Too Little, Too Late, Too Much, Too Soon

April 22, 2014 1 comment

By now, you’ve probably heard about Oklahoma’s Second Annual Testing Debacle, brought to you by CTB/McGraw-Hill, the State Department of Education, and Janet4Kids. At 8:30 yesterday morning, the online testing system for grades 6-12 kicked about 8,000 students offline. The SDE and CTB made the decision – which probably was the only choice available – to shut the system down for the day. Needless to say, Superintendent Barresi was…well, what’s the word…

…frustrated. She was frustrated and angry. For those who found themselves able to watch her press conference live yesterday and/or were able to stomach it in taped form, you saw a visceral reaction to a dumbfounding occurrence. This should not have happened. It definitely should not have happened twice. For that reason alone, we have to hold yesterday’s events, and the reaction to them, to extra scrutiny. That includes this bulletin from the SDE sent around dinner time last night:

Barresi opposes renewal of contract with testing vendor
Some school districts will resume testing Tuesday
OKLAHOMA CITY (April 21, 2014) — In the wake of thousands of disruptions in online assessments today, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said she will recommend the State Board of Education not renew the contract of testing vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill for the next fiscal year.

Officials with CTB/McGraw-Hill held a conference call late this afternoon with Barresi and representatives of 11 districts, including Davis, Edmond, El Reno, Lawton, Norman, Oklahoma City, Prague, Pryor, Sapulpa, Tulsa and Woodward. CTB indicated  a piece of hardware malfunctioned and caused intermittent disruptions. The situation had been remedied by early afternoon.

Districts are free to continue testing tomorrow or wait until Wednesday based on their specific needs. OSDE suspended testing Monday once the scope of the disruptions became apparent.

About 8,100 Oklahoma students in grades 6-12 experienced disruptions during online testing.

“It is an understatement to say I am frustrated. It is an understatement to say I am outraged,” Barresi said at a news conference held at the department.

“The state was ready. Districts did all we asked of them. We quadrupled training, conducted stress tests and addressed a litany of issues in hopes of guarding against as many system deficiencies as possible. But we could not guard against everything, and this is a 100-percent failing of CTB.”

CTB indicated it is monitoring the errant hardware and is working with the hardware vendor to guard against another interruption. This marks the second year of significant system disruptions surrounding the vendor.

About 11,000 students today were able to complete their assessments.

Third- through fifth-grade students taking assessments were not affected because those tests are pencil-and-paper.

These strong words remind me of how Barresi stood up to CTB last year. It’s one of my all-time favorite quotes from her:

I had zero involvement in the entire process from start to finish.

That’s right. Three weeks after the disruption, she announced that she hadn’t been involved with the selection of the testing vendor at all. I concluded at the time that this represented either an act of malfeasance (doing her job poorly) or nonfeasance (failing to do her job at all). Below is my assessment of this year’s response.

Too Little

One of the things we learned yesterday is that the state can fine the testing company $15,000 per day, up to three percent of the total contract, when testing breaks. Since then, we’ve learned that CTB has given all districts the green light to resume testing. That’s a relief. I’d hate for the textbook/publishing conglomerate to feel any real disruption. I guess they’re just too big to fail hold accountable. CTB is getting $13.5 million in Oklahoma tax dollars this year. Their maximum fine is just north of $400,000. We won’t even approach that.

This should be instructive as we continue hiring and firing companies that fail us on test day. The punishments built into the contracts have to be significant enough to hurt. While contractually, we can’t do much more than this, we do still have one card left to play: field testing item tryouts.

At this point, continuing with the plan to have Oklahoma students take practice tests following the real tests (at least for CTB) is unreasonable. I’ve heard from way too many parents who want nothing to do with this process anyway. Pulling out of the CTB field tests (not Measured Progress – the new testing company that hasn’t disappointed us yet) would allow the SDE to show in way that words cannot how much they want to help us. We’re firing them anyway. Why put our students through this exercise just to give them extra data they can take to another state.

Too Late

Barresi said yesterday that last year, we couldn’t have fired CTB if we had wanted to. She cited the fact that we entered into a five year contract with them and the late date of the testing disruption. Here’s how the SDE announced their contract with CTB in December 2012:

The State Board of Education during a special meeting on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, voted unanimously to recommend that CTB/McGraw Hill be awarded a one-year $8.9 million testing contract for grades 3-8. The contract has four additional annual renewals for a total price of $28 million. The contract will still have to be approved by the state Department of Central Services. If awarded, CTB/McGraw Hill would develop tests in all subject areas for grades 3-8 as well as benchmark assessments in reading, mathematics and writing. The company already has the contract for Oklahoma end-of-instruction exams. This was the only item on the board’s agenda.

From the beginning, the SDE knew we could opt out each year. On the other hand, something about opting out gives them cold sweats. The timing wasn’t an issue either. Last year, the disruption happened April 29. This year, it was April 21. Those extra eight days don’t provide much cushion in the Request For Proposals process. CTB should have been fired last year. Instead, we had an initial response of outrage from Barresi, followed by her blaming schools for the disruption, and then eventually a milquetoast settlement. It’s the worst bastardization of Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief I have ever witnessed.

Too Much

Being late to the game of disappointment and frustration is one thing. Piling on by ensuring that the integrity of test results won’t be compromised is a slap in the face. It shows that Barresi just doesn’t get it. She can’t say enough that the pencil-paper tests of third through fifth grade students wasn’t affected. She makes it clear that disrupted students can pick up where they left off. The tests, however, are no longer valid. That doesn’t mean CTB will invalidate them, though.

Still, these tests will be used as high-stakes measures for students, teachers, schools, and districts. They will impact graduation plans, evaluations, spending for Title I schools placed on the needs improvement list, and property values of homeowners. Yesterday’s disruption is another illustration of how ludicrous it is to place so much emphasis on one test. These instruments tell us very little. They’re not even good at what they’re supposed to be, however. Even if all goes smoothly, we won’t have scores back in a timely manner and be able to do anything useful with them.

This is why I support any plan to reduce the amount of standardized testing we have in Oklahoma. I just don’t believe that reinforcing bad tests is the way to keep subjects like social studies from being marginalized. If we could get Congress to end No Child Left Behind, states like ours could have a real conversation about the purpose and utility of assessment. Until then, we continue to jump through hoops. This makes us compliant, not accountable.

Too Soon

In a span of seven hours yesterday – from the time of the press conference until the press release in the evening – Barresi flip-flopped on whether or not we could fire the testing company. I hesitate using that term on politicians because I expect reasonable people to be open-minded and open to change. Still, during the press conference, she was adamant that we could not have fired CTB last year. To change her mind that quickly means that she must have been presented with new evidence. I just wonder if that evidence came from her staff at the SDE or her campaign people.

Maybe the difference is that it happened twice. Maybe it’s that it happened in a campaign year. From throwing the new Assistant State Superintendent of Assessment into the fire on the tough questions (Welcome to Oklahoma!) during the presser, to the overuse of adjectives in speech and writing, her response reeks of desperation. I saw quick responses on social media from two of her opponents – Deskin and Hofmeister. I’m sure the other four had equally prompt reactions. Yes, yesterday’s events have to be a factor in the rest of the campaign (63 days until the primary).

If I’m those six opponents, I think I use this Pat Benetar classic in my campaign ads for a while.

Testing is Barresi’s calling card. It is the point of origin for every issue that matters to her. Testing is caring. A-F Report Cards. Third grade retention. Teacher evaluations. Value-added measurements. It is (0,0) on her axis. Any failure in testing damages the extent to which her few remaining supporters can honestly believe in her or her initiatives.

That doesn’t mean we should be complacent, though. She has a self-financed campaign and millions to pump into it. She is buddies with Jeb Bush. At a moment’s notice, she could have his Foundation running the show, and probably shoring up some of the public relations damage.

If you’re an educator, keep letting the parents you see know how badly Barresi and the SDE are doing when they’re supposed to support education. If you’re a parent, tell other parents. Whoever you are, keep calling and writing your elected legislators. Sign the No On Barresi petition. Add your concerns to this survey of Oklahoma Education Voters. Do everything you can to help fire the person who didn’t fire the testing company last year.

Can You Believe This?

April 21, 2014 3 comments

Oh no. It’s happening again.

I don’t know what clairvoyant out there had 8:30 the morning of April 21st in the betting pool. If that sounds familiar, you may already be a winner! In case you missed it today, online testing through the state vendor – CTB/McGraw-Hill kicked everybody offline – AGAIN! Here’s the memo the SDE released around 11:00 this morning:

Oklahoma grades 6-8 and EOI testing disruptionOK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 04/21/2014 11:05 AM CDT

Oklahoma Grades 6-8 and EOI Tests Suspended for the Day

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 21, 2014) – As a result of online testing disruptions for students in grades 6-8 and high school end-of-instruction (EOIs) exams, State Superintendent Janet Barresi has directed testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill to suspend online testing for today.

“We certainly share in the frustration that students and school districts feel,” Barresi said. “It is of paramount importance that CTB finds the nature of the problem and resolves it as quickly as possible.”

About 6,000 students in grades 6-8 and high school EOIs were disrupted as a result of a system-wide problem with testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill’s network.

This did not affect third-grade reading tests, as tests for grades 3-5 are administered by paper and pencil.

CTB technicians are onsite at the agency and in constant communication with the company’s national headquarters working to determine the exact nature of the disruption.

Districts were advised to allow students who were successfully testing to complete tests. Districts were asked to suspend online testing for all students who had not yet started assessments.

The system is designed to save student responses up to the point of disruption, so it may be possible for those students to successfully complete the test when the system is operational.

We currently are exploring permanent options for those students disruption.

We cannot re-elect the person who re-hired the testing company that allowed this to happen twice!

To refresh your memory, when CTB failed us last year, Superintendent Barresi issued a quick, terse response:

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 30, 2013) – The Oklahoma State Department of Education experienced complications with online assessments for grades 6 through 12 throughout the school day on Monday and for the better part of Tuesday.Testing Company CTB/McGraw Hill reported problems with their servers while uploading student assessment results. Students were reportedly knocked off the system mid-assessment.

State Superintendent Janet Barresi said, “This is completely unacceptable. We are outraged that our school districts are not able to administer assessments in a smooth and efficient manner. This is especially disruptive for the children who have worked hard all year and now have the opportunity to let us know what they have achieved. To be interrupted during testing is a very difficult and stressful environment for our children and educators.”

“We are working closely with the testing company to remedy the situation. Once that is done, we will have discussions about how to proceed with accommodations for the districts and how to proceed with CTB,” Barresi said.

If testing shows we care, then allowing this to happen twice shows how careless we are.

At 1:30 today, Superintendent Barresi held a press conference to discuss these problems in more detail. She threw the words unacceptable and outraged around quite a bit. She repeatedly mentioned that schools did everything that had been asked of them and that nobody was to blame for this other than CTB. She even took questions.

One of the first questions was about how much we pay these people. She didn’t have those numbers off hand, but she sent for them, and she gave the amounts before she finished.

That’s more than $13.5 million. As one smart aleck pointed out (ok, it was me), that would cover a $2,000 raise for every teacher in the state!

Another question was about the fact that Indiana started testing today. If you’ll recall, last year, Oklahoma and Indiana both had CTB meltdowns on the same day. Barresi said that should be a non-issue. We were promised by CTB that our tests would operate on completely different servers. Also, CTB this was a company-wide failure, rather than just a testing glitch.

Barresi was asked about penalties for CTB. By the terms of the contract, we can fine them $15,000 per day, up to a total of 3 percent of the total contract. If the disruption lasts a day or two, the fine is pretty miniscule. Meanwhile, what happens to the tests?

Barresi mentioned that she made CTB ensure that if we had kids kicked out again, the system would save their place. The problem is that we cease to have a standardized test at that point. Any delay of more than 20 minutes would result in invalidation anyway. Therefore, every student who started testing today and was interrupted would be in that situation.

Also, it makes me a little queasy to see that she’s assuring us this glitch didn’t impact 3rd grade testing. Maybe that’s a silver lining. On the other hand, how many schools adjusted their schedules, cancelled computer classes, and took the time of their patrons who volunteered for test monitoring today? How easy will it be to reschedule that?

Probably the most important question she had regarded the decision to retain CTB after last year’s debacle. She said there were two considerations. First, we had a five year contract with them. Second, we wouldn’t have had the time to select a new vendor, as late as the problems occurred. Both of these claims are patently false.

CTB failed us so badly last year, we would have been well within our rights to fire them. Instead, we bent over and said they had been punished. The damages paid by CTB included $678,000 in 2nd grade benchmarks that schools didn’t want.  It also included $125,000 for the technology readiness assessment that our schools nailed. Unfortunately, nobody was testing their readiness.

Beyond that, we would have had plenty of time to select a new vendor. Barresi blames the Request for Purchase process for not having enough time. That’s not true at all. Remember that time we had to negate the first contract with CTB due to “administrative challenges” in October and re-award it a couple of months later? Maybe we should have spent a little more time shopping around.

The truth is that Janet Barresi and the SDE had options. This failure is as much on them as it is on CTB, and it’s unacceptable. I’m furious and outraged too. I’ll close by posting what has probably been my most retweeted comment in all the time I’ve been using social media.

I Didn’t Know We Had A King

April 18, 2014 3 comments

If you’re of a certain age and found yourself, shall we say, with limited social options in your adolescence, you can probably quote just about every line of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In one of my favorite scenes, King Arthur explains to two peasants how it came to pass that he was to rule over them.

 ARTHUR:  How do you do, good lady.  I am Arthur, King of the Britons.

Who’s castle is that?

WOMAN:  King of the who?

ARTHUR:  The Britons.

WOMAN:  Who are the Britons?

ARTHUR:  Well, we all are. we’re all Britons and I am your king.

WOMAN:  I didn’t know we had a king.  I thought we were an autonomous

DENNIS:  You’re fooling yourself.  We’re living in a dictatorship.

A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes–

WOMAN:  Oh there you go, bringing class into it again.

DENNIS:  That’s what it’s all about if only people would–

ARTHUR:  Please, please good people.  I am in haste.  Who lives

in that castle?

WOMAN:  No one live there.

ARTHUR:  Then who is your lord?

WOMAN:  We don’t have a lord.

ARTHUR:  What?

DENNIS:  I told you.  We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune.  We take

it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.

ARTHUR:  Yes.

DENNIS:  But all the decision of that officer have to be ratified

at a special biweekly meeting.

ARTHUR:  Yes, I see.

DENNIS:  By a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs,–

ARTHUR:  Be quiet!

DENNIS:  –but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more–

ARTHUR:  Be quiet!  I order you to be quiet!

WOMAN:  Order, eh — who does he think he is?

ARTHUR:  I am your king!

WOMAN:  Well, I didn’t vote for you.

ARTHUR:  You don’t vote for kings.

WOMAN:  Well, ‘ow did you become king then?

ARTHUR:  The Lady of the Lake,

[angels sing]

her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur

from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I,

Arthur, was to carry Excalibur.

[singing stops]

That is why I am your king!

By the way I’m going to pretend that a bunch of you didn’t just drift away and read the entire script or get sucked into a You Tube vortex and watch a bunch of other clips before returning. Focus, people! This stuff is important!

Reading the Tulsa World’s article this afternoon on Janet Barresi’s response to the online petition expressing no confidence in her reminded me of this scene in the movie.

“The fact that those guarding their own kingdoms are against the state’s leading reform advocate is not a surprise,” Barresi’s campaign manager Robyn Matthews said in a statement. “This same group literally turned their backs on Janet when she first went to speak to them before the 2010 elections.

“They are upset that Janet has exposed how they could give teachers a $2,000 increase in pay by just reprioritizing a small percentage of administrative overhead,” she said. “The truth is, the people have no confidence in this education establishment that has run over parents and bowed to the liberal trade unions.”

First of all, what ever happened to Sam Stone? When did Barresi get a new campaign manager? Oh well, that’s a rabbit hole for another time. For now, let’s focus on these two tightly packed paragraphs and the loaded language they contain.

Guarding over kingdoms? Wow. How many schools have Barresi and her campaign staff been in lately? Have they seen the deferred maintenance that many districts can’t afford to address because of rural poverty and a negligible bonding capacity? Are they oblivious to the mountains of unfunded mandates? It would be more accurate to say we’re guarding the children in our schools from lousy public policy.

The state’s leading reform advocate? Is that a self-ascribed title? I’d give that crown to Jeb Bush, since it is his agenda she’s spreading into our state.

Literally turned their backs on Janet? If Matthews is referring to Barresi’s address to the CCOSA summer conference in 2010, I was there. There was no back turning. We listened to Barresi and her general election opponent, Sen. Susan Paddack, describe their respective visions for public education in this state. If I remember correctly, many CCOSA members (and the organization itself) made donations to the Barresi campaign.

After the last four years, however, none of us will turn our backs on Barresi!

A $2,000 increase in pay? Barresi exposed nothing. She keeps spouting numbers about record carryovers but hasn’t put anything forward. If she’s willing to issue press releases shaming school districts for not participating in computer readiness drills with the testing companies, surely she can find someone at the SDE with the free time to publish a spreadsheet showing every district’s 2013 General Fund carryover. Time and time again, professional educators who have actually taken a school finance class and had to live within a budget have proven the folly of this plan.

This education establishment that has run over parents? Here, Matthews misses one critical fact. The online petition was started by a Yukon parent. Or maybe she missed the part this month where Barresi implored legislators to vote against HB2625, which would include parents in the decision-making process about any third-grade retentions.

Bowed to the liberal trade unions? She loves calling people liberals. It’s her bread and butter. Then again, the OEA and CCOSA have both been instrumental in the implementation of two of her biggest reform pieces: TLE and Common Core – even if one of them is going away.

If the Barresi campaign wants to accuse her opponents of something regal, that’s fine. The campaign has every reason to be nervous. I still haven’t seen that roster of legislators that still supports her.

Barresi is no king, and I didn’t vote for her. Many of those who did won’t again. This year at the ballot box, they will have but one thing to say.

 

NEE

Charter Schools Expansion: No on SB 573

If you think a statewide commission should be able to authorize the establishment of charter schools anywhere in the state – including your school district, you should love SB 573, which is due to be heard on the floor of the House this week. Since most of us prefer local control of our schools, I thought I should share the alert I received from CCOSA yesterday.

Legislative Action Alert – SB 573 STATEWIDE CHARTER SCHOOL

SB 573 by Senator Clark Jolley (R-Edmond) and Rep. Lee Denney (R-Cushing) creates a statewide Public Charter School Commission and grants the Commission authority to authorize and oversee theestablishment of charter schools in any school district in the state.  This bill circumvents the authority of the locally elected board from exercising local control of the education of the children in your community.   This bill is eligible for a House floor vote once it is placed on the agenda which could be anytime.  Title is on the bill

Please contact your Representative immediately and ask them to vote NO on SB 573!

This is probably part of the reason why Superintendent Barresi asked for a 300 percent increase to the Charter School Incentive fund in her budget request last fall. She has publicly stated on multiple occasions that she is embarrassed we have so few charters. She has not commented, that I know of, on the fact that as a whole, their test scores are less impressive than the state as a whole.

I also haven’t heard anything from any of our state leaders about the fact that opening the door to national for-profit charter school corporations (such as Carpe Diem) will send our tax dollars out of state. Nor have I heard them discuss the problematic track record of such schools, in terms of both accounting and accountability.

Even the candidate for state superintendent with the most charter school experience opposes this expansion. She issued a statement to that effect yesterday (which I can only seem to find on her Facebook page).

I do not believe the purpose of this bill is to help Oklahoma children. I fear its purpose is to expand a national agenda to privatize schools for profit. Our children should not be used as profit centers. Inspiring and motivating children to their highest potential cannot be accomplished with a factory model of education.

Therein lies the rub. The charter school movement, going back to the 1990s in Minnesota and Arizona, sought to bring innovation to instruction by casting off the markers of assembly-line education. Where new ideas were effective, they were cloned – less effectively. The problem is that you can’t mass produce quality. You can hope to replicate average, but excellence springs from the qualities in a person, school, or community that make them unique.

Today’s charter school movement – the corporate education reform movement altogether, in fact – seeks to standardize all things.

We want schools that are accountable to local stakeholders, not out-of-state shareholders. We want schools that are a reflection of our communities. And we want teachers that know and care about our children. That’s why we should all call our legislators and oppose this bill.

Assessing History: For SB 1654

April 16, 2014 7 comments

Yesterday, Superintendent Barresi issued a bulletin asserting the importance of social studies tests. I’ll just share a portion with you here, but you can follow the link to the full post.

Superintendent Barresi joins educators in opposing
proposal to weaken social studies, U.S. history instruction

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 15, 2014) — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi and various educators around Oklahoma and across the country are expressing concerns that proposed state legislation would erase Oklahoma’s ability to measure student knowledge of social studies, geography and a significant portion of U.S. history.

Senate Bill 1654 seeks to eliminate state assessments on social studies in grades five and eight, as well as geography in grade seven. The seventh-grade world geography test is the only time students are currently tested on geographic knowledge.

While the U.S. history end-of-instruction exam would remain in place in high school, that assessment only covers standards that encompass history following the Civil War.

That means students would not be assessed that they know about the founding of the colonies, the Declaration of independence, the Revolutionary War, the writing of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Civil War — in addition to everything else that happened in early American history.

“Oklahomans know what our nation’s flag represents. Thousands of Oklahomans sacrificed their lives fighting for it and thousands more are prepared to stand up for it today,” said Barresi. “If this bill passes — combined with another law enacted last year that diminishes end-of-instruction exams — it is possible that a student in Oklahoma could go through 12th grade without ever having been assessed on America’s heritage or values. What message do we send if we dispense with the ability to ensure the teaching of what, in many respects, is the story of America?”

Kelly Curtright, director of social studies education at the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), said eliminating the assessments would deemphasize social studies in elementary and middle schools, which are the foundational levels of learning and assessing if our youngest citizens are understanding their history and heritage.” Curtright is also the current president of the Oklahoma Council for the Social Studies, which represents 1,400-plus educators.

“When citizens of a democracy are deprived of an effective social studies education, it places our citizens, our democratic principles and our Republic at risk. Citizenship illiteracy is no less destructive than reading illiteracy. We simply cannot afford to raise a generation of civic amnesiacs. Citizenship is as basic as reading, writing and arithmetic,” Curtright said.

This won’t be the fiercest post I’ll ever write, but I should say that I disagree with Barresi, Curtright, and everyone else cited in the full press release. It’s not that I favor marginalizing social studies. It’s that we have already done that. Testing narrows the focus of the curriculum to the state blueprint. It’s as simple as that.

It’s also worth noting that I haven’t found any social studies teachers yet who have looked at the new sample assessment items and felt that they were either developmentally appropriate or well-suited to the Oklahoma Academic Standards. We’re throwing our arms in the air because the future of our nation may be threatened if we don’t subject students to this flawed test…from now into perpetuity.

Ok, maybe there’s some hyperbole in there (on my part too). Failing to have a test does not deprive anybody of a social studies education. High stakes accountability testing every grade in reading and math is what deprives our students of the fullest possible social studies education. It hurts science, art, music, physical education, and meaningful computer training too.

