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September Review/October Preview (2013)

September 30, 2013 Comments off

We seem to keep having the same conversations about public education in Oklahoma. Money. Test scores. Poorly researched policy decisions. Money. Wait, did I say money twice? Well, it’s a pretty big deal. School districts have seen their share of state funding decrease over the last five years, and the state superintendent and her newspaper keep trying to pretend otherwise.

Meanwhile, September was another good month for the blog, but a better month for other writers. I still enjoy reading other people talk about how misinformation affects their students and how it impacts them professionally. Plus, when other people are writing, I can pull back more. Clicking the retweet button is a lot easier than putting out 1,000 semi-coherent words. I’ve been able to unplug mostly for the last half of the month, which has been nice.

For the first time, each of the top five posts for a month had over 1,000 page views. That gives me a pretty good idea about the size to which my readership has grown. Here they are:

  1. Biology Cut Scores – Once school districts finally had their test scores, many parents, students, teachers, and administrators were surprised to see that the Biology EOI had a fairly low pass rate. As one teacher who sat on the committee wrote, “it makes me steaming mad that they overrode our recommendation, and passed their own off as the recommendation of the teachers.” It wasn’t the first time. It won’t be the last.
  2. Great News! Oklahoma is #1! – We also learned this month that Oklahoma led the nation in cuts to education over the last five years. While some have criticized the methodology of the study, the fact remains that the funding formula provides less money for instruction at a time when the legislature has record amounts of money to spend. The legislature added $74 million to public education this year. Only $21 million went into the funding formula. The rest went for testing and other SDE use.
  3. Choose Your Own Words – Finding the SDE’s sample letter to parents about test scores to be less than satisfying, I wrote my own sample letter. Believe me, it’s a lot more diplomatic than it could have been. The challenge with all of these changes is in controlling the narrative. Barresi wants the public to believe one reality. Those of us who have spent years working with children need to present a more reality-based reality. We need to do it articulately, consistently, and with facts.
  4. The Tangled Web – This one came out of nowhere for me. Apparently, the State Chamber has enlisted the Walton Foundation to serve as a catalyst in the corporate takeover of public education in Oklahoma. While reading Diane Ravitch’s book, Reign of Error, I am learning more and more to be thankful that we are behind states such as Louisiana, Indiana, and Tennessee in dismantling our institutions and selling the remnants to profiteers. I received a lot of private feedback about this proposal, and while I don’t feel at liberty to share all of it, I can say with some certainty that many local chambers of commerce do not support this initiative.
  5. So long, PARCC. We mean it this time. Probably. – As an afterthought in a memo sent by email to superintendents and district test coordinators, we learned that the state had finished the long, slow, clumsy process of pulling all the way out of the PARCC consortium. We learned later however, that the new testing contract will be written to PARCC specifications. So there’s that.

October will heat things up. The campaign for state superintendent for the $2,000 raise doesn’t figure to go away anytime soon. Districts are scheduled to receive preliminary A-F Report Card scores in a couple of weeks. And there is rumor that the State Board of Education may approve them on time this year.

We’ll see.

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Barresi’s Radio Interview with KFAQ

September 25, 2013 11 comments

Superintendent Barresi has been tossing around labels such as liberal to describe anybody who opposes her on anything and words such as conservative. This tweet is a good example.

https://twitter.com/JanetForKids/status/382610391911497728

If you don’t want to take the time to listen to the entire 13-minute interview, I’ll give you my takeaways:

  1. She is “all in” on the Common Core.
  2. She doesn’t want Oklahoma to have anything to do with national science or social studies standards.
  3. She thinks Oklahoma educators have significant input in the test development process.
  4. She thinks the ACT assessments are not appropriate for Oklahoma standards.
  5. She has concerns about data-mining nationally but thinks Oklahoma’s student information system is completely secure.

