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Archive for April, 2013

To CTB: We’ll Deal with You Later

April 30, 2013 1 comment

This afternoon, the SDE sent the following message to districts:

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.

According to the State Department’s Assistant Superintendent of Assessment and Accountability, Dr. Maridyth McBee, the state is working closely with the testing company to find solutions that could alleviate the burden of students retaking the full tests.

“Right now we are evaluating several good ideas from district superintendents and SDE staff for how best to accommodate school districts,” McBee said. “Once we are up and running again and can determine the full impact of this, we will finalize plans for expanding the testing window and any other accommodations deemed appropriate.”

The problem with CTB McGraw Hill affected other states. Other testing vendors have experienced similar problems.

Since I posted the message from the Indiana state superintendent earlier, I thought it would only be fair to post this as well. A stern talking to does nothing to change the fact that, as I put it earlier, this year’s data is completely poisoned. I want CTB fired. As a taxpayer, I want our money back.

I also received a message from a reader earlier saying that I let the SDE off the hook too easy during my lunchtime post. I agree with that, and I’ll address that in a separate post, either later tonight or tomorrow morning.

Next Verse, Same as the First

April 30, 2013 7 comments

This has gone from ridiculous to unbelievable. Yesterday, in case you somehow missed it, state testing pretty much broke the Internet. It wasn’t just Oklahoma students crashing the CTB-McGraw Hill servers in New Jersey; Indiana had the exact same problems.

Today has to be better, right?

ALERT: System Interruption

District/Building Test Coordinators,

CTB/McGraw-Hill has received an increased number of reports regarding service interruptions during testing. Our staff is working to make the systems available as soon as possible.

Where possible, please suspend testing for a period of one hour.

Thank you,

CTB Online Program Team

In Indiana, where this is also still happening, State Superintendent Glenda Ritz suspended testing and issued a statement this morning:

Indianapolis – In response to system errors that prevented schools throughout the state from completing their ISTEP+ testing today, Glenda Ritz, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction issued the following statement:

“I am greatly disappointed to learn that Indiana schools had their ISTEP+ testing interrupted for the second consecutive day. Like all Hoosier parents, students and teachers, I find these interruptions frustrating and unacceptable.

“We have been constantly monitoring the situation this morning. Between approximately 7:30 and 11:00 over 150,000 test sessions were completed. At approximately 11:15 AM, there was a spike in test interruptions.

“Because of these errors, I have instructed the Department of Education to suspend testing for the remainder of the day. This decision was not made lightly, but was done to minimize further disruptions for our schools. All of our students deserve to take a test that is valid, accurate and reliable.

“At this time, CTB McGraw-Hill believes that testing will be able to continue tomorrow. I will communicate with schools directly regarding the timeframe to resume testing.

“The Indiana Department of Education is working with the company that administers the test to ensure that the rest of the test is administered smoothly and efficiently. We will also conduct a thorough review to determine the exact cause of this issue. Finally, we will also work with local schools so that they have the time they need to administer a fair test for all Hoosier students.”

Problem #1: It’s pretty hard to just suspend testing for a period of one hour. Testing is a tremendous disruption to everything that schools do. Yes, it’s a huge loss of instructional time, but transportation and child nutrition schedules are impacted as well. Some students attend CareerTech classes away from their high schools.

Problem #2: Seriously, how much credence should we put into this year’s results? Less than usual, I would hope. Students and teachers spend a lot of time getting ready for this time of year. You frustrate them, create extreme levels of stress, and have them waiting for the rug to disappear again. These are not ideal testing conditions.

Problem #3: This company is an expensive “upgrade” over Pearson. They have a one-year renewable contract. There would have to be some really surprising reason at this point to renew.

To their credit, the SDE did send out this notice to districts this morning:

April 30, 2013

Dear Superintendents and District Testing Coordinators,

It is our understanding that CTB McGraw Hill’s testing server crashed again this morning. We expect the company to send a communication to you, but we wanted to make sure you knew we are working on this as well.

We are in the process of determining an extension to the testing window, and will let you know details as soon as we have them.

