Archive for March, 2013

CCSS, Eighth Graders, and the Red-cockaded Woodpecker

March 24, 2013 1 comment

As we transition to the Common Core State Standards, one big change is that we will be providing students with samples of writing to compare and from which to draw a context for writing. Such is the case with the practice prompt released by the SDE for eighth grade teachers to use with their students.

The practice prompt is four pages long and contains two pieces of informational text – “Protecting the Nest,” by Ben Davis, an Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation Information Specialist, and “Red-cockaded Woodpecker,” a piece on the decline of the species, also written by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The first piece invokes imagination and uses interviews to discuss efforts to assist the bird. The second provides a more strictly scientific of the bird’s habitat and decline. Following a read of these two texts, students are asked to respond to the following prompt:

Using evidence from the passages, Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Protecting the nest, explain how the Red-cockaded Woodpecker’s nesting habits have caused this bird to be placed on the endangered species list.

I have a number of serious concerns with this practice prompt (not the least of which is asking eighth graders to take passages about the red-cockaded woodpecker seriously). We’re now asking students to write about topical issues in science, which is great. Apparently, though, we are asking students to assign blame to the woodpecker for its own demise. While animals often breed or migrate themselves out of existence, it sounds like the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has come to other conclusions. It’s not like they smoked themselves into extinction.

Another concern is that we are asking students to respond to two informational texts from the same source. As such, there is not much in the way of contrast present. Both pieces are written well enough, but they don’t provide students an opportunity to see opposing viewpoints.

The prompt also dismisses the writing convention of designating the title of an article with quotation marks. This is an expectation for which students’ scores could be lowered if they did the same. Additionally, the item review committee that provided the SDE with guidance rejected this prompt. Typically, when practitioners reject something, it’s not a good idea to release it to the public as an exemplar.

The prompt also indicates that Reading Information standards 1-6 and 8 and Writing standards 8.2 a-f will be assessed. Pedagogically, this is a poor design. Since students will receive a holistic score for their response, this is way too many standards to claim to be assessing at once. And the standards themselves are not that simple.

For this, the SDE delayed the writing test from the usual February window to April. They wanted to get it right.

They didn’t.

Two Year Delay for TLE?

March 20, 2013 1 comment

Yesterday, the SDE sent out a media release stating that they would be requesting a two year delay for full implementation of the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness system. The content of the release was linked to the SDE website, but is now down, probably due to a technical problem. The release reads as follows:

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 19, 2013) – State Superintendent Janet Barresi announced today that she will ask the authors of Senate Bill 426, Sen. John Ford and Rep. Earl Sears, to consider a two-year delay for full implementation of the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness reform that was originally enacted in 2010 in Senate Bill 2033.

In making the announcement, Superintendent Barresi stated, “After listening to input from teachers and superintendents across the state as well as teachers serving on working groups for the TLE Commission, I have concluded that this extra time is necessary to assure the entire TLE system is implemented with fidelity and to the high standards we expect of such a critical reform.”

“Nothing is more important than assuring that each child in our state has the opportunity to be taught by an effective teacher and school principal. We will continue to work with the TLE Commission and the State Board of Education to build a model program and quality technology infrastructure to support the program. I appreciate Gov. Fallin’s support in this decision and our work,” Barresi added.

Governor Mary Fallin said, “Studies show that the most important driver of student success in the classroom is high quality teachers. That’s why it’s so important that we get these reforms right. Giving Oklahoma schools adequate time to properly prepare for TLE implementation is in the best interest of everyone. I strongly support TLE and look forward to full implementation so we can utilize performance pay options and other compensation models tied to the system.”

Superintendent Barresi suggested the timeline for implementation of the qualitative or observational component of the system is currently being piloted this year and will be fully implemented in districts for the 2013-14 school year. If SB 426 passes, the Other Academic Measures portion of the quantitative component will be piloted next school year and implemented in 2014-15. The 35 percent accountability measures of the quantitative component will be implemented in the 2015-16 school year, making TLE complete.