The Tulsa World actually talked with the sponsors of SB 1654 – Mark Allen (R-Spiro) and Tom Ivester (D-Elk City).

Ivester, the bill’s co-author, called the press release “misleading at best and deceptive at worst.”

“This bill doesn’t eliminate the teaching of social studies or civics or anything like that,” he said. “All it does is eliminate any self-imposed testing that is not required by federal law.”

The father of three children — a kindergartner, second- and seventh-grader — said he has his own concerns about the levels of stress and anxiety created by current state testing, but his motivation for sponsoring the bill was the concern he has heard repeatedly from his constituents and other teachers and parents.

“Testing doesn’t necessarily equal learning or education,” Ivester said. “Eliminating a test doesn’t prevent the teaching of a subject. If you take the attitude that unless we test it, it won’t be taught, then sure, their press release works.

On one hand, I agree with Curtright and other social studies teachers who want to ensure that our nation’s history – and all the other content under that academic umbrella – has its due place in learning. On the other hand, I want to see the state spend less money on testing. And I want to see our teachers have more academic freedom. The reasons I abhor testing for reading and math carry over to my feelings about science and social studies too.

This bill passed the Senate unanimously. It should come to the floor of the House this week. While some of my readers may disagree, I hope it passes.

Caring Doesn’t Make Us Flawed

April 16, 2014 9 comments

The Oklahoman is up to their usual nonsense this morning. This time, they’re criticizing the adults who don’t like the third grade retention clause under the Reading Sufficiency Act.

In sports, citizens often mock the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality or refusal to keep score. But in academics, some find it shocking that officials would acknowledge any students trail their peers. Some critics take things a step further by suggesting there should be no consequence when a child isn’t taught to read.

That’s the wrong approach. Fostering an entitlement mentality provides children no academic benefit. A child’s self-esteem should be based on actual achievement, not social promotion. Self-image improves most when a child initially struggles to achieve a goal, not when “accomplishment” is handed to them.

Keep in mind, the law only prevents students from advancing to the fourth grade if they are reading at a first-grade level or lower. Such students are unable to read and comprehend a Dr. Seuss book.

This is just the first third of the editorial. And it’s so, so wrong.

I’ll start with the youth sports analogy. I’ve coached youth teams where no official score is kept. I’ve also coached teams where the children are in single digits, the adults do keep score, and the kids finish the game completely unaware of the outcome. Some of them are playing soccer, football, basketball, baseball, softball, or anything else for the love of the game. Keep that concept in mind for later in this critique.

I also have problem with the statement that educators are suggesting there should be no consequence when a child isn’t taught to read. The test results that we will ostensibly receive by May 9th will not tell us one damn thing about the teaching that has occurred in the classroom. They won’t show the interventions, remediation, or tutoring. They won’t show that students made gains. They won’t show the level of parental involvement. They won’t show whether the students are getting more and more comfortable in their school libraries. Tests only show what they show. And that’s very little.

Furthermore, there is no entitlement mentality. Critics of forced retention know that third grade is too late to do this. That is why, when we look through the permanent records of many of the students who will be retained this year, we will see that the school recommended retention at an earlier grade for a variety of reasons. Often, the parent overrides that recommendation. Still, most third grade teachers will gladly tell you that they would rather promote their students to fourth grade based on the fact that they are making gains. Maybe they’re not on level. I’d promote an improving student rather than holding him or her back, however.

A number of other bloggers have discussed that the test does not actually diagnose reading level. That is a whole separate battery of tests. In fact, there is tremendous disconnect between the skills assessed on the Oklahoma 3rd Grade Reading Test and the nationally-normed tests that are in place as one of the Good Cause Exemptions. The levels of performance are also mis-aligned. And again, with the Dr. Seuss.  Apparently defenders of this inane law are going to keep pushing this nonsense until we’re all One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish in the face.

The writers also criticize the concept of test anxiety, saying that the leading cause is anxiety over the material itself. I agree that can be a cause of anxiety. It’s not the only one, however. That’s typically true of older test takers – not eight and nine year-olds. For them, this is the first significant standardized test. It’s completely unfamiliar. I’ve never been in a third grade classroom during state tests where the children weren’t at least a little antsy.

I’ve also heard claims that the adults are making the anxiety worse. This is mainly coming from Superintendent Barresi, who obviously hasn’t been spending time in schools where she would see teachers making up songs with their classes, entire faculties wearing testing t-shirts, and parents providing support and encouragement non-stop. Testing is the most stressful time of the school year for everybody. The procedures alone are brutal on the adults, who still muster the energy to look at the kids, sing a happy song, and say, “You’ve got this. I believe in you!”

The editorial continues with more inflated nonsense about testing.

Some critics of the reading law suggest “high stakes” testing doesn’t occur outside K-12 schools. Not true. The driver’s license exam is certainly high stakes for most teenagers. College admission is often tied to a student’s ACT or SAT score. Those wishing to serve in the military must achieve a minimum score on the ASVAB to enlist. For what it’s worth, a 2010 Education Trust report, which examined ASVAB results from 2004 to 2009, found 23.2 percent of Oklahoma high school graduates (and 39.5 percent of black applicants from Oklahoma) did not meet the minimum standard necessary to enlist.

Those wishing to work as attorneys must pass the bar exam. Failure on that test means years of college education and thousands of dollars in tuition have been wasted. Talk about high stakes! The same scenario is true for accountants. Even those wishing simply to work a cash register at a retail outlet must typically pass a skills test.

Before the writers drift off-topic to the ASVAB results, they nearly make a solid point. At different stages in life, many of us have chosen to take a test that will have high stakes for us. I chose to take the ACT and SAT in high school (and the GRE after college). I have countless friends and family members who have self-selected to take the MCAT and LSAT and spent hundreds of hours on top of their coursework cramming for those tests. This hardly compares to the experience of our third graders.

I hope the editorialists at the state’s mouthpiece for corporate education reform at least understand that. If they don’t, then they need to read Rob’s blog from last night. Sure, it’s an anecdotal piece of evidence. But it’s a pretty compelling one.

What the Editorial Writers at the Oklahoman Don’t Get about Education

April 16, 2014 1 comment
Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

A Little More About the Messenger

April 14, 2014 6 comments

I had a reader question how thoroughly I research people today. The comment was made by Lorie Brady on the Testing (Our Patience) post from last week.

I would like to point out that Teri Brecheen completely transformed her poverty riddled, rural school district. It went from a failing school to a nationally recognized academic success story. If there is anyone who knows about reading instruction and passion for student success, it is Teri. I suggest that you find out a little more about the messenger before you start taking shots at her.

Thanks for the suggestion. I have in fact done my homework on the Cottonwood “miracle.” Here are some basic numbers from the K-8 district in Coal County from the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years (the year before Brecheen joined the SDE, and the following year):

Cottonwood Public Schools 2010-11 2011-12
Average Daily Membership 245.2 247.2
Free/Reduced Lunch % 58.9% 63.3%
Special Education % 33.9% 34.4%
3rd Grade Reading Passing % 90% 69%
4th Grade Reading Passing % 94% 95%
5th Grade Reading Passing % 90% 94%
6th Grade Reading Passing % 100% 75%
7th Grade Reading Passing % 80% 100%
8th Grade Reading Passing % 100% 83%

While I firmly believe that numbers tell part of a story, I don’t believe they tell the whole story – probably less than half (which is why I hate high-stakes testing, A-F Report Cards, VAM, and Roster Verification). In this case, let’s see what story the data tell.

In 2011-12, the state average for special education was 14.8 percent of students. Cottonwood more than doubled that. In fact, Cottonwood has had more than 30 percent of its students on an IEP every year since 1998-99. Prior to that, they were in the teens. Their high year came in 2001-02, when they hit 42.4% of students classified as special education. For the 2011-12 school year, this ranked Cottonwood 12th out of 522 school districts for highest percentage of students in special education programs.

I point this out because Ms. Brecheen’s boss’s boss likes to claim that schools don’t know how to identify special needs students. Last fall, Superintendent Barresi stated that 75 percent of all identifications were wrong. Earlier this month, she said it was between 50-60 percent. It’s also worth noting that those reading scores above only include regular education students.

As for poverty, Cottonwood’s free/reduced percentages are within a couple of points of the state average. In 2011-12, they were above it. The previous year, they were below it. There is a lot of poverty in the community, but not to a remarkable extent.

Fortunately, I’ve also had the opportunity to hear Ms. Brecheen speak on multiple occasions. I heard her discuss management strategies that are definitely important. It is clear that she paid attention to reading in the early grades. For a superintendent to be that involved in at least understanding where the students and teachers stand in the development of that most critical learning skill is noteworthy.

What I haven’t heard from her is anything concrete in terms of teaching strategies. Every time I hear her talk, it’s an amalgam of folksy anecdotes, and it’s heavier on faith, hope, and love than it is on methodology. I agree with the commenter in terms of Ms. Brecheen’s passion for student success. I remain unconvinced of her understanding of quality reading instruction.

That said, I have nothing against faith, hope, and love. This blog is predicated on the faith I have in our state’s teachers to do the best job they can (while continuously improving). Every student – even the most challenging or at risk kids – deserves our genuine hope. And any teacher incapable of loving children doesn’t belong in the classroom.

On top of that, Ms. Brecheen saying that our students’ struggles are due to our teachers’ inadequacies shows her lack of contact with the rest of the state. Cottonwood is one school district. It’s a small one. It’s a K-8 school. What works there might not work in a K-12 district…or one with 1,000 students…or 10,000…or 25,000. And so on. Her experiences there might not even translate to another district with 250 students in the next county. Every district has different kids, different needs.

Then again, how many of us in the blogosphere have been saying that until we turn blue?

Another way to say this is that I have no need to disparage the hard work of the teachers at Cottonwood. It is clear that they have been tireless and had a tremendous amount of success with their regular education students. I have no data confirming or disconfirming the success of their special education students during Ms. Brecheen’s superintendency. I’d go look at the old API reports from that era if the SDE hadn’t removed them in the name of transparency. Or something like that.

This state has some incredible teachers working in tough situations. No doubt many of them are in Cottonwood and other small communities. I’d just like to hear something resembling respect and understanding from Brecheen – and others at the SDE – when talking about the rest of the state.

Straw Poll of Sorts

April 13, 2014 3 comments

I’ve said before that I’m never really sure what’s going to get my readers going. Sometimes I spend days researching a post, write it, and hardly get any page views. Friday’s post on the seven candidates for State Superintendent took me about 30 minutes and was my 400th post to this blog. As I write this, it’s ranked ninth among the 400.

Another interesting thing to watch is the clicks from my blog to other sites. I try to source external content as much as it is available. The stated purpose of this blog is “when the record on public education in Oklahoma needs to be set straight.” It says so right at the top. I try to refute the favorite myths of the people trying to destroy public education. This often involves simply re-posting press releases or testing instructions directly from the SDE with very little commentary. When I do, those items get a few clicks, typically.

That’s why I’m so pleased that my readers have really taken the opportunity to research the candidates in this race. As of 8:45 tonight, here are the total clicks from my blog to their websites.

You’re welcome, candidates.

Just from what I’ve seen in social media over the last 9 months or so, I think most of my readers are familiar with Hofmeister, Deskin, and Barresi. I also think few would seriously consider voting to re-elect Barresi. Then again, I also know I have quite a few readers all up and down Lincoln Boulevard, and honestly, they’re not all fans. So maybe a few of my regular readers will be voting for Barresi. Good for them.

While I’ve yet to settle on a single candidate, and I really don’t have plans to endorse one, I’ll go ahead and say this: ANYONE HAS TO BE BETTER THAN BARRESI.

To her, teachers are the problem, except when she needs to pander to them for political expediency. She campaigned in 2010 on how much the education establishment feared her. Teachers – and especially administrators – were the problem, and she didn’t care who heard her say that. (She also detests “researchers,” except for the $85,000/year recent Ph.D. from Harvard the SDE now employs.)

For more than three years, that has been how she has “led” the state. Blame educators for everything. Tests fail; it was the schools’ fault. Kids are stressed about tests; the adults let them down. Losing a damn generation of kids doesn’t happen because the teachers are heroes, as she says when she’s right in front of them.

Recently, Barresi (or her people, anyway) wrote about the “New Minimum” in academic preparation of students for college and the workforce. It was such an unremarkable rehash of ALEC claptrap that I found it entirely unremarkable. This weekend, however, when I was watching the numbers go up on my post and on click to the campaign sites, I realized that so many of my readers have that same mindset when it comes to this election. We have a new minimum. While I find some of the candidates less ready for the state superintendency than others, any of them would be an upgrade over the incumbent.

*****

For a “contrary” point of view, read Rob Miller’s Top Ten Reasons to Re-Elect Janet Barresi!

Seven Candidates for State Superintendent

April 11, 2014 4 comments

Let the fun officially begin! As of 5:00 this evening, the candidate filing period for 2014 has closed. It appears we will have seven people running for the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. According to the forms they filed with the state election commission, they are:

You can click the links above to learn more about each candidate from his or her own website. With three or more individuals in each party’s primary, it is important to note all three election dates. The primary will be held June 24, 2014. In the case a run-off is needed, it will be August 26. The general election will be November 4.

Keeping track of candidates over the last three days has only been part of my curiosity. I assume that most of my readers have never run for public office before. I wanted to see what the process looks like, so I downloaded a copy of the 2014 Filing Packet.

First off, each candidate had to pay a filing fee of $500, unless they presented a petition for candidacy that has been signed by four percent of registered voters. Second, each state office has specific requirements for candidates. Here’s a general overview for state offices.

No person shall be eligible to the office of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, State Auditor and Inspector, Attorney General, State Treasurer or Superintendent of Public Instruction except a citizen of the United States of the age of not less than thirty-one (31) years and who shall have been ten (10) years next preceding his or her election, or appointment, a qualified elector of this state. (Article 6, Section 3, Oklahoma Constitution)

Some offices have additional requirements.

State Auditor and Inspector

The State Auditor and Inspector must have had at least three years’ experience as an expert accountant.

Insurance Commissioner

The Insurance Commissioner of the State of Oklahoma shall … have had at least five (5) years’ experience in the insurance industry in administration, sales, servicing or regulation.

District Attorney

Any person, otherwise qualified, who has been a resident of the state for two (2) years, a registered voter in the district and a resident residing within such district for at least six (6) months immediately preceding the filing period, a duly licensed attorney for at least five (5) years, and at least twenty-eight (28) years of age, prior to the date of filing for the office, shall be eligible to hold the office of district attorney.

District Judge and Associate District Judge

Each District Judge shall have had prior to election or appointment, a minimum of four years’ experience as a licensed practicing attorney, or as a judge of a court of record, or both, within the State of Oklahoma.

That’s it – nothing for Attorney General, State Treasurer, or Superintendent of Public Instruction. You have to have experience in law to be a DA, but not to be the AG. Bizarre. You just have to be 31.

Most of the Oklahoma education community has lamented over these last three years the fact that our state’s education system is being run by an amateur who takes her marching orders from Jeb Bush and ALEC. Many of us would like to see some sort of professional prerequisites for this office as well. While we are fortunate to have an Attorney General and a State Treasurer with relevant professional experience, nothing in the Oklahoma Constitution or anywhere in state statute mandates that. In theory, we could eventually get dentists running both of those agencies at some point as well – maybe even teachers!

In all seriousness, this field has been taking shape since August. I’m a little surprised we didn’t have another candidate or two. Oklahomans (not just educators) are beyond frustrated with the incumbent and legislature for their ongoing disrespect. Throw the governor in there too; she hasn’t done public schools or the children they serve any favors.

My hope is that concerned voters will research ALL of the candidates. These people have done something in putting their names on the ballot that most of us will never do. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a strong working knowledge of four of these people and their positions on the issues that matter to me. Now I need to learn more about the other three.

We have 74 days until the primary, and a lot of work to do.

Horton Hears What?

Yesterday, Superintendent Barresi and her Republican Primary challenger, Joy Hofmeister, answered questions during a luncheon in Tulsa. This was the first time they’ve spoken to a group at the same time (not counting last summer when Barresi left the building after speaking at a candidate’s forum). I wish I could have seen that. Fortunately, the Tulsa World has reported the details.

Although I could surely point to more, I take issue with three things in particular that came out of Barresi’s mouth during the debate (which may not be the best word to describe the event). Unless otherwise noted, all quotes below are from the World article

Third Grade Testing

In her opening statement, Barresi noted many parents have voiced their concerns about the third-grade reading law, which mandates that children pass the state standardized reading test or be retained in third grade.

The focus should be not on how many students will be retained, but how many students are illiterate in Oklahoma and how it will affect their lives, she said.

“A child who scores unsatisfactory on a third-grade assessment can’t read and comprehend ‘Horton Hears A Who.’ But they’re being sent into fourth grade where they are expected to read and understand “Little House on the Prairie,’” Barresi said.

This is yet another in a series of talking points that Barresi and her few remaining political allies will be using to influence us. How do we know this? Today, the Oklahoman quoted Rep. Jason Nelson saying essentially the same thing.

Students who fail a third-grade reading test would be granted new options for promotion to the fourth grade under an amended bill approved late Monday by the Common Education Committee of the state House of Representatives.

Students would be allowed to appeal to the local school board if they can obtain the backing of their parent or guardian, teacher, principal and teaching specialist, if the school has one, under an amendment successfully presented to the committee by state Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs.

The students also would be eligible for promotion if they pass one of the screening tests leading up to the main reading test, under an amendment by state Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City.

Nelson said his amendment to Senate Bill 1971 is designed to offer relief to children who can read at the proper grade level, but happen to perform poorly on one test.

However, Nelson argued against Nollan’s amendment, saying it would provide an avenue for children who can’t read books like Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hears a Who!” to be promoted to the fourth grade where they would be expected to read books on the level of “Little House on the Prairie.”

“I just can’t understand how we would be doing anyone a favor,” he said.

Yes, one of our Legislature’s strongest advocates of parental rights wants parents to have no input in retention decisions. Fortunately, this is not the prevailing view at the Capitol right now.

Fortunately, two other Jasons (fellow bloggers Bengs and James) have this covered in their respective write-ups of the conversation. Essentially, they point out the disconnect between the Lexile level and interest range and the fact that comprehending Seuss is not exactly the prerequisite a reading teacher would choose before diving into Wilder. These are bad examples and were likely chosen more for the fact that the titles would resonate for political purposes rather than for their comparative value.

Hofmeister had her own thoughts on the RSA law.

As a former first-grade teacher, Hofmeister said that third grade is not a good year to hold children back.

“The evidence doesn’t support that. We need to act on evidence,” she said. “If we’re serious in our state about having third-graders reading at grade level, we need to put the emphasis and the support in place in the kindergarten, first- and second-grade years.”

That’s what teachers and parents have been saying for two years. At least one Republican candidate has listened.

Working With Educators

“Yes, I will fight against the establishment. I will fight against the unions. I am strong and I am committed to move forward with all of the reforms,” she said.

As I’ve mentioned before, Barresi could not have implemented the qualitative piece of TLE without the help of the Oklahoma Education Association – Oklahoma’s largest teacher’s union. They have also been instrumental in providing training in the Common Core. To the extent that anything the SDE has done was effective during Barresi’s first three years, she had help from the teachers she vows to fight.

Hofmeister provided a pleasant contrast.

But Hofmeister, who served on the Oklahoma State Board of Education for more than a year before resigning to challenge Barresi’s re-election, said that Oklahoma education needs leadership that listens and fosters relationships.

“We don’t have that right now,” she said. “I saw missed opportunities as a board member watching how it was all unfolding. I saw missed opportunities to work with practitioners in the field, missed opportunities to work with scholarly experts.’ I saw missed opportunities to keep government small and respect local control.”

Hofmeister said that is why parents are frustrated and teachers are demoralized.

“When it comes to education, those closest to the students know them best and know their needs and the best way to serve them,” she said.

I question anyone with blanket animosity towards the unions, but in any case, it is important to note that there are many teachers who choose not to join. (I recently heard someone say membership is below 50% statewide, but I honestly don’t have the numbers to back that up. It’s safe to say membership varies from district to district.) More than that, Barresi, Nelson, Governor Fallin, and anyone else taking shots at educators for resisting the SDE and their reforms, needs to remember that thousands of parents have locked arms with us in our resistance.

Administration Costs

Both said schools need to be adequately funded, but Hofmeister charged that much of the state’s education funds are being used to “grow bureaucracy at the state Department of Education” rather than going into the classrooms.

Barresi argued that isn’t true, adding that during her term she has trimmed the agency’s overhead and administrative costs by $250,000 a month.

“The only thing that’s growing in schools is the administration. We have to take a look at funneling money back into the classroom … in a targeted and focused way,” she said.

When the people hell-bent on destroying public education find themselves in a corner, they quite predictably launch this missile. It falls flat in the face of facts, however. Below is a comparison of administrative costs from 2008 (the year before budget cuts started) through 2012 (the most recent year with published data). These are state averages.

Year Percent of Total Expenditures for District Administration District Administration Expenditures Per Pupil Percent of Total Expenditures for Site Administration Site Administration Expenditures Per Pupil
2008 2.9%  $222 5.5%  $418
2009 2.9%  $228 5.5%  $429
2010 3.1%  $243 5.4%  $422
2011 3.2% $246 5.4%  $411
2012 3.1%  $235 5.5%  $419
Change 0.2%  $13 0.0%  $1

Figures include salaries for superintendents, principals, directors, and the like. They also include other staff working in administrative capacities, such as secretaries, and the associated costs of running their offices (technology, utilities, etc.). Over the last five years, these figures are virtually unchanged. Adjusted for inflation, they actually represent a decline of about $27 per pupil in administrative expenses over this time period.

It makes a good talking point, but it lacks truth. Barresi’s opponent knows this.

Hofmeister also said that the state Board of Education has become a rubber-stamp for Barresi’s preferences, citing a specific instance when the board agreed to pay millions of dollars to her “vendor of choice.”

“This is an example of centralization of power and decision-making happening at the state department level. That’s not good for the economy and it’s not good for education,” she said.

Barresi refuted that charge and said all rules and regulations were followed in hiring vendors and that decisions were made in an appropriate manner.

Really? All of the purchases have been above board? What about the time CTB/McGraw-Hill (good luck with your servers this year, guys – seriously!) was selected as the testing vendor, then the selection was invalidated, and the whole thing had to go back out to bid again? Remember that? Oh, wait, I do. I wrote about that in October 2012. The SDE blamed it on “administrative challenges,” which is code for “people insisting we follow rules when spending wasting millions of taxpayer dollars.”

I’m tired of the nonsense. I’m ready for a change. Whether it’s Hofmeister or one of the Democrats challenging for the position, this state deserves better than having a state superintendent who will say pretty much anything to keep her job.

anyonebutbarresi - Copy

Testing (our patience)

I once had a boss who was fond of saying, “If you give people enough rope, they’ll eventually hang themselves.” That is to say that when some people talk long enough they tend to just keep going until their true feelings are revealed. Such was the case yesterday when two of our state’s most bizarre orators took to the defense of state testing.

Below are several tweets about the statements of Rep. Sally Kern of Oklahoma City and Teri Brecheen, the SDE’s executive director of literacy. The context was yesterday’s House Education Committee’s discussion of SB 1654, which would eliminate all state testing that is not federally mandated.

