Wednesday, February 10, 2016

When the system is itself a grift, expect grifting

Did you see Landry-Walker's marching band this Mardi Gras season?  One of the best. We noticed them every time they came down the street.  You just can't fake that.

Test scores, on the other hand..
Landry-Walker High School's 2013-14 test results were so amazing that some New Orleans education insiders doubted they were valid. More students at Landry-Walker than at Lusher Charter, a selective-admissions school, aced geometry. In biology, the school was fourth-best in the city.

Skeptical of the numbers, the school's parent organization, the Algiers Charter School Association, launched a 16-month investigation -- without telling Landry-Walker's principal -- into what some feared could be widespread, teacher-enabled cheating. The association undertook a detailed analysis of student performance, hired outside lawyers and, for the spring 2015 round of testing, placed independent monitors in every single examination room at its flagship school, according to internal documents.

When the 2014-15 test results came back, Landry-Walker's scores fell off a cliff. The percentage of students getting top marks in geometry fell by 51 points.

Landry-Walker's principal, Mary Laurie, remains on the job. But the association fired its chief executive, Adrian Morgan, eight months after the plummeting scores came back. And the Louisiana Department of Education has referred Landry-Walker High's 2013-14 test scores to the state inspector general's office to investigate.
The "School Reform" advocates will wring their hands of whatever batch of dishonest individuals are eventually found at fault.  But in the insane context such "reformers" have devised, each individual attempt to game the high stakes testing system is but a symptom of the problem. 
The tests, and why they matter

All Louisiana public school students take six subject-matter tests, called "end-of-course" exams, in algebra, biology, English II, English III, geometry and U.S. history. There are four possible scores: excellent, good, fair and needs improvement. Students take the exams on a computer, through a secure browser that freezes the rest of the machine and doesn't let them access search engines through which they could research the questions and answers.

These tests have high stakes for schools and students. Students must pass at least three of the six end-of-course exams to graduate, including one mathematics and one English exam. Their scores make up one quarter of a high school's annual performance score. They affect teacher performance evaluations. And charter schools are periodically reevaluated and must close if they don't make the grade.
Create a paranoid system built on incentives to "compete" in a race to hit arbitrary numbers and you're going to encourage people to find the most efficient means of hitting those numbers. That's just free enterprise principles at work.  But as long as "reformers" keep telling us that's a great basis for an educational system and not a completely crazy one that's what we're gonna get. 

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