Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The truth about the Bush/Jindal voucher agenda

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal joined Florida Governor Jeb Bush in Washington today to push their failed voucher agenda and rail against a Justice Department lawsuit aimed at requiring the state to follow existing desegregation agreements.

Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder filed suit against the state for failing to properly clear its voucher scheme with federal courts that hold sway over the decades-old cases. The filing is expected to be heard this month by Federal District Judge Ivan Lemelle, who had ruled earlier this year that the voucher scheme violates a 38-year old desegregation agreement in Tangipahoa Parish.

“This case is actually very simple, despite efforts and talking points that paint it as an assault on poor children,” said Louisiana Federation of Teaches President Steve Monaghan. “The Louisiana Department of Education had an obligation to address specific questions presented by the U.S. Justice Department because it could have an impact on desegregation agreements in a number of Louisiana school districts. The state failed to provide the information to the Justice Department, leaving the Justice Department with no alternative but to file amendments to the existing lawsuit.”

Monaghan said the adoption of the voucher scheme and the subsequent refusal to provide requested information has been a constant that has led to an unprecedented number of lawsuits.

“Constitution and law have been consistently treated as mere suggestions. Then, vilification of those who dare to challenge, followed by outrage when the court sends a strong rebuke has been the pattern,” Monaghan said. “The only difference is this time is the act has been taken to the national stage.”

Separating fact from fiction

Bush and Jindal say they are standing up for choice and their agenda is masked in rhetoric of supporting children. But the facts are clear-- choice and vouchers don’t improve student achievement, are often discriminatory, and deny children a high-quality learning experience that ensures they have the critical thinking and problem solving skills they need to succeed.

With schools more segregated now than 40 years ago, the Department of Justice must continue to serve as a watchdog to ensure all children are treated equally.
Louisiana’s voucher scheme does not help children
A recent release of state testing results revealed the Louisiana students attending private schools through Governor Jindal’s school voucher program perform a whopping 30 points below average. Only 40% of these students leave the year performing at or above grade level.

Voucher schools avoid public oversight and accountability

In a recent Louisiana state audit, the New Living Word School failed because it was not accounting for its funds properly and was removed from the voucher program.

State Superintendent John White touted this as an example of appropriate accountability and oversight, also claiming that 51 of 52 schools passed the audit. However, New Living Word School was the only school of the 52 that could be audited because the bookkeeping at the other schools made them unauditable.

Only 7 of 115 schools participating in the program in 2012-1013 indicated in their annual reports that they had special education classes.

Louisiana schools with children enrolled through the voucher program are using materials from Bob Jones University Press and ABeka Book. These publishers are not on the state-approved textbook list. They teach that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time and that KKK fights the “decline in morality” and push anti-science and creationist teachings.

At one voucher school in Louisiana, pregnant students are expelled.

Vouchers Do Not Increase Student Achievement

A September 2002 General Accounting Office report that reviewed 78 privately funded school voucher programs that used family income as their only eligibility criteria and permitted families to use their award at nearly any private school concluded, “there is no significant difference in achievement gains between voucher users and nonusers.”

Milwaukee vouchers: A February 2013 report found that the Milwaukee public school students outperform voucher students.

Fifty-seven percent of voucher school students scored proficient or higher in reading, compared to 60 percent of Milwaukee Public School students who reached proficiency in reading. Forty-one percent of the students in voucher schools reached proficiency in math on the test, while 50 percent of their Milwaukee Public School counterparts reached proficiency.

District of Columbia vouchers: After studying the program since its beginning and collecting data from 2004 to 2009, University of Arkansas researcher Patrick J. Wolf and his team found that “There is no conclusive evidence that the [voucher program] affected student achievement.”

Cleveland vouchers: A 2007 study found no differences for voucher students in five out of six subjects.

Voucher Schools Lack Accountability

Voucher schools don’t have to disclose their budgets to parents, taxpayers, or state authorities, enabling fraud and financial mismanagement.

Vouchers Do Not Increase “Choice” For the Vast Majority of Students and Are Often Discriminatory

In jurisdictions where voucher programs exist, private school operators decide how many, if any, voucher students they will admit. They also decide who to admit.

According to a U.S. Department of Education (“USDE”) survey of urban private schools, up to 85 percent of schools would “definitely or probably not” want to participate in a voucher program if they were required to accept “students with special needs, such as learning disabilities, limited English proficiency or low achievement.”

Only 1.5 percent of vouchers are in special education in the Milwaukee program, compared to 19 percent of the students enrolled in public schools.

In the District of Columbia, 21.6 percent of those families who reject vouchers did so because the private school options lacked the special needs services that their children needed. Significantly, 12.3% of students who accepted vouchers but then withdrew, cited a lack of special needs services as the reason for leaving.

Only one-third of voucher schools accepted students with severe disabilities in the Cleveland vouchers program.

As the New York Times has reported, some Georgia schools funded through tuition tax credits ban LGBT students, students suspected of being LGBT or even students who support LGBT people.

Americans Overwhelmingly Oppose Vouchers.