My quick thoughts:

  1. Barresi’s own party has grave concerns about the Common Core. Yesterday, members of the legislature held an interim study on the Common Core. Oklahoma Capitol Source has thorough notes on the hearing, including the testimony of three out-of-state presenters. The facts about the genesis of Common Core are in there, though I don’t necessarily agree with the conclusion that national standards are a slippery slope to communism. It’s notable that while Barresi paints herself as a conservative, other Oklahoma Republicans remain unconvinced.
  2. Wholesale adoption of the Common Core for reading and math was fine. With science and social studies, we have to watch out for liberals and facts.
  3. There’s a big difference between having input from educators and actually listening to the people you’ve invited to the table. This has been a problem for three years now. It’s sort of like the Seinfeld episode where Jerry tells the rental car company “You know how to take the reservation. You just don’t know how to hold the reservation.” Seeking input when your mind is already set is neither good leadership nor good customer service.
  4. Barresi states in the interview that her concern with the ACT assessments that are available from third through 12th grade is that they don’t go “deep enough into the information.” That shows a complete lack of understanding of the standards. The Common Core is not an information-based set of standards. It is a collection of descriptions of tasks students should be able to complete. Standardized testing is not about students rattling off facts. Neither is most classroom instruction. The ACT is a college-entrance exam. Barresi continuously tells groups she wants students to be college, career, and citizenship ready. The ACT also has a careers component embedded in their assessment. Their tests would provide an articulated set of results that would compare well from year to year. Plus, no college is ever going to care how Oklahoma students perform on tests we pay testing company X to develop for us.
  5. I’m not an expert in Oklahoma’s student information system. I hear a lot of complaints about its effectiveness. So I’ll stay fairly silent on this issue. The theme is consistent, at least: anything national is bad; anything local is good.

The Tangled Web

September 17, 2013 9 comments

This morning, The McCarville Report (TMR) released a document showing that the Oklahoma State Chamber has applied for a Walton Family Foundation (WFF) grant. The grant application lists the project name as “Start-up Funding for Business-Education Reform Advocacy.” Here is how the Chamber describes the purpose of the grant:

This grant request will provide funds in the amount of $300,000 over three years for the Oklahoma State Chamber to establish a new 501 (c) 3 education reform advocacy organization under its auspices that is geographically diverse and ambitious in its aims to advocate for an aggressive change agenda within Oklahoma’s K-12 education system. The first year’s grant is for $100,000 to be evaluated and renewed based on fulfilled outputs and outcomes, as specified below.

The new organization under the umbrella of the State Chamber will seek to educate key stakeholders and policy makers in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and statewide on the need for additional reforms that emphasize protecting and expanding school choice, embracing innovative models, data-driven accountability for schools and school leaders, transparency from school districts, addressing the performance of chronically low-performing schools, and an unwavering commitment to improved student achievement. An annual report will measure progress on outputs and outcomes, with quarterly updates to keep WFF informed along the way.

The Oklahoma State Chamber will seek out additional philanthropic and business community support and funding to ensure the new reform advocacy organization achieves financial sustainability. WFF expects to be joined in supporting the effort by other anchor funders within Oklahoma. The State Chamber will seek support from the Inasmuch and George Kaiser Family Foundations, as well as funding commitments from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Arnold Foundation, among others.

The first six months will be spent establishing non-profit status, appointing a board and hiring an executive director. As the new entity hires and executive director and executes its own business plan, the Oklahoma State Chamber will continue to provide staff, office space and other resources for the new entity, and will bring its reputation and strong credibility both at the State Capitol and in the business community.

The last thing this state needs is another non-profit established to “advocate for an aggressive change agenda” in education. This is all code for creating a foot patrol to steer legislators and other key stakeholders towards very specific agenda items. Chief among those is school choice, which after all these years, is still nothing more than cover for diverting money into private schools on behalf of people who are already paying for that. The WFF is but one of the funding sources for the soon-to-be created Organization. The other foundations listed in the introduction are like-minded in their support of reforms that have nothing to do with improving education.

The proposal also lists desired outcomes of the grant, and hence, the Organization. Reviewing them adds both clarity and questions:

Outcome 1: Permanent Establishment of new advocacy organization. By November 1, 2013, the Oklahoma State Chamber will establish a fully functioning education reform non-profit in Oklahoma City.