Let’s start with Kern. Yesterday, Ed Tech Principal blogged about a response he received from her about testing. I tweeted that it was one of the most important blog posts of 2014 (keeping in mind that testing actually starts later this week).

Jason,

Thank you for your email concerning SB 1654.

While I support less testing for our students, I do not think eliminating social studies tests is the way to accomplish that.  It is in social studies classes that our students learn about citizenship, our nation’s history, our Constitution and our democratic republic system.  As you well know, what you test, you teach.  If we don’t test on social studies we will not be teaching our students the principles that they need to be good productive citizens of our nation.  There are other and better ways to reduce testing than by getting rid of social studies tests.

Again, thank you for your email.

God bless,

Sally Kern

If you’ve followed Kern through the years, one thing is abundantly clear: she is adamant about schools teaching history the way she thinks it should be taught. I’m not going to get into what that is right now. The key is that she has strong feelings about what constitutes quality history and government instruction and believes the only way to keep teachers on that script is to test them.

Let me rephrase that: The only way to ensure that US history and government teachers stay on the blueprint is to test their creativity into oblivion.

I just wrote and deleted a paragraph discussing different sides of a few key moments since the revolution: the 3/5 Compromise; the Emancipation Proclamation; the New Deal; Iran-Contra. For one, this post isn’t about the ways students can explore those issues in depth and think critically. More importantly, the better teachers among us already have their students reading and discussing history beyond the dates, kings, and boundaries.

While Kern doesn’t trust history teachers to instruct the way she prefers, Brecheen clearly doesn’t trust reading teachers to teach reading at all. What she said in committee yesterday is really no different than what I’ve heard her say at various SDE-hosted events. It’s really no different than what Janet Barresi says when she’s talking out of the side of her mouth that bashes our profession (followed quickly by faint praise from the other side).

Brecheen also tries overlaying testing norms over the state tests, which are actually criterion-referenced. This shows not only disrespect for our teachers, but a complete lack of understanding of testing. You can’t apply norms to criterion-referenced tests because the establishing of a criterion, by practice, is subjective to interpretation. Scoring a 50 on a criterion-referenced test is not a good thing. It means you missed half the questions. Scoring in the 50th percentile on a norm-referenced test is average (technically median).  When the state went to CRTs in the 1990s, it was an attempt to ascertain how many students had met a standard rather than how many were above average. I’d expect the Executive Director of Literacy for the SDE to understand this.

I’d also expect Brecheen, a former K-8 superintendent to understand something about teachers. At this point in her career, I would hope that she’s seen teachers work their asses off helping students not only improve their reading skills, but improve their love of reading. She should also understand that the love is more important; in fact, skill is more often a byproduct of passion than of drill.

In case you’re wondering, SB 1654 already passed the Senate by a vote of 44-0. It passed the House committee by a vote of 11-8. It still has two hurdles to clear: vote of the full House, and governor’s signature.

Doubling down on insults to the profession, Barresi today again questioned the competence of educators by claiming pervasive over-identification of special education students in our schools.

The interesting thing about this to me is that last in November, she claimed we were wrong on 75% of our special education identifications. I guess this means we’ve improved during the last five months. Way to go, Oklahoma!

As schools throughout Oklahoma begin testing in two days, I’m thankful for the clarity that comes from these conversations. Many of our so-called leaders don’t believe in our teachers. Many more do. Hopefully, as we begin this yearly dance between bubbles and graphite, most of our classrooms will be full of teachers and students who believe in each other. Hopefully many will take a moment to say as much. I suspect a few parents and principals will also take the time to express such confidence.

2 months, 15 days, y’all!

‘Tis the Season

It’s already starting. Yesterday, CTB/McGraw Hill sent District Testing Coordinators the following memo:

MEMORANDUM

TO:                      District Test Coordinators & Technology Coordinators

FROM:                CTB’s Oklahoma Program Team

DATE:                  April 2, 2014

SUBJECT:            Oklahoma Online Test Administration System Disruptions Today 4/2/14 – Please READ

Please read this important message below:

The Oklahoma Online Test Administration System (TAS), used by coordinators to manage testing, is currently experiencing technical issues that are causing administrators to be logged out of the system on a consistent basis. Our technology engineers are working diligently to isolate the source of the issues and make the necessary adjustments to return to a normal status as soon as possible.

We apologize for this inconvenience, and assure you of our best efforts to resolve this as quickly as possible. We will send you an updated communication when this situation is resolved, along with posting live updates on the CTB OK Web Portal (www.ctb.com/ok).

Note: the test delivery client (TDC) used by students taking the Oklahoma EOI Online Optional Retest is working normally and students may continue testing as scheduled.

Please distribute this message to all appropriate personnel. Should you have any questions regarding Oklahoma Online testing status, please contact the CTB Oklahoma Help Desk. Our Customer Support agents will be happy to assist you.

Thank you,

CTB’s Oklahoma Program Team

Meanwhile, a reader sent me the following insight into one school’s frustration:

Is the cost of testing public record? I would like an itemized list of each item, including all security forms, and shipping cost. I would really like to calculate the cost of all of the extra stuff that will not be used and shipping. I’m from a small to medium district and received 36 English II&III administration manuals. I have 2 teachers that teach those areas. The most I would need is 5 and that is if all of our computer labs were being used at the same time! This is just one example. I bet the state could save $$$$$ if the counts were appropriate.

Several of the full size boxed contained less than 10 items. Why were they not put in the other 1/2 filled boxes? Talk about waste.

I’m glad we’re starting off stress free. Yay, April!

About that “stress-free testing experience”

While many of us were driving back to our respective communities from the rally yesterday, the Oklahoma State Department of Education sent us a notice that all is well with testing. (The link is to the updated version that came out this afternoon.) Actually, it was more like, “Things are mostly well, and here are the places we still have concern as we get ready for testing.”

Editor’s Note: Below is updated information from the state’s testing vendor, including schools that have been removed from the moderate-risk category after completing work with the vendor. Several districts or schools should not have been included on the original list as they have no students participating in online testing. These districts/schools are: Deborah Brown, Dove Science Academy Elementary School, Flower Mound, Santa Fe South Elementary School Charter, Stanley Hupfield,

UPDATED: OSDE Works to Ensure Testing Issues Resolved

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 1, 2014) – The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) has been working closely with its testing vendors to ensure as many potential issues as possible are resolved before computer-based assessments are administered beginning next month.

“It’s important that our students have a stress-free testing experience this year,” State Superintendent Janet Barresi said. “I’m thankful for the effort of our school district staff in working with the vendors to ensure trouble-free assessments.”

Spring testing begins April 10.

Districts statewide participated in a multi-step process organized by the testing vendors to list, prep and stress test all devices they will be using for assessments. This readiness process will help avoid the technical problems some schools encountered last year.

OSDE’s vendors have almost completed the process of contacting every district that reported even a minor glitch and have been working to address any issues or concerns. OSDE employees have received regular updates and, in some cases, helped facilitate communications.

“While this process has successfully achieved its goal of identifying issues early enough to put preventative measures in place, factors outside the control of the state still come into play at many different levels. It is impossible to predict every circumstance,” Barresi said.

The readiness process with CTB/McGraw-Hill, the state’s current vendor for 3-8 Oklahoma Core Curriculum Tests and End-of-Instruction assessments, involved three steps: A survey in which districts described their network infrastructure and computers at each school; a statewide technology stress test on Jan. 28; and feedback from districts on how the stress test went at their schools.

CTB reported more than 38,000 concurrent users at the highest peak of the Jan. 28 stress test, with about 3,000 disruptions. Some of those cases might not be system-related disruptions, but rather an error on the user’s end.

Initially, only 12 districts did not complete any of the steps in the CTB readiness process. OSDE asked those districts to at least complete the technology survey — the first step. As of March 28, eight of those districts had responded to the department. Four districts had yet to do any steps at that time and remain at unknown risk. Those districts are: Beaver, Monroe, Ringling and South Coffeyville.

CTB classified districts as high-, moderate- or low-risk based on the results of the readiness process. It is working with every high- and moderate-risk district.

All the currently remaining moderate-risk districts failed to complete at least one of the three steps of the readiness process and have not returned calls or emails by CTB to discuss their issues, if there were any.

These are the moderate-risk districts CTB reported as of Monday, March 31:

  • Cottonwood
  • Cyril
  • Duke
  • El Reno
  • Glover
  • Grandview
  • Gypsy
  • Harper Charter Academy
  • Indiahoma
  • Justice A.W. Seeworth
  • Kildare
  • Kipp Reach College Prep.
  • Mannsville
  • Moyers
  • Oaks‐Mission
  • Peckham
  • Pleasant Grove
  • Shady Point
  • Spavinaw
  • Straight
  • Tannehill
  • Vinita
  • Waukomis
  • Welch

Ninety-one districts were rated as high-risk at the beginning of March by CTB, and 81 districts were rated as moderate-risk. By March 31, CTB had taken care of all high-risk districts moving them to low risk and reduced the number of moderate-risk districts to 24. The process is ongoing. Any high-risk or unknown-risk districts that remain will be given paper assessments.

Of 542 districts and public charter schools, 518 (96 percent) were rated as low-risk on the morning of April 1, an improvement from 377 districts on March 4.

Updated reports from CTB are available to the public here: http://ok.gov/sde/assessment-technology

OSDE will continue to actively communicate with districts and respond to any concerns or potential issues throughout the assessment process.

First of all, how delusional is Barresi to think our students can ever have a “stress-free testing experience”? In any school, there are a percentage of students who can show up and pass these tests with very little effort. For many students, however, the stakes are high and the effort is tremendous. We give online tests for grades six and up. Middle school students run the risk of losing electives and landing in remediation classes if they don’t pass. High school students (or younger students taking high school classes) must pass the EOIs to graduate.

Additional factors cause stress during the testing season. School schedules are disrupted. In many buildings, weeks of computer class time is disrupted by the testing process. That is a total loss of instructional time for subjects that aren’t even tested. Principals, counselors, teachers, and parents are also on edge, hoping that all goes well and everybody crosses their i’s and dots their t’s. No, wait, that’s backwards.

My next observation is that now we’ve taken to calling out the four districts that didn’t even respond to the SDE’s technology survey. Remember back in January when Barresi threatened all of us? I wonder whatever came of that.

The SDE also wants us to know that while there may be some testing disruptions (my math has their numbers at just under eight percent of users – an increase from last April’s debacle) some are likely on the end of the users and not the testing company. Of course we wouldn’t want to blame the testing company. It’s always a function of the users. Blame the schools, as the SDE has done for more than three years now.

All I know is that this had better be a better year for testing. I’d trade blog traffic for less stress in the schools. If we have anything similar to last year, however, don’t point at the schools. There’s only one state superintendent. Two major testing catastrophes on her watch would pretty much seal the deal.

2 months, 22 days…

Legislative Action Alert: HB 2642

I’ve been asked to pass this along:

***LEGISLATIVE ACTION ALERT***

H.B. 2642 will be heard tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. in the Senate Appropriations Committee.  We want to thank Senator Clark Jolley (R-Edmond) for agreeing to hear to the bill. H.B. 2642, authored by Rep. Lee Denney (R-Cushing) and Sen. Jim Halligan (R-Stillwater) creates the Securing Educational Excellence Fund.  If passed, H.B. 2642 will provide annual automatic funding increases directly to schools through the funding formula for the next decade.  These funds would be used to boost the per pupil expenditure so that districts can restore the mandates of H.B. 1017 (class sizes limits, purchase textbooks, staff school nurses and counselors, etc.) as well as successfully implement recently enacted reforms (RSA, ACE, Common Core, TLE, Grading Schools). H.B. 2642 only pertains to increases for local operational dollars provided through the state’s funding formula.  The bill does not address additional funding increases for the OK SDE agency operations as well as supplemental needs in FBA, Ad Valorem Reimbursement and other periodic funding shortfalls experienced in the SDE Activities Account.

Please contact EVERY member of the Senate Appropriations Committee TODAY and ask each member to VOTE YES ON H.B. 2642.

H.B. 2642 will be amended in the Senate Appropriations Committee tomorrow to reflect the following changes:

  • Common Education and Department of Transportation share off the top funding and split $60 Million in new revenue for the first three years the law is in effect.

o   The split is $30 Million off the top for Common Education and $30 Million off the top for Department of Transportation.

o   Triggers are restored to ODOT’s ROADS Fund increase.

o   The 1% State GR growth trigger remains in place for common education.

  • After the first three years of splitting off the top increases with ODOT, the annual increase to schools goes to $60 Million with the requirement that the state’s General Revenue Fund grow by at least 1% as compared to the prior year.
  • Each year, for ten years, the school calendar will increase by one academic day.

o   Current cost estimates for adding one instructional day to the calendar is $25-$30 Million.

  • The ten year payout to schools has increased from original version of H.B. 2642 which was $575 Million in 10 years to $600 Million.

Please contact EVERY member of the Senate Appropriations Committee TODAY and ask each member to VOTE YES ON H.B. 2642.

Talking Points:

  • Students are just as important as roads and bridges – we should have the same funding priority as ODOT’s ROADS Fund.

o   No one is hurt in passage of H.B. 2642 because the bill’s requirement that the state’s GR Fund to grow by 1% means that the bill pays for itself and leaves money on the table for other service areas!

o   ODOT does not lose any money due to the amended version of H.B. 2642!

  • ODOT’s payout on the ROADS Fund is merely extended by three years – ODOT will receive all it was promised by the state!
  • Schools operate on $200 Million fewer formula dollars today that at the same time in 2009.

o   In order to pay for the almost 40,000 new students enrolled since 2009, and restore per weighted student funding to prerecession levels – the state would need to appropriate $279 Million to schools!

o   H.B. 2642 provides a prudent roadmap to restore funding, extend the school year and secure educational opportunities for our students.

  • Recent funding increases to the State Board of Education have not made their way to schools!

o   H.B. 2642 sends dollars directly to locally elected school boards to best decide how to use these necessary resources.

Please contact EVERY member of the Senate Appropriations Committee TODAY and ask each member to VOTE YES ON H.B. 2642.

Wonderful Day at the Capitol

March 31, 2014 3 comments

Once the sun came out, it was a beautiful day – a bit windy, but beautiful. The Tulsa World estimates that nearly 25,000 were in attendance for today’s education rally at the Capitol.

Because of the crowd and the wind, I can only say I heard most of what today’s speakers said. For my money, three absolutely nailed it.

First was Peter Markes – Oklahoma’s reigning Teacher of the Year. He drew great parallels between farming and education, weaving both the funding issues and senseless mandates into his metaphor. This is the second time I’ve been fortunate enough to hear him speak, and he does not disappoint. He’s exactly what Oklahoma’s teachers expect in an ambassador – someone who believes in the profession and who fights the lie that public education is failing our children.

Next was Asher Nees, a student from Norman and the current president of the Oklahoma Association of Student Councils. He commented on the things he has noticed in public education, namely increased class sizes and policies that diminish student choices. He said he was there to fight to restore public education to something better for his younger siblings. (That is definitely a paraphrase. There was a lot of noise around me at this point.)

The one who really lifted the energy of the crowd was Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard. He hit the funding points, but he concentrated on a more important theme: respect. Every reform that has passed during the last few years shows that those making policy don’t respect the work that those of us who work with kids do. So many talking points from the governor, state superintendent, and countless legislators have come with a Let them eat cake attitude. The lack of concern for teachers, their working conditions, and most importantly, their students has been consistent. Disparage people long enough and they’ll let you hear about it.

*****

Here are a few pictures that readers sent me from the rally today.

Great view of the estimated 25,000 in attendance!

Great view of the estimated 25,000 in attendance!

How much is enough? Just ask Oklahoma teachers and parents. We've definitely had it!

How much is enough? Just ask Oklahoma teachers and parents. We’ve definitely had it!

I actually selected this one for the yellow sign in back. The sentiment is perfect. None of us wanted to be at the rally. We'd prefer the legislature fund and respect public education without us having to show up.

I actually selected this one for the yellow sign in back. The sentiment is perfect. None of us wanted to be at the rally. We’d prefer the legislature fund and respect public education without us having to show up.

The back of the shirt showed the decline in state aid each of the last five years.

The back of the shirt showed the decline in state aid each of the last five years.

Don't forget the glamour!

Don’t forget the glamour!

#coldpop

#coldpop

Simple, yet well-stated

Simple, yet well-stated

My favorite shirt of the day

My favorite shirt of the day

Today’s Rally (and why the Oklahoman hates it)

As you probably know, today is the day that thousands of Oklahoma parents and educators will head to the State Capitol to rally for funding for public education. Many in attendance will also enter the Capitol to meet with their Representatives and Senators, discussing issues that range from funding to the relative merits of various school reforms. Yes, we will talk about more than money. We will also cover the Common Core (with many in both camps), the Reading Sufficiency Act (with most favoring HB 2625, giving parents and teachers real input about the retention decision; high-stakes testing in general; A-F Report Cards; Teacher and Leader Evaluation (particularly the quantitative piece).

As you also probably know, the Oklahoman absolutely hates this.

Don’t be fooled by Monday’s weather forecast in Oklahoma City — partly cloudy with the temperature about 80. For many of the state’s public school districts, this is a snow day.

Yes, administrators and teachers will abandon their posts in order to converge in Oklahoma City, to tell lawmakers that common education funding is inadequate. Students, having already lost several days due to real snowstorms, will get another day off for no good reason.

Not one member of the Legislature is unaware of how public schools feel about education funding. Lawmakers understand that school budgets have been cut in recent years. But they also know the check written to common ed is always larger than any other government entity. And they’re aware that no superintendent believes his or her district gets enough financial help from the state — ever.

That last line is probably true, but the tone of the editorial is entirely too flippant for me. That’s my thing!

Nobody is abandoning anything. As I’ve said before, no school district in the state is denying students of the 1080 hours of instruction mandated by state law. For the schools sending people but holding classes anyway, their staffs are taking leave (personal or professional). None of the transportation is being funded by taxpayers.

While we’re all aware that the legislators know of our frustration in public education, their actions during the last two legislative sessions don’t show much concern. Case in point is the editorial by Rep. Jason Murphey that ran in the Oklahoman yesterday.

Who pays this money? According to the National Education Association’s Rankings and Estimates report, each Oklahoman pays $1,596 per year in state and local funding for education. Provided a taxpayer lives to Oklahoma’s life expectancy of 72, he or his family will pay approximately $114,912 to state and local governments for his education. In addition to the many other forms of taxation, he will pay part of this fee through Oklahoma sales tax, which is the fifth-highest in the nation.

The observant will note that this amount exceeds the tuition at some of the area’s most popular private education institutions. Should it really be more expensive for a student to attend public schools than to attend the privatized counterparts?

There’s some tortured logic for you – extrapolating a lifetime of contributions for public education into an argument for private schools? Wait, I may be missing the point. It’s entirely possible. I often miss things that aren’t there at all.

At least the Tulsa World (as usual) is providing a different perspective, reminding their readers that in 1990, Oklahomans rallied to support HB 10 17, which was a landmark education reform measure.

As Oklahoma teachers, parents and supporters prepare to rally at the Oklahoma state Capitol in support of education funding, it is appropriate to look back at a similar effort nearly a quarter-century ago.

“Today truly is a day of excellence in Oklahoma. Today Oklahoma stands tall. A new day is dawning for education in Oklahoma.

“Our state will never again take a back seat in education.”

These words were spoken by Oklahoma Gov. Henry Bellmon on April 19, 1990, after the state Senate approved the emergency clause of the landmark $230 million education funding and reform legislation, House Bill 1017.

Think about that. In 1990, educators had to lobby a legislature controlled by Democrats to get more funding. Their efforts were lauded by a visionary Republican governor. Of course, HB 1017 did more than pump money into schools and fund teacher raises. It also set the groundwork for Oklahoma’s first state standards, reduced class sizes, and implementing early childhood programs.

Recent legislative sessions have seen plenty of reforms, but always without the money to support them. That is the difference. That is why most of the legislators I’ve seen comment on the rally – from both political parties – have extended a welcoming hand. They want to fix what’s broken. They want to hear from us.

Rally hard. Fight the drizzle and wind. When you’re inside, use your inside voice. When you’re outside, use your outside voice. If you’re interviewed, calmly tell the world what is important to you and why you care so much. Tomorrow, read whatever drivel the Oklahoman editorial page prints and laugh. They know that parents and educators, speaking in unison are hard to ignore. That’s why they will say anything to discredit our efforts.

In the words of Miracle Max, Have fun stormin’ the castle!

 

Rally for HB 2625 (among other things)

March 29, 2014 3 comments

I know what I said yesterday. I need a break from blogging. I really do. Unfortunately, taking that break is predicated upon Janet Barresi not sending us ridiculous emails like the one I read last night.

Superintendent Barresi comments on bill
to weaken third-grade reading law 

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 28, 2014) — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi made the following remarks concerning House Bill 2625. Slated for a vote Monday in the state Senate Education Committee, the measure would repeal automatic retention of students who score Unsatisfactory on the third-grade reading test and who don’t meet a good-cause exemption.

“To deny children the opportunity to learn how how [sic] to read is to deny them an opportunity for success. Reading is the most fundamental aspect of an education. It is unconscionable that anyone would think it’s too much to ask that a school teach a child to read.

“Extensive research shows that moving children forward in school without the ability to read proficiently sets them on a course of falling further and further behind. It condemns them to frustration and failure. But there are also severe consequences for the students who are able to read proficiently, as fourth- and fifth-grade teachers must increasingly spend their time in remediation with the struggling readers.

“The Reading Sufficiency Act has been in existence for 17 years to identify and provide intensive remediation for struggling readers as early as kindergarten. And yet after 17 years and more than $80 million in funding, the percentage of Oklahoma students reading below grade level has remained flat. We cannot allow this to continue. We cannot continue sabotaging the promise of future generations.

“I urge Senate Education Committee members to continue to support high standards by ensuring that our children can read. I would ask that they let the RSA work. There already are good-cause exemptions to address an array of special circumstances. Predictions of catastrophe are simply incorrect. When the State of Oklahoma mandated end-of-instruction exams as a condition for high school graduation, critics made similar predictions that the sky would fall. Instead, Oklahoma’s young people rose to the occasion, with the passage rate at 99 percent.

“The good news is that RSA already is working. It is igniting attention and innovation in reading instruction. We see school districts in Tulsa, Bartlesville, Putnam City and elsewhere making impressive gains in reducing the numbers of children with reading difficulties. It would be a mistake to start weakening the law just as it begins to show glimmers of its anticipated positive impact.”

She has every right to have an opinion and to use her position to try to influence the outcome of a vote. I take issue with the language she uses. Nobody is trying to “deny children the opportunity to learn how how to read.” (Aren’t you glad we’re not debating the Writing Sufficiency Act?) Reasonable people – and by reasonable, I mean the parents and teachers who work with children every day – believe that mandatory retention does more harm than good.

I also take issue with her selective use of research in paragraph three. This from the mouth of a politician who derides researchers when it suits her! Everything Barresi says reeks of a selective view of her particular agenda. Research also shows the damaging effects of retention. She never talks about that.

