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Archive for July, 2013

Influence over Action

I’ve been asked a few times this week by readers to comment on the Governor’s transition from Phyllis Hudecki to Robert Sommers as Secretary of Education. The truth is that I don’t have much to say.

Hudecki is a lifetime Oklahoman who has worked for a long time to improve schools as a representative of the state’s business community. She has a history of listening to parents, teachers, and administrators. She is well-spoken and measured. Quite a few administrators in this state consider her to be an ally to the profession.

Sommers has been in Oklahoma for a few months. He has close ties to Jeb Bush and opened the door for more charter schools and vouchers in Ohio. He really doesn’t have a track record here, but we know this move strengthens the ties between our state’s leaders and the top engines for corporate education reform.

The most important thing to remember about this move, though, is that a Secretary’s role is quite different than that of the State Superintendent. Sommers will be a top education advisor to the governor. He will not be running an agency. He will not be making major policy decisions or selecting testing vendors. That will still be Janet Barresi, who is excited about the selection:

OKLAHOMA CITY (July 16, 2013) – Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi issued the following statement regarding the appointment by Gov. Mary Fallin of Dr. Robert Sommers as Oklahoma’s Secretary of Education and Workforce.

“I am pleased that Gov. Fallin has appointed Dr. Bob Sommers as Oklahoma’s Secretary of Education and Workforce. Since April, when Dr. Sommers became the state director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, there has been a renewed sense of energy in the state’s educational partnership between career tech and the PK-12 public education system.

“Dr. Sommers truly understands the importance of increased student achievement and quality career training as it relates to preparing our children and adults to succeed in the workforce. This appointment confirms and strengthens our work in that direction.

“As I review job growth within the five ecosystems as identified by Gov. Fallin, many of the jobs of the future are in the STEM subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. As a means of assuring Oklahoma continues to enjoy positive economic growth, Dr. Sommers and I are committed to working together to provide opportunities in the STEM subjects to all students.”

If anything, this move places Governor Fallin closer to the inner circle of Jeb Bush, a potential Republican candidate for president in 2016. Since this is an education blog, and not a venue in which I care to discuss national politics, I should probably stop there.

More Responses to Barresi’s Response to the Testing Debacle

Below is a joint statement released today by CCOSA (Cooperative Council of Oklahoma School Administrators) and USSA (United Suburban Schools Association) regarding Superintendent Barresi’s response to the recent testing disruption:

Recent comments made by State Superintendent Janet Barresi regarding the statewide student testing disruption which occurred in April are disappointing. Superintendent Barresi’s words and conduct reveal a politician desperate to assign blame away from herself while attempting to appear competent for her position.

In April of this year students in Oklahoma and Indiana experienced significant disruptions while taking their end of year tests. Both Oklahoma and Indiana were served by the same testing company. The inability of the testing company to ensure that districts could properly administer assessments resulted in compromised test data due to a variety of psychometric factors.

Initially both the testing company as well as Superintendent Barresi acknowledged that testing disruptions were the result of the testing company’s “lack of hardware space” for the number of students taking assessments in Oklahoma and Indiana. Despite Superintendent Barresi’s later claim that she had “zero involvement in the entire [testing] process from start to finish personally,” the contract between Oklahoma and the testing company was reviewed and approved by the Oklahoma State Board of Education. Superintendent Barresi is the President of the Oklahoma State Board of Education and would therefore have been involved in approving the testing contract. Furthermore, the State Department of Education is responsible for assisting districts during the student assessment period as well as ensuring that districts comply with various testing protocols. Janet Barresi is responsible for all functions of the State Department of Education. When a problem occurs at that agency, ultimately she is to blame.

Rather than targeting Oklahoma educators, which is now part of a larger pattern of her conduct, Superintendent Barresi should personally get involved with the most important aspect of the work she was elected to do. Student assessment is critical to the implementation of reform initiatives. Superintendent Barresi should rise to the occasion and provide solutions for Oklahoma students, parents and educators impacted by the testing disruption.

