Thursday, April 18, 2013

LEAP sample questions blind side teachers, raise questions

Teachers are starting to get a glimpse of what awaits when the state transitions to common core standardized tests, and they don't like what they see.

 Educators felt blind sided when LEAP tests administered last week included essay questions being piloted for new exams, according to this story by WBRZ-TV reporter Chris Nakamoto.

As LFT President Steve Monaghan told the reporter (see video below) something is horribly wrong with a system that imposes these high-stakes tests on public school students, but pays for vouchers in schools that don't evaluate teachers based on test scores or grade the schools according to the test results.

Bigger shocks are in store. Most students will be required to take PARCC exams on computers. That will raise several problems.

Part of the state has no access to broad-band Internet, thanks to Gov. Jindal's refusal to accept federal funding to expand braodband service in Northeast Louisiana.That will make it difficult for students to log on to the test.

What's more, most schools rely on laptops for students, but those do not hold a charge long enough for the estimated three hours it will take to complete the test. Will extension cords and power strips be adequate?

Then there is the issue of preparing students to take a complete test - including all of their computations, because scratch paper won't be allowed - on the computer. Will the newness of the process alone result in a decline in scores?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Florida teachers file suit against flawed evaluation system

Louisiana is not the only state dealing with a governor determined to bring down public education. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott has implemented an education "reform" plan very similar to Louisiana's. And like here, there is now a lawsuit underway to undo the damage.

Unlike Louisiana, Florida's two largest teacher unions, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association, have merged into one powerful organization.

Seven accomplished Florida teachers have joined with their unions in a federal lawsuit charging that the state's new evaluation system—which is based on the standardized test scores of students or subjects they do not teach—violates their due process and equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment.

The teachers, who work in Alachua, Hernando and Escambia counties' public schools, brought suit in federal court against the Florida commissioner of education, the State Board of Education and the school boards of those three counties. The school systems have implemented high-stakes evaluations tied to the state's standardized student assessment, known as FCAT, in order to comply with SB 736.

 Under the law, teachers who are rated unsatisfactory for two consecutive years (or two out of three years in a row) are subject to termination or nonrenewal. Transfers, promotions and layoffs are based on the assigned performance rating. And, as of July 1, 2014, salaries will be based on the assigned performance rating as well.

"This lawsuit highlights the absurdity of the evaluation system that has come about as a result of SB 736," says Andy Ford, an AFT vice president and president of the Florida Education Association, an affiliate of the AFT and the NEA. The FEA and the NEA jointly filed the federal lawsuit this month. "Teachers in Florida are being evaluated using a formula designed to measure learning gains in the FCAT math and reading tests. But most teachers, including the seven in this lawsuit, don't teach those subjects in the grades the test is administered. One of the teachers bringing this suit is getting evaluated on the test scores of students who aren't even in her school."

SB 736, the Tampa Bay Times recently observed, has succeeded only in undermining public confidence in public schools. "The law anticipated using student performance on end-of-course subject exams to inform 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation. Such exams don't yet exist for the vast majority of classes students take," the paper said. "But rather than delay implementation until such measurement tools could be designed, the Legislature said school districts could substitute results from the FCAT, even for the teachers—be it art, Spanish or kindergarten—whose classes are never part of FCAT testing."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Report shows need to move away from test fixation

A new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is yet another lesson from overseas demonstrating the need for a course correction in the United States—away from our obsession with a punitive accountability approach that uses high-stakes standardized tests as its centerpiece and towards a more supportive accountability approach that continuously improves teacher performance and student learning, AFT president Randi Weingarten says.

The report, Synergies for Better Learning: An International Perspective on Evaluation and Assessment, urges a balanced and holistic approach to evaluation, assessment and teacher improvement so that the overall emphasis is on efforts to help, not punish, teachers and to give students a great education. It recommends that teacher evaluations feed into professional development, ensure that underperformance is identified and adequately addressed, and ensure input from teachers and other stakeholders.

"It should give pause to those U.S. education leaders and so-called reformers who are fixated on high-stakes tests to the virtual exclusion of using multiple measures to inform instruction and improve teacher quality," Weingarten says.