We are so sorry for the problems you are experiencing. We are working with the company to determine the nature and scope of the problem and to ensure it is fixed.

Sincerely,

Maridyth McBee

Assistant State Superintendent of Assessments and Accountability

Which leads me to …

Problem #4: Extending the testing cycle only exacerbates the frustration felt over Problems 1-3.

Look, I realize the SDE hasn’t screwed up testing. This is entirely on CTB. The fact that another state is experiencing the same thing is proof of that. (By the way, I heard from readers in Colorado last night that they are now worried, having also selected CTB to replace Pearson.)

I’m focusing on both parts of Dr. McBee’s title. We know how the assessment process is currently going. What we don’t know is what the SDE plans to do with this in terms of accountability. Frankly, this year’s data is completely poisoned. Schools should still use the results to draw conclusions and plan for instructional improvement. It’s just hard to say that these results should be used as a gatekeeper for children. No, not every grade or subject is polluted. Some districts weren’t even planning to test yesterday or today. But the damage is pervasive, and it destroys the credibility of the test scores.

Tomorrow is another day, right?

April Review / May Preview

April 30, 2013 Comments off

April on this blog can be summed up in one word: testing. To be blunt, it hasn’t gone well. For all the money the state spends on testing … for all the inauthentic teaching that occurs to prepare students for the tests … for all the things we sacrifice to make sure everything goes smoothly – all we ask for in return is competence.

A valid test is one that measures what it says it measures. A reliable test is one in which the results are good in any situation. Oklahoma’s tests – especially the online tests – have failed on both counts. Understandably, students, parents, teachers, principals, and superintendents alike are not impressed. The process, the cost, and the absolute waste of time are simply offensive.

Here are the top five posts from April:

  1. You Must Be Kidding Me – Within about three hours of posting this, it was already the most viewed post ever on this blog. I’m typically pleased when a post gets 300 hits. This one has quickly gone over 3,000. The juxtaposition of CTB’s ineptness alongside the SDE’s insistence that school districts proceed with data collection as if everything were normal elicited quite a visceral reaction. Learning then that the same thing was happening in Indiana made it even worse.
  2. Republican Angst over the Common Core – Nationally, as well as in Oklahoma, the Republican Party is ready to implode over the Common Core. Complaints range from anti-Obama backlash to fears that the UN is going to take over our schools. Those fringe concerns notwithstanding, I am starting to doubt we’ll get to the finish line with all the major players (including PARCC) intact by the announced 2014-15 deadline.
  3. Testing to the Teach – For some reason last week, Superintendent Barresi came to the conclusion that we may be over-testing the kids. I honestly don’t know whether to say “welcome to the party,” or “sorry, you had your chance…it’s too late.” Suffice it to say that her words are empty at this point. Those of us who send children to school, as well as those of us who educate them, want to see a meaningful change.
  4. Game On – Imagine trying to run a large state agency – the one that oversees the operation of the activity for which the majority of the state’s tax dollars are spent – and then finding out that one of your board members is resigning to run against you in the next primary. That happened last week. And while I’m excited for the chaos, I can’t tell you I have enough information about Joy Hofmeister to say that she should be the next state superintendent. I know she has a history of standing up to Barresi, and I respect the hell out of that, though.
  5. None of the Above / Errata Notice – These two posts tied for the fifth spot and were pretty much mirror commentaries on some of the problems districts faced early in the testing cycle. Compared to what happened yesterday, these were minor nuisances.

May figures to bring more testing problems, with an added focus on funding issues. The legislature is set to vote any day on a tax cut that will benefit the typical family only minimally. It will provide yet another crushing blow to the funding formula for public education. Hold on to your hats, people.

You Must Be Kidding Me

On the same day that school districts suffered through problem after problem with online testing, the SDE issued a memo on procedures for data verification for A-F Report Cards.

SO. MANY. ISSUES.

