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BESE okays controversial test scoring

With elections looming and several members facing tough re-election fights, the last thing that members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education wanted was a contentious issue in this week’s meeting.

That was exactly what they got, even as the board squeezed two days of meetings into one so that members could get back to the campaign trail.

A long-simmering issue involving PARCC tests, cut scores and trust in the administration of Superintendent John White came to a head when the board endorsed a plan to allow the comparison of Common Core test results with 10 states and the District of Columbia.

The stakes were very high. The board was asked to approve Superintendent White’s conversion tables, used to produce scale scores based on the raw results from tests taken last spring. That might sound dry, but it guides the way millions of public dollars are spent on charter school renewals and vouchers. It also sets school and district letter grades and performance scores, and tells principals how to set evaluation targets.

Critics of the administration pointed to numerous flaws in the tests as well as the scoring methodology. Blogger Mike Deshotels, who had to threaten a lawsuit to get access to the raw scores, said, “These tests are not useful or valid. The standards are poorly designed and are being abandoned by other states.”

Deshotels’ analysis of the test results can be seen here.

Teacher/researcher Mercedes Schneider reported that she found a “profound measurement error” in the score-to-scale conversions provided by the Department of Education. Her analysis can be seen here.

Another witness pointed out that the tests are supposed to be aligned to a curriculum, but that the state failed to provide curricula to the districts, leaving them on their own to find teaching materials, often just a few days before the start of school.

of these problems prompted District 3 Member Lottie Beebe to ask for a delay in using the new formula.

“I’m tired of building the plane as we fly it,” she said. “We don’t need another four years of chaos.”

Despite those concerns, BESE voted seven to four to implement the new regimen. Supporting the new program were spokesmen for Chambers of Commerce, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the charter school association and the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana. Asking for a delay were representatives of principals, superintendents and school boards.

Beebe was joined by members Carolyn Hill, Mary Harris and Jane Smith; voting with Superintendent White were Jim Garvey, Holly Boffy, Kira Orange-Jones, Jay Guillot, Chas Roemer, Connie Bradford and Judith Miranti.

Superintendents cite lack of Common Core resources in survey

An overwhelming number of Louisiana school superintendents say that their districts received inadequate support from the State Department of Education to implement Common Core standards.

West Feliciana Parish Superintendent of Schools Hollis Milton presented survey results to BESE showing that 92 percent of his peers were not satisfied with the state’s support for implementing the new standards. Milton is president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.

BESE received the survey results, but did not comment on them or take any action.

Among the other findings of the survey:

  • 80% of Superintendents believe the current accountability system has tremendous volatility which is likely to produce reliability and validity issues.
  • 98% of Superintendents support a joint effort between LASS & Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA) to contract with local universities to study the reliability and validity of our accountability system.
  • 69% of Superintendents do not support the PARCC assessment.
  • 69% of Superintendents do not support the current RFP submitted by the Department of Education that contains close to 50% of questions that are from PARCC and 50% from another consortium)
  • 64% of Superintendents do not support the Department of Education's proposed policy recommendation for the changes in social studies in accountability this year.
  • 90% of Superintendents believe a student letter grade of an “A” or a “B” in Dual Enrollment from a “regionally accredited university” should equate to 150 points in the accountability scores.

Public schools losing millions to charters

Traditional public schools are losing almost a quarter billion dollars a year to charter schools, money that cannot be accurately accounted for, according to the Louisiana School Boards Association.

LSBA Executive Director Scott Richard gave BESE a three-year comparison chart showing how local funds are rerouted to Type 2 charters, virtual charter schools and others.

While the state claims that no local funds are sent to those charter schools, Richard said the state deducts money from each local system’s MFP allocation in an amount equal to the local contribution. The total loss to local school systems amounts to $242, 274,146 this year (see the full chart here).

Because of a law enacted last spring to protect the individual identity of students, Richard said, “there’s no way for local school boards or superintendents to know where the dollars are flowing.”

Hollis Milton, president of the state superintendents’ association, said that was not the intent of the law, and that the legislature needs to resolve the issue. Richard said the legislative auditor should conduct an audit of the funds flowing to charter schools.

The issue was placed on the agenda at the request of District 3 Member Lottie Beebe, asking for a discussion of “the local MFP share allocation transfer to charter schools and the inability to verify enrollment/residency of students.”

The board took no action on the issue.