Outcome 2: Board adoption of business plan – By November 30, 2013, Board will review and/or revise and approve business plan (drafted by executive director).

Outcome 3: 2014 Legislative Agenda – By the beginning of the legislative session, the new nonprofit will unveil its 2014 legislative agenda, along with collateral communications materials that explain core principles, advocacy mission and importance of key reform issues to Oklahoma’s economic success.

Outcome 4: 2014 Legislative Agenda – By the end of the 2014 legislative session, 50 percent of Oklahoma lawmakers will express support for the key provisions of the legislative agenda, core principles and advocacy mission.

Outcome 5: 2015 Legislative Agenda – By the beginning of the 2015 legislative session, all key legislative leaders will have attended a meeting to learn about the 2015 legislative agenda.

Outcome 7: 2014 Research Projects – By the end of 2014, the research projects of the new organization will have been disseminated to all members of the legislature, the Governor, the State Superintendent and the State School Board.

I wonder what happened to the sixth outcome. It must be with those 18 minutes Nixon lost.

We don’t know what the legislative agenda is that the Organization will be pursuing, per se, but we can be certain it isn’t one driven by the interests of Oklahoma parents. For that matter, it won’t be driven by Oklahomans at all. This is the ALEC agenda, the Jeb Bush FEE agenda, the Michelle Rhee agenda. The proposal decries not only the loathsome Education Establishment, but also the temerity of previous reform efforts, specifically those championed by Governor Fallin’s former Secretary of Education, Phyllis Hudecki:

While Oklahoma has organized a business-education coalition in the past called the Oklahoma Business Education Coalition (OBEC) it has recently lost its drive for reform, and has not been geographically diverse overall. A new approach seems to be required. The State Chamber has a proven track record of pro-business reforms and advocacy for bold education reforms (it recently led the charge to legislate a statewide charter authorizer and to form a statewide recovery district for low-performing schools, among other key reforms). However, the State Chamber has not been able to devote as much bandwidth to education reform issues that a separate organization, under its guidance and with its support, could. This provides a chance for a true statewide entity that focuses on innovation and choice within Oklahoma’s education system, as well as data-driven instruction, improved student achievement, accountability and transparency. While Oklahoma forged new territory with a package of reforms passed between 2008 and 2010, the status quo has effectively pushed back against further reforms because there has been no organized voice fighting for additional change. The timing seems right for a new statewide entity to help tackle additional reforms.

That’s where this whole thing became a page-turner for me. In July, Hudecki resigned from Fallin’s cabinet to return to OBEC. She was replaced by a reformer with national stature in the movement (Robert Sommers). I don’t know if news of this proposal provides any more insight into that transition than we had during the summer, but we can’t help but wonder – especially since one of the names on the WFF application is Damon Gardenhire, who used to work for Superintendent Barresi.

There was a time when OBEC drove reform in Oklahoma. School leaders didn’t always agree with what the organization wanted, but there was always a seat at the table for them. The new Organization seems as if it will be one letter (E) shorter. It’s just a business and billionaire coalition for education reform sans educators. The Chamber further trashes OBEC in this representation of the proposal’s pros and cons:

Strengths: Weaknesses:
Focused on policy reform outcomes rather than vague pronouncements. Initial success highly dependent on recruitment of strong Executive Director candidate.
Geographically diverse – in contrast with previous business reform efforts in Oklahoma, which have been tied closely to one MSA. Attention must be paid to right mix for board members to ensure clear school choice and reform focus.
Tied to the State Chamber’s human and capital resources, Potential candidate for ED from outside the state will face challenges related to idiosyncrasies of Oklahoma’s culture and rural-urban political mix.
Affiliated with the State Chamber’s strong credibility and clout at the State Capitol and in the state’s business community. There is a strong possibility that the formation of this new statewide entity will weaken or lead to the dissolution of OBEC, which could be perceived as a weakness. However, OBEC has lost most of its visionary leadership and clout recently.
Focused on Oklahoma specific research to inform policy decisions.  
Dedicated to evaluating, protecting and improving prior reforms.  
Connected to business leaders for influence and ideas to address reforms to Oklahoma’s education system.  

