LDOE: Continuous Flow of White Lies

Here we are, December 18th, on the eve of a much needed holiday break for most of the school districts in Louisiana. For many districts, this also marks the mid-point of the academic year. The mid-point of the academic year is not the optimum time to receive school report cards from state assessments, but…you guessed it. That is exactly what has happened. Yesterday, Supt. John White released the school report cards for the Spring 2015 tests.

Some of you may remember that early in the year, there was a spirited discussion at a monthly BESE meeting about the growing “opt-out” movement, and how the scores would be handled. Of particular interest were the Central Community and Calcasieu Parish school districts because these two districts had been identified as having high opt-out numbers. In attendance to express his concerns was Central Community Schools Supt., Michael Faulk. Calcasieu Parish Supt., Karl Bruchhaus, did not attend, although he voiced his concern via an email read by a representative of the Louisiana School Superintendents Association.

Supt. White repeatedly stated that he had no intention of penalizing any student, school or district for opt-outs, and he was not prepared to decide on a policy until testing was completed, and the total number of opt-outs was known.

When all was said and done, LDOE began proudly announcing that more than 99% of the students in the state participated in PARCC testing, and it was arbitrarily determined that schools that had more than 10% of their students opt-out would received the same report card and grade they received the previous year. We decided to take a look at how that worked out.

Since Central Community and Calcasieu Parish were singled out, we examined the school reports from their districts. Central Community School District on consists of 5 schools. All of the schools are A or B schools. Only one of the schools had more than 10% opt-outs. That school was an A school the previous year. Ding dong! Central Community School District maintained its A status from the previous year. Let’s look at Calcasieu Parish.

The parish’s overall report card grade dropped from a B to a C. Once we explain, we think you will agree with our conclusion. The following twelve elementary schools had greater than 10% opt-outs and received the same grade as the previous year.

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While parents, students and teachers have been lead to believe that “high stakes” testing is mandatory, it isn’t. Individuals are not required to test. Schools systems; however, are required to administer the test system-wide and account for every student. If a student isn’t tested, they have to explain why. Large scale “opting-out” was new to not only every district in Louisiana, but also, every state in the nation. Administrators of schools basically had three ways to respond to opt-outs 1.) Punitive consequences for opting-out. 2.) Remain neutral 3.) Encourage opt-outs. We won’t identify how the schools listed above responded, but only options 1 and 2 are represented. The administrators who resisted opt-outs and asserted punitive actions wasted their energies. Their communities were opting-out, regardless. Those who remained neutral got lucky, and had enough opt-outs to keep their previous year’s grade. We feel strongly that it would have benefited each and every administrator in the district to “encourage” opt-outs. Here is why.

Take a look at the scores of the schools listed, above. Out of twelve schools; one F and two Cs. The rest are A and B. Although the actual scoring of schools is much more complex, when these school scores are averaged, it comes to 2.83; a low B. It is safe to say that these twelve schools did not bring down the district score from a B to a C. It was the schools that had only a small number of opt-outs that caused the district score to drop. These schools had the opt-outs figured into their scores; many of which dropped a letter grade. The conclusion? John White, in fact, lied again. The policy WAS punitive. It punished the schools that didn’t have enough opt-outs.

The 2016 testing season is closing in on us, quickly. Already, there is a plan in motion to double the number of opt-outs across the State. Our recommendation? Administrators, join the movement. Encourage your students to opt-out.