Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Opt Out Week on the Range: Day Three (Louisiana)

Posted By on Wed, Feb 4, 2015 at 3:00 PM

The Opt Out momentum has picked up in Louisiana this week. The reason: Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order Friday saying the zero test scores of students who opt out of state testing by refusing to bubble in answers on the test shouldn't be averaged in with other scores.
Friday, just a day after Gannett Louisiana's story on parental withdrawal of students from the testing, [Jindal] issued an executive order allowing such parental moves and urging BESE [Board of Elementary and Secondary Education] to "'provide clear standards and expectations for schools and school systems so that assessment of their effectiveness will be understood' in order to avoid student achievement being negatively impacted by a score of zero as a result of non-participation" and to "to grant districts the ability to offer nationally norm-referenced or other comparable assessment appropriate for Louisiana as an alternative to the PARCC test, including abbreviated versions for the purpose of benchmarking, rather than penalizing students, teachers and schools and jeopardizing our statewide accountability system."
A few school districts are asking the Louisiana BESE (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) not to penalize them for students who opt out.

Caddo Parish School Board:
The board unanimously voted to send the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education a resolution asking to not be penalized for students opting out of the PARCC test.
St. Tammany Parish School Board:
The board voted unanimously Monday night (Feb. 2) to send a letter to members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education asking them to hold the meeting and discuss the ramifications to the students, districts and schools of the students "opting out'' of PARCC testing. Moreover, the School Board wants discussion of placing a moratorium on performance letter grades for schools and districts on the meeting agenda.
The issue hasn't reached a conclusion, and probably won't until BESE weighs in. But there's an inherent logic in the request that a student's "sit and stare" zero not be averaged into classroom and student scores. Look at the two parts of the issue.

First, a parent and child's decision not to fill in the bubbles on a standardized test is part of a valued tradition of passive resistance. A school should not have the right to force any student to read the test questions and bubble in the answers if the student chooses not to.

Second, the rationale behind using standardized tests as an evaluative tool for teachers, schools and districts is that the tests are a valid reflection of student achievement, and averaging the student scores produces a valid picture of the group's achievement. It's a questionable assumption, but assuming it's true, including a student's zero score into the total would wipe out any vestige of validity the average score might have. Clearly, that zero doesn't reflect the achievement level of that student, and its inclusion would dramatically, and unfairly, lower the average score. The more students who take a zero, the lower the score would go.

For a district or the state to insist that a "sit and stare" zero be added to other scores makes a mockery of the testing process. The motive would be punitive, not educational: "If you can't make your students obey our order that every student takes the test, we'll punish you by artificially lowering your score."

There's one more important wrinkle here. If students are allowed to refuse to take the test, that also harms the validity of the results, even if their zeros aren't counted. Assuming average test scores actually have some validity, that only holds true if all, or nearly all, the students take the test. The average scores possibly would be valid if the test were given to a random sample of students, but students choosing to opt out has nothing to do with randomization. That means, if enough students opt out, the average scores and their use as a tool to evaluate teachers, schools and districts are rendered meaningless. That's a real problem for the powers-that-be who want to use the test results. But that's the strength of a good protest movement. A group of people who lack official authority to change a law or regulation can throw a monkey wrench into the works through the right kind of organized protest.

Bobby Jindal was for the Common Core standards before he was against them. I suspect his recent stand against the standards is all about his presidential ambitions. Nonetheless, he's correct when it comes to scoring the tests. If students purposely take a zero on the state test, their scores have to be thrown out.

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