"The report's recommendations echo what Vicki Phillips (of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) and I said in a column in the April 11 New Republic. A high-quality teacher development and evaluation system requires elements that are designed to improve teacher practice and student learning, including matching high expectations with high levels of support, using evidence of teaching and student learning from multiple sources, providing constructive feedback to teachers, and aligning teacher development and evaluation to the Common Core State Standards."

Economists: Don't eliminate the state income tax

The Louisiana Budget Project - partner with LFT in Better Choices for a Better Louisiana - today cited a editorial in which economists from three universities say it would be a mistake to eliminate Louisiana's income tax:

Economists from LSU, UNO and Tulane say eliminating the state's income tax "is simply not good public policy. It is irresponsible." Co-authoring a editorial, Jim Richardson of LSU, Tim Ryan of UNO and Steven Sheffrin questioned the financial and economic wisdom of Gov. Jindal's claim that the state should eliminate the personal income tax irrespective of revenue offsets or expenditure cuts. The economists noted cutting the income tax likely won't create new jobs or improve Louisiana's business climate rankings in a meaningful way. They said the state's tax burden is already the second lowest in the nation, and any future attempts to raise revenues for public services would fall on businesses. The economists concluded by reminding readers Louisiana is currently in a structural deficit - where expenditures are greater than receipts - and eliminating income taxes, which supports almost 25 percent of the state budget, will make that deficit worse.

Louisiana's current budget deficit is $1.3 billion, and Jindal's attempt to close the gap by cutting budgets for public services drew a second day of public outcry during the House Appropriations Committee meeting on Wednesday. Among other concerns, lawmakers received warnings that budget cuts could cause rural hospitals, domestic violence shelters and food banks to close. Even the Louisiana Nursing Home Association criticized the governor's proposal, saying it would take $183 million out of a trust fund established to help pay nursing homes to care for Medicaid patients

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Enough is Enough: Rally at the capitol on April 30!

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers is joining with a large coalition of organizations to rally at the state capitol on April 30 in opposition to the Jindal administration’s policies.

This true grass-roots movement began in central Louisiana last month, when more than 500 people held a candle light vigil to protest the closing of Huey P. Long Hospital in Pineville. Rallies have sprung up across the state since then.

As the movement grew, so did its objectives and interests. The movement now represents broad-based discontent with the direction the state has taken. It has become a coalition interested in preserving what our forefathers knew as the common good – a belief that a decent society educates its young, protects its weak, heals its sick and provides a dignified retirement for those who spent their lives in service to the people. In recent years, all these have become victims of the Jindal administration.

Organizations that have committed to work on and participate in this event include the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the Louisiana Association of Educators, the Louisiana Association of Retired State Employees, the East Baton Rouge NAACP, AFSCME, several Central Trades and Labor Councils, Earl K. Long Medical Center employees, Equality Louisiana, Louisiana Movement, the East Baton Rouge Democratic Executive Committee, and the list continues to grow every day.

A Web site for the event is under construction, and literature is being developed to promote the event.

LFT president rails against DOE’s $128 million administrative budget

As the House Appropriations Committee began its study of the state’s $24.7 billion general fund budget on Tuesday, LFT President Steve Monaghan asked members to closely monitor the Department of Educaiton’s $128 million administrative budget.

Monaghan, the only representative of a teacher organization to address the committee, said that many aspects of the department’s budget are problematic. As an example, he cited a “lack of transparency” in the way the department hires highly paid administrators.

“Once upon a time we at least know who was being hired to do what,” Monaghan said. “Now it seems that we discover those things without any rhyme or reason.”

Monaghan noted that funding for public schools through the Minimum Foundation Program has been frozen for the past five years, even as the department brought in minimally qualified administrators at high salaries.

“The department’s priorities seem to be more ideological than instructional,” he said.

Monaghan’s complaint echoed published reports that top hires at the department are being brought in to sell the administration’s privatization and voucher plans at the expense of traditional public schools.

“There was a time when research drove decisions,” Monaghan told the committee. “It doesn’t seem that research is driving decisions now.”

“I bring a message from the classroom that conditions are getting much worse,” Monaghan told lawmakers. “Please be watchdogs and help us with this fight.”

To view Monaghan's testimony, please click here. His testimony begins at about the 2:17:52 mark.