April 30, 2021

Mercedes Schneider: Louisiana Standardized Testing 2020-21: Maybe We Grade Your School, Maybe Not.

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Mercedes Schneider is a classroom teacher, published author, and relentless researcher. In her recent post, she looks at the considerable hash Louisiana has made out of the 2021 Big Standardized Test. Reposted with permission.

Standardized testing is set to commence in schools and districts across the state of Louisiana.

What does this mean regarding the now-common misuse of scores for grading teachers and schools and for student placement decisions?

Some answers can be found in two pieces of legislation passed in the Louisiana legislature’s 2020 Special Extraordinary Session (September 28, 2020 to October 23, 2020): Act 53 and Act 47. However, some of those “some answers” are better defined than others.

Below is the heart of Act 53:

Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, for the2020-2021 school year, the board (Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or BESE) shall examine the results from student assessments and school-level test data but shall not use such assessments and data for purposes of evaluating teacher performance or making placement decisions for fourth and eighth grade students.

And lest anyone should miss the “shall not use assessments and data for purposes of evaluating teacher performance,” language is included specific to VAM (so-called “value-added” modeling) (and subsequently repeated in the section pertaining to charter school employees):

Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, for the 2020-2021 school year, value-added data shall not be used to evaluate teacher performance or effectiveness.

As for the grading of schools and districts using test scores from 2020-21, the legislature has outlined this course of action in Act 47:

Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, for the 2020-2021 school year, the board shall examine the results of student value-added model assessments and school-level test data and make such allowances in calculating school and district performance scores as the board deems necessary and appropriate. The state superintendent of education shall present a report relative to such results to the House Committee on Education and the Senate Committee on Education, meeting separately or jointly, not later than May 30, 2021.

The board shall prepare a petition for the United States Department of Education for a waiver of the requirement of issuing letter grades for schools and school districts for the 2020-2021 school year and submit the petition if it is the opinion of the state superintendent of education that issuance of letter grades would be detrimental to the state of Louisiana. The superintendent and the board shall present a report to each committee, meeting separately or jointly, regarding this decision not later than June 15, 2021.

Okay. BESE has until May 20, 2021, to inform House and senate ed committees about how BESE plans to calculate school and district grades via Louisiana superintendent Cade Brumley. If BESE decides that issuing such grades would be a bad idea (“detrimental to the state of Louisiana”), it must draft a waiver for the federal government and have Brumley present that waiver to House and Senate ed by June 15, 2021.

No matter what, schools are to give students the tests.

In the March 07, 2021, Advocate, some BESE members speak in favor of standardized testing using familiar reasoning that, as usual, falls short:

BESE President Sandy Holloway and two other leaders of the panel made the same point when federal officials spelled out what they were offering states last month.

“Assessing all students not only helps us understand what learning gaps have been created or widened but also what we must do to close them,” according to a statement released by Holloway and BESE members Kira Orange Jones and Ashley Ellis.

“Families, schools and educators deserve to know where each student is in his or her academic trajectory.”

Standardized testing lacks both the immediacy and precision of teacher-student interaction. Standardized testing results are not timely and offer no fine details coupled with personalized advice regarding student educational needs.

However, standardized testing is *necessary* because it *drives* decisions, including “resource allocation.” Testing calls the shots; Brumley states as much as his justification for interrupting learning during an already-interrupted school year:

“We think it is really important that students test because we haven’t tested in two years,” Brumley said. “We need to know where our kids are, and that is important because it will drive instructional decisions and will also drive resource allocation decisions.”

The only reason testing “drives instructional decisions” is that the testing is misused in connecting the test scores to school and career survival. Testing “drives” instruction when it is put in the high-stakes driver’s seat.

According to the Louisiana legislature, in 2020-21, testing is not in that driver’s seat for teacher evaluation or for student promotion decisions.

Also according to the legislature, BESE has until May 20, 2021, to decide on how it plans to crunch the numbers and fashion 2020-21 school and district scores (nothing arbitrary here), and if BESE decides that its crunching could be “detrimental to the state of Louisiana” (more vagarity), then it is to submit its federal waiver request to the state by June 15, 2021. Maybe US ed sec Miguel Cardona’s US Department of Education grants the waiver; maybe not.

In sum, schools and districts will be subjected to whimsical grading as determined by BESE, or there will be no grading if BESE asks and USDOE grants permission, or USDOE will deny the request and BESE will have to throw something together.

Appropriately misusing test scores sure gets complicated in a pandemic.

On the district level, Louisiana superintendents will be able to spare schools of negative labels if they so choose, according to the March 07, 2021, Advocate:

Brumley told local superintendents that districts will have the option of not labeling schools this year as needing “comprehensive” or “urgent” intervention.

Know what is in need of comprehensive or urgent intervention? This whole misguided process, its floundering a symptom of a testing-festering core.

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