacher of Calculus who helped to develop the math curriculum for the State of Louisiana has seen the Common Core math at the high school level and commented that they did not understand some of the changes made to the bullets.   Teacher will never teach the common core math and has decided to retire the year that it will be implemented in their grade level.

Teacher who is the head of the math department at their non-public Louisiana high school went to a common core math workshop two weeks ago.  Teacher found it to be not so different than the curriculum used at their school, but definitely inferior.

New teacher in Louisiana who just completed a masters education – taught first grade(Elementary) and quit after their first year of teaching.  They said the math consisted of questions and that there was no way that the kids were going to learn math this way – just talking about it.

Parent of student taught (common core math pilot in 4th and 5th grade in non-public school in Louisiana.)  It was presented all year long in the form of complicated word problems requiring many different skills.  The only problem was the kids were never taught the skills necessary to work the word problems.  Lattice multiplication and partial quotient methods were taught in lieu of traditional multiplication and division methods.  There is a video of M.J. McDermott illustrating these methods which was exact method student had .  One of the word problems they remember that child struggled with in 4th grade was  “If you borrowed $250,000,000 from the bank at 4 5/8 %  interest, what would be your payment the first month?  What would be your payment the 12th month?  The next leg of the problem included making a  minimum payment of $20,000 per month making it more complicated – I can’t remember exactly how it was worded. Why would they even want kids to think that it is o.k. to borrow large sums of money? It was just bad all the way around.

Similar story this past weekend in Florida – one mom of a 3rd grader said that she could not help her son with his math – in particular their problem was with partial quotients.  They believe “elite” private schools not adopting common core.

Now I’ve heard some people claim they actually like CCSS and have implemented it successfully.  The idea behind CCSS was developing a single set of rigorous standards that would be universally applied across the United States to make test scores and progress more comparable, to make textbooks more standardized, to retool the curriculum for something more 21st century appropriate, and to properly prepare students for college and career readiness.

How is this working out for you?

When providing an example or story please provide the following information:

  • Setting (Non-public/public)
  • State
  • how long you’ve employed or implemented stats
  • grade level taught
  • subject

You may choose to provide more information than this such as your name, school name, etc, but be aware that this is a public forum and there should b e no expectation of privacy.  If you have a superintendent and/or principal particularly gung-ho on CCSS, and you post something negative, there’s a good chance that will get back to them.

Feel free to post both positive or negative information, but please maintain a civil discourse.  I know this may seem like an absurd request coming from me, but every once in a while I like to moderate a civil discussion so people can feel free to express their feelings to investigate and understand a topic more thoroughly.  I am  not a teacher, nor are many of my readers, but many of us know teachers, parents or students so this should all be of some concern to some of us on some level.  I’d like to understand, and for my readers to understand, if there is a problem or problems, or if despite the dubious way this curriculum was conceived, it might turn out to be a net plus if properly resourced, applied and addressed.

May the Fourth be with you.

Happy Independence Day!



The Grand Accountability Scam – Kill the RSD

The Grand Accountability Scam – Kill the RSD

John White and Bobby Jindal have mixed two smart sounding messages in a way designed to punish people for being poor. It sounds good when you say, “poverty is not an excuse for poor performance.” It sounds good when “we refuse to allow poverty to be an excuse for poor performance.” Who could disagree with such uplifting “sounding” messages. You might think these guys are the champions of the poor based on these messages. John White has changed the State Department of Education website to reflect his positive sound message of “Louisiana Believes.” Who doesn’t want to simply “Believe” that belief alone is sufficient to overcome any obstacle? John White puts out SPS (School Performance Scores) that have point totals that go up or down, and “grades” A, B, C, D, F that we can all relate to. We instinctively know than an A is good, and we all want to get one, and an F is bad and none of us want those (although RSD, the state run Recovery School District designed to rescue students from poor performing schools, seems permanently mired in Ds and Fs.) Since RSD does so poorly, could it be that the folks running the RSD don’t “Believe” enough?

