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Editorial Shows Facts Not Taken Seriously

July 31, 2013

How dare they? How dare the Education Establishment pick on friend of the Oklahoman Janet Barresi, what with her words and actions and such? It’s just not right! As yesterday’s editorial shows, they’re not going to just lie back and take that:

School testing settlement shows issue was taken seriously

The Oklahoman Editorial • Published: July 30, 2013

STATE schools Superintendent Janet Barresi and Department of Education staff have negotiated a $1.2 million settlement with CTB/McGraw-Hill in response to that vendor’s failures, which disrupted standardized testing at schools this spring.

The settlement is three times the amount allowed under the contract’s provisions. It includes a $376,205 cash payment and $860,000 in donated services.

Indiana, which experienced similar problems with CTB, is reportedly seeking around $7.68 per affected student. Oklahoma’s cash settlement alone equals $41.34 per affected student. When donated services are included, Oklahoma’s settlement averages nearly $136 apiece.

Oklahoma clearly got its pound of flesh. The settlement shows Barresi and agency officials took this issue seriously. Now if only Barresi’s critics would do the same.

Throughout the process, these critics appeared outraged not that CTB’s server crash disrupted testing, but that the state insists on measuring student performance at all. Their comments seemed designed to derail education measurement, not ensure its accuracy. For example, when Barresi recently noted that CTB was clearly to blame for testing problems on the two days the company’s servers crashed, but said problems on other days were often related to technological challenges at the district level, some superintendents howled.

The Oklahoma State School Boards Association said Barresi was blaming schools for CTB’s failures. That was a dishonest attack clearly refuted by Barresi’s numerous public comments criticizing CTB. But that didn’t stop OSSBA. Instead, many of the same administrators who insist Oklahoma schools are being financially “starved” suddenly acted as though every school is a Mecca of cutting-edge, 21st-century technology. Well, which is it?

In reality, an Oklahoma Department of Education survey found only 33 percent of state school sites are technologically prepared for online testing. Some schools’ bandwidth is much closer to dial-up speed than not. In response, Barresi announced future assessment tests will include a pencil-and-paper option to prevent technological challenges from disrupting the process.

Oh, where to start…

Barresi herself said after the testing collapse that she herself had nothing to do with the contract. As I stated at the time, that falls somewhere between malfeasance and nonfeasance. Her job, as State Superintendent of Public Instruction is keep the ship on the right track. By avoiding responsibility for one of the most highly visible and controversial things the SDE does, she shirked her duty.

And while Barresi was critical of CTB, she did also make the comments blaming schools. The editorial staff of her campaign the Oklahoman may want to write off school districts’ concerns with a false comparison (Mecca – really?), but the fact remains that students were dumped from their tests because of failures on CTB’s end.

The fact that this made it to an editorial shows that the outrage has traction. The Oklahoman can try to defend the settlement all they want. The punishment to CTB is minimal. The damage to the integrity of the test results (and the SDE) is huge.

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