She mentions the Good Cause Exemptions but fails to mention that they are quite limited in their coverage. She also fails to mention that Florida pumped millions of dollars into useful programs when they went down this road ten years ago. Barresi also talks of empowering parents, when it is convenient for her. What’s more powerful than having parents and teachers sit down at a table, discussing student achievement, and making educational decisions together? That’s what HB 2625 would allow.

I’ve recently heard Barresi say that the RSA existed for 17 years before the retention clause was added, and now the Act has “teeth.” Lots of things have teeth. That’s something Barresi can discuss with authority.

Damn it Janet - Copy

Ok, now I’m on hiatus.

Blog on Hiatus

I woke up this morning and realized that I haven’t posted anything for 10 days or checked my Facebook or Twitter accounts for a week. I’ve been focusing on other things, and I probably will be for a few more weeks. I’ve decided to take a little break.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be at the Rally Monday, however. I’ll be there in my professional clothes, speaking in my professional voice. The members of the legislature with whom I speak will hear the following from me.

  •          Public education is not failing. Despite the pervasive rhetoric to the contrary, public schools are good at doing the job policy makers have asked us to do.
  •          Policy makers should probably listen to what teachers and parents say more than they listen to ALEC, Jeb Bush, and Michelle Rhee. As we sit on the precipice of overturning the Common Core (and probably replacing it with something very Common Core like), legislators, the governor, and our next state superintendent should remember who votes for them rather than who funds their junkets.
  •          Funding for public education is critically low. Oklahoma schools have more students than we did five years ago. We also have fewer teachers. And in spite of what Superintendent Barresi claims, we aren’t hoarding money in mason jars in the yard.
  •          The legislature has more money to allocate right now than at any other point in Oklahoma history. As Governor Fallin loves to point out, the average income in this state is rising relative to the rate of inflation at a higher rate than any other state except for North Dakota. It is unconscionable to think that public education could still receive a smaller share of the pie than it did five years ago.
  •          If people are moving to Oklahoma for the thriving economy, the state should support the people who teach the children of our new residents. Not only are education mandates continually unfunded; the teachers in this state haven’t had an appreciable raise in years. Their yearly step increases don’t even keep up with the cost of living. (By the way, this goes for school secretaries, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and everybody else in the schools as well.)
  •          The RSA law is highly flawed. The safety nets in place for special education students and English language learners are wafer thin. Parents – in spite of districts’ efforts to keep them informed – are panicking.
  •          Parents are driving the momentum to opt out of testing, not school districts. They are tired of the wasted time. They are tired of the meaningless results. Yes, some of the testing is federally mandated. However, the state adds to that burden. After last year’s debacle, this problem is on their radar more than ever.
  •          The SDE continues placing people in positions that are above their level of experience. This has not gone well. To be honest, we the electorate are partially to blame. We picked the state superintendent.

If you’re thinking that this hiatus is the result of my lousy NCAA bracket, I assure you it’s not. I’ll be back in a few weeks. In the meantime, remember that there are other bloggers in the world.

SDE Names New Assistant Superintendent for Assessments

March 18, 2014 8 comments

Today, the Oklahoma State Department of Education announced a replacement for Dr. Maridyth McBee to run the testing office.

State Department of Education names

New assistant superintendent overseeing assessments

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 18, 2014) — The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) announced today that Lisa Chandler is the agency’s new assistant superintendent in charge of assessments.

Chandler is a longtime state-level education policy leader with experience in the public and private sectors. From 2003 to 2007, she served as director of student assessment for the Texas Education Agency where she helped oversee the implementation of a new assessment system.

At OSDE, Chandler will oversee the state’s assessment program; serve as a liaison between the department and its testing vendors; and oversee the process of selecting and administering state tests.

“Ms. Chandler has many years of experience in developing high-quality, statewide assessments,” said state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi. “Her leadership as the state assessment director in Texas has been evident in the strong legacy of quality assessments administered over the years there. We are thrilled she is joining our team as we continue to focus on providing the best for Oklahoma’s children.”

Chandler earned a master’s degree in public policy and administration from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin. After 20 years at the Texas Education Agency, she worked as a national measurement consultant for Pearson PLC.

“My career has been committed to making a positive contribution in promoting the academic achievement of all students,” Chandler said. “It’s an honor to be able to join the department and join the efforts to boost student achievement already underway there under Supt. Barresi.”

Chandler will begin her position at OSDE Monday, March 31.

Well, Lisa, welcome to Oklahoma! Since you’re not from around here, I thought I’d get to know you through the magic of web browsing. And since your résumé is posted online at Indeed.com, I think we can learn a lot.

Lisa Chandler

Austin, TX

 

• Comprehensive leadership in public policy and administration
• Expertise in large-scale assessment and accountability
• Proven ability to design and implement a diverse range of programs
• Extensive experience in project management and strategic planning
• Demonstrated success in operations management

Work Experience

POLICY CONSULTANT / GRADUATE STUDENT

Independent - Austin, TX

2010 to Present

• Earned master’s degree in public policy and administration, Northwestern University
• Substitute teach throughout the Austin Independent School District
• Provide expertise to nonprofit organizations in the areas of public policy and education
• Create evaluation designs to measure the effectiveness of instructional programs
• Develop communication strategies for nonprofit educational programs

NATIONAL MEASUREMENT CONSULTANT

Pearson - Iowa City, IA

2007 to 2010

• Acted as key advisor on large-scale assessment programs and accountability systems
• Secured more than $500 million in contracts with critical input on strategic planning and proposal development
• Evaluated national and international companies for business development and outsourcing opportunities
• Troubleshot critical and time-sensitive issues ensuring successful delivery of products and services to clients
• Monitored and analyzed state and federal legislation to shape policy and business agendas
• Synthesized and communicated complex assessment and accountability information to state and national clients

DIRECTOR, STUDENT ASSESSMENT

Texas Education Agency - Austin, TX

2003 to 2007

• Directed the design and development of assessments in math, reading, writing, science, and social studies
• Oversaw the analysis and reporting of assessment results for more than 4 million students in 1200 school districts
• Engineered the redesign of English language proficiency exams to include listening, speaking, and writing skills
• Drove the development and implementation of online initiatives for training educators and testing students
• Guided technical psychometric procedures and research to ensure valid, reliable, and legally defensible assessments
• Directed a staff of 100 full-time employees including hiring, allocating, and evaluating personnel
• Managed multiple contracts totaling approximately $100 million annually and monitored numerous vendors
• Directed legislative analysis and research and testified before legislative bodies and state boards

SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR: FINANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY

Texas Education Agency - Austin, TX

2001 to 2003

• Coordinated special projects and research related to school accountability, accreditation, and finance
• Analyzed student performance results and demographic data for accreditation hearings
• Evaluated improvement action plans for low-performing campuses and charter schools
• Coordinated a software development project to automate reporting of monitoring and accountability data
• Managed a pilot study on the accountability of alternative education programs for at-risk students
• Served on the Commission on Secondary and Middle Schools, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR: CURRICULUM, ASSESSMENT, AND TECHNOLOGY

Texas Education Agency - Austin, TX

1998 to 2001

• Conducted policy and fiscal analysis for the areas of curriculum, assessment, textbooks, and educational technology
• Provided key policy input on a multitude of topics including graduation programs and curriculum frameworks
• Collaborated with multiple governmental agencies to conduct studies on high school reform and teacher shortages
• Coordinated grant programs and evaluated incoming proposals and applications
• Acted as liaison for governmental relations, conducted policy analysis, and tracked legislation
• Built program and administrative budgets for a department of 350 staff and created legislative appropriations requests

POLICY AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR

Texas Education Agency - Austin, TX

1993 to 1998

• Coordinated the management and administration of policy and business operations
• Developed requests for proposals and established evaluation criteria and review procedures
• Established performance goals and analyzed achievement outcomes for short-term and long-term strategic planning
• Negotiated contracts and monitored multiple vendors for contractual and budgetary compliance
• Facilitated regional meetings to gather input on the development and adoption of a new statewide curriculum
• Coordinated state participation in numerous national and international projects

Education

M.A. in Public Policy and Administration

NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY - Chicago, IL

B.A. in Government, French

University of Texas at Austin - Austin, TX

Skills

Public policy, large-scale assessment, program implementation, analysis and evaluation, strategic planning, project management, governmental relations, research, operations management, proposal writing and contract management, business development, communication and facilitation

I guess I’m old fashioned. I like to see some public school experience in the people leading public education. That impresses me more than working for Pearson. Substitute teaching while earning a master’s degree doesn’t count. If it did, we could have Peggy Hill running asessment. She’s from Texas too!

I can only speak to what I see on paper, and what I see is someone with degrees from two elite universities, (although one of those was earned after Ms. Chandler had already worked for the Texas Education Agency for 14 years and Pearson for another three). I don’t see someone who has studied education, testing, measurement, child development, or school administration.

Certainly with this résumé she must be familiar with the processes and perception that come along with testing. She also has experience on the contract side. And since she lists at least six bullet points with every job she has held, I guess we should count ourselves fortunate.

I just have to wonder if maybe an Oklahoma applicant who had taught – maybe even led a school – and had studied something relevant to the position would have made a bigger splash.

Throwback Monday

March 17, 2014 7 comments

I get confused sometimes with my social media days. Is it Man-Crush Wednesday and Follow Thursdays? And what’s the one with the talking camel?

I guess that’s not really terribly important. Today, I want to show you a quote from a couple of years ago and see if you can guess who said it and about whom. Bonus points if you can figure out from whose website I lifted it.

“_____ has spent her entire adult life working in the field of education. She is a teacher with hands-on classroom experience, an executive with private sector experience, and a researcher with a passion for finding ways to improve our schools and boost student performance. Her experience, dedication and passion for reform will serve her well.”

To make you think for a few seconds, I’m going to insert a series of tweets that have nothing to do with the quote or one another (or do they?).

Ok, time. Do you have it? First, I should mention that those four tweets really are unrelated, other than being a few of my favorites during the last month or so.

The quote above comes from Jason Nelson’s blog dated January 13, 2012. The speaker is Mary Fallin, and the subject is Joy Hofmeister, on the occasion of her selection to the State Board of Education. I’m not sure how much research the governor and her staff did before selecting Joy for the SBE, but I doubt it was as thorough as what the Tulsa World reports Janet Barresi’s campaign is doing:

State Superintendent Janet Barresi’s campaign has requested all communications records between Jenks Public Schools employees and Republican challenger Joy Hofmeister dating back to 2007, a move Hofmeister said is just another “public intimidation tactic.”

Barresi’s campaign manager, Sam Stone, made the Open Records request by letter on Jan. 28 and asked that they be available for inspection by Feb. 10 or Feb. 17.

“It’s part of doing our research on Joy. We’re trying to flesh out her positions on the issues,” he said.

“It is certainly not a surprise to learn that Janet Barresi is scrambling to dig up dirt on me or anyone else who asks questions or dares to hold her accountable for her failed leadership,” Hofmeister said. “This is her style. It is nothing more than an attempt to bully and intimidate.”

All four of Hofmeister’s children have attended Jenks Public Schools since kindergarten. Only one child, a son, remains in Jenks Public Schools. He is a senior.

She also has been a member of the board of the Jenks Public Schools Foundation.

[Jenks CIO Bonnie] Rogers has worked since receiving the request compiling thousands of emails and correspondence between Hofmeister and any Jenks school employee and she has still only made it to 2011. The district’s email archive only goes back to October 2009.

So far, she has pulled up 3,661 emails and used four reams of paper to copy them.

“I don’t know what they’re looking for,” Rogers said. “So far, what they will find is that Joy has been an active parent, an active board member of the foundation and involved in her business.”

My hunch is they don’t know what they’re looking for either. This seems like a needle-in-a-haystack exercise to me. Then again, it’s all perfectly legal. Barresi’s campaign is making the request this time, unlike last year when her agency went after Rob Miller. That was perfectly legal too (incredibly misguided, but legal).

In fact, any person can initiate an open records request against any government entity. Sure, it can become burdensome, but hey, they work for the public. They’re here to serve.

Hmm. Let me say that again. Anybody can make an open records request at any time. Say, for example, someone was curious about any correspondence between the Governor (or her staff) and Barresi (or the SDE) about how to protect the Common Core…such would be a reasonable inquiry. Or if you were curious about internal discussions of how the SDE should react to CTB’s complete meltdown last year during testing…that would be ok too. Even if you wanted to see how the Barresi’s inner circle discussed the relative merits of various A-F Report Card formulas with key legislators…they’d have to provide that information too. The possibilities are endless!

You see, part of serving the public is an ongoing commitment to transparency. It’s not bullying or intimidation to ask for answers – until someone does it to you.

Then it’s just karma.

How to Lose Your Appetite

March 14, 2014 3 comments

Imagine you and your wife have a passion for public education. You’re having lunch together when you see the person responsible for doing so much damage to it. Naturally, you’d take a cell phone pic and provide running commentary to Facebook. Then you’d make sure screenshots were sent to your friendly education blogger.

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I hope the meal was good – not that this is Urban Spoon or anything, but I’ve always had good meals and service at Iron Starr.

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Unfortunately, I can believe it. I wrote about it last night, if memory serves. Oh yeah, here’s how I finished my post:

Superintendent Barresi’s words continue to show that she doesn’t have much regard for us professionally or intellectually. Ours show that we’re not going to take her disrespect without a fight.

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20 years and no accomplishments, right? Remind me…did we have content standards (PASS) before Sandy Garrett? Did we have Nationally Board Certified teachers? Superintendent Garrett was in office for a long time and surely had her flaws – all politicians do. Denying her ability to work with a legislature of her own party, then a split one, then one of the other party just flies in the face of reality, though.

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I edited some of the screen shots to take out comments by the people who didn’t consent to me using their contributions to the conversation. If I had left more of this in here, though, you would see that he says Lake did not contribute to the teacher bashing.

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Ah, the liberals again. Do we really want to root out teachers by political affiliation? There’s a roller coaster I don’t want to ride.

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Another favorite target – one of those pesky Tulsa-area schools.

3 months, 8 days, and counting…

Like a Myth to a Flame

Did you check your email today? As luck would have it, we have an email from Janet Barresi. That’s fortunate; we wouldn’t want to start a break from school without one of her missives to analyze.

Time on TestsBy Janet Barresi, State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Wednesday, March 13, 2013I hear from educators and parents throughout the state about “teaching to the test” and time spent on testing. I agree teachers should spend more time teaching and students should spend less time worrying about tests.But I want to clear up some myths.Out of all the hours required for instruction in a school year – 1,080 hours by state law – less than 1 percent is spent by a student taking state- or federally mandated tests. Other assessments may be given by teachers or required by school districts. Yet, even if we look at the grades that have the most assessments — fifth and eighth —there are only four state or federal tests required: math, reading, writing, science or social studies/U.S. history.

Next year, fifth- and eighth-graders will not take a separate writing exam, shaving even more time from testing.

Third, fourth and sixth grades have only two federally required assessments. Seventh grade has only three required tests – two by the U.S. Department of Education and one by the state.

Keep in mind that end-of-instruction tests can be taken any time from seventh grade through high school. Not all of such exams will be taken in a single year.

It is true, of course, that testing means a lengthier disruption for school staffers than for students. But if we look at the time impact on students, it is not nearly as long.

Assessing what a child knows and can do at the end of a course of study gives guidance on which instructional methods are successful and helps identify those students who need additional help. Without assessments, we have no measure of whether our students are moving closer to the goal of being college-, career- and citizen-ready by the time they graduate high school.

Too often our students are ranked behind their national peers. When I took office, only 26 percent of Oklahoma fourth-graders were proficient in reading. That same year, more than 42 percent of college freshmen in the state needed remedial courses, which cost money and earn no credit. Only assessments tell us if we are on the right track before we get students across the graduation stage.

Our students deserve to know that what they have been taught in their classrooms is truly preparing them for life, whether that life consists of college or a decent-paying job. They deserve to know they can compete for any job they wish. Information from assessments tell us whether we’re delivering for our students. They deserve this knowledge.

Basically, she’s saying that over testing is a myth – like evolution and climate change. Or if it’s not, it’s probably the schools’ fault. Of course it is. Everything is our fault. On the other hand, she also can’t count to five. After reading the email in the morning and pondering on it throughout the day, another educator posted Barresi’s letter to Thinglink dissecting some of the flaws with the state superintendent’s reasoning.

Nerd moment: Thinglink is new to me. It’s really cool. The instructional possibilities are tremendous. Then again, several of my Twitter followers apparently already knew that.

Among the observations:

  • No time will be saved with the elimination of the writing test. In fact, if you look at the RFP for our newfangled OCCRA tests, writing will be included in all the reading assessments. If anything, this will increase testing time.
  • The statement that EOIs can be taken anytime from seventh grade through the senior year is true, but really goes without saying. I guess Barresi’s point is that high school students really don’t take that many state tests. I’ll address that below.
  • Online testing causes many schools a disruption to instruction that lasts for several weeks. Schools don’t exactly have unused labs or computers lying around. Computer classes simply don’t meet for periods of time.
  • Although schools may choose to do extra tests, such as benchmarks, they are part of the instructional strategy necessary to prepare students for high-stakes tests. With graduation, third-grade retention, A-F Report Cards, and soon teacher evaluation tied to test scores, how can we not focus on the tests…every…single…day?
  • College remediation requirements vary by each institution of higher education and are a steady revenue stream for them – and often a waste of students’ time. Often, students meet the State Regents’ benchmark of 19 in each subject area on the ACT but not the higher benchmarks that some of the colleges set.

I had one other thought after reading Barresi’s latest attempt to spin the narrative:

We have many more required tests than the third through eighth grade battery and the EOIs. Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • DIBELS (or another diagnostic) under the Reading Sufficiency Act – given frequently to EC-third grade students
  • ACCESS for English Language Learners
  • PLAN and EXPLORE (from ACT) – paid for by the State Regents, and technically optional, but tests that actually provide useful information
  • The PSAT – which is administered by many districts to help predict future success in Advanced Placement courses and used as an alternate test for the EOIs
  • An ever-increasing number of AP tests at the end of the year (as schools chase bonus points for their A-F Report Cards and parents chase higher weighted grade point averages for their children)
  • Nationally normed intelligence tests for identification in GT programs (usually in elementary grades
  • Any number of re-tests for third grade reading, eighth grade reading, and the EOIs

Barresi is trying desperately to wrest the dialogue away from us. She can’t like that Bixby has a board-adopted opt out policy. She also can’t like that Rob Miller’s blog has had tens of thousands of page views in 24 hours after he let us in on the little secret about Jenks and Owasso not having to do field tests.

Superintendent Barresi’s words continue to show that she doesn’t have much regard for us professionally or intellectually. Ours show that we’re not going to take her disrespect without a fight.

3 months…9 days…and counting…

What a Terrifically Bad Idea

This is an early Christmas for bloggers. Unless you’re one of the many who gave up social media for Lent, you probably know by now that Rob Miller dropped some incredible news last night. The Oklahoma State Department of Education instructed Measured Progress to exclude Jenks and Owasso from field testing item tryouts this spring. If you haven’t read it, go do that now. I’ll wait for you. If for some reason, you’re continuing to read my blog without looking at Rob’s, here’s a blurb:

Honestly, it was a pleasant surprise when we found out last week that students and schools in the Jenks district were NOT randomly selected to participate in ANY of these field tests. However, when we discovered that Owasso Public Schools had also not been “randomly selected,” several of us became a little suspicious. As you may have heard, some parents and educators in Owasso made some waves recently because of their vocal opposition to implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in their district. Therefore, this news was way too coincidental for random chance.

So, I took it upon myself to make a few inquiries by phone and email. It did not take long to discover that we and Owasso were unique and that every other district in our area had been selected for this field testing.

A conversation yesterday with an executive at the headquarters of Measured Progress revealed what I suspected. Measured Progress was given specific instructions by the Oklahoma State Department of Education to draw their testing sample from all districts in Oklahoma, with the exception of two school districts: Jenks and Owasso. This information has been confirmed separately through sources at the state department. It certainly appears that “someone” at the SDE knowingly excluded these two districts to avoid negative publicly associated with a possible parent opt-out this spring.

My head is spinning!

Measured Progress admits that the SDE told them to exclude two districts because they have outspoken patrons. How in the hell did they expect to get away with this and not have backlash?

This action undermines everything that field testing is supposed to accomplish. Aside from that, it serves as encouragement to districts whose patrons want to defy the SDE.

The blame for this decision falls entirely on Superintendent Barresi. This isn’t like last year when she explained that she had taken no part in choosing the testing company that miserably failed in two states. This was planned and approved at the highest of levels. I honestly don’t think she can’t loan her campaign enough money to get out of this hole.

Once again, we see the arrogance of Barresi and her administration fully exposed. This action is unethical. While admitting the motivation behind it is at least honest, they really thought there would be no consequences.

Since Rob posted this story to his blog last night, it has gone viral. I told him that he would break WordPress. Last night, when I refreshed the story about an hour after it posted, the site was down. It happened this morning too. Thousands of shares later on Facebook and Twitter, it’s hard to really calculate the reach of the post. I’m sure it will reach pretty much every teacher and administrator’s inbox in the state. There will be questions from the media and from lawmakers. Speaking of which, I haven’t seen a flood of supporters stand behind Barresi lately. This won’t help.

On an unrelated note, the SDE is excited to announce that Vision 2020 Round Three is coming up in August. Based on the current news, I have a few suggestions for breakout session titles:

  • Parent power: You have the power to tell the SDE to stick it!
  • STEMming the tide of Opt Outs!
  • Redefining “statistically significant” and “randomly chosen”
  • Field testing: how to take your ball and go home
  • You can’t opt out; I’ll opt you out!
  • Words hurt, Rob.
  • Blogging for change (roundtable session)
  • How to clean out your office in six months

I’d go to that last one. It sounds fun.

About the Bixby Opt Out Policy

March 12, 2014 7 comments

In case you missed it, the Bixby Public Schools Board of Education adopted an Opt Out policy Monday night. This is a response to increased questions from parents about getting their children out of state and federally mandated standardized tests. Before anybody starts an ill-advised investigation, however, we should understand what this policy is and what it is not.

It is a way to inform parents that the district respects their rights and the potential consequences to the student, school, and district if those rights are exercised. It is not an obscene gesture pointed to the southwest.

The district contacted the SDE for legal advice and was told that the district has an obligation to provide a test to every student in tested grades and subjects. The consequences, as outlined in the form that parents would have to complete (which discourages opting out) are outlined by the Tulsa World:

• Oklahoma law requires that a third-grader score proficient or higher on the reading test or be retained in third grade. “There is nothing in the law that would allow for the promotion of those students (who don’t take the test)” unless they meet one of the six good cause exemptions that aren’t predicated on taking the test first, said education department Tricia Pemberton.

• Oklahoma law requires that any person under age 18 to demonstrate score satisfactory on the 8th grade reading test to get an Oklahoma drivers’ license.

• And Oklahoma law now requires students demonstrate mastery of state academic content standards by scoring proficient or higher on four of seven end-of-instruction standardized tests.

Wood also said parents are informed that the school district and its schools’ grades are based on testing. A district is required under the state’s A-F school grading system to test at least 95 percent of enrolled students or drop one letter grade. If 90 percent or fewer students are tested, the district receives an automatic “F.”

There could also be federal funding consequences if the appropriate numbers of students are not tested.