When Schools fail to achieve expected gains, without any additional support, John White closes them and declares them failures. He tells us all the teachers didn’t “Believe” in their students and their low expectations led to the low achievement of their students. Could things simply be as simple as that? That would be nice, and if this message and solution was working since we started undertaking this first under Superintendent Picard, then vastly accelerated under Superintendent Pastorek we should see patterns that divorce themselves from the generally accepted, tested and proven theory that poverty has an impact on performance. This does not mean poor people are stupid, or lazy (as some have told when I write on these topics) merely that the very poor lack many of the preparations and support wealthier folks have. Many of our children in Louisiana belong to families that are the working poor; families form one parent homes, families where both parents work multiple jobs. These are not lazy people, but people who often can’t enroll their kids in pre-k programs, take their kids to museums, or buy them all the age appropriate books and toys that would help prepare them for school. These are homes that parents may be working late and unable to help children with homework as often as they should, or at all. This does not make them bad parents, or the children unintelligent underachievers, but it does mean they need help to keep up with their better prepared and opportunitied peers.

When we have communities where poverty is the norm, not the exception, I “believe” performance suffers an add-on impact to lowering performance. Some people have accused me of being socialist for explaining that performance is closely tied to poverty, and not race. Some have suggested I am saying the government should take all the “wealth” from the wealthy and distribute it to the poor. (Technically that would probably make me a totalitarian communist type, but nevertheless, this is not what I am advocating, nor would it work.) If I gave you a test today and you have been poor your entire life, then gave you 50,000 dollars and had you take the test tomorrow, you would not do any better on the test (and possibly worse thinking about all the cool stuff you could spend those 50 gs on. I know I would.) The actual problem is rooted in income inequality over an extended period of time, but that is a complicated problem. This is the second smart sounding message that has been confused. Reformers tout that a good “education” is the first step toward eliminating poverty, so they believe they have to hold everyone “accountable”. . . but themselves. They want the hold the children responsible for getting better without resources, they want teachers to squeeze more performance out of their children as defined by what a standardized test can measure. What they don’t want to do is actually be responsible for addressing or identifying the real needs of children raised in poverty. Rather than focus on addressing the needs of the poor, they would rather tout the benefits of being rich and allow luck and perseverance be the sole determining factors for which kids escape poverty. That’s a pathetic cop-out. Children are not greyhounds, to be raced for our pleasure and rewarded only if they win the race. Children are not horses, some of which will win glory and some of which we be win only a future of Elmer’s fame.

certified 100% horse free (recipe now features poor students.)
certified 100% horse free (recipe now features poor students.)

Children are our responsibility and our future and we owe them more than “Louisiana Believes” slogans and “Accountabilty” for them and their teachers. We owe them a real hand-up, not a lecture about how they should do better, how their parents and teachers have failed them. We owe them a future. We own them resources, not virtual schools, which strip communities of resources, not “Recovery” schools like they are crack addicts in need of a detox or cure. We need to push them, not punish them by removing them from their communities and peers.

But before I go into what the data shows, let’s get back to some of the limitations of this data. First of all our poverty indicator is imprecise. Basically poverty as defined in Louisiana for the Department of Education is student who applied for Free and Reduced lunch or foodstamps. It is imprecise at a student by student level for the following reasons:

  • Not all families that qualify apply for aid
  • Poverty has cumulative impact, students well off most of their formative years and only have a year or two of insecurity may not be as impacted
  • Some students may have other mitigating factors such as a teacher in the home, or grandparents that can help students with homework

But when factored in as a general variable or characteristic of population you can tease out some correlations. Take for example this graph of Louisiana’s main school districts and their wealth index (a factor based on taking the inverse of poverty and multiplying it by 200 to put it on the same scale/ratio as SPS scores which also range up to 200 points.) (Click on the image for a better resolved picture, or refer to the excel insert further below.

This graph is sorted by SPS score, from highest to lowest. The SPS score is charted with the blue line. The Red bouncy line is the wealth index. I have built in two dotted trend lines which show how these two indicators are directly related to each other. Notice also how as wealth decreases (and concentration of poverty increases) SPS scores drop off precipitously. There appears to be an add-on impact to concentrating extreme poverty such as in the case of the RSD and St Helena Parishes. I would argue that parishes that show dramatic red lined dips below the green dotted trend line are actually doing much better for their students’, when factoring in the parish levels of poverty. Of course it’s important to understand that the analysis is only as good as the data we can get, and John White’s LDE (as I shall refer to Louisiana’s DOE until he leaves since his version is a corrupt dysfunctional mockery of the DOE I worked in) does not provide much in the way of data because they don’t want anyone to understand what is going on.