One more thing I think I need to mention is that on page two of the grant application, the Chamber states that “a key part of the effort will also focus on recruiting a ‘super star’ from the education reform movement nationally, an individual with a proven track record of successful project management and consensus building.” They’re looking for a rock star.

Any ideas about who that could be?

Great News! Oklahoma is #1!

September 12, 2013 2 comments

I wanted to try using Great News! in the subject of a post to see if I like it. I don’t, but it makes me laugh a little. And on a day in which I’m reading that Oklahoma’s cuts to education funding are the deepest in the country, I need a laugh.

The Tulsa World reported this morning that Oklahoma is one of 34 states providing less funding per pupil now than in 2008. Of those states, six have reduced the dollar amount spent more than Oklahoma. None have reduced the percentage more. The article also discusses shortfalls in Federal education aid and the impact of SQ 766 on locally produced revenue:

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ latest report, “Examining States’ Dramatic K-12 Education Cuts,” says that restoring school funding should be an “urgent priority” because of the serious consequences of steep state-level cuts on education reform initiatives and state and national economies.

“Local school districts typically have little ability to make up for lost state funding on their own,” analysts said. “As a result, deep state funding cuts lead to job losses, slowing the economy’s recovery from the recession. Such cuts also counteract and sometimes undermine important state education reform initiatives at a time when producing workers with high-level technical and analytical skills is increasingly important to a country’s prosperity.”

All the state-by-state comparisons were made using inflation-adjusted dollar amounts and primary form of state aid to local schools.

Among the findings:

• Oklahoma tops the list of 34 states that are providing less funding per student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession hit. Thirteen of those states have cut per-student funding by more than 10 percent.

•Only six states have reduced the dollar amount spent on students more than Oklahoma, where per pupil expenditures are down $810. Reductions ranged from $1,242 to $873 per pupil in Alabama, Wisconsin, Kansas, Idaho, New Mexico and California

•Oklahoma was also among the 15 states that has lower per-student funding for Fiscal Year 2014 than it did in the last fiscal year after adjusting for inflation.

When the Oklahoma State Department of Education released its initial state aid allocations in July for the current fiscal year, the actual dollar amounts were up $8.60 per pupil to $3,038.60.

State officials attributed much of the increase to the Legislature’s addition of $21.5 million for state aid this past session, but a number of factors are expected to reduce those figures when mid-year adjustments are made.

In addition to typical growth in the state’s public school population, schools across the state should also expect to see their state aid payments reduced in January because of the widespread tornado damage in multiple cities around the state this spring.

A voter-approved ballot initiative commonly referred to as State Question 766, which will exempt certain intangible properties from property taxes, will also reduce state aid to schools at mid-year.

While the share varies by state, nationally, 44 percent of all K-12 education spending comes from state funding, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

For local school districts that can’t raise more local tax revenue to cover the gap, state aid cuts mean scaling back educational services.

Over the last several years, schools have also suffered significant cuts to federal funding. Since 2010, federal spending for Title I — the major federal assistance program for high-poverty schools — is down 12 percent after adjusting for inflation, and federal spending on education for the disabled is down 11 percent.

The report cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics in reporting that nationwide, there were 324,000 fewer jobs in local school districts in June 2013 than there were in July 2008.

For their part, the Washington Post wrote a little less on the same report (which originated with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities – a think tank). Their story does add another layer of information, however:

While the recession sliced off a sizable chunk of state revenues, those funds rebounded in absolute terms in the 2012 fiscal year, according to the latest available Census data. States raked in $794.6 billion in 2012, nearly $15 billion more than in 2008, unadjusted for inflation. (An inflation adjustment shows that the 2012 fiscal year tax haul is still lower than that of 2008, by about 6 percent.) Many states began their 2014 fiscal year in July.

They even included a graphic:

Decline in K-12 Spending

This is what frustrates me most about the cuts. State legislatures – Oklahoma included – have more money than they did six years ago, yet funding for education lags. The 2013 Oklahoma Legislature spent a record amount of money, but they took baby steps toward helping schools. Maybe the state superintendent and members of the legislature need some training in basic school finance. For their part, the Oklahoman plans to do a print edition only story on how these cuts have impacted specific districts tomorrow.

