Testing, scores & fidelity questioned

By JERI BORST JBORST@DDTONLINE.COM,

 

A Feb. 19 letter to the Greenville Public School Board concerning scores and other issues has been reviewed by the Mississippi Department of Education and responded to by the GPSB.

The letter’s author, John A. Mosley, writes that he has a bachelors’s degree in education from Delta State University, as well as a masters in education and 20 years of public and private school teaching and administrative experience.

Mosley, who resigned his GPSD teaching position for health reasons, said he joined the GSPD in August 2018 and has concerns regarding the districts testing practices.

“During my time with the district, I became aware of issues that negatively impact student achievement,” he said an email to the GPSB. “I have observed certain practices that may require a high level of attention to restore fidelity to the Greenville School District.”

“It is my belief that faithfulness to the highest principles of assessment honesty has been compromised,” he wrote in a letter, noting the pressure for districts and schools to perform well on “high stakes testing process has become all consuming”.

“Pressure to raise overall building/School District grade rankings from one year to the next is overwhelming,” he said. “No one wants to be a failing school or district.”

Prime and Prep Process

Mosley questioned the practice of teachers taking test that were similar to those of students.

“ At the beginning of the first and second nine-weeks grading periods (Fall 2018), why were teachers required to ... take tests in their subject/teaching areas that consisted of questions that in many cases appeared on the students' actual nine-weeks test?”

Mosley questioned how long the practice has persisted and if scores have been affected.

“The natural tendency resulting from this arrangement is that teachers will teach answers to specific questions that the children will encounter,” Mosley writes. “This corrupts test results data and flies in the face of test fidelity and genuine measurement of student mastery of content.”

Mosley claims all GPSD teachers were directed to take the tests, which revealed actual items that students encountered.

“It is impossible to certify whether or not the test items...were passed on to students,” he writes. “This calls into question score gains and rankings generated in the presence of this practice”

According to the letter, his concerns were substantiated by additional educators during a hearing.

“Teachers indicated in my hearing that they were fully aware of the ‘reveal,’” he writes. “I believe the involved test scores along with their purported score gains cannot be taken at face value.”

It is impossible to qualify the current corrupted score data without independent re-assessment, Mosley asserts in the letter.

Mosley suggests in the letter that teachers used the test to “prime and prep” students with answers.

“In several cases I know of, this occurred on the day of the test, just prior to children reporting to the computer lab to take the test,” he writes, noting as a teacher he was required to accompany students to the testing room  or computer lab to monitor participation.

“While I was there, hands went up into the air all over the lab to report, ‘We have seen these questions before,’”  Mosley writes, noting student affirmed questions seen inside the testing room were the same questions seen outside the lab.

“I reported this to the building principal and had students write statements in their own handwriting attesting to the veracity of this claim. I turned this information over to the principal,” Mosley said.

“When I brought up this concern to the district level official responsible for testing, she responded, along with other comments, "Mr. Mosley, they still didn't pass the test."

Sneak-Peak for Teachers

Mosley said he strongly objected to the “sneak-peak-for-teachers test” to a district management official in the presence of his principal.

Mosley writes the official assured him the same questions were not going to be used for the students.

“On the basis of her assurances, I went and took the test,” he explained. “I found out from my children and saw for myself on their computer screens that most of the same items I worked through on the teacher sneak peak were indeed on the actual test.”

Mosley requested a meeting at the district level to address his concerns.

Despite the principal facilitating the meeting request, the district did not provide an opportunity for a meeting, according to the February letter.

Curious scores

Mosley questioned scores from nine-weeks testing when improved by a large margin, compared to state testing scores.

“What do scores mean when they shoot suddenly up from say 30% mastery to 70% mastery from one nine weeks period to the next?” he asked.  “Moreover, what do nine weeks 70% mastery scores mean when compared to State Level Spring Testing scores that are precipitously lower regarding the same subject matter?”

Mosley wrote that while he is ever-hopeful for student achievement, he is pragmatic in how the achievement is reflected in scores.

“While I believe miracles can and do happen, I am more convinced that test scores tend to turn around more slowly and deliberately, like a gigantic ocean liner than like the tight sudden turns of a speed boat or skidoo,” he said.

With other variables in the district having remained par for the course, such as demographics, life circumstances, socio-economic realities, home and community experience, Mosley said such significant gains in scores are unusual.

“Districts do not tend to experience sudden gigantic upticks in scores across the board from homogenous student populations,” he said. “

“Fake scores, or at least highly tainted ones, are little more than lying artifacts and fodder for inflated egos, if they are knowingly produced and then touted publically as the genuine article.”

Mosley closed the letter with concerns for GPSD’s future.

“I'm concerned that the present trajectory of the Greenville Public School District will place it in direct line to be taken over by the State Department of Education,” he wrote. “There still may be time to self-critique and self-correct.”

The letter from Mosley to the GPSB can be found in the public records released to the DD-T  by the MDE here.