The policy provides parents with information and choices – nothing more, nothing less. That sounds pragmatic and shows parents that the district wants them to think for themselves.

As Many as Half?

March 10, 2014 4 comments

Oklahoma Watch published an article Friday titled, As Many as Half of Third Graders Who Fail Reading Test Could Win Exemptions. When I read it this afternoon (the Internet has been slow lately), I immediately noted two things I didn’t much care for: the prediction and the title. We’re a little early into this process to start making guesses – educated or otherwise – about how many students will be retained. Second, I find the word Win objectionable. To accept its use imposes the word lose on students not earning an exemption. Since literacy is a gift, let’s not set up the picture to have winners and losers. Here’s the key piece of the article:

“We believe a good number – maybe up to 50 percent – will get a good-cause exemption,” said Tricia Pemberton, spokeswoman for the state education department.

Pemberton said the agency expects to see similar growth in reading proficiency that Florida saw, as measured on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Some experts have attributed that improvement more to reading intervention provided by Florida than to the retention mandate.

The article also cites data from Florida showing the percentage of students failing the test and the percentage retained in the first ten years since their retention law passed.

School Year

% Failing the Test

% Retained

2002-03 23% 13.2%
2003-04 22% 10.2%
2004-05 20% 9.8%
2005-06 14% 6.0%
2006-07 19% 8.1%
2007-08 16% 6.6%
2008-09 17% 6.4%
2009-10 16% 5.9%
2010-11* 18% 7.1%
2011-12* 18% 6.9%

*Florida implemented a more rigorous test.

After reading this article, I tweeted the following:

I quickly received the following response:

And these from Facebook:

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The people actually working with our students (and who don’t have their own spokesperson) believe the exemptions will have much less coverage. In particular, the impact on English language learners and special education students will be devastating. Even the Oklahoma Watch article oversimplifies the extent to which these populations are protected.

Some students, such as English language learners or those in special education, may automatically qualify for an exemption. In other cases, teachers, principals and superintendents will review a student’s portfolio and make a judgment call on whether a student’s coursework shows they’re proficient enough at reading to enter fourth grade. Many teachers are drawing up portfolios for students in case they do poorly on the reading test.

This is one of the problems school districts experience trying to communicate the RSA rules to parents. Being an ELL or IEP kid does not automatically qualify you for an exemption. Nor does evaluation of the student portfolios amount to a judgment call. Here’s the actual language:

  • English Language Learners who have had less than two years of instruction in English and are identified as Limited-English Proficient (LEP)/ English Language Learner (ELL) on a screening tool approved by the Oklahoma State Department of Education Office of Bilingual/Migrant Education and have a Language Instruction Educational Plan (LIEP) in place prior to the administration of the third-grade criterion referenced test; and the student must have had less than two years of instruction in an English Language Learner (ELL) program.

  • Students with disabilities whose Individualized Education Program (IEP) indicates they are to be assessed with the Oklahoma Alternate Assessment Program (OAAP).

  • Students who demonstrate an acceptable level of performance (minimum of 45th percentile) on an alternative standardized reading test approved by the State Board of Education (SAT 10, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Terranova).

  • Students who demonstrate through a teacher- developed portfolio that they can read on grade level. The student portfolio shall include evidence demonstrating the student’s mastery of the Oklahoma state standards in reading equal to grade-level performance on the reading portion of the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT).

  • Students with disabilities who take the OCCT and have an IEP that states they have received intense remediation in reading for more than two years but still demonstrate a deficiency in reading and were previously retained one year or were in a transitional grade during kindergarten, first-, second- or third-grade.

  • Students who have received intensive remediation in reading for two or more years but still demonstrate a deficiency in reading and who already have been retained in kindergarten, first-grade, second-grade or third-grade for a total of two years.  Transitional grades count.

Getting parents (and even non-third grade teaching educators) to understand that the law does not automatically give exceptions for ELL, IEP, or portfolios of student work is no small challenge.

We should also look at Florida’s numbers. In 10 years, the failing rate has dropped from 23% to 18%. The retention rate has dropped from 13% to 7%. Most of those improvements came in the first two years, however. That’s what Oklahoma would be likely to see as well, if we had done the other thing Florida paired with their law…

FUNDING!

That’s right – money matters. Without funding interventions, this is a purely punitive law. Florida has pushed $130 million ANNUALLY into intervention programs since passing their retention law. Yes, they’re a bigger state than Oklahoma, but we pumped a paltry $6.5 million into RSA last year. Even Barresi’s request to increase that to $16 million doesn’t take us where we need to be. How much is enough? I’m not sure. The legislature should probably start with a generous amount and keep going. We’re not even close. It’s going to take a while to fill the silo at this rate.

Meanwhile, teachers and parents scramble, hoping we can get half of the students projected to score unsatisfactory on the test out of harm’s way. The law as written lacks common sense and financial support. Without those, nobody wins.

This is also why it is important we support HB 2625, which would restore the retention decision to schools and parents. Watch for it in a legislative body near you!

Calling a Crock a Crock

Yesterday, in a paragraph at the end of a column of short editorials, the Oklahoman once again took a cheap shot at the Education Rally scheduled for March 31 at the Oklahoma Capitol:

Snow and ice meant two more days out of school this week for thousands of Oklahoma students, who now await word as to when those days will be made up. There is one date that won’t be used by many districts – Monday, March 31. That’s when administrators and teachers plan to head to Oklahoma City to rally state lawmakers for more spending on education. “We are absolutely not backing out” of the rally, said a spokesman for Tulsa Public Schools, because “it’s clear that we have to do something to get more attention for this issue.” What a crock. Common education funding is always a front-burner issue for lawmakers, even if administrators don’t agree with the size of the check that gets written each year. The rally will be a huge waste of time, particularly for students who should be in class learning something that day.

First of all, state law requires that schools provide 180 days or 1080 hours of instruction. All districts in the state will provide that, whether they hold class March 31 or not. Second, the contention that “education funding is always a front-burner issue or lawmakers,” is the real crock. Last year, if you’ll recall, the Legislature spent more money overall than ever before. In spite of this, common education funding is still well below the 2008 level. Most importantly, the rally will not be a waste of time.

As Scott Haselwood pointed out yesterday, activism resulted in the passage of reforms and a major funding increase in 1990. And as many have mentioned on Twitter, schools waste an enormous amount of time on tasks that are completely useless – things ranging from Roster Verification to A-F Report Cards to field testing item tryouts to Common Core transition plans to the Good Cause Exemptions. The Corporate Education Reform movement and its minions at the SDE and in the Legislature continue to find ways to waste the time of schools and families.

Enough is enough. We know our voices have power. Our presence has even more. I’ve fielded questions about the timing of the rally. Why not have the rally over Spring Break? Last time we tried to find an audience over Spring Break, we ended up speaking to tape recorders. Why not wait until school is out? The legislature only meets from February through May. By the time school is out, the budget will already be set.

Sure, there are legislators who delete their emails without reading them (and don’t realize that the sender gets a message to that effect). There are more who listen, even when the viewpoint is diametrically opposed to their own.

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen what happens when parents and educators call the legislature. The voucher bill went away for now, and both chambers are debating the future of the Common Core. We’ve also seen momentum towards some good-sense adjustments to the Reading Sufficiency Act. If the rally has at least as many parents as educators, if the dialogue is constructive rather than bombastic, and if the weather cooperates, March 31 should be a tremendous use of our time.

In the meantime, we’ll keep defending what we’re doing – even if we have to have a Rally for the Rally™!

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Gettin’ SIGgy With It

 

On Friday, the Oklahoma State Department of Education had a webinar for schools wishing to participate in this year’s School Improvement Grant competition. In case you don’t know much about the SIG program, here’s an overview from the SDE website:

The Oklahoma State Department of Education has been granted the opportunity to award $4.9 million dollars in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funds from the United States Department of Education. This is a competitive grant which requires that schools that are selected to receive the grant and implement one of four intervention models. Districts that contain Priority schools qualify to apply.

SIG Information

  • SIG is a competitive grant meaning an application must be submitted and approved prior to funding being awarded.
  • The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) applied to the United States Department of Education (USDE) for SIG funding for a fourth cohort in November 2013.
  • Only LEAs that are eligible based on the Priority Schools list may apply for funds.
  • Currently there are 6 active SIG sites for school year 2013-2014.

If awarded, each SIG site would choose a Turnaround Model to implement:

  • Restart Model - LEA closes a school and reopens it with a different operating structure (e.g., charter).
  • Closure Model - LEA closes the school and enrolls the student in other higher achieving schools within the LEA.
  • Transformation Model - LEA and school use funds to implement a required list of initiatives.
  • Turnaround Model - LEA and school use the SIG funds to implement a required list of initiatives.

The list of Priority Schools shows about 160 schools eligible for this competition. In the past three competitions, the SDE has awarded a total of 16 grants. All but one chose the Transformation Model (because we always tell people to pick C); the other chose the Turnaround Model. (By the way, it’s strange that one of the choices of turnaround models is actually called the Turnaround Model.)

US Grant High School in Oklahoma City was the one choosing the Turnaround Model. I’ve lost track of how many stories have been written about their success. The narrative usually focuses on how hard the teachers and parents worked to make student success important at Grant. Sometimes the stories also mention the $5 million the school received from the USDE and how the school spent that money. Among these were:

  • Protected collaboration time for teachers
  • Extra professional development days
  • Longer instructional days

It takes a lot of commitment, hard work, and money to turn a school around. It also takes planning. That’s why the following timeline concerns me a little.

Eligible schools received the application packet Tuesday, February 25. Schools wanting to apply had to submit a letter of intent by Tuesday, March 4. Meanwhile, many districts had snow days March 3-4. In essence, schools had less than a week to make a decision.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise any longer when the SDE makes things harder for schools than they have to be. And to be fair, this is a letter of intent, not the actual application. Since we know that very few eligible schools will get a SIG grant, and we have seen the impact such an infusion of funding can have, it’s more than a little frustrating to those interested in applying that the SDE once again can’t get out of its own way or that of the schools.

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The Vote after the Condescending Letter

At lunch today, I shared a letter Janet Barresi sent to school districts. Addressed to educators, it had words of wisdom to help us engage parents:

Talk to parents or guardians. If you can reach out to families — especially those where education is not a priority — with accurate information about the RSA and the importance of literacy, you could help spark an entirely new future for those children.

Less than an hour later, the Oklahoma House of Representatives made headway towards that goal, passing HB 2625 by a vote of 84-6 (with 11 non-voting members). That the bill passed only surprised me a little. The margin floored me. Even Jason Nelson changed his vote from committee to join the gang of 84.

This measure would revise the retention language in the Reading Sufficiency Act to read as follows:

Except as otherwise provided, beginning with students entering the first grade in the 2011-2012 school year, if the reading deficiency of a student, as identified based on assessments administered as provided for in subsection B of this section, is not remedied by the end of third grade, as demonstrated by scoring at the unsatisfactory level on the reading portion of the statewide third-grade criterion-referenced test, the student shall be retained in the third grade if a team composed of a parent or guardian of the student, a teacher assigned to the school, the school principal and a certified reading specialist, if one is employed by the school, agree that the student should be retained. The student shall be promoted to the fourth grade if the team members agree that promotion is the best option for the student or if the team members agree that the student should be promoted for good cause as set forth in subsection K of this section. If the team members agree to retain the student in the third grade, the student shall be provided intensive interventions in reading and intensive instructional services and supports as set forth in subsection N of this section. If the team members agree to promote the student to the fourth grade, the student shall be provided intensive reading instruction as set forth in subsection L of this section.

The underlined text is new language. This change keeps the testing. The six good cause exemptions remain in place. Ultimately, the school may still retain a student, but only after a conversation with parents that will include more than a single data point.

This is what so many of us have been asking for. While Barresi and the SDE double down on the original and highly flawed plan, pretending to have been responsive to questions and comments from educators and parents, the legislature has actually provided a solution.

To them, I say “thank you for listening!”

Now, on to the Senate. Then the Governor. Hopefully, this will pass quickly and not leave schools going into May wondering if they have local control or not.

Answers on Third Grade Reading

Janet Barresi and the SDE really, really want us to be ok with the third grade retention law. That explains this message that came to inboxes across the state today:

Dear educators:As you are well aware, this is a critical time for the Reading Sufficiency Act’s third-grade reading requirement. I know that those of you teaching K-3 are working hard to give your students the gift of literacy, and I have seen impressive reading plans in districts large and small across Oklahoma. With the OCCT testing window only a month away, I wanted to address some common questions about how to prepare for RSA today and in the months ahead.

As outlined by the RSA, by this point you already have identified struggling readers through benchmark assessments and have notified parents of the children who are struggling. In the coming weeks, keep doing what you do best — explore the fundamentals of reading with those students using whatever the techniques or resources you think will work most effectively. If you need assistance from one of our REAC3H coaches or the literacy department, help is only a phone call away.

Talk to parents or guardians. If you can reach out to families — especially those where education is not a priority — with accurate information about the RSA and the importance of literacy, you could help spark an entirely new future for those children.

Many of you have been assembling portfolios of work from your struggling readers. Please continue to do so. By no means are you required to create portfolios for all your students, but if you would like to assemble one for each child, that is up to you, your district or your local board. Remember, however, that a portfolio must clearly demonstrate that a student has mastered state standards beyond the retention level and that he or she is reading at least on grade level. A listing of specific elements required for a portfolio can be found here. If you have questions about what to include, please don’t hesitate to ask the OSDE.

Of course, the portfolio is just one of six good-cause exemptions in the reading law. While the specific structure and language of the exemptions are set by state law, you will work directly with your own districts to determine if a student qualifies for one. If you believe a student has met an exemption, take that evidence to your principal. Your school district will accept or reject the recommendation of your principal.

I have received some questions about the “alternative standardized reading test” exemption. This allows a student who scored Unsatisfactory on the reading portion of the OCCT to move on to fourth grade by passing a different assessment approved by the OSDE.

If you are concerned about a student’s chances on the OCCT, you do not have to wait until the scores are returned to administer an alternative assessment. Districts may begin offering alternative tests immediately after they administer the OCCT. Districts also choose which alternative tests to use.

I hope any of your students who score Unsatisfactory on the OCCT will have an opportunity to attend a summer reading academy. If those students are close to showing reading proficiency, intensive instruction over the summer may be enough to advance them to fourth-grade immediately. If they reach proficiency by Nov. 1, they could be promoted mid-year. That latter option would best serve students enrolled in a transitional grade that combines intensive reading remediation with the content of fourth-grade classes.

Retention is absolutely a last resort. Reading is essential. This law, established in 1997, is intended to lift kids up, not hold them back. The instructional model and retention opportunity was inserted in RSA nine years ago but became mandatory in the 2011 amendment. It sets long-term goals of catching troubled readers with benchmark tests long before they risk retention in the third grade. If they are retained, it should not be a repeat of what they already have learned but an opportunity to ensure they have the skills necessary to succeed for the rest of their lives.

I want to thank those of you who have taken the time to write to me with your thoughts and recommendations. It helps those of us at OSDE make appropriate adjustments in the program and in the supports we provide to you. Also, thank you to all of you who have attended our trainings. I hope you have found them to be of value.

Finally, I want to thank you for the work you do for the children of Oklahoma. Your steadfast commitment and professionalism are a testament to the greatness of teaching. My prayers are with you and for you and the children you faithfully serve.

Warmest regards,

Janet Barresi

Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction

Three quick thoughts:

  1. Barresi appears to blame schools for the retention law being necessary in the first place. She states in the third-to-last paragraph that the “instructional model and retention opportunity was [sic] inserted in RSA nine years ago but became mandatory in the 2011 amendment.” In other words, if you had been meeting this unfunded mandate for the first six years, it wouldn’t have come to this! Except, of course, that Florida does it. And we love Florida! She turns this into praise for teachers in the final paragraph, however, with all of the “steadfast commitment and professionalism.”
  2. Apparently, Barresi – or whoever writes these letters for her – believes that a lot of Oklahoma schools are going to create transitional fourth grade classes.  They’re not. At most schools, we would be talking about a handful of students (probably between 0-5). The funding for classes that small just isn’t available. Additionally, in an ideal world, all of these students will ascend to fourth grade on Nov. 1 (which is a month after they would be considered Full Academic Year students, which is an altogether different rant).
  3. In the second-to-last paragraph, she thanks those of us who have made recommendations. This is a far cry from declaring that the time for debate is over. At most, when we contact the SDE, after a lengthy delay, we receive a response that essentially parrots back the FAQs listed on their website. Allow me to list in the following box all the changes that have been made to RSA implementation by the SDE following feedback from educators:

While I do agree that literacy is a gift, and I appreciate her prayers, I won’t pretend this email left me with the intended level of warmth. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I would guess it’s not just me.

Voucher Bill Fails in Committee

February 27, 2014 2 comments

Yesterday evening, about the time I went to dinner, just from reading the tea leaves following social media, I was convinced that HB 3398 – the Voucher Bill – was going to pass committee. It was either going to be a tie vote with the passing vote broken by House Speaker Hickman, or several of the Republican no votes were going to leave the committee room before the vote was called.

I came back from dinner and was pleasantly surprised. By a vote of 14-8, the bill failed. Here’s the breakdown:

Yes

No

Non-voting

Mike Christian, Sally Kern, Mark McCullough, Jason Nelson, Tom Newell, Leslie Osborn, Sean Roberts, Colby Schwartz Don Armes, Mike Brown, Ann Coody, Doug Cox, Lee Denney, Joe Dorman, Chuck Hoskin, Scott Martin, Jeannie McDaniel, Skye McNiel, Jerry McPeak, Richard Morrissette, Eric Proctor, Earl Sears Lisa Billy, Mike Ritze, Mike Sanders, Weldon Watson, Paul Wesselhoft

This shows me that the email and phone calls helped. It would be worth reaching out to the people you contacted initially and letting them know you appreciate them listening to you. It’s also why so many of us are planning a field trip to the Capitol on March 31st. As poorly planned as this bill was, it’s a drop in the bucket compared with the funding problems that schools are facing. Add A-F Report Cards, RSA, and Common Core to the frustration being felt in homes and schools, and there will be plenty to discuss.

Let’s also not kid ourselves into thinking that the idea of vouchers is dead. Jason Nelson still believes in sending public funding to private schools and not adding accountability. He has also stated that the only reason he wouldn’t push for all-out vouchers (rather than just based on family income) is because he knows it has no chance of passing. He’s surely not the only one who feels this way, and he’s surely not the only one who has read the ALEC and FEE playbooks.

For now at least, logic prevailed and the majority of our representatives listened to their constituents. For that, we should feel thankful.

Reading Sufficiency: A Tale of Two Papers – Part 849

February 26, 2014 4 comments

The Oklahoman made a splash again this morning with the editorial, Conspiracies, anecdotes no substitute for analysis. The title itself is the deepest part of the piece, but let me quote from it anyway:

Consider a recent Owasso forum focused on education. At that event, some attendees complained about a new law requiring retention of third-grade students who read at only a first-grade level or lower, based on state tests. The fact that children should be taught to read should be obvious, yet the law still has detractors.

Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, has filed legislation to allow parents, teachers and local school board members to socially promote students even when tests show a child is far behind classmates. Nollan’s argument for her bill rested, in part, on an anecdote. “I had a third-grader in my district who threw up on her test,” Nollan said. “This is an 8-year-old.”

Think about that: The justification given for changing a major state law is that a single child out of roughly 50,000 third-grade students in Oklahoma once vomited during testing. The law of averages suggests this scenario happens at schools every day across Oklahoma, regardless of whether testing is ongoing. That child could have simply been sick, or other factors may have induced stress. Yet that isolated instance is pointed to as justification for watering down efforts to teach children to read.

To politicians, anecdotes are the gold standard. Without them, we wouldn’t have the Merry Christmas Bill, the Pop Tart Gun Bill, or so many more of the fabulous entries into our state’s legislative record. Just think back to any presidential debate from the past 20 years. Every candidate has cherry-picked someone’s tale of woe and made it the symbol of what’s wrong with this country.

In this case, however, I’m siding with the politician. I have seen the increase in anxiety. I have seen the students crying after their benchmark tests. I have seen teachers whipped into a frenzy over the fear that in spite all their efforts, a student will have a bad test day and they won’t have the documentation to promote the child anyway.

Selective story-telling isn’t limited to politicians, by the way. The editorialists at the Oklahoman missed the big ideas from the parent meeting. Fortunately, the journalists at the Tulsa World were on hand to do something resembling reporting.

Seven legislators and Joel Robison, chief of staff for state Superintendent Janet Barresi, took questions from more than 100 people who asked questions and shared concerns about education funding, the Reading Sufficiency Act and other issues…

Several people also spoke about their opposition to the third-grade reading law, which this year requires third-graders to show proficiency on their reading test or be retained in the third grade.

Robison told parents that there are six ways a third-grader could be promoted to fourth grade after failing the reading test. But one parent told him that has backfired in her daughter’s third-grade class.

“What’s happening, sir, is they are taking instruction time from our children to build a portfolio on every single child just in case they don’t pass,” she said.

After a pause, Robison said, “That’s unfortunate,” bringing a chorus of groans from the audience.

Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, said she has heard that as many as 4,000 third-graders could be retained this year. Robison said state officials estimate that about 12 percent of the state’s third-graders would be in danger of retention.

“Overtesting, teaching to the test, high-stakes testing — all has been detrimental,” said Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs. “I had a third-grader in my district who threw up on her test. This is an 8-year-old.”

She said she has introduced a bill that allows for a team of parents, teachers and principals to decide after remediation whether a child should be promoted to the fourth grade.

“We’re really hoping to put it back into your hands to make the decisions,” Nollan said. “The people on the front lines are the best people to make the decision as to whether a child should be retained or promoted.”

The story, when told in full, is much more interesting. The key word here is parents. It’s not just teachers and administrators who hate the mandatory retention law; it’s parents too. Even ones who should have no concerns about how this will impact their children are unnerved. The Oklahoman believes parents should hold the schools accountable for wasting the time of all students by doing the portfolios (which of course are one of the good cause exemptions – and something REAC3H coaches are training districts to complete under the watch of the SDE). On a greater level, what parents should really demand is that we quit wasting such an insane amount of time on high-stakes testing. And by time, I also mean tens of millions of dollars a year.

During a Q&A with KFOR in Oklahoma City yesterday (questions = softballs & answers = blame teachers), Superintendent Barresi did everything the Oklahoman editorial decries. She discussed her sons’ struggles with reading (anecdotal evidence). And she blamed all of the adults for creating the anxiety being felt by Oklahoma’s students.

To that end, I’d agree with her. I just think she’s blaming the wrong adults.

Fortunately, some of the grown ups in Oklahoma City have been listening to parents. Yesterday, the House Education Committee advanced two bills that would provide more options to parents of third graders in lieu of retention. The only two who voted no on each bill were Sally Kern and Jason Nelson. I’ll let that fact speak for itself.

Two More Questions on the Voucher Bill

February 20, 2014 1 comment

You may have heard that HB 3398 – the voucher bill – was laid over yesterday. That means the House Appropriations and Budget Committee will hear it today (on the schedule for 11:30). Yesterday, I posted three questions I hope committee members will ask the bill’s sponsors. Today, I pose two more.