First, a memo sent today from CTB-McGraw Hill – the company that was supposed to be an upgrade over Pearson:

Dear District & Building Test Coordinators,

CTB has observed and received several reports this morning regarding disruptions experienced by students while taking the Oklahoma OCCT online test. Our immediate efforts to resolve the situation this morning were not successful, and our technology engineers are working diligently to isolate the source of the disruption. We will continue to investigate and make the necessary adjustments to return to a normal system status as soon as possible. Where possible, students scheduled to test through the remainder of the day should be rescheduled. We expect all systems to be ready for use without interruption by Tuesday, 4/30/2013.

  • If students are currently active in a test session and are able to continue, please have them complete the test session.
  • If a student’s test is in an interrupted status, please make arrangements to resume testing beginning tomorrow, 4/30/13.

We apologize for this inconvenience, and will continue our best efforts to resolve this interruption as quickly as possible. We will provide updated communication once the situation is resolved, and will post regular updates on the CTB Oklahoma Web Portal at www.ctb.com/ok.

Please distribute this message to all appropriate personnel within your district. Should you have any additional questions or concerns regarding this message, please contact us using the information listed below.

Thank you,

CTB’s Oklahoma Program Team

Basically, if you had kids testing online anywhere in Oklahoma today, we’re sorry. Try again tomorrow. It seems our servers can’t handle the load. We must have underestimated how many students you have in your fair state. We promise this won’t affect your results.

There really are few words appropriate to the profession that capture how this makes me feel. We live in a hyper-reform education climate in which everybody is accountable. Test results impact everything from students getting their driver’s license to high school graduation. Soon, they will also impact third grade promotion and the evaluation of teachers and principals. Unfortunately, it’s becoming harder to take the questionable results of this flawed process seriously.

All is well, however. This will not slow the SDE down in its quest to define schools with letter grades. Heck, the absence of approved rules won’t even slow them down. In probably the worst timing of the school year, the following message went out to superintendents this evening:

Dear Superintendents, district testing coordinators and technology directors,

Please find information below regarding data that will need to be certified this spring for the 2013 A-F Report Card.

In a separate email, you will receive an updated overview of the 2013 A-F requirements and timeline, including critical deadlines.

This email includes information about four new applications that will enable you to complete the A-F data certification process in the Student Information System (“Wave”). Each of these reports will have a 30-day certification window. Please note this is your only opportunity to certify these data.

Yes, your deadlines are critical. Ours – and those of our vendors – not so much.

And yes, less than an hour later, there was indeed a separate email:

The United States Department of Education has recently released a new set of guidelines for school report cards. In addition to the state requirements outlined by Oklahoma law, this year’s report card will contain additional student performance information.

Please note that these new requirements will not affect the calculation of school or district grades in any way.This is supplemental information that will be reported in addition to the information that is already used for calculation of report card grades. Furthermore, you do not have to provide any additional information to OSDE for these sections. All the data needed for these sections have either already been collected or will be provided by a third party (e.g., the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education).

On the following pages are tables detailing all of the information you can expect to find on this year’s report card. The first tables list the information that will be used to calculate A-F report card grades.* The first column identifies the sections. The second and third columns identify each component of the Report Card and the corresponding data that will make up that component, respectively. The remaining columns identify the source of the information, what action will be required of the school or district, and the timeframe for performing that action (if available). Most of these actions will require the use of several new Wave applications. Details for these applications (including training information) will be provided in a separate communication.

The last table details information that will be provided as an addendum to each report card. Again, the first column indicates each new section that will be included in the report card. The second column provides a brief description of the information that section.

Additional information will be provided through listserv and the OSDE website (http://www.ok.gov/sde) as it becomes available.

Any legislative changes – and emergency rules that result from those changes – may impact these requirements and timeline. The OSDE will post an updated version on the department website as new information becomes available.

* Geography, Social Studies, and History will not be included in the grade calculation for grades 3-8 this year due to field testing of these exams. They will be reinserted into the calculation for the 2013-2014 school year.

PLEASE SEE THE ATTACHMENT, WHICH HAS INFORMATION USED TO CALCULATE YOUR REPORT CARD GRADE.

We don’t know what the rules are, but since we entered into an agreement with the USDE through our NCLB waiver, we’re really beholden to them. Be prepared to verify all of the data included on the attached seven-page flyer…in case we need it.