There are two reasons Oklahoma teachers haven’t had significant raises in six years. First is that the legislature isn’t putting more money into the schools in any meaningful way. Second is that the state salary scale hasn’t changed. Both of these things need to happen for anything to improve.

Maybe the answer is for the state to start viewing teachers as corporations and find tax loopholes for them.

Marketing Idea for OCCRA

September 11, 2013 1 comment

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But will it fit through the straw this time?

September 10, 2013 9 comments

The state that loves change for its own sake and the profession that loves acronyms has a new treat for you. Because our SDE has decided to vacate the time, effort, and money sunk into the development of the PARCC exam, we had to come up with our own new thing.

First, let’s flash back about 10 weeks. This was Superintendent Barresi’s message about why we were pulling out of PARCC:

If we move ahead with this, we are going to be asking the state to drink a milkshake using a cocktail straw,” Barresi said. “If you look at what happened with testing this year — kids getting screen frozen, knocked off the test — those were technical issues that were from the districts’ end of things. (The testing vendor) crashed for two days because of server problems, but almost every bit of the rest of it was due to district issues. I’m not pointing fingers, but it is the reality.”

The SDE let the world know that Oklahoma would not administer the PARCC tests, but rather would pay a vendor to develop and administer a test with PARCC-like items. Now, you can go to the state’s Central Purchasing website and view the Request for Proposals (RFP) for Elementary & Secondary School Student Testing.

The first 16+ pages of the RFP are standard legal requirements. The meat of the document begins at the bottom of page 17:

C.1  The purpose of this RFP is to solicit proposals for activities related to the implementation of a statewide summative assessment. The assessment will be aligned to the Grades 3-8 Oklahoma Academic Standards for administrations in the spring of 2015 with additional one year optional renewals for the administrations in the spring of 2016, 2017, and 2018. Henceforth in this document, this test shall be called the Oklahoma College and Career Readiness Assessment (OCCRA). Development and field testing of custom-created items will occur during the 2013-14 school year.

There’s your new acronym, folks. OCCRA. Get ready immediately for field-testing. Keep in mind this is only the proposal to award a testing contract for 3rd through 8th grades. The End-of-Instruction (EOI) exams are separate.

Other parts of the proposal got my attention as well:

C. 2  This RFP will specify a complete package of products and services so that the OCCRA will be administered, scored, and reported separately from other state assessments. The OCCRA will be administered via paper and pencil to students in Grade 3-5. The OCCRA will be administered online with paper and pencil options to students in Grades 6-8.

This is the same as what we’re doing now.

C.4.3  Although the state testing dates for spring 2015 have not yet been officially determined, the projected dates are shown in Table 1 below. The final determination of the test administration dates for the OCCRA will be based on statutory requirements for test administration and reporting. Currently, no summative assessment may take place earlier than April 10 of each year. Immediate raw scores are required for all assessments administered online. Complete preliminary reports including the raw score, performance level and scale score must be provided no later than two weeks following the close of the testing window. When standard setting is needed the two week reports do not include performance levels.

Proposed Test Administration Dates

ACTIVITY

2015

Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test Administration (Grades 3-8)

April 13-May 3

OCCRA Administration

April 13-May 10

This section strikes me on a couple of levels. First is the expectation that schools will receive scores no later than two weeks after the end of testing. That’s optimistic, based on what we’ve seen the past couple of years (from two different vendors). As nice as it would be to have raw score reports in a timely manner, without the performance levels, they aren’t that meaningful. Schools like to run remediation programs in the summer and populate those with students who scored poorly the year before. Lacking this information complicates the process of communicating the need to parents. Second is the realization that OCCRA is just a testing program for reading and math. The SDE apparently plans to continue administering the OCCTs for other subjects. The following section of the RFP backs this conclusion:

C.6.1  The supplier(s) will provide the State of Oklahoma with a criterion-referenced achievement test measuring mastery of the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics proficiency for administration to students in Grades 3–8 in all Oklahoma public schools. The student achievement scores must be interpretable in terms of the criterion and must be valid and reliable for use in student promotion, retention, and graduation decisions. The scores must also be valid and reliable for use in teacher, school, and district accountability measures. This RFP does not require nor expect the Supplier to create an entirely custom test but, instead, assumes the purchase of products and services derived from existing products published by the supplier(s). The proposed OCCRA must meet the design shown in Tables 3 and 4.