The solution is not to simply to pass out wads of cash to the parents of poor children. That would be like claiming to have cured someone of chicken pox by simply applying makeup to cover up the spots. What is important is that we recognize that poverty is a factor in how well students perform on tests which determines how well schools and districts are scored on SPS scores. Simply closing the low performing schools does not “fix” this problem; that is simply applying makeup to chicken pox. According to this chart some districts like Orleans, Jefferson, St Bernard, West Carroll and Winn are doing very well considering their poverty compositions (although Orleans may be benefitting from having much of their higher needs population in RSD schools.)

Notes: I would caution against using this chart to highlight districts such as Zachary or Cameron as outliers without much more research. I’ve been told that Zachary’s poverty numbers may be under reported and I’ve been told by SIS coordinators from Cameron Parish that people in this parish often refuse to claim food stamps to apply for free and reduced lunch, even though many more qualify for them. This may result in showing Cameron artificially more “wealthy” than it actually is based on available data. Another factor possibly impacting Cameron’s lower than expected scores based on their wealth index is that they were severely impacted by two major hurricanes in the past 7 years causing major displacement and massive loss of housing school days and facilities. It also appears that while extreme poverty seems to exert a nonlinear downward pressure on performance as measured by SPS scores, wealth ratings above 100, or 50% seem to have a diminishing impact on SPS scores in the upper range. This would seem to imply that carving wealthier districts from districts below wealth score or 100, (or a district with 50% free or reduced lunch) will have a disproportionate negative impact on the district left behind, the poorer the district left behind becomes, the more their test scores will be impacted. Conversely, while a wealthier district will post higher than average SPS scores, increasing the wealth of such a district over 50% or less than 50% free and reduced has a diminishing effect on increasing SPS scores.

So what does this mean?

The SPS score is an inherently poverty biased measure. Districts with high poverty concentrations don’t stand a chance as all of their students will tend to score lower without massive intervention the state is not currently providing. Louisiana’s Accountability system will catch-up to them and throw them kicking and screaming into RSD, the Recovery School District.

If RSD is such as great thing why are parents in the school districts with RSDs complaining so bitterly about them and refusing to send their students to these schools, except as a last resort?

School districts are learning that the best way to evade state takeover is to increase the wealth percentage in their district either by splitting off into smaller, wealthier districts, by attracting wealthier students, or by disguising their populations by merging school populations in shadow school arrangements. Giving students more and more tests, punishing their teachers when they don’t do any better on them, and closing their schools, is a horribly dysfunctional idea. It’s like taking the temperature of kids when they go to the doctor for treatment for a fever, the temperature tests confirm they have a fever, and instead of giving them medicine or instructions for treatment, the doctor/nurse just keeps taking their temperature again and again with different instruments, and perhaps sticking those instruments in more invasive places. When the children don’t get better the doctor then blames the parents for doing something wrong and in some cases notifies protective services to take the kids away from their parents. . . putting them a Recovery Housing System. Once these children end up in the “RHS” and all we do is take their temperature again and again, telling them will just better if they really try. Would it surprise if they do worse and some die/dropout? The Recovery School District is a Big Government misguided Big Brother infirmary that is slowly killing our children and our communities. By its very nature of divesting itself of community roots, oversight, and harmony it creates discord with our children and the community into which it is forcibly inserted (without any lube I might add.) It does nothing to ensure children are treated, simply tested and tested some more and when RSD ends up as the worst of the worst among SPS scores( as it has done), who takes RSD over, the RRSD?

What if all these resources we spent taking over school districts, firing teachers, and displacing children were used instead to improve the schools in which they already reside – dozens of these schools now lay shuttered and vacant statewide while the children are bussed to campuses clear across their communities. This is done to disguise how poorly we’ve served these children while we hope taking their temperature over and over and telling them to “get better” will finally work. What if instead of just testing children and holding them “accountable” we held ourselves accountable as a society and worked to improve their plight? All this testing and test prep is not helping our students catch up, and it may actually be bringing everyone else down as well. In Louisiana to disguise this fact John White has changed the “grading scale” and intends to change it yet again next year and every year we continue to employ him. John White will guarantee the scores go up, for what they’re worth, but our students will eventually tire teachers just taking their temperatures when they show up for school, and who could blame them?