Under the Barresi administration, student assessment has become increasingly high stakes. Student tests are now used to deny high school seniors a diploma, to grade schools on an A-F scale and will soon be used to determine the effectiveness of teachers and principals. It is disturbing that the elected State Superintendent, charged with the proper implementation of reforms, would publicly state that she had “no personal involvement” in the spending of millions of taxpayer dollars on a failed student assessment program. Even more distressing is the apparent willingness to distort facts by painting school districts in a negative light all in a failed effort to avoid the political consequences associated with the inability to carry out the duties of the Office of State Superintendent. The future of Oklahoma’s students is far too important to trust to politicians like that.

Despite these setbacks, CCOSA and USSA members will continue to partner with Oklahoma parents, educators, school board members and legislators in an effort to provide Oklahoma’s students with the leadership and quality education they deserve.

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Submitted by Steven Crawford, Executive Director of CCOSA, crawford@ccosa.org (www.ccosa.org)

Submitted by Ryan Owens, Executive Director of USSA, ussaok@gmail.com (www.ussaok.org)

Of Standards and Rules

In case you missed it, Oklahoma’s Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) have become the Oklahoma Academic Standards (OAS). Though this transition has gone largely unnoticed, evidence is everywhere at the Vision 2020 Conference.

The standards known as PASS have been codified in law and administrative rules for more than 20 years. After the standards were introduced in the early 1990s, they were revised multiple times, usually coinciding with the year ahead of the textbook adoption cycle. For example, if the state was going to adopt new textbooks in science, the previous year would see committees of state employees, school teachers, and college professors working in committees to update the standards. The process has always been organic and powered by the teachers in this state. Yes, the state drove the process, but it was always teachers providing the energy from their experiences in the classroom to make changes.

In 2010, by legislative action, Oklahoma adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). These standards would replace PASS, at least for reading/language arts and math. They hadn’t been written yet, but they were on the way. This decision, supported by a Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion and one at the SDE, has been supported time and again by their replacements, both Republicans. In fact, across the country, the drive to standardize the curriculum has been bi-partisan.

In 2011, after taking office, Superintendent Barresi quickly renamed all of Oklahoma’s standards the College, Career, and Citizenship (C3) readiness standards. This was the national trend…getting all three of these words into everything education. We’re not just preparing kids for college; we’re preparing them for careers and citizenship! Lately, all things trending national in education are being blamed on the President. Whether it be CCSS or C3, we can’t risk looking like we agree with Obama on anything! It might cost us the election ruin the children!

Earlier this year, the State Board of Education adopted rules that both eliminated PASS and all references to it from the administrative code. The rules also took the legislature out of the approval process. You see, under PASS, any changes to the state standards had to be ratified by the legislature. Accordingly, the SBE changes were rejected by the legislature. Or more accurately, the SDE pulled the changes before they could be rejected.

Then last week, when the SDE finally released the program for Vision 2020, just about every session somehow had the OAS worked into the description, in many cases, to the surprise of the presenters. We’re taking the CCSS and calling them the OAS without changing a word. There’s even a campaign for the re-brand. Check out their website: For the Road Ahead, which proclaims, “Oklahoma Academic Standards are custom-built for PreK-12 students in Oklahoma.”

Except they aren’t. Again, we’ve adopted the CCSS and relabeled them the OAS. There’s nothing custom about it.

We’re pulling out of PARCC testing, but remaining in the consortium – as a governing member – so we can take what we’re learning from the process and work with a testing company to make our own tests. You know, that company that screwed up all the tests this year? Yeah, that one.

(Oh, wait, there’s going to be a request for proposals. I forgot.)

Remember as you attend day two of the conference, in spite of the appearances, you’re not in a professional learning environment. You’re smack dab in the middle of a political infomercial. Reality is elusive.

When, Indeed?

July 8, 2013 Comments off

Heading into this week’s SDE conference (Vision 2020 2.0), most Oklahoma educators seem to be on the same page. While the SDE is excited that over 6,400 people are registered for the conference, I am excited that over 5,500 have visited this blog since I posted Broken Arrow Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall’s two-page letter to Janet Barresi on Friday.

(Maybe I should be concerned that the most popular post since I began this blog 15 months ago was written by somebody else. Maybe I should be, but I’m not.)

