Thursday, February 2, 2017

PA: More Bad School Evaluation

For a while, here in PA we've been rating schools with the SPP (school performance profile)  for a few years. It's a fun little batch of number shuffling that pretends to be a broad method of scoring school performance that is actually 90% Big Standardized Test scores. It has been spectacularly non-useful (except that it has provided some teachers of a certain age with whom I work to invoke the Naughty by Nature classic hit).

But now the PA Department of Ed has a New!! Improved!! version of SPP. They have had thirty (count 'em, thirty) "feedback sessions" and they are ready to unveil the Future Ready PA Index.

The FRPI (which does not invoke any great old hits by anyone, but sounds kind of like the air being squeezed out of a balloon) is a "more holistic view of school performance," even as it retains some features of SPP. This is a neat feat because SPP didn't have very many features-- mostly just the "let's use these BS Test scores" feature. But here are some of the cool new holistic things happening.

Emphasizing the weighting of value-added measures, which incentivizes a focus on all learners and is less sensitive to demographic variables.

Great. Doubling down on the VAM measure (in PA we like PVAAS) that uses gobbledeegook math formulas to turn BS Test scores into baloney-filled teacher evaluation scores. 

Measuring English language acquisition among ESL students, not simply performance on a test of grade level ELA standards. 

It is not immediately clear what, exactly, this would mean, but it seems to mean adding a growth measure to the managing of ESL student BS Test scores. In addition to this tweak, third grade reading and seventh grade math scores would be used to compute on-track growthiness. Also, we'll throw in attendance as an on-track indicator.

And we'll check to see if you're closing the achievement gap, which should be easy because all you have to do is get a kid who runs a ten minute mile to run across the finish line at the same time as one who runs a four-minute mile. It also means we get to berate classroom teachers for failing to get their students to move faster than the leaders of the pack, rather than berating officials who fail to provide those teachers with the resources needed to perform this miracle.

Incentivizing career awareness instruction beginning at the elementary level. 

As with many states, Pennsylvania is finding that school evaluation is a great tool for taking control of local school system curriculum and programming. While both bribes and extortion work here, the FRPI seems to lean toward bribes. Implement these programs that we like, and we'll rate you higher. Now, is elementary school career awareness a bad thing? Not necessarily. But it's all in the execution, and as reformster Rick Hess is fond of pointing out, you can force a school to do something, but you can't force the school to do it well.

But under this plan, eighth graders can earn their school valuable bonus points by developing a personal plan for their career. I'm wondering if the bureaucrats involved have met many eighth graders.

Addressing the issue of unequal weighting of content areas in the current SPP. 

Well, yeah. When your whole school evaluation is based on math and reading scores, that tends to put huge emphasis on math and reading scores. It's not clear what "addressing" means exactly, as it can be anything from saying "Hey, that's a thing" while doing nothing, to subjecting other content areas to the kind of crappy micro-management-by-test that we math and English types have been enjoying. But the more detailed "webinar" doesn't address the specifics of this, which suggests we're going to go the lip service route. 

Increasing the weighting of rigorous course offerings such as AP, IB, and dual enrollment. 

This remains one of the genius features of reform. Imagine if your school could get a better rating if all teachers drove Fords. The companies that have convinced government to incentivize buying their particular product, whether it's the AP test or a college course-- well, hats off to those folks. When yu can get the government to do your marketing for you, life is good. Well, good for everyone except schools that are implementing programs that don't actually do anybody any good.

Allowing LEAs to include locally-selected reading assessments (grade 3) and math assessments (grade 7) as additional snapshots of student progress. 

This could actually be.... not bad. Yes, it's another door opened for vendors to make a buck, but it does provide local districts with a little flexibility.

Awarding extra credit to schools graduating students with at least one high-value, industry- recognized credential.

Get your welding certificate. Also the school can get credit for students who graduate and then join the armed forces, go to college, or get a job. And they have sixteen months to do it. Who is going to track this, anyway? This seems like a swell idea, but it also encourages the school to sort students into two groups-- students who will probably help us, and students who will probably hurt us. This approach serves students in the latter group poorly.

This is all supposed to launch in fall of 2018, but then, it's also supposed to dovetail nicely with the new rules under ESSA and we suddenly have no idea what the hell those rules might be. I mean, seriously, no idea at all. Schools may be required to teach Russian or scrap IDEA or send all their students to a private school where nobody cares what is taught (or not). Literally anything could happen. I expect a lot of bureaucrats in Harrisburg are waiting to see just how uch smoke their work is going to go up in.

You can get the more detailed explanation in a youtube webinar (which more closely resembles a power-point presentation rendered as a video). You could contemplate that, or you could just stroll down memory lane with this:

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