  1. Will this bill really help children in poverty change schools? The numbers don’t lie. Private school education isn’t cheap. A voucher won’t be the tipping point for low-income families. It might help some middle-income families, but not very many. Also, for many of the families in urban areas, additional barriers such as transportation will come into play.
  2. What can we do to make public schools more attractive to the public? That’s the real issue here. It’s easy to talk about giving parents choices, but law after law limits what parents can choose for their children within public schools. I wrote a post over a year ago titled The School I Choose, which outlines the qualities that I believe most parents want in a school. Generally, I believe public schools provide more of these qualities than private schools do. There are exceptions both on the public and private end, however. I acknowledge that. Some of the missing elements are due to ever-increasing unfunded mandates. That is within the legislature’s control to change.

I also encourage you to read Seth Meier and Wesley Fryer’s thoughts on the voucher bill. And please contact any and all committee members and let your feelings be known.

Three Questions for the A & B Committee to Ask

February 19, 2014 4 comments

The House Appropriations and Budget Committee will hear HB 3398, creating Oklahoma Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) today. Here are three questions I hope they ask.

  1. How many Oklahoma students currently attend public school on a transfer outside of the school district in which they reside? One of the big talking points of the bill’s sponsors is that children should not be limited by their zip code. I’ve even heard Jeb Bush say this on multiple occasions. The committee should do a little fact-finding. To what extent are transfers allowed, and to what extent are they denied? Ask the bill’s sponsors what their personal experience is with transferring children to a district other than the one in which they pay property taxes.
  2. Why does the bill preclude the state from extending assessment and accountability to any private schools receiving students on a voucher? Our state superintendent loves to say that measuring is caring – or something like that. The bill’s sponsors vote for every test and accountability system that comes before them, no matter what experiences other states have tried with them. Why can’t the state – if it’s going to spend money in private schools – determine the quality of the investment?
  3. If this measure is about parental choice, why not just listen to parents who are furious over the reforms the state is handing down to public schools? Whether it’s the Common Core, Reading Sufficiency, A-F Report Cards, or increasing the time, cost, and importance of testing, parents’ opinions have not been heard. Overall, people tend to like the schools their children attend. This would probably be more true if the policy makers would listen to parents and educators.

That’s all I have today. You can read additional concerns from CCOSA, USSA, and OSSBA. Most importantly, contact any and all committee members and let your feelings be known.

Voucher Bill to be Heard Tomorrow

February 18, 2014 2 comments

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m no fan of vouchers. Call them Education Savings Accounts, or anything else; all they do is take money from public schools and put them into private schools – with no accountability. Since you’ve already heard from me on this subject, here’s today’s notice from CCOSA:

EDUCATION ACTION ALERT – VOUCHERS (HB3398)

HB 3398 by Representative Jason Nelson (R-OKC) and Representative Tom Newell (R-Seminole) creates the Oklahoma Education Savings Account (ESA) Act.  If passed, Oklahoma would become the second state in the nation, behind Arizona, to have Education Savings Accounts.  ESA’s are accounts for eligible students to pay education expenses incurred through enrollment in a non-public school settings.  To be eligible, a student must commit to withdraw from enrollment in a public school in Oklahoma AND meet certain income requirements as set forth in the bill.

BILL HISTORY

HB 3398 will be heard by the House Appropriations and Budget Committee on Wednesday, February 19 at 4:30 p.m.

CALL TO ACTION

Please contact EVERY MEMBER of the House Appropriations Committee BEFORE 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 19th and ask committee members to VOTE NO ON HB 3398.

TALKING POINTS

  • Oklahoma’s public schools deserve the support of the Legislature so that they can continue to be the school of choice.
  • Taxpayers are not given the opportunity to opt out of publicly funded programs:
    • Ex. Most Oklahomans do not plan to go to prison yet our taxpayer dollars support the Department of Corrections.
      • Under the logic of HB 3398, those taxpayers not going to prison should get a refund of the portion of their taxes that are used to subsidize that “government run institution” because they are choosing not to go there.
  • Ex. Some Oklahomans will never visit a state park and/or recreation facility maintained by the State Department of Tourism.
    • Under the logic of HB 3398, Oklahoma taxpayers not using state parks and recreation facilities should receive a refund of the portion of their tax dollars that are used to support those parks and recreational facilities that the taxpayer does not use or enjoy.
    • HB 3398 has limited accountability mechanisms in place to ensure that taxpayer dollars used to pay for the private and/or homeschool education of students are not misused.
      • HB 3398 will result in the creation of additional bureaucratic positions to monitor the conduct of private citizens and private schools participating in the ESA program.

Actual Ideas for Actual Needs

Today’s editorial in the Oklahoman (side note – wondering how many blog posts I’ve started that way) questions HB 2642 by Representative Lee Denney which would increase earmarked funding for education by $57 million this year and $575 million annually by 2023. The paper finds multiple flaws with this plan:

Schools, by the way, already get directly apportioned money off the top. That sum has increased from about $1 billion in 2004 to $1.4 billion this year. A similar effort significantly improved transportation funding, but there are important differences. For one thing, lawmakers truly neglected transportation for decades. The 2005 state appropriation was virtually unchanged from 1985 — and the condition of Oklahoma roads proved it.

In comparison, public schools are typically a top legislative priority. The $575 million increase Denney seeks over 10 years may sound impressive, but the Legislature increased school funding by $524 million in just four years between 2005 and 2009 — even as income taxes were cut. Recent years have seen some reductions to state school funding, but that action was forced by the national recession, not legislative hostility.

Furthermore, schools aren’t solely reliant on state funds. Districts’ local tax revenues have increased substantially since 2008. The amount districts carried over at the end of each fiscal year has surged 67 percent, rising from $460 million to $771 million from 2007 to 2013. Denney’s proposal would put school spending increases on autopilot, regardless of actual need, increased local funding or whether existing funds are being used efficiently. This would likely force discretionary budget cuts elsewhere, such as public safety, even when total revenues increase.

During the last six years, it’s been hard to argue that public schools have been the top legislative priority. Taxes have been a higher priority. Social bills that spur expensive legal challenges before being overturned by the courts have been a higher priority. In fact, the last two legislative sessions, since I’ve been watching closely as a blogger, education funding hasn’t been set until nearly the last minute.

The local funding argument also doesn’t hold water. In 2008, state funding accounted for 53% of all district revenue, while local funding produced 35%. By 2012, the splits were 48% and 39%. I don’t have the 2013 and 14 numbers, but the trend has moved in this direction for more than a decade. Yes, education saw a surge of funding in the middle of the last decade. This was after another downturn in 2002-04. Meanwhile, enrollment continues its steady growth and legislative mandates continue to skyrocket. Additionally, because of SQ 766, school districts have already started feeling the loss of local tax revenue, to the tune of $60 million annually – $23 million for AT&T alone (which should be used to help their network quit dropping calls).

The most insulting part of the editorial was the use of the phrase regardless of actual need. The SDE recognizes that the teacher shortage being felt in many parts of the state right now is only going to get worse. Although Janet Barresi’s recommendations are a mix of good ideas (restoring the Teacher Residency Program) and bad ones (increasing the pipeline from non-traditional workforce pipelines, such as TFA), they show that she’s paying attention to the problem. Superficially, so does her 2K4T campaign gimmick. Yes teachers deserve a raise. Yes, some districts have large carryovers right now. Some don’t, however. Bleeding your reserves dry is not a sustainable strategy for improving teacher morale (which Marisa Dye explains extremely well).

Many legislators are starting to grasp the severity of the problem. Yesterday, two bills increasing teacher pay were passed out of committee. This would cost about $237 million annually. That’s more than the Fallin budget, which offers no specific details. That’s more than the Barresi budget, which has way too much money tabbed for programs outside of the funding formula. Pat Ownbey from Ardmore has an idea of how to pay for this.

The source of funding would be a tax break on horizontal drilling. When the tax break was granted by the state, horizontal drilling was seen as an experimental endeavor. To stimulate drilling, a 7 percent tax on production was dropped to 1 percent. Ownbey said the tax break is scheduled to expire this year. A tax of one percent gives the state $332 million.

“If we negotiated somewhere in between one and seven percent, we would have enough to take care of the teachers and some of the state workers that have not received a pay increase,” Ownbey said. “The tax break was given over a period of time so they could experiment with horizontal drilling, and it worked. It has done a great job, but the period of experimentation is over. It is not like we are running up taxes.”

Ownbey said Texas charges 6 percent and South Dakota charges 11 percent. Former Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon (R-Lawton) is in favor of making the tax break permanent to encourage drilling, but Ownbey said new House Speaker Jeff Hickman (R-Fairview) has not closed the door on the issue.

“We have infrastructure we are not taking care of,” Ownbey said. “I talked to the speaker to see where he stood on it, and he is not closing the door on it. My thoughts, on what he told me, are that it is an issue worth looking at it.

“The companies are coming to Oklahoma because the oil is in the ground. We need to look at this revenue as revenue we can invest in our infrastructure.”

The money is there, and somebody has a plan for making it available where it’s needed. This is where the legislature needs to focus. It might not be what the Oklahoman wants, but maybe that means we’re getting somewhere.

Help Wanted

In case you haven’t heard, the SDE’s assistant superintendent for accountability and assessments will vacate her position March 14. Although the testing program has not run all that smoothly under Maridyth McBee’s watch, the timing of this change is a concern for those in school districts who manage testing, which starts on April 10. Two pieces of news should be of tremendous comfort, however.

First is that the SDE has a seasoned veteran of testing at the ready to serve in an interim capacity. From the Tulsa World:

[SDE Director of Communications Phil] Bacharach said Wes Bruce, a nationally recognized consultant in the field who has been working with the department since before McBee’s decision, agreed to expand his role in assessments in the interim.

“We do anticipate a smooth transition,” he said. A national search is already underway for her successor. and Bacharach said there are some strong candidates in the field.

Bruce is the former chief assessment officer for the Indiana Department of Education under former Superintendent Tony Bennett, who lost the election in 2012 for another term.

Bennett then became Florida’s education commissioner. He resigned less than eight months later amid accusations that he changed the state’s A-F grading formula to raise the grade of a charter school backed by influential Republican donors. Bruce retired last fall under Bennett’s successor, Glenda Ritz.

Let’s recap the connections here. Bennett is one of Barresi’s closest political allies. What she and her supporters (to the extent that they exist apart from her own checkbook) don’t copy from Florida, they copy from Indiana. Faced with a testing debacle nearly identical to Oklahoma’s at the exact same time, Ritz – an actual educator – held the testing company accountable in a meaningful way.

What led the SDE to decide we needed Bruce on our payroll is unclear. But it’s a good thing he saw fit to pack up and leave his home and put his skills to work for another state.

Bacharach said Bruce does not live in Oklahoma. “But under terms of his agreement with SDE, he is here for a number of days each month and is in routine contact via Skype, email, etc.,” he said.

It is unclear whether that will continue under his interim leadership.

Well that’s different. This guy is phoning  Skyping it in. But he has close ties to PARCC, which helps because…oh wait, it’s not. We pulled out of PARCC.

Still, this is only temporary. Bacharach also said a national search is already underway for McBee’s permanent replacement. By already underway, of course, they mean on back channels. Currently, no job posting appears on the Careers at SDE page.

Maybe they’re trying to find the right words to use in the job description. If that’s the case, allow me to help. That is what I’m known for, after all.

Assistant State Superintendent for Accountability and Assessments

General description

Under general supervision from the State Board of Education (SBE) and with diligent collaboration with Oklahoma school district personnel, effectively lead the state testing program in accordance with all state and federal laws, always maintaining the best interest of students.

Minimum Qualifications

  • Master’s degree in education, testing, or related field from an accredited college or university (doctorate degree preferred)
  • Five years successful employment in as a public school employee, leading to an understanding of school district operations
  • Five years in a leadership capacity in the testing field, either with a public agency or a company that specializes in assessment.
  • Residence in Oklahoma

Knowledge/Skills/Abilities

  • Knowledge of validity and reliability of data, as well as the inherent limitations of high-stakes testing
  • Ability to make the testing company or companies with which the state contracts work in the best interest of the students of Oklahoma, rather than making the students of Oklahoma work for the benefit of the vendor(s)
  • Skill in communicating promptly with stakeholders regarding concerns with the state testing program
  • Ability to lead a team of content area assessment specialists who will ensure that test items align with Oklahoma Academic Standards (but definitely nothing federal)
  • Knowledge of Oklahoma school districts and the qualities that make each different
  • Understanding of the impact of socio-economic factors on student achievement and recognition of the extent to which they predict standardized test results

Examples of Work Performed

  • Successfully complete all required student testing (and a limited amount of item tryouts) within each school year’s testing window and with the least possible amount of disruption to instruction
  • Coordinate and conduct training of Oklahoma school personnel on the implementation of the Oklahoma School Testing Program (OSTP) College and Career Readiness Assessment (OCCRA)
  • Closely advise the SDE communication team on future renaming, rebranding, and marketing efforts, should such an occasion present itself
  • Coordinate and conduct training of any testing vendor(s) about the extent to which Oklahoma school district calendars, technology, and staffing levels impact the ability of the state to conduct standardized testing
  • Ensure student confidentiality at all times, including any appeals made on behalf of children to the SBE
  • Utilize practicing Oklahoma educators and the input they provide in the item selection and standard setting processes
  • Establish performance levels for each state assessment prior to the testing window each school year
  • Align with state research universities to determine the efficacy of state and federally enacted accountability systems
  • Advocate for students to the SBE relative to the impact of federal and state laws and policies on their academic progress
  • Develop strategies for communicating the impact of the state’s assessment and accountability policies on specific populations, such as special education students and English language learners
  • Construct a definition of Full Academic Year that school district personnel can both understand and accept

I looked at a posted position for the formatting, but the language definitely reflects my own preferences. This probably has more boxes that a school district would check than what a state agency under the indirect control of Chiefs for Change would check. In short, I hope the person who replaces McBee on a permanent basis is not a Jeb Bush/Tony Bennett/Janet Barresi crony. I’m hopeful we can find an Oklahoma educator with a strong testing background.

And of course, I wish Dr. McBee well in her post-SDE life.

Benchmarks and Testlets and Pilots, oh my!

February 11, 2014 5 comments

It was bound to happen. Once Measured Progress won the right to administer our 3-8 Reading* and Math tests, you knew they had to do something to pad their profit. In emails across the state today:

We at Measured Progress are honored to have been chosen by the Oklahoma State Department of Education to serve as assessment partner for the Oklahoma College and Career Readiness Assessment (OCCRA). The OCCRA will reflect the learning expectations articulated by Oklahoma’s new state academic standards.

Since the award was announced we have heard from many Oklahoma district administrators who are looking for assessments comparable in rigor and depth to that of the new academic standards. We are pleased to offer Measured Progress COMMON CORETM Assessments–a suite of testing tools specifically designed for use in the classroom and available now. While we are aware that Oklahoma has developed state-specific academic standards, we also know that the two sets of standards are parallel in rigor.

To be clear, the COMMON CORE Assessments are not predictors of student performance on the OCCRA or any other high-stakes test. Rather, they are formative assessment instruments that provide teachers with data to inform and adjust instruction. They also offer students the opportunity to take assessments similar in quality and depth to that of the new state assessment.

COMMON CORE Assessments include:

  • Benchmarks–tests that can be administered four times a year to give teachers valuable feedback about students’ grasp of the standards
  • Testlets–short, targeted quizzes that cover key standards and help teachers focus instruction
  • Item Bank–selected-response, short-answer, and constructed-response items that enable teachers to build their own classroom assessments

The Measured Progress COMMON CORE Assessments are delivered on a platform provided by our technology partner, eMetric, giving students the chance to take classroom tests on an interface virtually identical to what they’ll see on the state assessment. We are also preparing to pilot with districts a new generation of science assessments, as well as curriculum-embedded performance assessments–both built to reflect the state of the art in technology and content quality.

I will be calling you in the next couple of weeks to explore how we might help you make your local assessment program more effective and informative. In the meantime, please visit our website to learn more about the Measured Progress COMMON CORE Assessments. And if you are interested in participating in our science pilot, please visit our website or send an e-mail to our Product Management Group.

I want to see a show of hands. Which of you Oklahoma administrators have been pestering these poor people over the last three months? Let them breathe already! They’ve been busy preparing field tests item tryouts for our students to take after they’ve taken their real tests. If they don’t opt out that is. Because that would be wrong.

It sounds like Measured Progress is ready to provide something that schools are getting right now from Acuity for free. I just wonder at what cost. And they can’t say this strongly enough, but the benchmark test is no predictor for what will become OCCRA.

I am still giggling every time I say or read that. I have no plans to stop.

The kicker comes in the last sentence – the science pilot. Funny – I don’t think Measured Progress is our testing vendor for science. What’s that about, you ask?

Why Participate?

  • Students will get exposure to more rigorous science content likely to be seen in future Next Generation Science (NGSS) curriculum and assessments— through testlets and curriculum-embedded performance tasks.
  • Educators can evaluate the rigor of these new items and determine how well items helped them assess student understanding of the NGSS.
  • Feedback from students and educators will help inform the development of standards-based science assessments at Measured Progress.

What will my district pilot?

  • Districts can choose to pilot short pre-configured testlets and/or curriculum-embedded performance tasks.
  • Testlets are a collection of items that include five to seven items and cover grades 3-8, targeting specific Performance Expectations from NGSS.

What will be expected of educators and students in my district?

  • Curriculum-embedded performance assessments cover science content in grades 6-8; districts can also pilot an integrated math, ELA, and science task designed for fifth graders. 

  • All administrators must sign a non-disclosure agreement.

  • Pilot assessment materials will be administered between February and mid-May of this school year.

  • Educators will use available rubrics to evaluate student work and return completed student work to Measured Progress by June 1, 2014.

  • Participants will take part in an online training, which goes over administration, scoring, and how to complete the feedback survey.

But Oklahoma didn’t adopt the NGSS – we have OASS. It’s totally different! Besides, this is just an opportunity to sample their wares – not their instructional materials, but their test items. It’s not a field test. It’s not even an official item tryout. It’s a pilot. They’ve found another thing to call subjecting our students to tests that have no meaning. The creativity of these people will never end!

Keep in mind the benefit to us as educators is only that we get to see assessment items that may align to the new science standards, even though the state has not yet begun the process of selecting a vendor for those assessments. There’s no training over the standards themselves or how to improve instruction. This will absolutely be testing for its own sake. The testing company will benefit. Schools will not.

Welcome to the testing mélange, Measured Progress. You’re gonna fit in pretty well around here.

 

*It’s not all reading. It never is.

What Does the Angry Mob Say?

February 8, 2014 8 comments

Yesterday’s hot topic across social media – other than whether or not Bob Costas should wear an eye patch during the Olympic broadcasts – was the outrage expressed by two Oklahoma legislators over the Oklahoma Education Coalition plan to rally at the Capitol (if it’s still standing by then) on March 31.

“It’s indefensible for government entities to use government resources to lobby government for more taxpayer money for more government,” Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, said in a news release. “It’s also extremely inappropriate for government entities to pressure their employees to take time away from their important duties to lobby for money for that entity.”

State Rep. Mike Turner, R-Oklahoma City, agreed.

“This sort of behavior should not be tolerated by our schools or any other state agency participating in this gross abuse of your hard-earned money,” Turner said.

To the best of my knowledge, Murphey now holds the Oklahoma record for most uses of the word government in a sentence of that length. We’re asking the Elias Sports Bureau to check the archives, but I’m pretty sure of this.

Gentlemen, what is indefensible that over the past five years, Oklahoma’s public schools have taken the largest cuts of any state in the country. Last year, the legislature appropriated more money than at any other time in history, yet funding for education still does not approach pre-recession levels. The number of students served increases. The mandates increase. Testing – the number of tests and cost per test – continue to increase.

Let me try to illustrate some of the outrage Oklahomans feel. Last weekend, a reader made a comment on one of my posts that effectively captures the mood of many Oklahoma educators and parents.

The use of a group of 10 students was instituted when the State Board of Ed decided to not follow the recommendation of the Teachers and the Commission that evaluated this idea. they recommended staying with 15 for statistical validity. Of course valid results are not at all what the SDE is after. Also as shown by last year’s biology tests if this years history tests scores are too high they will raise the cut scores ex post facto and make it look like whatever they (the SDE) want. I think the March on the Capitol March 31st is a good idea but I think we need to show up with pitch forks, axes and flaming torches.

He is responding to the decision by the State Board of Education to use groups of ten students for accountability purposes. (The commenter added in a follow-up that he was being facetious about the angry mob stuff.) It is another example that shows how the Barresi administration pulls together groups to do their legwork for them and then disregards their recommendations. In fact, it is another example of the lack of respect that the SDE frequently shows for the education profession as a whole.

This is why so many concerned Oklahomans are going to the Capitol next month. It’s about money. It’s about policy. It’s about respect. None of those things are going in the right direction at this moment. Many school districts across the state are taking that day off (a day which will be made up). Others are sending representatives while still holding school. More importantly, parents are involved – many, many parents.

We should also remember that this isn’t a conservative vs. liberal issue. It’s not just one part of the state either. Altus. Tuttle. Edmond. Clinton. Sand Springs. These are conservative communities. And these are but a representative sampling.

I’ll give you another example of the disconnect between our policy makers and our schools. Thursday, Superintendent Barresi and Ashley Gaona, a third-grade teacher from Clinton, had a lively exchange on Twitter.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be around a teacher who lacked emotion. Feeling something for your students, school, and community does not eliminate your ability to reason, however. Barresi should be careful about to whom she condescends. Gaona, as of last night, is now a blogger.

According to her (or whoever has been writing back to me on Twitter), I have an “emotional issue” and she states it is of the “utmost importance that children learn to read.” Oh, really? You mean, all of the time I have spent with students hasn’t been for their benefit? All of the hours I put in at school (and the extra hours I put in after school) are for myself and I truly don’t care for my students? If only she knew how much I truly worry about and adore my students. She will never understand or comprehend what teachers go through on a daily basis for their students.

I understand that many people are afraid to ask Janet Barresi questions. I have a rebuttal to that–I am not afraid to ask her questions about the future of my students. You know why? I make mistakes… I am human. If I reprimanded my students every time they questioned my teaching, well… I would be a terrible teacher. If I can’t answer their questions, I shouldn’t be teaching. If they are correcting me, I have done something right and I will take that criticism as constructive. Don’t be afraid to have a voice for your students.

We have to fight for education in this state. There is no other way to change the current situation. We can’t go around and complain without taking action. Write your legislators (I am in the current process of doing so). Make this situation known to fellow educators. Make this situation known to parents. This isn’t just for us educators–it’s for the kids. Who knows what that actually means more than us–their teachers? Be their voice.

It’s not just Ashley, either. The blogosphere was exploding last night. I’ll give you a few paragraphs from each, but it’s worth your time to follow the links and read each blogger’s effort in full.

Fourth Generation Teacher: Marching for Kids, Marching for my Family

I hate when politicians try to bond with me by telling me their wife or mother or cousin was a teacher…Don’t insult me like that. They are NOT invested in this profession the way I am. Their one relative who used to be a teacher does not stack up against my family tree.

