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Education Theater

Another season of educational theater…

It’s that time of the year again, when all sides don their masks to begin the annual educational theater season, where we all pretend we know where the school performance scores come from and what they mean about the quality of our public education system.

 

You can feel the tension in the air every November as the entire community waits for the LDOE to roll out its next season of intrigue. We sit in or around schools eagerly waiting for this year’s lineup to drop. When the curtain opens on The Lens we all, on cue, feign surprise, disappointment, resignation or celebration depending on the role we choose to play and how we interpret the lines. 

But seriously, at OPEN we are tired of the bad acting.

 

There’s already been so much effort to present a clear(er) story about the state accountability metrics and what they tell us about actual student achievement across Louisiana and particularly in New Orleans. Extensive research, records requests, analyses and reporting already exists, and so we won’t spend time on it here (but you can here, here, here, here, here, and here). Instead here is a simple list of what has been found, coupled with what we already know and saw:

  •  A former BESE board member called the whole accountability system a “lie” not too long ago.
  • The state test has changed (LEAP, then iLEAP, then LAPARCC and back to LEAP).
  • The state standards have changed from Louisiana Content Standards to Common Core to LA State Student Standards (that are still mostly Common Core).
  • The formulas to calculate the school performance scores have changed.
  • Schools had been graded on a curve on changing tests – and that curve kept changing. Apparently, it’s now gone.
  • The goalposts keep changing (i.e. “basic” then “mastery” as meaning “proficient,” and now a focus on “growth” instead of “absolute” achievement. And while we can agree that growth is a more valuable and just metric of school quality, the fact remains that yet again we are looking at something new).
  • In between this, all 12th graders became required to take the ACT (whose team also helped develop the Common Core standards).

 

Now, accountability is mostly determined through annual student performance and achievement over time — both measured mainly by standardized test scores. Well, the absolute measurements have been largely unimpressive. And achievement over time has been hard to understand because of all the changes mentioned above.

 

It would be difficult for anyone to keep track of all the changes to the scoring metrics every year and understand them enough to truly grasp student performance trends. Even the articles explaining all of these changes still require re-reading, analysis, and review of old Statistics class notes to understand how the numbers we see every November came to be. Having to depend on statistical analyses, research institutions, and Ph.D. analysts to tell us anything means that the system is incomprehensible to the average citizen. And we should all be leery about accepting information that we can’t verify on our own as fact.

 

And at that cue, I expect some folks to enter stage left with charts and graphs that “show” us the percentage weights of the different factors that make up a school’s score and letter grade. In the chorus, I expect to hear something about phasing in more rigorous standards and testing over time. And these props and songs are entertaining… until I read something like this:

 

“This year, Kennedy got an A for graduation rate. Its assessment score breakdown is a C for progress and an F for test scores. Its strength of diploma grade is a B. On ACT scores, it earned an F.” – The Lens

 

So A + C + F + B + F = what, exactly?

The school is dispensing a lot of diplomas, but on all standardized assessments (which are aligned to the state [Common Core] standards), the scores are low.

So who’s right here? Louisiana’s standards, New Beginnings standards, or the testing companies’ standards (which are 80% of the Louisiana state standards)? What does any of this really mean to the young adults who graduated from that school last year? Or to the graduating students traumatized by the grade scandal this year? 

According to the formula, Kennedy is a “C.” (Which also means that were it not for a whistleblower, this school would have continued to operate and “graduate” students, further calling into question the reliability of any of these metrics) 

 

For most of us, this isn’t a play and it’s definitely not a game. Real parents, real community members, and real students want to know what is going on in these schools and what this means for everyone.  Most importantly, though, parents want to know where their son with special needs will thrive, or if their daughter is reading on grade level. High school students want assurances that their diploma will be real when they get it and that if they decide to go to college they will be ready. 

In the meantime, you can view the scores here and come to your own conclusions about what they mean. We should all be tired of this anti-climatic plot where no matter what score calculation system or test is used, the end results are the same. (If you can’t already call the distribution of letter grades with 90% accuracy before clicking that link, you haven’t been paying attention). 

For us, we’re concerned about the children in the 36 schools rated either “D” or “F,” or at any of the 56 schools in New Orleans identified as needing intervention in serving student subgroups. Lower-rated schools face more disruption than higher-rated schools. Racial-, wealth- and ability-based inequities impact student experiences and outcomes at a far higher rate than they should in any just system. Information about where these schools struggle and what they need is necessary and welcome.

No matter how the test is changed or the numbers sliced, these scores simply don’t tell us what we need to know — so we’re done with pretending like they do. At best, the consistency in how these grades shake out tell us where the struggles are, and act as a guide for an investment of our energy and resources to children in these schools. Ultimately our children need us to stop participating in this charade and actually create a system that is good for them.

In the wise words of New Orleans native Brian “Baby” Williams, I ask when it comes to this theater: are we done or are we finished?  

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