Louisiana school group alleges New Orleans scrubbed testing scores, state officials deny claims
Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/Teacher-student_Thumb1.jpgIn a monthly online newsletter published last week on the Louisiana School Boards Association website, the teacher group alleges the Recovery School District in New Orleans ‘scrubbed’ test results to inflate the district’s school performance figures, something the Louisiana Department of Education flatly denies.
Citing unnamed sources, the LSBA entry stated:
Irregular “scrubbing” practices that appear to have been imported to the RSD by Paul Vallas leave many test units administered by unaccounted for in school performance scores (SPS). Apparently, a set of computer filters are set to screen out from consideration any student scores that meet select criteria (less than 120 days in school, failing the test, failing to enroll in summer remediation, and failing to pass the summer retest).
Paul Vallas served as the superintendent of RSD after a contentious stint in Philadelphia where he was CEO of the city’s school district. New Orleans schools improved at a faster rate than the rest of Louisiana under his helm, though over 90 percent of RSD schools will have a D or F grade for student assessment scores in the coming school year, according to outside reports.
SPS values rely in large part on student achievement in the state’s standardized tests, LEAP, iLEAP and the Graduation Exit Exam (GEE). Those scores determine which schools are in compliance with the state’s achievement standards as part of the accountability measures established by No Child Left Behind. Schools that fall behind face funding restrictions, closure and layoffs depending on how long they tread at below-minimum benchmarks.
Scott Norton, assistant superintendent on student and school enforcement in Louisiana, explained to The American Independent the process districts use to report state test scores obviates the opportunity to fudge the figures.
“We send out the test booklets and the test is taken,” says Norton. “The tests go back to the contractor of the test [and] the schools are out of the loop.”
Norton adds: “But from that point on… the deparment has the data files. Districts can’t take test scores…there’s no place in process where that could happen. I can’t imagine anyone could do that.”
Acting state superintendent of education Ollie S. Tyler contacted TAI with a remonstrative statement after she was asked for comment:
Louisiana has gained national recognition for its accountability program. Critical to this is ensuring the integrity of testing and performance scores at every level. Therefore, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) allocates significant resources to the design, administration and scoring of statewide assessments. These services are coordinated by LDOE, not local districts, through professional service contracts with certified and reputable national vendors. Test results are not routed to local districts to calculate School Performance Scores, nor do local districts have the ability to manipulate the data. To suggests (sic) a district, any district, including the Recovery School District, has the ability to filter or eliminate test scores prior to the calculation of School Performance Scores or at any point is unreasonable.
Likewise, the Department has an aggressive monitoring program to actively make certain students, teachers, administrators and districts are operating in accordance with stringent state policies and procedures. Through the support of our testing vendor, for example, we are able to identify patterns of excessive wrong-to-right erasures on state tests.
We are disappointed that the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA) would make these unfair and unsubstantiated claims. These allegations call into question the state’s accountability model and therefore the progress Louisiana students, teachers, districts and communities have demonstrated through the state’s accountability program over the last decade.
The state has come under scrutiny by critics of RSD who maintain the district disguises poor test results by dumping the records of low-achieving schools and high-risk students likely to underperform. A paper written in 2010 by Barbara Ferguson, an education professor and analyst at Research on Reforms who once served as superintendent in New Orleans, showed (PDF) the following:
In 2009-10, there were 71 schools in the RSD. A total of 21 schools did not have baseline School Performance Scores; yet, only 9 of them without scores were new schools. Compare that with the 2008-09 year, when the RSD had 66 schools, and a total of 10 did not have baseline School Performance Scores, of which 7 were new schools.
LSBA also accused LDOE of forbidding staff from commenting on department investigations, formally alluding to a culture of fear and intimidation that was addressed in cheating-ravaged cities like Atlanta.
Rene Greer, a spokesperson for LDOE, explained the directive in question was actually an email urging staff members to swiftly respond to Freedom Of Information Act requests. “In order to respect the FOIA process … we want everyone to check their own documents to help the process,” Greer told TAI. She supplied TAI with a redacted copy of that email, available here [PDF].
She added: “It’s very much about our transparency and our due diligence.”