Per state statute, the Oklahoma State Department of Education is working in conjunction with the TLE Commission and working groups of educators throughout the state to develop a robust professional growth tool known as the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness evaluation system. When fully implemented and utilized properly, TLE will identify the direct cause-and-effect relationship between teaching practices and student achievement using both qualitative and quantitative measures.

A teacher’s evaluation will be based on 50 percent of qualitative measures such as classroom observations and 50 percent quantitative measures. Of the quantitative measures, 35 percent will be based on student test scores for tested grades and subjects and the remaining 15 percent on Other Academic Measures as defined by the TLE Commission and educators. How teachers are evaluated in non-tested grades and subjects for the quantitative portion is still being discussed.

SDE staff have been very direct for months now that they would be asking for this delay, which will be appreciated by most teachers and administrators. If they need more time to work out the details, that’s fine. The cynic in me believes that something else is happening here, however.

Two things are missing at this time. First, as we heard back in January, the SDE is getting input from SAS to develop a model for creating a VAM model. (Yes, that was three acronyms in a single sentence.) Without a mathematical equation that includes factors both within and outside of a school’s control, there won’t be a value-added measure. This would make the recommendations of the various working groups meaningless at this time. The other piece in development is a more refined student data system – one that can effectively track where students were and for how long and which teachers impacted their learning and for what percentage of the time.

That brings us to roster verification, which I wrote about last week. This is a new experiment that the SDE wants to run before full implementation of TLE. If we start calculating the quantitative portion of the evaluation without these pieces, it will be harder to add them in.

A delay will ensure that VAM and roster verification will be a piece of the enacted system. It will also guarantee that we will have conversations like those taking place in Florida right now – ones in which successful teachers get low ratings because of the students they do not teach. Call me ungrateful, but rather than waiting to get it right, we should instead acknowledge that the entire concept is fatally flawed.


Update: the SDE press release is back.

Teachers Respond to the TLE Commission

March 15, 2013 1 comment

A group of Jenks elementary school teachers sent a response to the SDE this afternoon, expressing their concerns over the recommendations for quantitative measures for evaluating teachers that I wrote about this morning. This group includes art, music, and physical education teachers. I’ll let their words speak for them, first with an excerpt, and then with a link to the full letter:

We the undersigned and highly qualified specialists at Jenks East Elementary School urge our legislators to seriously explore the quantitative component of TLE before 2013/2014 implementation. Below you will find our “real time” experiences and “real voices” speaking facts which must be considered before Oklahoma implements a “one-fits-all” approach for evaluating educators and determining their compensation.

This insightful four-page letter didn’t just go to the SDE, however; it went to the 250 members of the TLE working group. And they told two friends. And they told two friends. And so on. And so on. And then it found its way to your friendly neighborhood blogger. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Later in the afternoon, the Jenks teachers (and the entire working group) received a response from the SDE:

Ms. Riggin and Special Area Teachers (ART/MUSIC/PHYSICAL EDUCATION) of Jenks East Elementary,

Thank you for your careful thought, consideration, and time in preparing the document you provided for us. We appreciate your input and respect your perspectives to this challenging work. The working groups’ final recommendations were presented to the TLE Commission for initial consideration on Tuesday, March 12, 2013. I will share your additional input with Superintendent Barresi, who is also the chair of the TLE Commission. If she has any questions or follow-up requests, I will get back in touch with you.

I’m glad that our state has some teachers not taking this quietly. Read the whole letter. It’s worth your time.

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And Then There Was Roster Verification

March 15, 2013 3 comments

I received an email last night with a 30-page document attached showing the different recommendations to the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE) Commission by the various working groups that developed them. In all, the Value Added/Student Growth Measures for Teachers of Non-Tested Grades/Subjects and Teachers Without a Teaching Assignment. In all, this document contains suggestions for how to quantify the effectiveness of 18 different classifications of certified teachers. These include:

CareerTechnology Counselors
Early Childhood/PreK Elementary (1-6) Non Tested
English Language Learners Fine Arts
Gifted/Talented Instructional Coaches
Library Media Specialists Nurses
Physical Education Reading Specialists/Response to Intervention
School Psychologists Secondary: Non-Tested Subjects
Special Education Speech Language Pathologists
Technology World Languages

I am repulsed by the idea that we have to come up with some sort of a quantitative measure to evaluate some of these groups of teachers (and nurses, really!?!), but I decided to play along and read through the sections. What I found were some drastically disparate ways to calculate teacher effectiveness. All include some level of new training for both the teachers and the principals who would evaluate them. And most ask for more time to come up with a workable plan.

