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Louisiana Charter Schools Renewed Despite Decreasing Test Scores

October 23, 2017

On October 18, 2017, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor released results of an audit of charter school renewal.

A key finding: Seven charter schools were granted renewal despite a history of falling test scores. The flaw is in the calculation of school performance scores (SPS) and corresponding letter grades. Louisiana’s middle- and high-school SPS calculations allow SPS to increase even as standardized test scores decrease.

From the auditor’s report:

[Louisiana] state law requires that “no charter shall be renewed unless the charter renewal applicant can demonstrate, using standardized test scores, improvement in the academic performance of pupils over the term of the charter school’s existence.” …

LDE currently uses a school’s SPS as the primary academic performance indicator for renewal decisions rather than determining whether the school demonstrated, using standardized test scores, improvement in its academic performance of students, as required by state law. When determining whether to recommend a charter for renewal, LDE relies primarily on each school’s SPS and corresponding letter grade…. While standardized test scores are a component of all SPSs, only elementary schools have SPSs that are composed of standardized test scores alone. As a result, improvement in the SPS of a middle or high school does not necessarily indicate an improvement in the standardized test scores of the school’s students. This is because other factors such as graduation rates and credit accumulation (i.e., credits earned through the end of students’ ninth-grade year) are also included in a school’s SPS and may obscure the changes in a school’s test scores over time.

For example, Joseph S. Clark High School had a pre-assessment index of 36.9 but had a renewal year assessment index of 30.8. The assessment index is lower than the school’s pre-assessment index, meaning that student test scores worsened over time. However, in its renewal year, Joseph S. Clark School had an overall SPS that earned it a “D” letter grade due to the inclusion of other criteria into its score such as graduation rates and the strength of diploma index. Subsequently, it was renewed for a three-year term despite test scores that fell over the course of its existence.

Using the measure LDE uses to gauge improvement in standardized test scores for turnaround schools, we found that seven (39%) of the 18 charter schools that opened and were renewed between academic years 2011-12 and 2015-1610 did not demonstrate improvement in students’ standardized test scores. Therefore, there is a risk that LDE is renewing schools that may not have demonstrated improvement in the academic performance of its students, which is required for a school to be renewed. … Of the 18 schools that opened and were renewed during our scope, seven (39%) did not show improvement in academic performance using standardized test scores alone, and LDE recommended that BESE renew these seven schools. Exhibit 4 summarizes the change in test scores for these schools. …

Without specific and comprehensive guidelines for renewing charter schools, there is a risk that LDE’s oversight process will be inconsistent and unpredictable and that it will recommend schools for renewal that do not meet the guidelines of state law. This may result in substandard schools being allowed to continue to educate students. [Emphasis added.]

Here’s Exhibit 4, mentioned above:

LLA Exhibit 4

The auditor offered two recommendations– with which the Louisiana Department of Education (LDE) agreed (see Findings 1 and 2 below). However, LDE superintendent John White included a response letter that tersely indicates that he believes everything is just fine with how he is operating charter school renewal, even in the face of evidence that contradicts his stance.

Despite the auditor’s evidence that some charters are being renewed despite falling test scores, White craftily writes, “BESE and the Department have used academic improvement of students on standardized test scores as a basis for renewing charter school contracts since the creation of charter schools in Louisiana.”

“A basis”– but not “a consistent basis as a condition for all renewals.” There is a difference.

White concludes as follows his arrogant non-response to the issue with which he is confronted:

While we appreciate the suggestion that BESE explicitly address the language of the statute in its charter school policies, Louisiana has a clear and unambiguous history of using students’ improvement on standardized test scores to determine whether to renew charter schools.

A clear and unambiguously inconsistent history linked to SPS calculations that allow for higher SPS in the face of lowered standardized test scores.

Here is White’s letter:

LLA Jhn White letter

Note that the “agency contact responsible for the finding” of agreement with the auditor is ghosted out on this public report. However, the “agreement” is not supported by White’s bizarre and contradictory response.

Finding 1: We found that while the Louisiana Department of Education (LDE) has some standards for determining whether a charter school should be recommended for renewal, it has not developed specific guidelines that address the primary academic requirement for charter school renewal, as required by state law.

LLA Finding 1

Finding 2: Using the measure LDE uses to gauge improvement in standardized test scores for turnaround schools, we found that seven (37%) of the 19 charter schools that opened and were renewed between academic years 2011-12 and 2-15-16 did not demonstrate improvement in overall standardized test scores.

LLA Finding 2

Louisiana’s middle- and high-school SPS calculations apparently have a glitch: They can rise even as test scores decrease.

White does not offer to revise SPS calculations in order to remove bias. He doesn’t care to.

The Louisiana legislature should pass legislation requiring BESE to hire outside statisticians to conduct a comprehensive audit of Louisiana SPS calculations, both past and future, and compose a report detailing the ways in which such calculations have yielded biased outcomes in the past and could yield biased outcomes in the future.

Of course, BESE could initiate such a process itself were it not politically compromised.

 

john white lane grigsby

White, with Lane Grigsby, whose PAC funnels Broad/Walton money into La. BESE elections.

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

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