Many readers have been responsive to Dr. Mendenhall’s fifth question: When do we go back to doing what’s best for kids? As fortune would have it, many of the people drawn to this blog will be present at the conference the next three days. Staff from the SDE will be in several of the exhibitor booths and presenting sessions throughout the conference. Superintendent Barresi herself will host a couple of educator roundtables. There will be no shortage of opportunities to ask this key question.

A well-written letter

This weekend, a letter from Jarod Mendenhall, superintendent from Broken Arrow Public Schools, has been circulating around by email. It is a well-written response to Superintendent Barresi’s decision this week to remain as a member of the PARCC governing board while pulling out of the test itself. You should read the two-page letter in its entirety, but here are several questions he asks at the end:

  1. Given the multiple issues with the chosen testing vendor, why has their contract been renewed? Has their performance evaluation given any evidence of acceptable performance? Have the malfunctions experienced this year been corrected, and have we any proven assurances that we will not experience the same issues next year? If, as you state, public schools do not have the technological capacity to successfully deploy these tests, it would seem a renewal with this company only sets the stage for a repeat of the same disastrous scenario.
  2. Prior to sharing statements that the testing failures were at the hands of the school districts, did you pause to check with school districts to verify this information? Did you gather information from schools of various sizes throughout the state in an attempt to pinpoint the source of the malfunctions or look for patterns that would assist you in troubleshooting the issues?
  3. What will be done with the flawed test data that has been collected? Will students and teachers be evaluated based on these results in spite of the malfunctions and frustrations that were experienced during the testing window?
  4. You have indicated that teachers will be involved in your search for solutions to these issues, but what is your plan for gathering stakeholder input? Specifically, who will be involved, how will those participants be selected, and will they truly be a representative sampling of all school districts in Oklahoma?
  5. When do we go back to doing what’s best for kids? Like many other educators in Oklahoma, I grow increasingly more weary and frustrated by state leaders who refuse to listen and continue to initiate poorly planned reforms. The frustration only doubles when districts are then blamed for the failures they rightly predicted at the onset. Is it possible to put aside the politics, engage in authentic collaboration, and simply do what is best for the children of Oklahoma? So far, the answer to this question appears to be a resounding “no,” and as a result, I am joined by educators and parents across the state in experiencing a loss of confidence in the leadership of the State Department of Education.

I like a number of things about this letter. You can hear the frustration. It speaks to the concerns of Oklahoma educators across the state who are learning day-by-day that they are not alone in their disillusionment. Maybe most importantly, none of the paragraphs are repeated in an awkward cut-and-paste incident.

This is the kind of honest, civil response to politically-charged decisions that the taxpayers and students of our schools deserve.

Curious Coverage

The decision – and let me word this carefully – to opt out of PARCC assessments while remaining in the consortium as a governing state, is a very big deal. Oklahoma leaders and educators have invested considerable time and money in the effort to develop the next generation assessments. We’ll never recoup that. We lost precious time in preparing our students for a now-irrelevant framework.

The Tulsa World has covered this story in depth. They have even asked questions to school leaders in their area. Below are some of the comments from their article:

“I find this whole getting out of PARCC perplexing. While I have said there’s too much time spent on assessments and I am not in favor, necessarily, that we stay in PARCC, I support Common Core, and I don’t see this abrupt move resolving anything,” Ballard said.

“I see little real leadership being shown because there is no thought given to where does that leave us.”

Bonnie Rogers, a spokeswoman for Jenks Public Schools, noted that patrons and educators in that district have expressed great concern about the time devoted to state-mandated testing.

But she said Jenks school officials “would disagree with Superintendent Barresi’s assertion that school districts did not have the expertise to prepare for the amount of technology needed to administer online tests.”

Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow said he agrees with Barresi’s decision about PARCC but was aggravated “about her once again giving most of the blame to local school districts.”

“I can’t help but wonder if this is all political posturing,” he said. “I am worried about the next steps. Many things from the state Department of Education are unpredictable and unexplainable.”

The Oklahoma Education Association recently issued a report detailing schools’ many difficulties with CTB-McGraw Hill and calling for 2013 standardized tests to be invalidated.

