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Malfeasance or Nonfeasance?

May 19, 2013

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

-State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi
on the selection of CTB/McGraw-Hill
as Oklahoma’s testing company

Carrie Coppernoll’s story this Sunday in the Oklahoman is a must read for people who care about the present state of public education, as well as its future. It leads with Barresi disavowing any involvement in the process for the selection of a testing vendor. This claim is problematic on at least two levels.

Option 1: It’s true – Say you’re the elected leader of the agency that spends one-third of the state’s tax dollars. After having problems with your testing company, you release an RFP (request for proposals) to select a new one. Testing is one of the most expensive and high-profile activities of the SDE. You want the right price. You want the right services. And you want assurances that the vendor is up to the task. You do not delegate that to your staff. You include them in the process. You seek and weigh their input. But you do not abdicate your responsibilities.

Option 2: It’s not true – In that case, she’s just running from the problem. The agency response thus far indicates exactly this. CTB will not be fired. They will commission a study to see if the disruption impacted scores and provide training and curriculum development for the state. Sounds to me like they’re getting off easy. Will the training be easy to access? Will teachers in Wilburton and Vici have the same opportunities as teachers in the Tulsa and OKC areas?  Will it be of high quality? While we can’t know that, we can be certain that this glitch will not drive a wedge between the state and CTB; rather it will make both entities more dependent upon each other. This sounds a lot like the solution to the testing problems we had with Pearson. They gave us a bunch of stuff that didn’t help anybody, and testing was still screwed up.

The concerns I have don’t stop there. The CTB official interviewed for the story shrugged off the problems with something of an aw shucks attitude. When he spoke of online testing as a “brave new world” (and I’m not even touching the literary reference there), he misses the point that we’ve been administering online tests in Oklahoma for years. He also misses the fact that there were problems with the paper-pencil tests as well. There were questions with no correct answers. There were shipments sent to the wrong districts. Nothing about this test administration has gone well, and it’s not all about the computers.

This all goes back to October, when the SDE initially awarded the contract to CTB and then had to cancel it due to administrative challenges*. They blamed the hold up on a combination of staff error and decision-making by the Office of State Finance.

After the December 9 special State Board of Education meeting – called specifically to reaffirm the selection of CTB as the state’s testing vendor, the SDE issued the following release:

State Board of Education Meeting Highlights
Dec. 6, 2012

Grades 3-8 Testing Contractor Recommended
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.

For some reason, no minutes are posted from this meeting on the SDE website.

Superintendent Barresi leads the SBE. Superintendent Barresi supervises the people who brought the recommendation forward. Hopefully she was at least briefed about the selection process and the relative merits and concerns of each prospective vendor. Otherwise, we might as well not even have a state superintendent.

Maybe it’s one of those situations where it depends on what your definition of is is…because that’s what she’s doing to public education.

*By the way, the standard setting that the SDE told us in the memo would be completed in June is now scheduled for July – the same week as Vision 2020. This means scores won’t be available until the end of July. And that some poor people have to miss a “valuable” learning experience.

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  1. john frazier
    May 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    “ZERO” Involvement ?c’mon Barresi you are acting like someone from the Obama administration Uh! I don’t know Uh! what was the question ? Uh! This is not included in my pay grade and it goes on and on….one thing in common it is believed by Barresi and company that we the parents are just a bunch of “Rummies” that will believe anything.

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  2. Kate
    May 19, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    I could not believe what I was reading when I began reading the article in the DOK. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction IS the agency head of the SDE. Once again, Barresi does not hesitate to throw her employees under the bus. How does she have the nerve to say she had zero involvement in the process??? Oh, because it’s been a fiasco, that’s how. If testing had been a great success, she would have been the ONLY one who had any involvement!!!! I guess the SDE employees are just running amuck and running the agency themselves–which is pretty much how it goes actually. The first week of her tenure as State Superintendent, when she finally managed to show up at the SDE and sit behind her desk, while looking at the stack of papers needing HER attention and signature, she made the comment that she was not elected State Superintendent to run the agency and sign all the documents requiring her attention. She should have read the entire job description before running for the office. Too late now….. Oklahomans got what they voted for and isn’t she just doing a bang up job…

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  1. May 25, 2013 at 6:20 am
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