As a transparency measure, erasure analysis is effective, but admins have reasons to fear it
An editorial in the Los Angeles Times implored state education officials to re-instate an erasure analysis of standardized public school tests.
The state dropped the procedure after 2009, citing budgetary woes even though the price tag for the independent oversight measure was $105,000. While explaining most administrators do not cheat, the writers of the editorial explained, “[t]he rising tide of cheating scandals shows that the job of curbing unethical behavior cannot be left solely to schools and school districts, which are directly affected by the outcomes.”
An erasure analysis — a once-arcane accountability device that has garnered increased public awareness following high-profile testing impropriety scandals in Pennsylvania,New Jersey and Georgia — is part of a portfolio of precautions undertaken by state education officials to prevent cheating on standardized tests. The process consists of examining electronic bubble sheets on which students record their answers for a high rate of wrong-to-right answer erasures.
Twenty states lack an erasure analysis mechanism, according to USA Today.
The American Independent interviewed a former Louisiana school superintendent for a previous erasure-analysis story on how the process works:
Charles Hatfield, a former superintendent in charge of testing and accountability of what was the unified school district (Orleans Parish School Board) in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina struck, explained erasure analysis in greater detail. “They [the analysts] scan the bubble sheets following a mathematical algorithm,” he said, “meaning from a statistical point of view, it is highly unlikely that so many wrong-to-right erasures can occur.”
Since No Child Left Behind rules punish schools for not making sufficient improvements based on Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) — the minimum standard of proficiency among student test takers the federal governments expects states to achieve each year — the incentive for senior school officials to prop up scores to avoid decreased funding and school closure is immense.
But a forthright approach to school performance indicators has its pitfalls for school employees, as well. While the Atlanta saga has led to dismissal notices and ignominy for the teachers and administrators caught in the scandal, states like Louisiana have instituted semi-privatization measures for struggling schools that led to teacher dismissals and campus shutdowns anyway.
In New Orleans’ Recovery School District, administrators invited charter schools to cauterize the low-score bleeding of their districts; some improvements followed but critics allege serious collateral damage as mostly high-needs children are still being shipped around schools that are either underfunded or unwilling to tend to their needs.
The trouble, critics allege, began with decisions made in Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina when the Louisiana Legislature passed Act 35 that put most of New Orleans’ schools in the hands of RSD, a school system introduced in 2003 by a separate piece of legislation that manages troubled institutions. Prior to the passage of Act 35, RSD operated five city schools. The new law increased the minimum performance threshold schools had to meet, deeming many in the city as failing.
As a result, between 107 and 115 schools were shuffled from the city’s original district — The Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) — into either RSD or Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) control. The two bodies in turn left a majority of schools in New Orleans under control of charter operators.
Charter operators rarely permit unionized teachers to work in their classrooms, allowing them to pay teachers less than they would earn at traditional schools. The smaller overhead allows charter schools to generate a profit even though they usually receive as much per-pupil funding as traditional schools. And many charter schools have fewer transparency requirements, as demonstrated by a ProPublica story.
President Obama’s signature K-12 Race to the Top initiative relies heavily on charter school involvement. A handful of studies have shown these publicly-funded, independent schools often perform worse than their traditional public school counterparts.