According to a poll conducted by Gallup and PDK, 70 percent of Americans oppose private school vouchers — the highest level of opposition to vouchers ever recorded in this survey.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Can Louisiana's teacher evaluations be trusted?

In Louisiana’s topsy-turvy world of teacher evaluations, over half of the teachers in one of the state’s highest-rated schools are on a fast track to dismissal. In this article, teacher/researcher Herb Bassett raises interesting questions about the process.

by Herb Bassett
State Superintendent John White showed his true colors when he recently praised four FirstLine charter schools that "fell in the top 10 percent of Louisiana schools in terms of improving test scores, yet ranked fewer than 10 percent of their teachers highly effective.

'Amazing results,' he wrote."

He did not mention that one of the four schools, while ranked in the 99th percentile of improvement, declared 68 percent of its teachers Ineffective. Most of its teachers are now on a fast track to dismissal.

In each of the other three schools, at least 69 percent of their Value-added Assessment Model (VAM) teachers ranked Highly Effective, but none received an observation rating of Highly Effective. Not one.

If the VAM computer model ranked so many teachers Highly Effective, why could the principals not find at least one example of Highly Effective teaching in an observation?

These results clearly do not reflect student achievement or teacher quality. They deserve condemnation, not praise.

What does this bode for teachers and students on the coming Common Core assessments? White has predicted that due to the "rigor" of the new standards, achievement scores will go down.

As strange as it seems, teachers will not see lower ratings under VAM - even with the dramatic drop predicted for student scores. The VAM computer model simply ranks the teachers from highest to lowest. No matter whether the scores rise or drop dramatically, there will always be a bottom ten percent ranked Ineffective and a top twenty percent ranked Highly Effective. These quotas were set by the Louisiana Department of Education. Yes, the Department arbitrarily decided that ten percent of teachers are Ineffective and twenty percent should be Highly Effective.

Then why does the Compass Report show that only four percent of all teachers are Ineffective?

The computer model does not rank all teachers. The majority of teachers are not subject to the quotas. The purpose of the Compass Report was to show the discrepancy, and to coerce evaluators of the non-VAM teachers into matching the VAM system quotas.

White, however, seems to relish the thought of evaluations that cut short the quota for Highly Effective teachers.

Superintendent White now controls the cut-off scores for the achievement levels on the new assessments. Having seen him praise unjustifiably low teacher evaluations, should parents trust him to decide whether their children pass or fail the new assessments?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Educators slam flaws in Value Added Model

Editor's note: The letter below was sent from the administration and faculty of  the W.W. Lewis Middle School in Calcasieu Parish to members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and officials in the Department of Education:

This is being sent with endorsement from Wayne Savoy, Superintendent of Education for Calcasieu Parish Schools. 

Attention BESE Board and LADOE Officials:

     We wish to address three major concerns that could have a negative effect on VAM scores for many 8th grade teachers as well as student scores across the state.  The first issue effects 8th grade teachers and the other two affect all teachers. 

     The first concern is with the construction of 8th grade LEAP tests and how the current test affects teachers’ VAM scores.       
In middle school, Sciences and Social Studies are taught in the following grades:
                        Science                      Social Studies
        6th grade    Physical Science          World History
7th grade    Life Science                        American History
8th grade    Earth Science             Louisiana History

6th and 7th grade students take an iLEAP test that covers only the material they were taught during that school year.  However, in 8th grade the students take a test that is comprehensive for all three middle school years.  The Science LEAP test covers not only the Earth Science that 8th grade students were taught, but Physical and Life Sciences from 6th and 7th grades as well.  We understand the need for a comprehensive exam, but to have one teacher’s VAM score tied to what other teachers have or have not taught makes the score invalid. 
     The Social Studies LEAP covers not only the Louisiana History that 8th grade students were taught, but also World and American History from 6th and 7th grade.  On the LEAP test, students are then required to remember or reproduce information that they were taught 1-2 years earlier.  8th grade teachers have so much material to cover from their own curriculum that they cannot possibly address 6th and 7th grade GLEs as well, yet the students are tested on that material. 

8th grade Social Studies LEAP test:
Strands/ Categories


% of


  A. The World in Spatial Terms

  B. Places and Regions



  C. Physical and Human Systems

  D. Environment and Society


  A. Structure and Purposes of Government

  B. Foundations of the American Political System


  C. International Relationships

  D. Roles of the Citizen


  A. Fundamental Economic Concepts

  B. Individuals, Households, Businesses


      and Governments

  C. The Economy as a Whole


  A. Historical Thinking Skills

  B. United States History



  C. World History

  D. Louisiana History




A large percentage of this test comes from material the students were to have learned in grades 6-7, so the 8th grade teacher gets a VAM score based on what two other teachers have done or not done in grades 6-7.  The VAM score is therefore invalid.  

     For Social Studies, even though much of the material for all three grades comes from the same strand and/or benchmark, the teaching would be specific for the area of history being studied.  For example; all three grade levels teach Foundations of the American Political System from the Civics strand.  However, it is from three different perspectives- World, American, and Louisiana.  While this is a key concept and must be explored by students from all three perspectives and in all three grade levels, an 8th grade teacher whose focus is on Louisiana should not be held accountable for the same concept from a World view point that was taught two years earlier.