Kill the RSD, and hand the schools back over to their communities where they belong. The RSD experiment we’ve forced on our children has failed, and miserably so. Instead of spending all that excess funding on bringing in out of state charters temporary teachers, train the teachers we have, provide funding for universal pre-kindergarten, afterschool programs, restore music and the arts and provide tutors and recruit mentors from the community for children. There are thousands of people just waiting to help, if the state will back off and return to a support role instead of the tyrant it has become under Paul Pastorek and John White. Teachers are trying, but they can’t tackle this task alone.

I suppose it comes down to whether you want a solution or simply someone to blame? Bobby Jindal just wants a talking point for his futile presidential aspirations; John White wants to help out-of-state vendors, so they can hook him up for a lifetime of perks and positions once he leaves Louisiana. If you are a citizen of this state, if you care about the students, the children, the teachers, your fellow citizens, out way of life and our future, then you need to kick these guys out and take back our schools. Kill the RSD and rescue our teachers and students before it’s too late.

It’s about time we held our failing leaders responsible. RSD has been in place for almost 7 years and has mostly all new students, and every year it is vying for worst district in the state with two to three times the resources. In my book that deserves an F- and the creators of it should be held accountable.

Low test scores are the symptom, not “the Disease”

Low test scores are the symptom, not “the Disease”

Recently my posting has started dropping off because of some nasty fatigue issues that seemed to come out of nowhere. (Hopefully you haven’t noticed the lull too much, as I have quite a few pieces I’m working on at any given time, and researching others.) Sometimes a recent event or flash of insight drives me to squeeze one out in the wee hours of the morning, so I assumed that was the cause of my fatigue issues – and other aches and pains. Things got a lot worse all of a sudden and I decided I needed to go the doc to have him check me out.

Apparently I looked like I felt. First my PCP and then the specialist he sent me too (and every nurse in between) commented immediately on how crappy I looked and how horrible I must feel.

Usually I only go to the doctor when I have a bad sinus infection or cold, or for the occasional physical (or lightning strike like this summer), so I was a little taken aback by these declarations. I didn’t feel great, but this was “my normal” these days so didn’t think of myself in the context of unhealthy. I was just my new normal, basically.

After checking me over the doctor shook his head and dryly asked me if I wanted to continue living. I replied that I hadn’t made any other plans, so thought I’d try sticking around for a while, you know, at least until something better came along. Unfazed by my reply he continued “well, if you want to stick around, you’re going to have to make some changes. For starters you’re going to have to lose 30 or 40 pounds, or anything else I give you in the meantime won’t mean much in the long-term.” I can tell just by looking at your throat and sinuses you have sleep apnea, made a lot worse by being overweight. That high blood pressure you have is probably because of the apnea and partly because you’re overweight. You’ve developed acid reflux, and I see from your chart you have high cholesterol and bad everything else because you are overweight. I can treat your symptoms, we can talk about giving you corrective surgery to fix your unusually long tongue that extends too far back into your throat (yeah, that was as weird hearing that as it sounds reading it) and your really badly deviated septum, but if you don’t fix that weight problem I’m just delaying the inevitable.

Since then I’ve been thinking about my appointment and diagnosis and how it would be a lot easier just to take another pill, when something occurred to me. How I was responding to the situation was exactly how we, as a society, always find it easier to understand and treat the symptoms, and sometimes make things worse.

For instance, I think it’s universally accepted we have a problem with gun related deaths and shootings, although no consensus on what to do about it.  In the process of talking about restricting rights and access to guns, gun advocates have actually loosened laws controlling guns, and gun and ammo sales have gone through the roof. We have a gun obsession/culture problem, mental health problems, and a segment of society that feels like government is the enemy and needs to be guarded against, no matter the cost. If we don’t change these root causes of our gun problem, its unlikely any laws or legislation will provide anything but a crude band-aid that may do more damage when it’s torn off than the wound it was designed to protect.

We also have a poverty problem and an income inequality problem. There is a strong correlation between test scores and poverty. This correlation crosses racial, ethnic, regional, and international lines. Low test scores are not the problem, they are the symptom. They are a predictor we can use to identify poverty, just like we can use blood sugar readings to identify folks with diabetes. We can give people drugs to control their blood sugar levels, but this does not cure the diabetes. There is a popular belief running through society and education circles right now, that if we can only raise test scores for impoverished students, we can ignore the poverty. There is a belief that by treating the test scores “symptom,” we will erase the disease of endemic poverty.

