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Looney presses state to reconsider appeal on faulty EOC coding

Dr. Mike Looney, superintendent of Williamson County Schools, submitted a letter to the Tennessee Department of Education Friday in a last plea to allow high school End-of-Course exam corrections to be made affecting the Hispanic population – or he could pursue legal action.
At the school board work session Thursday, Looney said that due to demographic coding errors, EOC scores of the Hispanic subpopulation do not reflect their true academic performance.
However, the state refuses to allow WCS to correct the error, which could propel the district to take legal action, Looney said.
“It’s not about money but setting the record straight. The integrity of data is paramount.” 
Although only three WCS students were miscoded as “white” instead of “Hispanic” in the demographics section of the EOC answer key, the seemingly small mistake led to mislabeling the entire high school Hispanic population.
The Hispanic population was categorized as “needs improvement,” whereas if just one of the three students had been labeled correctly, the population would have jumped to “intermediate” according to Looney.
District EOC scores, as well as, TCAP scores are both held accountable to the state. If a subpopulation “needs improvement,” an academic action plan must be devised by a district, according to state regulations. 
In the letter dated Aug. 16, WCS Attorney Bill Squires writes to Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman the following: 
“Ultimately, this [correcting errors] would ensure that all districts are given equal and fair treatment, and would help preserve the accuracy of the department's reported data.
 “Be advised that the WCBOE (Williamson County Board of Education) is exploring litigation options in case this issue cannot be amicably resolved.” 
If the district does not hear back from the state by Aug. 26, they could move forward with legal action the letter also states.
Previously, WCS and Franklin Special School District were told by the state that no TCAP or EOC demographic coding errors could be corrected and no appeals would be honored. 
According to state department of education spokesperson Kelly Gauthier, the state allows districts to correct errors when the mistake rests at the state level, not the district level. 
“We will not reopen appeals,” Gauthier said earlier last week. 
“Districts have four or five times during the year to correct data. The last appeals window occurs before test data is back. If there is a mistake on our side, we will grant it. If it’s on the districts side, we will not.”
However, the state permitted Metro Nashville Public Schools the ability to make corrections to their Native American subpopulation because they had already spent much time and resources correcting another state mistake.
Because Metro was allowed to correct some demographic information after the appeals window had closed, Looney believes that Metro was treated fairly, while WCS and other districts were not.
Dr. David Snowden, FSSD director of schools, agrees. 
“I have no problem with the state cutting off the window to correct. It’s logical, but if one school system was allowed to correct their errors that could affect accountability, then all school systems should be able to do the same.”
Although Snowden previously submitted an appeal anyway to correct subpopulation demographic information in FSSD, his appeal was denied.
“That Metro was able to correct is a good thing. I believe that every school system should have had the same opportunity to have accurate data.”
 “It’s not fair if the coding is not accurate,” Looney said. “We would have submitted an appeal if we had not been told by the state that we couldn’t.
 “The next step would be legal action.”
At the work session, Looney said that according to a survey administered by Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, 45 of the 61 districts, who responded said that they would have appealed coding errors if the state had not prohibited the action.
Looney said that if the error had not been made, his TCAP/EOC report on the Hispanic population would have been different at the July 29 press conference announcing that WCS reigned as the highest achieving district in the state. 
According to an initial letter submitted to the state earlier in August by Looney, correcting the error for the Hispanic demographic would change numbers from 62.8 percent to 63.6 percent in English II proficiency – just enough of a difference to show improvement of the population since 2012 in which proficiency levels were 63.2 percent. 
“This correction will mean this subgroup will have ‘improved,’ not ‘declined’ for English II in 2013,” the letter states.
The error generated from faulty information recorded on student records when students entered WCS. “The information on record in the system matched the test information,” Looney said. “We had no reason to think that there was a mistake.” 
WCS officials spotted the error when reviewing Hispanic students’ test results in an effort to “drill down” on the population’s low score of “needs improvement.”
At the school board meeting on Monday, the body could vote on a resolution further requesting that the state reconsider their stance in allowing districts to change their coding errors.
However, not all board members consider legal action to be necessary. 
School Board Member Ken Peterson, District 1, said that although he thinks that scores should reflect accurate information, he questions the benefit of legal action. 
“It seems like we would be paying money to fix what was broken in the first place. How does this benefit the other 33,000 students in the district? We know the scores are good, and we should feel good about that.” 
“Our reputation and the state’s regarding accountability is at stake,” Looney said during work session discussions.
“It’s like a bank statement. Sometimes there are mistakes, and when there are. It should be acknowledged and corrected.”

Posted on: 8/18/2013


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