The different recommendations include some similar language that we rarely use when talking about education reform initiatives. We are going to have to learn these terms in the same ways that our students learn the academic vocabulary. I have already discussed Value-Added Measures (VAM) on this blog; I am not a fan. I do not believe that an agency incapable of developing a statistically-sound report card can develop VAM in a way that is fair to teachers. I’m not convinced that it is achievable in the first place.

Several of the proposals also call for some kind of a matrix, portfolio, or rubric to assess teachers. Principals would have to become familiar with all of these instruments. They also call at various times for different weights on the quantitative pieces of the evaluation. Imagine keeping track of all of that!

The newest term for educators, however, is Roster Verification. The only group that mentioned this process in the report to the Commission was Special Education. In an email to superintendents and principals this week, here’s how the SDE described Roster Verification:

Roster Verification – Voluntary, yet Valuable!

The Oklahoma State Department of Education is offering Roster Verification as a service to school districts this spring. The OSDE will be completing value added analysis for all teachers of TESTED grades and subjects after testing occurs this spring. Value added analysis will be used for INFORMATIONAL purposes so that teachers and administrators have the opportunity to learn about the process and can use data to inform instructional practices during the 2013-2014 school year. This is a NO STAKES process meaning NONE of the value added calculations will be used in evaluations.

Because there are so many different teaching scenarios that occur throughout the year, Roster Verification allows teachers to account for who they taught, for which months during the year, and for what percentage of the instructional time. For example, when I taught 5th grade, we were departmentalized. I was responsible for MANY students’ instruction in mathematics and science, but my team member was responsible for their instruction in reading and social studies. Without completing Roster Verification, my value added analysis would be based on my HOMEROOM roster (unless someone uploaded that information differently into the Wave.) As a teacher, I would want to be held accountable for the growth of the students I instructed in math and science, but I would want my partner to be responsible for their growth in reading and social studies. Roster Verification gives teachers the ability to account for such scenarios, therefore value added analysis reports are much more accurate for teachers who were able to complete the Roster Verification process.

The SDE provides even more detailed information on this flyer, which includes training dates, a shout out to the Gates foundation for funding, and a picture that would lead you to believe this is about children. One line even promises that Roster Verification will provide “much more accurate value added reports which will be extremely useful as a professional growth tool.”

This is not remotely about professional growth. This is about continuing down the path of assigning blame, and trying to find a mathematical formula for doing so. In ten years, we will be able to look at the students of two second-grade teachers and see which ones are better prepared for college. We will be able to assign partial credit/blame for the success/lack-thereof to all the teachers those students have ever had. Over time, we’ll have all kinds of data pointing back to that second grade classroom.

Think back to that bizarre oak tree analogy. The disembodied voice in the video tells us that countless factors go into two farmers raising their oak trees. It also tells us that some of those factors are out of the control of the farmers. (By the way, I still don’t know any oak tree farmers).  Removing all of those factors, the argument is that we can tell which farmer is adding more value. Extending the analogy, we can remove the factors out of the control of teachers and look at results, and ascertain value-added that way as well. This too makes me uncomfortable.

The factors out of a teacher’s control are too many to count. We will be assigning value-added sometimes ten or twelve years after the fact. Would you want part of your evaluation during your eleventh year in the profession to be based on something you did your first year?

Many districts have chosen not to participate in Roster Verification at this time. Others, for the sake of curiosity, are joining in the trial run. I understand both positions. While I can’t think of one school administrator who wants to see this happen, many want to see what the process looks like since it will happen eventually anyway.

The recommendations to the TLE Commission are non-binding. Commission members can act to accept, revise, or reject the proposals at a later date. Meanwhile, the SDE is wisely pushing for more time to implement the quantitative piece of the evaluation system. While they would be even wiser to scrap it altogether, that won’t happen. Too much money –taxpayer and corporate money – is invested at this point. The agency is philosophically entrenched in this process.