Just like being overweight causes all sorts of “symptoms” and ancillary diseases and can be treated with any number of medications and surgeries, the stark reality is that if you don’t treat the underlying problem, the obesity, you are just masking the symptom, not treating the disease. The over reliance on testing and test scores, and the all-consuming drive to raise them is our society’s latest and greatest “miracle pill,” and quite likely a cure that will prove to be much worse than the symptom or even the disease. Test score preachers will have you believe that if we can only fix two things in a child’s, their reading score and math score, the rest of their life will be smooth sailing, problem solved.

In the Atlanta testing scandal (and in the upcoming DC Michele Rhee scandal), teachers and administrators simply changed the scale to distort the readings, by erasing wrong test answers and putting correct ones. In that case nothing happened but altering the test results, yet these “successes” we lauded as proof that test scores could be raised and outcomes dramatically changed. These successes were then touted and exported to other educational markets. Michele Rhee has made a career of touting the importance of falsely raising test scores without ever proving a correlation between her “remedy” and a lasting cure. Now we find many of these miracle cures were nothing more than snake oil, masking the symptoms of the larger poverty disease which still burns and eats away at the core of our society and our children. While now the focus is on the cheating that took place, and punishing those responsible, still we ignore the question of whether raising a test score is a cure in the first place!

It sure would be nice if I could just get a positive airflow machine (ok not really, who wants to wear a mask all night?), fix my sleep apnea and that would be the end of the story. I take plenty of pills that lower all my symptoms (at first it was just one or two but now I’m close to 8 or so) but none of them fix my weight problem. The longer I wait to address my underlying problem, the more pills I will have to take. Eventually I won’t be able to take them anymore. Now you may say, everyone dies. And while that’s true, that doesn’t mean we all have to die tomorrow or be miserable up until the day we finally do kick the bucket.

Raising math and reading test scores is just treating a few very meager symptoms of a very complex problem. A higher test score doesn’t get a poor child to a doctor when they have a medical necessity and need treatment for a real disease.  5 more points on a reading score doesn’t fill a hungry belly, or one subsisting on unhealthy nutritionless sugar-based calories – because they are cheaper and accessible. A slightly higher math score might make a tight-wad billionaire or three feel better about their education agenda, but it doesn’t watch a child in the evenings and make sure they stay out of trouble – while mommy and daddy work two jobs just to put even empty calories on the table. Eliminating music and art teachers from schools to replace them with computers that ceaselessly test and drill your children in exercises might just raise their test scores a little, but that computer doesn’t “get” Picasso and Mozart and it does nothing to feed their souls, or expand their horizons or imaginations.

Raising test scores might make Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch feel good, but have no illusions about curing the disease of poverty. Actual cures take more resources, more commitment, more money; a more holistic approach, not an absurdly limited one.

Would you believe anyone who tells you that you can eat as much as you want, never exercise, eat only the unhealthiest foods and take 2 little miracle pills and you will live a long and prosperous life? Do you really believe we can ignore all of the challenges poverty brings to children and families, and believe just raising their test scores a few points on a standardized test will make everything ok?

Do you believe that, or is it just easier to believe that. . . and to keep pretending that we don’t have a real problem?

Problem solved!
Problem solved!

Doe shares too much


Very nice, Tom. My favorite part is that Rupert Murdoch’s folks are “White’s” family and he feels so comfortable with them that he calls a senior VP in his education corporation, “dude.”

Originally posted on Louisiana Voice:

Copies of emails released to LouisianaVoice by the Department of Education (DOE) under threat of litigation reveal an agency over which there is little or no oversight, where escalating costs of expensive programs appear to be of no concern to administrators and a department that appears to be flailing about in search of some direction.

The electronic communications also unveil a cozy relationship between DOE, Rupert Murdoch and his company, News Corp., which apparently will be provided personal information on Louisiana public school students for use by a company affiliated with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

News Corp. is the parent company of Fox News Network. In 2011, News Corp. was implicated in a major phone hacking scandal in which private telephone records were compromised.

Despite the relationship with a national news organization, the emails also reveal a decision by DOE and Dave “Lefty” Lefkowith, director of the Office…

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