I am utterly baffled at the developments in the Life Skills testing saga. The statements coming out of Camp White Hat make no sense. But condemning them outright requires relying on newspaper reports that do not evince a deep understanding of the issues. So, here is what is knowable; you judge for yourself.
To reset: Tuesday the Ohio Federation of Teachers accused Life Skills of not administering required tests to its students. On Wednesday the Ed Department confirmed the essence of OFT’s findings:
An Ohio Department of Education analysis found that too few students at 19 publicly funded Life Skills Centers operated by Akron-based White Hat Management took state-mandated high school graduation tests.
The highest test-taking rates were at Life Skills Center Elyria, where about half the students took reading and math tests. Rates were as low as 3 percent at some centers.
Bob Taft – in a rare demonstration of membership in Phylum Chordata – said that Life Skills must actually abide by, you know, the law and stuff.
Then today the BJ reports that
The Ohio Department of Education is examining 25 publicly funded, privately run charter schools for failure to provide adequate data on mandatory state tests.Huh? How did we go from 19 Life Skills Centers to four?
Four of the schools are Life Skills alternative high schools operated by White Hat Management, which was founded by Akron businessman David Brennan.
According to the BJ, “[Ed. Dept. spokesman J.C.] Benton said White Hat adequately explained some of the schools' results, but two in the Cleveland area and one each in Elyria and Dayton are among the 25 charter schools required to provide an ‘action plan.’”
White Hat CEO Mark Thimmig has been saying that because students come in midyear or show up without knowing what tests they have passed, White Hat doesn’t get them all tested. He notes in particular that only 18 percent of Life Skills students are sophomores – the year in which student now start taking the Ohio Graduation Test.
It’s hard to understand how all this ends up explaining away a 15% testing rate. Before the OGT, students had to take the 9th grade proficiency test. Students who should be in the class of to 2005 or 2006 still must pass that test to graduate. So looking at last year’s data, there should be test results for juniors and especially for seniors. That should create a testable cohort that bumps the school up above 15%.
ABJ notices another wrinkle to explain all this:
The Akron Beacon Journal found in an analysis of Life Skills schools that there was a significant change in grade assignments last year -- the same year that Ohio switched testing from the ninth grade to the 10th.
In the two previous years, ninth-graders were 15 percent of Life Skills' enrollment. Last year, they were nearly half the student body -- 49 percent -- and that percentage will be little changed this year, Thimmig confirmed.
He said the shift is a result of a policy that students generally should be enrolled in the ninth grade unless there are records suggesting otherwise.
Many students don't know their status, he said.
Funny how, when he whined about OFT using “incomplete and misleading data,” Thimmig didn’t point out how this change in policy cooked the numbers.
Whatever. Going forward, this needs to be watched. The Ed Dept has set out a specific testing schedule for the OGT. They need to demand of Life Skills that they test kids when the test comes up and document it. Finally, if large percentages aren’t taking the test because they are on then off the rolls before the next testing date, it raises additional questions about the wisdom of the entire enterprise.