I share this to give you the background of why I will be in OKC on March 31. I will not be marching for more money, even though money is vital for our schools. I know the funding could be found if our politicians cared. What I do know is they’re trying to portray us all as greedy, money-grubbing teachers.

I’ll be marching to end the high-stakes in assessment. End the madness of testing every grade every year. End the test prep, hour after hour. End the narrowing of our curriculum to concentrate on the two high-stakes areas: math and science. I’ll be marching to put an end to un-funded and under-funded mandates that pile one on top of another, like, as Linda Darling Hammond has noted, layers of sedimentary rock…nothing ever taken away, just more piled on top.

The Legislature must be put on notice that if they mandate something, they must fund it. I’ll be marching to remind our Legislators that filing 500 bills, only 291 of which were labeled as education bills, is micromanaging of a profession with which most have no experience, except their years as students. I have written about the bills we know about here and here. I’ll be marching against the voucher bill, a not-so-subtle way of taking MORE money out of public schools. I’ll be marching for any of the bills that rein in the OSDE and its reckless behavior. I’ll be marching for the bill that will allow parents to opt out their children from testing.

Excellence in Mediocrity: Get Ready to Fight

Teaching has not been my family’s business, but it is now. My wife and I are first generation teachers. It is not just our job, but it is our livelihood and our passion. When someone begins to denigrate my family’s livelihood, I tend to get protective. That is exactly what these lawmakers have done. 

Make no mistake Oklahoma, this type of message is calculated and it is intended to set up teachers as the villain. On March 31, there will be a Rally for Education at the State Capitol. I believe that it will prove to be a pivotal point in Oklahoma’s education history. Some lawmakers, public figures, private entities, and citizens will continue to be relentless as March 31 approaches.  For this reason we must fight.

I started this blog in hopes that rookie educators would stand up: not just for the students, but also for the profession. Please understand that we will be called selfish, we will be called “liberal union bosses” (oh wait! we already have), and we will expectedly be told that we don’t care about our students. I hope that every single person reading this understands that we are much stronger united. We will put aside political affiliations, and we lift up our desire to stand up for issues that directly impact our students and our profession. Just read the comments from the aforementioned article…these people will tell us that we are just in this to increase our pay.

Haselwood Math: What Would You Do?

I have become increasingly frustrated with the very toxic relationship that has developed in my state between the Teacher, the Politicians, and our State Superintendent.  I surely do not understand all of the different things that go into the entire process.  I don’t know how the funding works, except that its based on enrollment and taxes/tax bases.  I have no idea what the elementary EOI’s look like or what they test on, I don’t even know what our Math EOI’s look like (the whole no peeking, but make sure they are not randomly clicking thing)…But I do know that in my high school the entire month of April and part of May are dominated by testing (roughly 25 school days).  Kids that are taking tests in multiple subjects miss multiple classes over multiple days.  It’s frustrating….

But I am bothered by what some of our political leaders are suggesting about teachers and I just do not think that it’s fair or right.  I promise you that the people that I work for love the students.  They are AMAZING TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS!!  We work so hard for our kids – I can’t tell you how proud I am of my school and district!  I know that we will meet any challenge that comes our way and will keep climbing up the mountain (PASS) – even when we have to trudge down the mountain to climb the next one (Common Core) because there is a change in direction.  I also know that it would be great if I could get an actual cost of living increase.  I know I will never get rich teaching, guess what, not my life goal.  But it is nice to feel some love once in a while.  And if thousands of my colleagues from around the state want to rally for some love, what’s wrong with that?  That is one of the most treasured parts of living in the United States!  Being able to have a rally, peacefully, to stand up for what you believe is the right thing.  Think of all of the positive things that have come from peaceful rallies in our country, sometimes those are just the things that are needed to start positive change.

A View From the Edge: An Appalling Lack of Respect

Remember Superintendent Barresi’s lovely “I’ll be damned” speech from November when she blamed Oklahoma’s educators for losing a generation of children? This was followed by her refusal to meet with Oklahoma Education Association members in January, while labeling them as “liberal union bosses.”

Yesterday, she once again displayed her appalling lack of respect for teachers during an interview with Tulsa’s Channel 8 news reporter Kim Jackson.

When asked about the reasons for Tulsa Public Schools high number of schools receiving D’s and F’s on last year’s A-F report card, she said:

“They [TPS] have been failing for decades. When you keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, that is a sign of insanity. For years and years, kids in poverty and kids in chronically low performing schools were hidden. Now we’ve shown the light on it. These teachers should not feel stressed. They should feel supported.”

No, Dr. Barresi, you have it backwards. These teachers are stressed (we all are) and clearly do NOT feel supported by an out-of-touch State Superintendent who is constantly blaming them for the poor performance of their students, while simultaneously dismissing the obvious effects of poverty, broken homes, abuse and neglect, poor parenting, high mobility, and crime-infested neighborhoods. Not to mention the lack of adequate funding from our state legislature.

These types of comments from our state education leader demonstrate an ignorance of reality and are a tremendous insult to the hundreds of dedicated teachers in TPS. Does Dr. Barresi honestly believe that labeling these schools with D’s and F’s, based on what researchers have shown to be an inaccurate and arbitrary grading system, is going to have the effect of positively motivating these educators to do a better job?

I doubt calling them insane failures will help either.

And how can she say that Dr. Ballard and TPS “are doing the same thing over and over again?” The Tulsa Model that is being used by nearly 500 school districts across the state as the qualitative component of the state Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE) Model was designed and implemented by administrators and teachers in Tulsa before she took office.

The one thing Barresi gets right is that doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result, is a sign of insanity. Keep insulting us. Keep making decisions that negatively impact the children we serve.  Just don’t expect us to take it graciously.

I have one more thing to recommend before I go – a set of things, really. First is the CCOSA Resolution enumerating the reasons for the rally. Second is their statement yesterday about Murphy and Turner’s backlash. Here’s an excerpt of that:

“It is troubling that certain elected officials would openly challenge the constitutional rights of parents, students, elected school board members and professional educators to peaceably assemble at the state capitol and advocate for their community schools,” said Steven Crawford, the Executive Director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration.  “This rally, on behalf of Oklahoma’s 678,000+ public school students, is supported by parent organizations as well as education advocacy groups.”

“Given that legislators are only in session Monday through Thursday during the months of February through May, it seems highly implausible that supporters of public education would be able to get to the Capitol except on a day when we would otherwise have school.  Fortunately, school leaders have planned ahead and provided adequate notice to parents and students about the schedule change so that students do not miss any instructional time or other necessary services,” said Ryan Owens, Executive Director of the United Suburban Schools Association.

March 31 – be there. Be loud. Be respectful. And be heard. I will.

Writing Test Club

In the movie, Fight Club, the main characters operate under a strict set of rules.

The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. Third rule of Fight Club: Someone yells stop, goes limp, taps out, the fight is over. Fourth rule: only two guys to a fight. Fifth rule: one fight at a time, fellas. Sixth rule: no shirts, no shoes. Seventh rule: Fights will go on as long as they have to. And the eighth and final rule: If this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight.

Similarly, with the Oklahoma School Testing Program, the first rule of writing test is that you don’t talk about the writing test. Traditionally, the entire state has taken the writing test on the same day, with a few students having to make up the tests later. This year, many Oklahoma educators have been calling for the Feb. 26 date to be pushed back because of the unusually high number of snow days we’ve had across the state. Yesterday, the SDE sent out this notice in response:

OSDE: Modification to grades 5 an [sic] 8 Statewide Writing Day

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 02/06/2014 12:26 PM CST

Dear Superintendents, Principals, and District Test Coordinators,

Due to the inclement weather our state has been experiencing, the State Department of Education is making a modification to the grades 5 and 8 Statewide Writing Day which was previously scheduled for Wednesday, February 26, 2014.  Districts will be allowed flexibility to establish their own testing day for all students in attendance within the same testing window of February 26 – March 7. All makeup tests will need to be completed within this window as well. Districts should then package all Writing tests and ship them back to CTB for scoring. If you have questions, please contact the Office of Accountability and Assessments at (405) 521-3341.

They sort of gave us what we want, albeit quite clumsily. Immediately, two responses began popping up on social media. The first is gratitude. The second is disbelief.

This is a good question from someone who knows more than a little about testing validity and reliability. We give the writing test on the same day across the state to sequester the writing prompt. While I doubt any teachers will be seeking out information about the test from schools that have chosen to give it early, this still could potentially impact the entire process.

Since I am a self-styled helper, I have taken it upon myself to develop some guidelines that will help with test security during the newly created writing window.

  1. You do not talk about the writing prompt – whether you’re a student or adult. The last thing we need is people losing their certificates because they found out what the writing prompt was and made a single remark about it publicly.
  2. You do not talk about the writing prompt – Seriously! If someone goes ahead and gives the test on Feb. 26 and a student discusses the prompt, and then teachers begin discussing the prompt, the SDE will be all up in your business.
  3. When a student is tired or frustrated with writing, the test is over. This happened quite a bit last year when the testing company changed the format of the test and teachers were caught off guard. I have a feeling teachers will have students more prepared for surprises this year.
  4. There will be only two texts to a writing prompt.  Students will read two excerpts of texts and then respond to a prompt. The key is that they need to clearly cite the example texts as evidence of their points, but do so in a way that is not plagiarism. It’s a degree of nuance that ALL fifth graders have down, right?
  5. Write one sentence at a time, students. Oklahoma teachers who have students write frequently and evaluate their writing in a way similar to how these tests are scored probably have a leg up on the field. The SDE has a page with the writing standards, sample prompts, and rubrics for scoring student work. We only have a few weeks left, but if you’re teaching these grades, and you’re not familiar with these documents, you should probably take a look.
  6. Dress comfortably; we might be here a while. Whether we’re dealing with computer tests or not, expect the unexpected. Dress in layers. Maybe keep some extra Skittles in the pouch of your hoodie. This might not go as planned.
  7. Take your time. Students are scored on the quality of the response, not how quickly they finish. Remind them that writing is about expressing their ideas and that no matter what they write, they should be proud of it. As someone who finds writing cathartic, I never tire of telling students this.
  8. Everybody must test. This is Oklahoma. There are no opt outs. Except when there are.

Writing Tests: Let the SNAFUs begin!

February 5, 2014 7 comments

There has been a lot of good cold weather blogging in the state this week. Maybe snow brings out the best in Oklahoma educators. Here are three must reads from yesterday:

Random Reflections From an Educator: Staying Focused as Testing Season Squeezes Closer

Excellence in Mediocrity: Houston, we have a (testing) problem

A View From the Edge: Did Rob just say the “O” word?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that all three have a testing theme. Nor should the following memo from CTB shock any of us:

MEMORANDUM

TO: District Test Coordinators

FROM: CTB’s Oklahoma Grades 3-8 Program Team

DATE: February 3, 2014

SUBJECT: Grade 8 Writing Secure Test Materials Overage

Dear District Test Coordinator,

Several districts have contacted the Oklahoma State Department of Education and CTB/McGraw-Hill regarding Grade 8 Writing Test Books included in the elementary school shipments containing the secure Writing test materials. A thorough review of CTB’s fulfillment processes identified a discrepancy in the mechanism used to determine the appropriate distribution of the Grade 8 Writing Test Book overages intended for the Middle Schools.

Districts should collect the Grade 8 materials from the elementary schools and put them back in district overage inventory to be redistributed to middle schools who may need additional materials. Please keep a record of these materials so that they can be fully accounted for when they are returned to CTB/McGraw-Hill at the end of the test window.

CTB regrets the inconvenience caused to districts and schools by this fulfillment discrepancy. If you have any questions or require any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact the CTB Oklahoma Help Desk. Our Customer Care representatives will be happy to assist you.

Thank you,

CTB’s Oklahoma Grades 3-8 Program Team

Not only did they fail to count materials and ship them properly, they also have mixed up fifth and eighth grade materials. If this process weren’t so inherently stressful on a good day, I would find this comical – just as I find this CTB letterhead image amusing.

CTB help the blah blah - Copy

For those of you reading in email and unable to view the image, it has the company logo/name, and the phrase “Help the teacher help the child.”

Try harder, CTB. Try harder.

State of the Capitol, State of the State

February 4, 2014 1 comment

Yesterday in her State of the State address, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin made a big splash used vivid imagery to describe the condition of our Capitol Building:

Just as it’s our responsibility to help maintain a motivated and skilled workforce in state government, it’s also our responsibility to maintain and preserve state buildings and assets.

In the case of the state Capitol, we are failing in that goal.

In fact, this building has become a safety hazard. We are doing a great disservice to our state and its citizens by allowing the Capitol to crumble around us.

The exterior is falling apart, to the point where we must actually worry about state employees and visitors – including teachers and students on field trips – being hit by falling pieces of the façade.

The yellow barriers outside are an eyesore and an embarrassment.

The electrical system is dangerously outdated.

And guys, the water stains you’ve seen on some of the walls downstairs? I have bad news for you. That’s not just water.

Raw sewage is literally leaking into our basement. On “good” days, our visitors and employees can only see the disrepair. On bad days, they can smell it.

We must begin repairing the People’s House now.

As the façade crumbles and the basement fills, we see the impact of decades of neglect – of the mentality that this problem can be fixed later. We can make many parallel statements about the condition of public education in Oklahoma.

The truth about public education these days – in Oklahoma or in so many other states – is that politicians are using the façade in a load-bearing capacity. Reforms such as the Common Core, A-F Report Cards, high-stakes testing for students, and teacher evaluations tied to test scores are get the big bucks while the people who spend every day teaching your children continue to be ignored.

Fallin’s proposed budget (complete with images of wall stains on the cover) includes $50 million additional for education. Unfortunately, it does not contain any detail about which programs would get the additional funding. In contrast, Superintendent Barresi and the State Board of Education have requested an increase of nearly $175 million, which includes a bump to the funding formula of more than $65 million.

At least Barresi’s budget has details, although evident in them is a preference for programs over people. Neither of these two politicians has proposed a funding level that will help schools restore what has been lost over the last six years.

Fallin also praised the exceptional turnaround that has occurred at US Grant High School over the last several years. She fails to mention in this praise, however, that the school received a grant of nearly $5.1 million – from the detested federal government – in 2010, and that said funds precipitated the turnaround. Yes, the leadership and teachers at the school did the work, but with a massive infusion of funding. Money matters. It always will.

Regarding safe rooms for schools, Fallin’s position is that districts can just raise their own funds for that. She supports a measure that will allow districts to increase property taxes for one time only and surpass the 10 percent bonded indebtedness currently allowable. This sounds great if you don’t know facts. Some school districts simply don’t have the taxable property for this to be feasible.

During the 2011-12 school year, there were 156 school districts in Oklahoma that had no bonded indebtedness. While on average, districts had $42,215 per pupil in property valuation, that figure ranged from $2,603 to $519,626. In short, some districts are much better situated to improve their facilities, including the ability to install storm shelters. Keeping children safe is a concern that impacts all of Oklahoma’s communities – not just the ones with the means to pay for storm shelters. Fallin’s plan does not consider this reality.

Meanwhile, she’s blocking a plan by her potential opponent this fall to use a bond issue to provide schools with the money to build shelters. No, she’d rather use the bond money to fix the Capitol. Here’s how she framed it:

The best, most realistic way to accomplish this is through a bond issue.

A bond issue could not come at a better time. Interest rates are low. Most importantly, 41 percent of the state’s bond indebtedness will come off the books in 2018, and over 86 percent will be eliminated in the next 13 years.

July of this year will represent the 100-year anniversary of the groundbreaking of this building. Let’s make sure we can celebrate that historic landmark knowing that we have taken action to improve its condition, not sit idly by while it crumbles and falls apart.

Passing a bond issue is the right thing to do. I have put money towards bond issue payments in my executive budget, and I’m asking the Legislature to pass a bond issue and send it to my desk as soon as possible.

That’s one amazing double standard. The one thing Fallin got right yesterday is that something stinks at the Capitol.

Letter to our Legislators

February 3, 2014 4 comments

This morning, I sent the following letter to the members of the Oklahoma Senate Education Committee and the Oklahoma House Common Education Committee:

Dear Committee Member:Please allow me to introduce myself. I am a longtime Oklahoma educator who writes the blog okeducationtruths. I know that several of this committee’s members have read the blog or interacted with me on Twitter. For those of you who haven’t, I have spent much of the last two years writing about education policy issues and trying to shed light upon parts of the daily life of public education that teachers and patrons typically don’t get to see.

Although I speak only for myself, the number of people who receive my blog through email and follow my Twitter and Facebook pages has been growing steadily. I seem to have found a niche with people who want to change the narrative about public education in this state. Collectively, the parents, educators, and other concerned citizens I reach each day have a number of concerns. Foremost among these is school funding.

As you begin the legislative session this week, I know you will have many challenges, especially as it relates to public education. You all know the numbers, but let me repeat a few of them. Over the last six years, public schools have enrolled an additional 31,000 students and have had less money with which to serve them. This has resulted in larger class sizes and reductions to tutoring, transportation, and other ancillary services that directly impact students. Meanwhile programs designed to help students needing remediation – ACE and RSA – continue to receive funding well below the levels originally intended by lawmakers.

While the budget request you have received from the state superintendent calls for nearly $175 in new funding for common education, less than 35% of that would flow through the funding formula. The next largest increase is for health benefits. Third is support for various reforms. While it is important to commit funding to new programs that take so much of schools’ time and energy, it is equally important to support the teachers and staff who come to work each day to serve Oklahoma’s children.

Oklahoma has a growing teacher shortage, which probably is not helped by being one of the lowest-paying states in the country. While Superintendent Barresi has made a campaign push for $2,000 stipends for teachers, not all districts in the state have the available fund balance to make such a stipend possible. The ones that do would not be able to sustain it as a permanent salary increase. Even if all teachers in the state received a $2,000 raise, however, Oklahoma would still rank in the bottom five states in the country for teacher pay.

What this means is that as standards for student learning and school accountability increase, schools have less money to improve classroom materials, provide quality professional development, and recruit and retain exceptional educators. We are at a critical point in public education, and we watch a stream of teachers leave the state or retire each year, leaving our classrooms to the less-experienced.

That said, Oklahoma’s teacher preparation programs continue sending well-prepared young teachers into our schools. More often than ever, though, they lack the veteran mentors that help with turning potential into greatness.

While I will probably have opinions – and write about them – over most of the legislation you consider in committee, funding is paramount. That in mind, here are my three main considerations as the session begins.

1. Refill the funding formula. Last year, the Legislature had more money to appropriate than at any other time in state history. Even so, state support for public education had not been restored to the level of FY 2008. At a minimum, schools need support at that level, plus consideration for growth in enrollment and a cost of living adjustment.

2. Fully fund reforms.  Three years ago, Superintendent Barresi told superintendents that the reforms she was pushing could be implemented with no new funding. Now she is asking for more than $26 million in new money to fund them. Common Core, TLE, RSA, and ACE all take money to implement well. They also take time. School districts can get students where they need to be with both of these resources. Most critical is Reading Sufficiency. At current funding levels, many schools have to decide between tutoring during the school year or having summer programs. The supports they do provide span less time and may not include all the grades principals would like to serve. Also consider that we keep increasing what we spend on testing. If the Legislature would reduce the amount of required testing, this expense could be lessened.

3. Plan long-term for raises. Supporting a teacher raise of $2,000 by adjusting the state minimum salary and dedicating funding to the formula would be a start. Don’t stop there. Be bold. Think five years down the road and ask yourself where you want to see public education in the future. While state voters rejected a plan to trigger automatic teacher salary increases a few years back, they would probably support raises for teachers if the Legislature phased them in over time. We don’t know what Texas, Kansas, and Arkansas will be paying their teachers in five years. There’s a lot we don’t know. We can be certain, however, that we will continue to see shortages in the profession without taking strong action. A one-time $2,000 stipend that only a few districts would be able to afford is not a game-changer.

Over the next few weeks, you will likely hear from many Oklahomans who share my concerns. I’ve never seen so many well-informed parents become active voices for changing the narrative and direction of public education. You’ll hear from me personally, not in my blogger voice. You’ll hear from my friends and neighbors who also have children in school.

We all want the same thing: good schools for our children. Getting there simply takes good people and good ideas. Both of those take the full support of the Legislature.

Thank you for your time, and your service to the State.

Readers, make sure they hear your voice and your words too.

Since We’ve No Place to Go

February 2, 2014 2 comments

As I look at the snow coming down, settling softly into the trees, I think of all the superintendents in the state with a decision to make. Do I cancel school tomorrow or not?  First and foremost, this needs to be a safety consideration. For every district, this decision is different. Does the district have a lot of students on rural roads? What percentage of children would have to wait for the bus in freezing cold?

The decision to call a snow day or not has always been a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. When you cancel school, there is always a group who remembers the good old days, walking to school uphill, yada yada yada. Then when you don’t cancel school because there is only a light dusting of snow, you have a group that thinks you’re inconsistent.

In short, you can’t win. Complicating this dilemma now is the reality that comes with A-F Report Cards. This comes with two separate issues.

First is attendance. Elementary schools get 10 bonus points for an average attendance rate of 94%. Middle schools get six. (High schools don’t get bonus points for attendance; I guess arbitrary levels of seat time don’t matter once you get to ninth grade). In 2013, Oklahoma had 120 elementary schools and 38 middle or junior high schools that earned a C on their school report card. I don’t know how many of those earned bonus points for attendance, but it’s important to consider what would happen if they didn’t.

Getting a C is a good way to get your community asking questions. You can explain the flaws in the report card system until your face turns blue, but you will always have a few patrons who don’t get it. Earn a D, however, and you’re now facing Targeted Intervention. This means a lot of hassle and disruption from the state, and if you’re a Title I school, a lot more restriction on how you use your funds.

Second is that between the end of Christmas Break and testing (remember – the Writing Test is scheduled for February 26), schools only have a limited number of instructional days. Every minute counts. That was one of the most frustrating things about the stress test last week. Loss of instructional time impacts test scores.

Obviously, superintendents will still consider safety above all else before declaring one or more snow days this week. We would be wrong to think, however, that other thoughts won’t cross their minds.

Ned Ryerson?

February 1, 2014 4 comments

What a way to start Groundhog Day weekend!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMU3WuyvLDY

Yesterday, the Oklahoma State Department of Education sent two communications to superintendents, principals, and testing coordinators. Friend-of-the-blog Rob Miller tackled the first one, which came at 3:06 p.m. I’ll re-post Rob’s spot-on thoughts on the message:

1. Is it really necessary to advise school districts anymore that results will not be received until July? I cannot remember the last time we had results before August. Why can’t we do standard setting in late May or early June so districts could get results by June 15th? The law specifically states that the SDE is to provide final results within two weeks—it has never happened!

2. I expect the standard setting process for US History to go much like the one for Biology last summer. A committee of educators and psychometricians will come together and make a recommendation. Then the SDE will ignore this recommendation and set the cut score wherever they want to reflect the increased “rigor” of the new standards.

3. We already know that last year’s 7th grade geography test did not go well. Schools and teachers received no actionable data from these assessments. The same will happen once again this year. According to the SDE, they will be determining the sampling of students who will participate in this year’s field test in February. I sure hope they pick Jenks Middle School again. Our parents love field tests.

4. This sentence makes me ill: “The OCCT ACE U.S. History test will fully assess the depth and rigor of the new Oklahoma Academic Standards.” What does this even mean?

