Louisiana School Boards Assn. Confronts Louisiana’s ESSA State Plan Rush Job
On March 13, 2017, US ed sec Betsy DeVos contacted state superintendents to let them know that there are now two possible deadlines for submission of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) state plans: April 03, 2017, or September 18, 2017. There is no penalty for a state’s waiting until September and not rushing to submit by April.
Nevertheless, it seems that Louisiana superintendent John White wants to rush anyway and submit an incomplete ESSA plan that does not have the support of the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA).
On March 23, 2017, LSBA Executive Director Scott Richard sent this three-page letter to Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, the state board of education (BESE), and White.
LSBA’s letter addresses six primary concerns with the ESSA plan that White wants to send to the US Department of Education (USDOE) in April.
The first concerns the state slicing off an additional 3 percent of ESSA funding and redistributing it in a manner that the state sees fit:
Just as the State is struggling fiscally, local school boards have, year after year, been called upon to provide a higher and higher percentage of the cost of providing public education. Long gone are the days when the State carried 65% of the fiscal burden, compared to 35% for local districts. Recent financial data shows local school boards carrying about 50% of the costs of providing public education in Louisiana. The proposal to withhold an additional 3% of federal funds from every local school board is, therefore, very troubling.
While local school boards appreciate the notion espoused by Supt. White that the LDOE will redistribute that money, the inevitable fact is the many local school boards, and the children they are tasked with educating, will suffer a net loss of funding through this process. While a few local school boards or charter schools may benefit, that benefit will be at the expense of every other local school board and charter school. The LSBA, therefore, objects to the reservation and diversion of federal funds as provided in the LDOE proposal.
The second concern is that school districts are not even aware of how the district performance scores will be calculated. Yet the state plan is supposed to include such metrics:
The State plan is supposed to set forth the metrics and the process for the State Accountability System. That necessarily includes the assessment of students, teachers, schools and school districts. However, as of the writing of this letter, the State Accountability Commission has yet to even consider the metrics for establishing District Performance Scores (DPS). Until that decision is made the submission of a State Plan is premature. Again, ESSA gives the State until September, so the State should not rush to file an incomplete plan. The LSBA cannot even speak to its support or objection to the DPS metrics, as those metrics are, to date, unknown. There seems to be a lack of the very stakeholder input that was originally envisioned by ESSA.
One wonders if White would slip in some metric at the last minute, or in some belated communication with USDOE. This idea of last-minute calculations is addressed in the next concern: the improperly-vetted addition of “bonus points/progress points” into previous school score calculations. Such points award certain schools at the expense of other schools, as LSBA shows in its third concern:
Finding a valid means of incorporating student growth into our State Accountability System has been a goal since before the passage of ESSA. Recalling the “bonus points” or “progress points” that were inserted into the System in prior years, without fully vetting those proposals, that system created counter-productive disputes, where districts that had achieved at seemingly high levels found themselves surpassed by districts with lower scores due to the after-the-fact application of “bonus points”.
There were ongoing disputes as to how best to calculate and apply bonus points. The Accountability Commission does not appear to have reached consensus on how to incorporate “student growth” that does not under-compensate historically higher performing school districts. Under the current proposed model, a school district that has historically performed as an “A”, could fall to a lower letter grade, even if the DPS letter grade without the growth factor still qualified as an “A”, based solely on the district not showing sufficient “growth”. This would be like giving a student a B because the student made a 97% in the first semester and a 97% in the second semester – thus showed no “growth”.
Other interest groups actually objected to the “student growth” model, conceptually, asserting that the use of “student growth” would mislead the public by over-compensating a lower performing school or district. This issue needs more study and consensus. The LSBA objects to moving forward with the proposed plan that does not appropriately address this issue.
One of the beauties of school score manipulation is the sensationalizing of “growth” via bonus points for lower-scoring schools. It takes the focus off of the low score and not only puts it on “improvement”; it boosts the appearance of improvement even more by tacking on additional points for that improvement– even if the so-called improvement is still incredibly low when compared to set criteria.
Of course, if the schools that one wants to promote are low-scoring schools, then use of bonus points for improvement can make it appear that the low-scoring schools are “progressing” even as the higher-scoring schools are not.
There is nothing inherently objective about use of school grades. The calculations behind the school grades can be profoundly convoluted, as the LSBA letter shows in its fourth concern:
The current proposed plan makes dramatic and fundamental changes to the State Accountability System in the awarding of points. The notion that Mastery earns 100 points, but just below Mastery earns 50 points, and Basic earns 50, and just below Basic earns 0 is not a valid means of implementing an A, B, C, D, F grading scale. The proposal is akin to a teacher awarding the following grades to the following students:
Student Test Score Letter Grade 1 90 A 2 89 D 3 50 D 4 49 F
The points should be awarded in bands, aligned with the letter grades, if the letter grade system is to remain in place. The proposal establishes a system where there are only 3 possible grades A, D or F, there is no B or C.
The fifth LSBA concern involves the many state requirements excluded from school score calculations. Such exclusion presents a slanted picture since the state is not offering schools and districts credit for that which the state itself mandates– and such mandates could easily be incorporated into the ESSA state plan:
There are a number of items of coursework or instruction mandated by State law, from bullying, to cell phone security, to cursive writing. None of these items are taken into account when calculating an SPS or a DPS. The LSBA has long worried about the paradox between the State mandating certain coursework or instruction and the State not valuing those matters enough to include them in the State Accountability System. One of the highlights of ESSA was the flexibility afforded to States to include multiple measures, beyond standardized tests scores, in the assessment system for public schools and local school districts. Taking advantage of that flexibility will also show that the State values the mandates imposed on local school boards. The current proposed plan does not take advantage of this key flexibility provision in ESSA.
The sixth and final LSBA-detailed concern is that school and district performance results are not delivered in a timely manner. The next school year is well underway before the previous year’s school and district scores are available. Indeed, the state ed department is slow because it answers to no one for its slowness. In contrast, district and schools are supposed to make adjustments before the next round of spring testing:
The current proposal does not remedy the problem that has long existed in Louisiana – the State Accountability System does not provide meaningful feed-back to local school boards in a timely manner. Currently, the State provides results weeks or even months after the beginning of the school year from tests taken back in the prior Spring. Yet, the State expects local school boards to be able to implement changes at those lower performing schools identified after the school year has begun. ACT, one of the most widely utilized standardized tests in the country, provides results within a few weeks of the completion of testing. The underlying purpose of the State Accountability System is to provide local school boards, instructional leaders, teachers and parents with information on whether the students under their charge are meeting academic expectations. Local school boards, instructional leaders, teachers and parents need that information much sooner than the proposed plan will provide.
As LSBA notes, there is much room for improvement in Louisiana’s ESSA plan. One wonders why White wants to rush through with a plan that has so many issues.
But White is an established “narrative mudder.”
As it stands, Louisiana’s ESSA plan is indeed muddy, with the most mud around the unnecessary rush job.