The teachers association called the testing vendor “grossly deficient” and detailed failures that had nothing to do with online testing, including mistakes on paper tests, significant delays and mix-ups in their delivery to schools and even practice tests that weren’t aligned with the actual tests.

“At what point is the state superintendent of public instruction going to quit blaming public schools and hold this corporate testing company responsible?” OEA President Linda Hampton asked.

She called on greater transparency from Barresi, saying parents and educators deserve an explanation about why her decision was not discussed at last week’s State Board of Education meeting, who will develop the new tests and how they will be any different from the state’s current tests.

“It also bothered us that the state board never talked about renewing the CTB McGraw-Hill contract but the contract has been renewed,” she said. “It seems to becq they have rewarded this company with a contract renewal.

For their coverage, the Oklahoman has been linking to the World articles. I find no original content on the NewsOK website related to Oklahoma’s decision to pull out of take a break from PARCC.

As school leaders begin processing this information, one big issue will be communicating the fallout from it to their teachers, parents, school boards, and communities. The way leaders choose to have that conversation will be worth covering as well. The misinformation from Barresi’s claim that the majority of technical issues were the schools’ fault needs correcting. The possibility that Oklahoma will simply remain with the same testing company that caused so much student and teacher distress needs challenging.

In other words, we have a long way to go to make sure the public has all the facts to understand whether the implications of this decision have been fully considered, and whether it’s the right decision at all.

We were on a break!

Today, we have some clarification of yesterday’s announcement about PARCC. Oklahoma is not pulling all the way out of the testing consortium. We’re in, but we just won’t be using the test. Perfectly clear, right?

I had noticed that the PARCC website still listed Oklahoma as a governing state in the organization, so I posed a question on Twitter. Admittedly, I was trying to be funny, but it led to a brief exchange with the SDE:conversation about parcc

And a hilarious comment from a reader:

jwilliams from twitter

Clarifications and commentaries aside, yesterday’s announcement that Oklahoma is leaving PARCC leaves a number of unanswered questions. Aside from the strictly political ramifications, I see at least five areas needing further discussion.

1. Does the state superintendent unilaterally have the authority to make this decision? I’m not sure how far I’d have to go back into the archives to find it, but I believe the State Board of Education approved the state’s participation with PARCC. Do we have any indication as to the level of their input in this new decision? Other than yesterday’s poorly-worded comments blaming schools for the computer glitches this spring, do we have a better grasp on the reasons?

2. Will the SDE lose momentum in working with educators on test development? This is an important consideration because of the level of reform fatigue in education right now. The SDE, governor, and legislature all bought in to the Common Core in 2010. Oklahoma rode the fence between the two testing consortia as long as possible before going with PARCC, which stands to make money from the assessments they develop. Now we’re not going to use the tests we’ve helped create? And that our teachers and leaders have used as a framework for professional development? Time, patience, and money are all running low right now. The phrase never mind goes a long way to kill momentum and enthusiasm.

3. Will next-generation assessments be in place by 2014-15 as promised? I’ve never been convinced this would happen. If it does, it will happen in a vacuum now. And as far as Oklahoma is concerned, it will happen with a vendor in response to a request for proposals. By the time the new tests are in place, schools will have seen no blueprints.

4. Isn’t part of the push for Common Core to give states something – oh what’s the word…COMMON to use in assessing progress? The most compelling reason for states to adopt common standards was to ensure that our children are just as prepared – if not better prepared – to other states’ children. How will we measure that now?

5. Now that PARCC is a fully-constituted money-making non-profit, will Oklahoma still have a stake in their product? Even though we are going in a different direction (not pulling out, mind you), we helped create whatever test they come up with. Will SDE staff and their chosen groups continue serving on PARCC committees? Can Oklahoma keep its place as a governing state in the consortium? Can we change our minds and come back?

This decision surprised and confused me. As with many of the readers who have commented on the blog, Facebook, and Twitter – along with those who have emailed me – I’m not entirely disappointed. I just don’t understand. It’ll be a while before the ramifications of this decision are clear to anybody.

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