5. OMAAPs are gone. We know this means that fewer students on IEPs will be successful on state testing. This will definitely impact school A-F grades next fall since these students’ scores will count both in the “whole school performance” and both sets of growth calculations. It could be ugly.

6. For both the CTB and Measured Progress “item tryouts,” the SDE is extending the testing window until May 23 and May 21, respectively. They specifically say that the tryouts should occur after all of the operational tests.

Rob, I hope they pick Jenks too. As for the field tests item tryouts, we know how well that’s going to go. The jig is up already. Students, teachers, and parents know the points don’t matter. Testing fatigue will have set in by then, and all involved stakeholders will have an eye towards summer vacation. The only reason any of this matters, of course, is because politicians want students to give them talking points.

At 4:32, the SDE sent out this second message:

SDE: 2014 A–F Report Card Technical Manual now available

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 01/31/2014 04:32 PM CST

Dear Superintendents, Principals, and District Test Coordinators,

The 2014 A–F Report Card Technical Manual is now available on the State Department of Education’s website (http://ok.gov/sde/f-grading-system). The purpose of this manual is to describe in detail the specifics of how each component of the report card is calculated. Some of the significant changes from the 2013 Report Card Guide include, but are not limited to, the following:

A table of contents, introductory section, and glossary were added.

A description of eligibility requirements was added.

Fifth-Grade Social Studies and Eighth-Grade U.S. History are no longer pilot exams.

Beginning in 2013-2014, OMAAP exams are only available to second-time EOI testers who previously took an OMAAP. Therefore, OMAAP exams are no longer used in the A-F Report Card, and there is no longer a 2 percent OMAAP cap.

Rules surrounding virtual education providers are clarified.

The section on how middle school students who take EOIs are used in the Student Performance Component was revised.

How exams are paired for the Student Growth components has been clarified.

Calculation of the Bottom 25 Percent Growth sub-component has been clarified.

Additional details for bonus point calculations have been added.

Please note that the targeted audience for this manual are school and district administrators who wish to know exactly how the report card is generated and might wish to have the ability to replicate the report card themselves. An A – F Report Card guide that is targeted for educators, parents, and other stakeholders is currently in development and is expected to be released shortly. In the meantime, please feel free to direct any questions to the Office of Accountability and Assessment at (405) 521-3341.

Does anyone reading this feel like we’ve been here before? Like at any moment, the numbers will flip on the clock radio and we’ll be listening to Sonny & Cher?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nt4JXKUv5MQ

As most educators would, I spent some time this Saturday morning perusing the new 35 page technical manual for Oklahoma’s easy to understand accountability system. Here are my thoughts on the major changes (not counting the revolutionary decision to include a Table of Contents).

  • Page 7 – A component or sub-component must have at least 10 unique students with valid test scores in order to calculate an index for that component. This means you have to have 10 of something for that group to count – third graders, Biology EOIs, ELL students taking math tests, etc. This number has gotten smaller over the years, and now represents a count with no statistical validity.
  • Page 8 – A Special Note about Virtual Education Providers – Suffice it to say that the SDE wants to clarify its position on grades for virtual charter schools to avoid further legal issues.
  • Page 10 – Students who take an EOI in Middle School Grades – Let’s say some of Rob’s middle school kids take the Algebra I EOI and do well. This section clarifies that in addition to the middle school getting credit for the scores, when the student matriculates to 9th grade, Jenks Freshman Academy will also receive credit for the scores. This is a boon for high schools, if I’m interpreting correctly. The document does not clarify, however, what will happen with middle schools that lose 7th or 8th grade math scores from students who will no longer double test. Maybe we should just count their EOIs twice. We count our lowest-performing students three times, after all.
  • Page 15 – Student Growth – This section clarifies which tests are used for student growth. Only the 3-8 reading and math tests, the Algebra I tests, and the English II tests will be used to calculate growth.  On one hand, this makes sense. You wouldn’t want to calculate growth between algebra and geometry tests. They are totally different standards. On the other hand, you’re really not calculating growth for the vast majority of high school. As such, all aspects of the student growth component for high schools completely lack meaning.
  • Page 20 – Bottom 25 Percent Student Growth – This is where the SDE decision to count groups of ten really comes into play. Many small schools lacked the number of students for this calculation last year. They will count now, and the results will be all over the place.
  • Page 25 – Bonus Points – The technical manual reminds schools that the bonus points are all or nothing. Think about that for a minute. If an elementary school has 94.00 attendance, it receives 10 bonus points – a whole letter grade.  If it slips to 93.99, it gets nothing. The negligible difference between the two schools would be the difference between an A and a B. Or between a C and a D perhaps.
  • Page 38 – Glossary – This is the only place the technical manual discusses the fact that Full Academic Year now begins October 1st. So 94 percent attendance is required or you lose a letter grade, but students can miss the first 6 to 8 weeks of school and still count as FAY. Freaking brilliant!

I find the last paragraph of the memo amusing. This information is for school officials, not parents. The SDE has a habit of underestimating their ability to grasp details like this.

This superficial accountability system is the cornerstone of the Barresi administration. This is their third attempt to get it right. At least they’re starting early this time.

Barresi RSA Conference

This is the first 20 minutes of Superintendent Barresi’s press conference from Monday, January 27, 2014. It cuts off before she gets into the Q/A time.

The Stress Test

January 28, 2014 8 comments

Today, students across Oklahoma will suspend learning for two hours to participate in a state-mandated test of the computer systems that testing companies – CTB/McGraw-Hill and Measured Progress – will be using in a few months. Each of these companies gets millions from Oklahoma, but it is the students and teachers across the state testing their system for them.

Wargames_Computer_Screenshot - Copy

The frustration caused from this is threefold. First, tests are way more important than they should be. They determine graduation, promotion to fourth grade, and public perception of our schools. We want the systems to work. More importantly, though, we want time to teach. Reading. Math. Science. History. Music. Computer education. Every time we go into the computer lab to test or pretend test, we lose valuable instructional time. In many schools throughout the state, computer classes get the worst end of the deal.

Second is the fact that with some of this, we are taking a practice test for practice tests. Measured Progress is developing tests that we will use next year. They are going to conduct field testing item tryouts during the testing window this spring. The hour schools spend on this will be a complete waste of time. Hopefully this doesn’t become the new standard for how we operate.

Third – and this one lingers from the original message schools received – is the threat handed down by the SDE for anyone who dares to teach from 9:00 to 11:00 today. Even though schools received a message with a much softer tone on Friday, the score hasn’t changed. I don’t believe the SDE really has the power or the will to revoke funding or credentials over this. I also don’t know anyone planning to test that belief right now.

wargames

Are You With the Media?

January 27, 2014 12 comments

Upon further consideration, yesterday’s post, Barresi Holds a Press Conference, should have been titled Barresi Holds a Photo-Op. I suppose it’s accurate to label it a press conference, in the sense that only the press were allowed to ask questions. Apparently, when non-media tried to ask Barresi about the third grade retention law, she put them off and never returned to them.

A quick search of Twitter coverage of today’s event using the hashtag #oklaed shows that Barresi trotted out a few of the REACH Coaches, a superintendent, and Amber England with Stand for Children to stand with her during the press conference.

From those reports, here were the press conference’s main points:

  1. We need to dispel the myth that retention is about one test given over one day.
  2. Some districts are creating a 3rd to 4th grade transition year.
  3. All interested parties need to make the legislature understand the funds needed to help students meet the provisions of this law.
  4. It is time for debate to be over.
  5. Schools will have 3rd grade test scores by May 9th if they test that grade at the beginning of the testing window.
  6. Ten years ago, Florida had lower reading scores than Oklahoma. Now they are higher than we are.

Here are my thoughts on those main points.

  1. She’s right and wrong. The state will use the test to generate a list of students in the pool for retention. Then, depending on who can qualify for the good cause exemptions, some will move on. We’re either using the test to override what the teacher knows about the child or using what the teacher knows about the child to override the test. Around the state, most third grade teachers are collecting student work in case they need to build a portfolio. In either case, the test is way too important.
  2. I can’t even fathom how this will look, other than the fact that it will vary considerably from school to school. If you’re in a district with one elementary school, and you have five or six children retained under this law, how are you going to pay for that extra teacher? If it is a district with multiple elementary schools, will they centralize that transition class? And how much of a stigma will that create?
  3. Right now, many districts have taken RSA funds designated for reading support for students in 3rd grade and below and prioritized 3rd grade alone. Tutoring, summer academies, and instructional materials are heavily focused on trying to keep this law from adversely impacting a large number of children. Any help schools, parents, or organizations like Stand for Children can give in educating members of the legislature about the need for targeted funding to support this reform would be appreciated.
  4. She’s not trying to stop debate as much as she’s trying to stop dissent. This is a political tactic. There are bodies of research supporting retention and bodies of research that highlight how ineffective and harmful it can be. We know that the state superintendent only likes research supporting her own agenda. Anything else of a scholarly nature she discards with sarcasm.
  5. This will be a neat trick. I have to ask how CTB/McGraw-Hill can manage this when they couldn’t handle any part of the testing process last year. And since Measured Progress will be taking over for them in the future, how motivated will CTB be to put a rush on scoring our tests. Another thought is that we might actually do better to test students towards the end of the testing window. That’s 3-4 weeks of additional instruction before a high-stakes test.
  6. I’m not sure where Barresi gets her information that Florida’s third graders were reading a grade level behind Oklahoma’s a decade ago. The NAEP scores don’t show this at all. Oklahoma was never ahead of Florida in reading. Since 2003, both states have shown growth, and Florida remains ahead of Oklahoma. I don’t know if that can be attributed to the 3rd grade retention law, improved funding for K-12 education, another reform, or something altogether different.

The questions that I asked yesterday on my blog and that my readers added in the comments remain unanswered. Unfortunately we learned nothing from today’s side show.

Barresi Holds a Press Conference

January 26, 2014 14 comments

Late last week, the SDE issued the following press release:

***Media Alert***

State Supt. Barresi holds news conference on third-grade reading

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 01/23/2014 02:40 PM CST*

Who: State Superintendent Janet Barresi

What: This is the first year that third-grade students scoring unsatisfactory on the reading portion of the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT) and who do not qualify for an exemption will not be promoted to fourth grade. Supt. Barresi and other interested stakeholders will discuss the state’s good cause exemptions as well as the importance of the law.

When: 10 a.m. Jan. 27, 2014

Where: Blue Room, second floor of the State Capitol, 2300 N Lincoln Blvd.

As most of the state knows, 2014 is the first year in which third graders will be held back because of the results of a single test. For the past two years, school districts have been informing parents of this law and working to implement policies to deal with this reform. Tomorrow, Superintendent Janet Barresi will hold a press conference to discuss this. I wonder if she’ll take questions. In case she does, here are a few that I would like answered:

  1. Where do you get your information that 75% of all special education placements are a mistake?
  2. Why should a student on an IEP be retained, even when he/she has made gains under the classroom accommodations and modifications as prescribed in the student’s plan?
  3. Why should students still learning English be penalized just because they are still in the language acquisition process?
  4. Why did the SDE take so long to issue administrative rules for the six good cause exemptions?
  5. Is the SDE prepared for a spike in third grade retention similar to the one Florida saw the first year they had their law (from 2.8% to 13.5%)?
  6. In an election year?
  7. How will the OCCRA tests impact retention rates a year from now?
  8. Why has the SDE not ensured that each school district in the state has access to high quality, sustained professional development prior to this law taking effect?
  9. Do you really think promoting students to fourth grade in the middle of the year is a good idea?
  10. Has the SDE’s new $85,000/year researcher reviewed studies on the effects of third grade retention laws around the country?

I don’t have all the answers. Neither does Janet Barresi, however. I suspect the teachers who have spent their entire careers working with our youngest students know a lot more about what’s best for our students, though, and they don’t have a seat at the table.

What other questions should be asked? Add them in the comments below. And hold on tomorrow. This could get interesting.

More on the Voucher Bill (Part II)

January 25, 2014 2 comments

On Tuesday, I posted Part I, looking at specific language in HB 3398, which would create Education Savings Accounts – or vouchers, if you prefer – for qualifying students to take a portion of the state aid they generate to a private school.  Before I get deeper into this, I want to respond to a few of the comments that readers left me.

From Nicole Shobert:

Thank you! I had to turn off twitter last night. I was getting lost and confused and ready for bed. I do not like holding twitter conversations, although I am impressed that Rep Nelson sticks around. I think he has good intentions but gets his material from the wrong sources, like ALEC.
Great post. But I did not realize the per pupil was that low. I saw a figure from 2010 that I thought was 8000$. Hmm.
Ironically, my family qualifies for the 30% savings account. It could help us over that edge. Maybe if Barissi is re-elected…

Nicole had engaged the bill’s author, Rep. Jason Nelson, in a lengthy conversation on Twitter over the weekend. Much of that conversation was the reason Part I was so lengthy. To answer her question, I looked up data from the 2011-12 school year. At that point, the average district was spending $7,648 per pupil. Of that, 47.6% was generated by state aid. This would come to about $3,640 per pupil. With the weighting that occurs for different student factors (grade, transportation, special education, gifted, etc.) will make the available amount vary a great deal for parents.

From Rob Miller:

You shine the light on some key points. (1) Most families in poverty will not have the capacity to “make up the difference;” (2) most will not be able to provide transportation; (3) private schools will not be held to same mandates or accountability; and (4) private schools can pick and choose their students. The more I read about programs like KIPP, the more upset I get. If we tried to treat students like they do, we would be sued.

I like Rob’s summary of my post, and I want to at least try to make these figures more concrete. Below is the table used for calculating free/reduced lunch in Oklahoma for the 2013-14 school year.

Federal Income Chart For 2013-14 School Year

Household Size

Yearly

Monthly

Weekly

1

$21,257

$1,772

$409

2

$28,694

$2,392

$552

3

$36,131

$3,011

$695

4

$43,568

$3,631

$838

5

$51,005

$4,251

$981

6

$58,442

$4,871

$1,124

7

$65,879

$5,490

$1,267

8

$73,316

$6,110

$1,410

Add for each additional family member

$7,437

$620

$144

For the sake of this illustration, let’s apply these income levels to the legislation. The Voucher Bill states that a family at or below the income threshold would be eligible for 90% of the state aid generated for their student. A family with up to 1.5 times the income threshold would be eligible for 60%, and a family with up to 2.0 times the income would be eligible for 30%.

Applied Income Levels

Household Size

Yearly

Yearly x 1.5

Yearly x 2.0

1

$21,257

 $31,886

$42,514

2

$28,694

 $43,041

$57,388

3

$36,131

 $54,197

$72,262

4

$43,568

 $65,352

$87,136

5

$51,005

 $76,508

$102,010

6

$58,442

 $87,663

$116,884

7

$65,879

 $98,819

$131,758

8

$73,316

 $109,974

$146,632

Estimated Voucher per Child (with weights)

$4,851

$2,911

$1,455

The typical Happy Days size family (four, in case you’re under 35), at or below the income cut-off, would have a hard time affording private school with this voucher – even with nearly 5k in state aid. The family in the next column could probably use the voucher and make up the difference. The family in the last column may or may not need the voucher to afford private school, but certainly wouldn’t turn it down if they were choosing a private school in the first place.

Let’s be perfectly honest about the first column, though. We know that poverty matters, but we also need to understand that the depth of poverty matters more. In Oklahoma City and Tulsa, each with about 90% of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, a great majority of the households don’t come anywhere close to approaching the cut-off.

If the authors of the bill are serious about the narrative that this helps poor kids escape schools that are failing them, they should probably do a little more math. While I contest the premise that a school’s letter grade tells you anything about its quality, I detest the thought that politicians might use them – combined with a voucher – to convince parents to send their children somewhere else.

Another fallacy of school choice, as Rob states in the third point, is that we honestly have no idea that parents using vouchers would be placing their students in better schools. When you think about it, we don’t know anything about private schools. We don’t know how their students perform, their teachers’ qualifications, attendance rates, disciplinary problems, or mobility. I don’t have a problem with that, if that’s what parents choose to do with their own money. Once we start using tax dollars in private schools, however, that all changes. I want to know the quality of the public investment. Everything we ask public schools to do in the name of accountability and transparency should be on the table for privates accepting vouchers.

From ropeok:

I look at this argument of ‘vouchers’ as a taxpayer issue. i am in no way against public schools. I believe public education to be part and parcel of our American heritage. Here’s where I have the beef; If I pay taxes to a public school that doesn’t work for my family, if I have money to burn, I put my kids in private school and don’t think twice about it. If I’m cash strapped, I’m stuck in the crummy school. I can home school, but only if our family can make it on one income. If I can’t, I’m stuck in the crummy school. Even then, say you are able to homeschool (as I now do all three of my kids still at home) – I’m not paying for a private school education, but I still have expenses; books, tutoring, online classes, activities, etc. Why should I pay twice? Granted, we pay sometimes 4x for things in taxes these days, but does that make it right? I’m not going to go out and willfully pay for something that isn’t going to benefit myself and/or my family, but I will be forced by the state to do just that. I don’t see how that isn’t criminal, frankly. If I went to someone’s house with a gun and told them they had to buy a car with a shot transmission, I wonder what would happen.

I am reluctant to use the terms private money and public money because essentially, all money the government collects is private money. It would be well for all public officials to remember this. That said, I still don’t get much from the argument that parents paying taxes and paying for private school (or homeschooling expenses) are paying twice. Depending on their income levels, they may actually be paying more than twice. At the other end of the scale, some of the families that the authors of HB 3398 most claim to want to help aren’t paying once even.

The taxes we pay do not equate to chits that we can cash in for various goods and services. My taxes have not bought x amount of military protection, y amount of drive time on the state’s roads, or z amount of protection from law enforcement. Taxes fund the public services that a government deems necessary. In this case, the state has determined that students must reach a certain set of standards to be educated in a way that will benefit society. Parents choosing other avenues for meeting those (or different) standards are currently on the hook for the costs. While I don’t always agree with the positions taken by those at ROPE, I enjoy Jenni White’s contributions to education conversations and her comments on my blog and social media accounts.

Less Reader Mail…More Part II

It was not my intent to spend the first 1,300 words of this post that way, but now that I have, I want to spend about 1,000 talking about why ALEC matters in this conversation. As you may recall, what prompted Tuesday’s marathon post was this Tweet from Rep. Nelson:

First, I should probably point out that Nelson doesn’t even use the Straw Man fallacy correctly. He’s thinking of a Red Herring – a person or thing introduced into an argument in an attempt to distract from relevant facts. A Straw Man is an intentional misrepresentation of another’s argument, usually through exaggeration or extrapolation.

Still, my reference to ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council – in the discussion is neither Red nor Straw. Understanding the source of policy-making in Oklahoma is just as important as understanding the policy that is made.

Rob Miller has previously written about the connection between Oklahoma’s Voucher Bill and the model legislation presented by ALEC:

The entity I am referring to goes by the innocuous-sounding acronym ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council. From their website, ALEC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization headquartered in Washington D.C., and defines itself as “a nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who share a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty.” It provides a constructive forum for state legislators and private sector leaders to discuss and exchange practical, state-level public policy issues.

An integral part of ALEC’s influence comes from the creation of so-called model legislation. Legislators and policy makers from across the nation contribute through involvement in various task forces and summits. According to ALEC, each state legislator and their constituents then decide which solutions are best for them and their states. As ALEC Treasurer Rep. Linda Upmeyer (IA) has said, model policies are like “a file cabinet. If something can help my constituents, I can take what I need; and if it doesn’t help, I leave it alone.”

The 35 active members of ALEC in the Oklahoma Senate and House (all Republicans) go to this “file cabinet” quite often. Representatives Nelson and Newell may claim credit for this Education Savings Voucher legislation, but they clearly made extensive use of ALEC’s model legislation in drafting this bill.

What’s the harm in this? Governor Fallin copies executive orders from other states. Superintendent Barresi copies idea after idea from Florida (via Jeb Bush). An idea doesn’t have to be original to be good, right?

That’s why it’s important to get to know ALEC. From their website:

A nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty. Their vision and initiative resulted in the creation of a voluntary membership association for people who believed that government closest to the people was fundamentally more effective, more just, and a better guarantor of freedom than the distant, bloated federal government in Washington, D.C.

That all sounds harmless enough. Free markets. Liberty. Conservative. Nonpartisan. Each of these words, by their nature is loaded against its very own red herring. If you don’t agree with our positions, you’re a socialist liberal who wants to take away our rights. None of these words is a position of substance. Nor are their antitheses.

ALEC receives more than $7 million annually in contributions to help shape policy. Their donor list reads as a who’s who of the energy (Koch and ExxonMobil), pharmaceutical (Pfizer), insurance (State Farm), tobacco (Altria and Reynolds), and retail (WalMart) industries. Their agenda, in every policy domain, centers around one overarching principle. Clear the way so those we serve can make money.

Again, I have nothing against money, the people who make it, or the people who use it to exert extraordinary influence over our elected officials. Well, the first two of those things are true.

I do have a problem with the mentality that everything can be done better when left to private markets. We see time and time again that left to their own devices, big corporations will not take care of their consumers, employees, or surroundings. Yes, regulating the free market stunts it. Leaving it unregulated, however, leads to chemical spills, market collapses, and harmful side effects in our medication. There is a balance in the middle in which the economy can grow, and people and their surroundings can be safeguarded.

What should concern us most about ALEC and their education policy, however, is that this particular piece of legislation is but one page in their playbook. Rob has linked on his blog to ALEC’s Report Card on American Information and discussed how the reforms they have supported are the tip of the iceberg. Reading further into rest of the document shows a desire for complete privatization of education. Whether it be ALEC or one of the groups they support (such as the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, listed on page 120), every reform proposed is the extent to which they believe privatization can be achieved right now.

Perhaps this sounds like another great logical fallacy – the Slippery Slope. As I said, however, ALEC and their acolytes spell out the ideal support for public education: zero. The path to privatization is slow and deliberate. Manufacture a crisis in education. Develop flawed tests and use them to establish flawed ratings for schools and teachers. Leach students off of the “failing” schools and put them in private schools or for-profit charters (not locally-run charters, which have a much better track record than the charter chains). Have different rules for each set of schools, making it a lot harder for traditional public schools to succeed. Eventually (see Chicago and New Jersey). Be humane about it, though. Call it restructuring. Say you’re doing it to save money. All the while, continue draining resources from public schools and throw your hands up, claiming you’ve done everything possible to help them succeed. What ALEC wants is private, unregulated schools. And a piece of the pie for their puppet masters once the money comes free.

I’m not suggesting for a minute, by the way, that Nelson and the bill’s other sponsor, Tom Newell, want to eliminate public education. Nelson frequently mentions on Twitter that his own children are in public school and that he is very supportive of that school. I don’t doubt that if he felt differently, they would be somewhere else. Whatever Nelson and Newell’s motives are, we are wise to understand the role this particular reform would play in the ALEC master scheme.

I don’t believe this bill will help poor children. And for the middle class families with the means to take advantage of vouchers, I don’t believe the benefits are substantial. The truth is that we’ll never know. Any system that places our tax dollars behind a wall of secrecy and says, “Trust us,” deserves scrutiny and ultimate rejection.

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