If you’ll look closely at the proposal, it doesn’t seem to contain anything labeled Table 3 or Table 4. Never fear – here they are in a separate document. They show that the selected vendor will report student data in terms of the strands of the Common Core. For anyone thinking that the SDE can take cover from the national criticism of the Common Core by hiding it under the newly branded Oklahoma Academic Standards, this is a rather prominent inclusion.

C.8.4  Throughout the development and implementation of the OCCRA, the supplier is required to protect student privacy.

It is important to note that no such requirement exists for the SDE, apparently.

C.8.5  Reading passages should expose students to grade-level text of appropriate complexity. Texts should reflect a balance of 50 percent authentic literature (stories, drama, and poetry) and 50 percent informational text/literary nonfiction which would include passages in grades 6-8 that address the literacy standards requirement for history/social studies, science, and technical subjects that students are expected to read. Selections should include a combination of single texts and paired passages of sufficient complexity for close, analytical reading which would allow students to discern and locate evidence from the text to support assertions in multiple-choice items or writing responses.

This is a bone of contention in the Common Core with many teachers. The 50/50 literature/informational text split is proscribed for all grades. If we were talking about high school students, there might be less frustration over this. With third grade students, who will have to pass this new test to move on to fourth grade, this is a huge transition. While schools have had three years to start the transition to Common Core, they haven’t had this split in mind.

C.8.6  English/language arts items aligning to each passage should include single and/or two part multiple choice items as well as short, constructed responses to text-dependent questions. One extended response item should be drawn from a paired or multiple-text passage set. Extended writing prompts should allow students to produce opinion/ arguments, informative/explanatory responses, and narratives. Grade 3 students should be able to generate a summary as well.

While the writing tests for fifth and eighth grade will now be separate, all grades will have to show proficiency by writing. And who will score all of these student-written responses? We’ll get to that in a bit. I’m going in order.

C.12.3  The proposal must include details as specified below about its computer-based testing delivery system. The proposal must list a minimum of three customers, within the preceding twenty-four months, utilizing the base platform proposed, or list a minimum of three customers utilizing fully customized platforms within the preceding twenty-four months. Their names, titles, email addresses, and phone numbers must be included in the proposal. The supplier must be prepared to demonstrate significant portions of the proposed system during the proposal review meeting.

This is pretty self-explanatory. The proposal continues talking about technology specifications and requirements of the vendor, including:

C.13.1  Support all eligible devices that meet the specifications in the Table 6. The supplier must also commit to continued support for future updates made available on the latest version of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers’ (PARCC) Technology Guidelines that can be found at (http://www.PARCConline.org/technology).Other assistive technologies may be needed for students requiring accommodations.

So we’re still not entirely pulling away from PARCC. We just love them for their technology specs.

C.30.1  The supplier shall describe the online accommodations that are available for administration of the test to students with disabilities and to students with limited English proficiency (LEP). Suppliers should refer to the existing Oklahoma policies in this regard which can be found in Appendix B of this RFP. The proposal shall confirm that the test can be administered according to these policies. If there are variations of accommodations to be proposed by the supplier, this should be made clear in the proposal.

C.30.5  Describe how the needs of students with disabilities and limited English proficiency were included in the early development of the proposed test items and the extent to which such students were included in field tests and other related studies.

Together, these two sections give us our only glimpse into the treatment of special education students by OCCRA. Accommodations will be made. I’m glad they were specific.

C.36.2 The SDE requires that written responses be read and scored by two sources with at least one of those sources being a human reader. This may include a machine score and a human score. If using a machine score the supplier shall address appropriate procedures to ensure validity and reliability.