8th grade Science LEAP test:



(1 point)
(2 points)
(4 points)

1. Science as Inquiry

2. Physical Science

3. Life Science

4. Earth and Space Science

5. Science and the Environment


Comprehensive Science Task

1. Science as Inquiry


   Dimension 1 (Questioning,

   Planning, Doing and


1. Science as Inquiry


   Dimension 2 (Interpreting and Communicating)

2. Physical Science


3. Life Science

(in each of
4. Earth and Space Science

the four

5. Science and the Environment


Total Score Points

The LEAP test is approximately 24% Physical science (taught in 6th grade), 17% Earth Science (taught in 8th grade), 17% Life Science (taught in 7th grade), 17% Environmental Science (taught in all grades) and 24% Inquiry.  This shows that at least 41% of the 8th grade test is based on 6th and 7th grade material.  The 6th and 7th grade tests do not include Science task questions in which students are required to set up graphs and draw conclusions based on a given scenario.  This could be an issue if the information needed to complete the task came from another grade level’s material.  Neither of these graphs reflects the fact that a constructive response item could come from another grade level’s material.  

     It is difficult enough to expect an 8th grade student to write on a topic that he or she was taught 2 years earlier, and invalid to have the score reflect on an 8th grade teacher.  The student has already taken an iLEAP test on that material.  Shouldn’t that test be enough to determine Proficiency without it reflecting on an 8th grade teacher?   

     The 8th grade math and ELA LEAP tests are set up in a similar manner (as comprehensive middle school exams) but the results are not as potentially harmful to the teacher.  Both of those subjects have concepts that are built upon, unlike Science and Social Studies who have so many isolated GLEs.  The problem then is if 6-7th grade teachers have not been successful in teaching the concepts, the 8th grade teacher’s VAM score suffers and is therefore invalid.    

     In schools with a high student turnover rate, an 8th grade teacher’s score could be affected by students who studied 6th or 7th grade Science or SS at another school, multiple schools, or even in another state.  

     Shouldn’t a teacher’s VAM score be based solely on what that teacher has done with a student?  How can the state rate a teacher “Ineffective” based on another teacher’s effectiveness in teaching 1-2 years earlier?

     One possible solution would be to break a student’s 8th grade score into two categories- one for a comprehensive Science and Social Studies score and one score which reflects only what a student scored on material from his or her 8th grade subject.  By doing this, the teacher’s VAM score could be a valid representation of only what that 8th grade teacher was responsible for teaching.   

     Our second concern is in the form of a question.  Our current understanding is that a student’s test score history for several years is used to predict an iLEAP or LEAP score for that student.  Following this premise, if a student scored Unsat for 2-3 years in a subject, then his predicted score would be Unsat as well.  Our question is- If the student does score Unsat, as predicted, would that score still count against the teacher because he was not Proficient even though Unsat is the predicted score?  If so, how is that valid for a teacher’s VAM score?   

     Part A of our third concern is about the attendance factor for SLTs.  We were told to use 80% attendance as the factor by which we would determine which students would and would not be included in our SLT.  No one questioned that, and we just added it to our SLTs as directed.  Recently we realized what 80% attendance really means.
  • 80% attendance is a student missing school one day a week, every week
  • Could a teacher be effective if a student missed one day a week?
  • Think about the repercussions on student learning if teachers missed one day a week every week
  • 80% means a student could miss 36 days of school a year and still count towards their SLT
  • 10 absences a year is the maximum- by the state's own standard
  • 80% attendance means we have basically not excluded anyone from our SLT count
  • 80% means we are still accountable for those who do not value education enough to attend school

Even if we increase the attendance factor to 90%, a student could potentially miss 18 days a year and still count against a teacher’s SLT and VAM score.  We do not believe students who miss 18-36 days a year can grasp the numerous concepts taught in six or more subjects.

Looking at it from this perspective, if teachers verify their CVR roster from 1 Oct until testing, that is about 175 actual school days minus about 30 days from the start of school until 1 Oct and about 20 days after testing.  That leaves roughly a 125 day window.  Using 125 days, 80% attendance still means a student could be absent 25 days and count against a teacher on their SLT.  Increasing the attendance rate to 90% and using the CVR window means a student could be absent 12.5 days.  This seems a little more realistic for SLTs and VAM scores, although still above the state’s maximum 10 day absentee policy.  
     Part B of the third concern is that we have been told that an alternate formula will be used to calculate predicted test scores for students with attendance problems.  This leads us to believe that the same 80% attendance variable will be used by the state for VAM teachers to determine which students’ scores are calculated with which formula.  The numbers in the above paragraphs prove that 80% attendance is not a valid number.  It removes few if any students from the equation used to determine teacher effectiveness in VAM scores or SLTs. 

     We respectfully request that the BESE Board and State Department of Education work to resolve these issues as soon as possible.  No one would want teachers to be rated ineffective because of invalid data.  With tenure and possible teacher compensation relying on teacher effectiveness and test scores, the consequences could be devastating to careers and school systems.