Yes, it really is a seven-page flyer.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough.

Did We Say “Required”?

April 29, 2013 Comments off

Schools received word today that last week’s email insisting that they have summer school for the Reading Sufficiency Act Program – in spite of no funding for it – was a mistake:

Superintendents, Principals, and Reading Specialists,

There has been some inquiries to the law pertaining to the Summer Academy Reading Program.  After meeting with our Legal department, here is our decision:

CLARIFICATION:  No.  Summer Academy Reading Program is NOT required.  A school district may choose to offer a summer academy or other program designed to assist the student in attaining grade-level reading skills. Additionally, the Reading Sufficiency Act at 70 O.S. § 1210.508C, Section (N) requires schools to provide a program of “intensive interventions in reading” and “intensive instructional services and supports to remediate the identified areas of reading deficiency” to all third grade students identified at risk of retention (i.e. not reading on grade level).  A  summer reading academy program is one of the remediation strategies school districts may choose to provide to prevent the retention of a third grade student.  If a district does not choose to provide a summer academy reading program, the district must identify the other remediation strategy or strategies it intends to use in effort to prevent retention.

This never should have needed clarification. The law, as written, is abundantly clear. What’s hard to understand is why last week’s misinformation was sent to schools in the first place.

One Year on the Blog

April 25, 2013 5 comments

One year ago today, I created this blog and made my first post. I had written it two weeks earlier but had nowhere to go with it. I tried something on Blogspot, but for whatever reason, I could never get it to look just right. Tracking back through 222 posts and over 53,000 page views since then, I still think my desire to help people understand the interaction between socio-economic conditions and student/school performance runs as the main thread through this work.

I slowly developed a core group of followers. Now, even when I don’t write for a week, I still get quite a few page views. I like to track which posts are most popular, but since you can just go to the homepage and see whole posts (I don’t tease an idea with a few lines and then make you click through), I probably don’t have the clearest picture of that at all times. I also know that many of the people who receive this blog by email forward the posts that strike them as most relevant to their contact lists.

Let me just say that a year ago, if you would have told me I’d have 576 followers on Twitter and 307 on Facebook (many of whom are the same people), I would have been really surprised. Since I have to choose between writing anonymously or not at all, I also recognize that has kept some potential readers away.

I’ve written some posts I wish had turned out differently. I’ve had detractors critical of my work. I’ve even been corrected and publicly admitted it.

I’ve listened to your ideas when you think you have a story that isn’t being told.

That’s still the main reason I’m here. I want to correct the insidious narrative pervasive throughout public policy discussions of education. Through social media, I find that more and more Oklahomans – and more and more educators – are well-informed and willing to stand up for the truth.

While I may not have the liberty to attach my name to this blog, I respect the courage it takes for so many people in Oklahoma to speak publicly about education and how the myths and mythologists are eroding it. Privately, I do have the same discussions with my legislators that I have here.

Thank you for being here. I truly enjoy the conversations we’re having, and I hope I’m in some way helping the people who make the biggest difference.

Enough about me…

Game On

April 24, 2013 1 comment

I’ve noticed strain at several State Board of Education meetings over the last year or so. I guess I wasn’t imagining it. From the Associated Press:

OKLAHOMA CITY – A member of the state Board of Education is resigning to pursue a potential statewide race for the job currently held by State Superintendent Janet Barresi.

Joy Hofmeister announced her resignation Wednesday and says she’s thinking about running for the very position she oversaw as a board member.

Hofmeister says she is an advocate for implementation of meaningful reforms for Oklahoma’s education system. Hofmeister says that has led her to strongly consider seeking the position of state superintendent.

Hofmeister was appointed to the board by Gov. Mary Fallin in January 2012. She is a former public school teacher and is not president of a company in Tulsa that owns and operates a franchise of an international firm that provides academic enrichment in math and reading to children in 47 countries.

So, that’s an interesting development. The AP story ran at 7:01.

I knew tomorrow’s Board meeting was going to be interesting. I had no idea.

***

A previous version of this post said that SBE biographical information had been pulled down. That is not the case, so I made the correction.

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