E.18.1.3  All multiple-choice items will be machine-scored/computer-scored, and short constructed response items can be hand scored by humans or by Artificial Intelligence (AI). Reporting of scores on these items will be based on the procedures specified by the SDE and will include results at the domain level. The supplier will hand score any documents containing student responses upon SDE request to verify student scores.

Now we’re there. We casually enter the world of machine-scored essays and AI-scored constructed response items. It comes not as a thump at your door, but in a sub-clause of a sub-clause of a business document.

E.20.1  The supplier will conduct standard settings for each content and all grade levels following the Spring 2015 test administration. The SDE will approve the method for setting standards. The supplier will provide psychometricians and content area specialists to facilitate the standard setting meetings. The procedures shall include creating  descriptors of what students can do at each of five performance levels. The performance level descriptors are to be unique to each content area. The supplier shall supply evidence of successful standard settings for large-scale assessment programs. The supplier will provide psychometricians and to assist with the information needed for the presentation of cut scores at state board meetings.

We all know how much input educators had this year in standard setting. Their recommendations largely went ignored.

That’s the heft of the RFP. I do want to turn back to page 10 for a moment – back in the legal mumbo jumbo. I did a keyword search for penalty, and I found this:

B.3. Penalty Clause

B.3.1. Once completion dates are mutually agreed upon, and the supplier fails to perform any of the services and/or make deliveries within the time Specified in the contract, or any extension period, the supplier shall in place of actual damages, pay the State of Oklahoma the sum of $15,000 per Calendar day for delayed services/deliveries. The supplier shall NOT be charged when delay in performance and or delivery arises out of causes beyond the control and without fault or negligence of the supplier.

B.3.2. Failure to correct any errors in materials or prevent disruptions that negatively alter the ability to administer the test, to use the score reports, or that denigrates confidence in the testing program will be viewed as a violation of the contract and the will pay liquidated damages to the SDE in the amount of 3% of the total annual contract amount for each day during which the online, electronic, paper, print or other document is incorrect until a corrected online, electronic, paper, print or other document approved by the SDE is distributed by the supplier. SDE agrees that when liquidated damages become a possibility, it will expedite its responses and requirements in this regard in an effort to limit the amount of liquidated damages.

I guess we’ve learned at least one thing.

***

By the way, if you haven’t read Rob Miller’s analysis of how OCCRA will impact his middle school, I encourage you to give it a look.

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Choose Your Own Words

September 8, 2013 11 comments

The SDE has prepared a sample letter that school districts can use to communicate to parents about test scores:

Dear Parents,Great news for you and your children! Our state is making some significant changes to improve the quality of education in Oklahoma. As positive as the changes are, change in general can be challenging at times for any of us to handle. This tends to be especially so during the transition phase. We are in the middle of transitioning to a new set of standards now. The purpose of this letter is to keep your family well informed so you can understand the specific challenges we are facing as we make the move toward raising the bar for students in Oklahoma. We thought you’d like to know the following:

  • What educational changes can you expect to see? In 2010, our legislators called for the implementation of college and career ready standards for PreK-12 students in Oklahoma. That commitment raised the educational bar for your children. Beginning this year your children’s teachers will be delivering more rigorous instruction aimed at helping your children achieve these college and career ready standards.
  • How will these educational changes benefit your children? Your children will be taught what they need to know for jobs of the 21st century; jobs that require them to think on their feet and solve problems.
  • How might test scores be affected? We expect that as our schools begin to align assessments to the new, more rigorous academic standards, your children’s test scores may drop. This is understandable and even expected. As teachers and students become accustomed to this new, better way of learning, your children’s test scores will rebound.

Thank you for your family’s continued support of improving education in our state! It is important that we all stay the course on implementing college and career ready standards and more rigorous assessments for your children and Oklahoma’s future. We have raised the bar in the past for children. Time and again, they successfully rise to meet the challenge. If there was ever a state that has proven it can rise to a challenge and come out on top, it’s Oklahoma! If you would like to learn more about this transition year and our road ahead, please visit http://www.theroadaheadok.comwww.theroadaheadok.com.