Nobody is Home

March 13, 2013 Comments off

Most people who call the SDE get good service from the person trying to help them on the other end. Still, when things like this happen, you just have to laugh.


From one anonymous person to another, this is why I love my readers!


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PARCC, the Non-profit

March 13, 2013 6 comments

Frequent visitors to this blog know that I distinguish little between companies that operate for a profit and those who hold non-profit status. For example, Pearson is a for profit company; they make millions in Oklahoma alone from testing. Meanwhile, College Board is a nonprofit; they also make millions in Oklahoma alone from testing.

I’m also not saying that making money is a bad thing. Schools spend money on textbooks, software, hardware, and any number of things legitimately tied to instruction. The companies behind those sales make money, and it’s appropriate.

As far as assessment goes, we’ve been testing for 100 years. The Otis-Lennon, Stanford, and Iowa tests have taken many school days and made money for the entities behind them as well. Again, when a company provides a product or service, it deserves to make money for that.

So it’s no real surprise this week that PARCC – the testing consortium for Common Core to which Oklahoma belongs – is incorporating as a non-profit. From yesterday’s press release:

WASHINGTON – March 12, 2013 – The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) today announced the formation of a new non-profit organization to oversee the development of its next generation assessments. To date, PARCC has been a consortium of states with no legal status; under its new non-profit status, PARCC will become its own legal entity as a 501(c)(3). Launching the non-profit is the first step in the process to ensuring the PARCC assessment system can be sustained in the long term and beyond the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top Assessment grant period which ends in September 2014.

It seems like just yesterday that the National Governor’s Association and the Council for Chief State School Officers gave us Common Core. And it seems like just later in the day yesterday that two testing consortia were formed from the molten promises of the USDE’s grant funding, only to split apart, not unlike Cain and Abel. And now, the path that we have chosen will be its own self-sustaining entity – provided that the 22 member states will actually pay for the assessments, which are being developed at a higher-than-anticipated cost.

If the tests are ready by the 2014-15 school year, as promised, the newly formed non-profit will certainly be looking to maintain its viability. That means providing a service at a cost that allows it not only to avoid losing money, but to increase the bottom line within a reasonable margin. Remember: non-profit does not mean breaking even. Already, the purveyors of the Common Core and PARCC are walking back prior plans to offer testing throughout the school year. They now say that while tests will be available during the year (and not just at the end), they will not be mandatory, but rather available to schools for an additional fee.

I’m sure that is something schools will jump at the opportunity to pay.

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CCOSA Call to Action – Parent Trigger

March 11, 2013 1 comment

The state’s largest administrators group (CCOSA) issued a legislative alert today, calling for “all Oklahoma taxpayers, school patrons, parents and educators” to not only oppose SB 1001 – the Parent Trigger – but also to actively voice their concern to legislators. The CCOSA talking points include:

  • Mutual respect and collaboration between teachers, parents and districts is the key to success in our schools.  SB 1001 pits parents, teachers, principals, and school districts against each other and creates divisiveness in communities.  For example, Section 5 of SB 1001 turns the position of school principal and assistant principal into popularity contests.
  • Section 3 of SB 1001 bases a parents’ ability to trigger change on a school site’s grade on Oklahoma’s A-F grading system that OU and OSU researchers have declared “unsalvageable.” This inappropriate use of the A-F system is neither wise public policy nor good for Oklahoma’s children.
  • SB1001 transforms public school site(s) into privately operated charter school(s) circumventing local taxpayers’ and local school board members’ authority to operate their school(s).
  • The Oklahoma Education Coalition has found no organized Oklahoma parent group in support of SB 1001. The Oklahoma Education Coalition shares the concerns of Oklahoma’s various parent associations that SB 1001 is being supported by a special interest group NOT affiliated with our state.

The alert also includes contact information for Rep. Jason Nelson, the bill’s House sponsor, as well as all members of the House Common Education Committee and the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Common Education.

As I wrote Saturday, this is a solution to a problem no one seems to be having. I will be making contact, by email and phone, from my personal accounts. And on my own time. I encourage you to do the same.

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