Nothing about this year’s testing cycle – or the increased emphasis on testing in general – is what I would describe as Great news! In fact, I can’t think of many events that would make be begin a communique to parents with an exclamation such as that. With considerable effort I came up with this short list:

  • Great news! Our school set a record for high attendance this quarter!
  • Great news! We are able to offer music, art, PE, and computer education to all students this year!
  • Great news! The district saved 15% on insurance by switching to GEICO!
  • Great news! Your children are no longer going to be subjected to an endless cycle of standardized testing!
  • Great news! Our state fully funded pay raises for teachers and support personnel, and their health insurance rate increases won’t entirely consume them!

That last one does seem a little far-fetched.

Parents deserve an honest letter discussing test scores – not propaganda from a politician facing a tough road to re-election. School district leaders should choose their own words. Mine would look something like this:

Dear Parents,In April 2013, our students took end-of-year tests as mandated by state law. This is something we have done for years, but never under circumstances like this or with results such as these.The bizarre journey began in October, when the State Department of Education (SDE) had to delay the annual writing test for 5th and 8th graders by two months because of irregularities in the bidding process. This created a more compressed timeline for the rest of the testing cycle, as the writing tests had to be administered during the late April/early May exam window. Just before the writing tests were administered, schools were notified that the type of writing to be assessed had changed.

Then, the inconceivable happened: online testing failed – not just here, but in Indiana, at the exact same time. The servers at CTB/McGraw-Hill (the testing company selected again by the SDE, after the contract had to be re-bid) couldn’t handle the load.

Students were kicked out of their tests and had to start over. In some cases, this happened multiple times. Later, when students would re-test, the schools received dual reports. Initially, the SDE blasted the testing company. During the summer, however, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi blamed inadequate technology in schools for the failure. Then, while Indiana negotiated a punitive settlement with CTB, Oklahoma gave them one that appeared costly, but really included free services that no school district in the state has asked for.

CTB will continue to serve as Oklahoma’s testing company for this school year.

Schools also reported instances of student scores changing from preliminary data to final results. The testing company could not provide an explanation for this, telling schools to use the higher score. Over the summer, the SDE convened educators to reset the standards for the writing and science tests, causing scores all over the state to take a severe drop.

By the time students were back in school this August, districts still had not received final test scores. In fact, they still had no preliminary science or writing scores. This includes the Biology End-of-Instruction exam, which is one of the tests that high school students can take to count for graduation. Because of the delay, the SDE still has not provided districts with remediation funds for students who did not pass the EOIs.

Meanwhile, the SDE has spent its summer rebranding both the academic standards and the testing process. In 2010, the state adopted the Common Core State Standards for reading and math. Then, two years ago, the remaining content areas that had been labeled PASS since the early 1990s became the C3 standards. Now they are OASS – the Oklahoma Academic State Standards. The SDE even paid for a marketing campaign to promote the rebranding.

Nothing is different, except the name. The SDE also announced this summer that Oklahoma would not be giving the PARCC assessment, in spite of the two years that it has spent sending people to national consortium meetings.

We also should let you know that next month, the SDE will issue A-F Report Cards for each school and district in the state. This year, the formula for calculating those report cards is completely different than it was last year. Between this and the irregularities in testing, skepticism over score reports, and arbitrary changes to the passing scores, we have very little confidence that these grades will be a reflection of our performance – even if we receive good grades. The inconsistencies and seemingly random changes we have experienced over the last year undermine the very concept of accountability.

We honestly have no idea how tests will be administered after this school year. We know that special education students will now take the same test as regular students, but we don’t know what accommodations will be available to them when we start testing over the Common Core. We also don’t know if scores will be reported in a timely manner when we have to make decisions next summer when we are required by law to retain 3rd graders based on these tests. Future standard setting in social studies, reading, and math will also change our passing rates. To what extent this will impact your children, we can’t be sure. In short, we have as many questions as you do.

As always, we appreciate you entrusting your children to our care, and we thank you for your support.

Yeah, that’s a little long-winded, but I had to get rid of my editor in an effort to curb the administrative overhead around here.

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