In Defense of Opt Outs
This might be one of those times the SDE wants to change directions and pretend they never led with the wrong foot in the first place.
In case you missed it, yesterday the Tulsa World reported on the SDE’s investigation into the number of parents in Jenks who opted their children out of non-scored, non-accountability field tests this spring. In particular, they target Rob Miller, principal of Jenks Middle School (and fellow blogger). He responded to the article last night.
I encourage you to read both the World article, as well as Miller’s blog post. This is a critical issue that shows how Superintendent Barresi views school districts, educators, and even parents.
Here is the gist of the case, as reported:
Jenks Public Schools participated in and encouraged a movement to opt students out of field tests last April, an Oklahoma State Department of Education investigation found.
In a July 7 report provided to the Tulsa World this week in response to an open records request, the state said it had evidence that Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller “initiated a movement to opt out ‘teachers and students’ from all field tests administered at Jenks Middle School. This occurred while on ‘school time’ and through school district email,” the report says.
“Furthermore, State Board of Education’s rules and regulations relating to the administration of tests may be implicated — depending on the content or manner in which information was provided to non-district personnel. … This is an issue of fact that can only be determined through further investigation or an administrative hearing.”
I’d love to see the full report, but what it will lack is a link between the actions of Jenks personnel – including Miller – and any statutory violations. Here are a few points he made about the investigation:
1. Every student at Jenks Middle School was properly scheduled for a test session for every assessment required by state law. Students with parents who chose to opt their child out of the field test(s) were given multiple opportunities to take these tests.
2. Only students with a signed letter from a parent were permitted to opt-out of a field test. No students were excused from participation in any operational test.
3. The school worked with the parents to create an opt-out letter using a template from a national opt-out organization. This was done to ensure that we had a consistent communication for documentation purposes.
4. No staff member asked or encouraged any student to opt-out. On the contrary, we repeatedly encouraged students to participate in all state mandated tests.
5. I did not coerce or encourage Ms. Barnes or any other parent to initiate an opt-out campaign. Ms. Barnes brought the topic up to me after getting increasing frustrated at the amount of unnecessary testing to which her child was subjected. Our parents sent information to other parents using a private email account. The school did not distribute the opt-out letters or information about the initiative with parents; rather these parents were directed to contact Ms. Barnes.
6. No one provided any information about the field tests that wasn’t available on the SDE’s own webpage. The Geography and US History tests were known to be field tests in early October. Teachers and students knew they would not receive a score from these tests and that the results would not affect the school’s accountability measures. Likewise, teachers and students were told that one of the two Writing tests would be a field test. How did they figure out which one was the field test? It wasn’t difficult. The directions in the test administrators’ booklet for the Writing field test clearly stated to students, “You are about to take the FIELD TEST for writing.” Duh!
This investigation is nothing more than an attempt to bully people into complying and shutting up. Miller is within his rights to inform parents both what is required and what is allowed. Barresi loves to claim that she respects parents. Her whole reform agenda is framed to appear centered around giving them choices. As I wrote in May when this investigation started, her actions prove otherwise.
I also think this is a huge tactical mistake by the SDE. Jenks has great success in academics. Jenks has great success in athletics and other school activities. Jenks has some of the most active, involved parents in the state. I don’t think an elected official who is over her head running a state agency that’s losing credibility by the day is wise to take these parents on, especially when she is hemorrhaging in the polls in her bid for re-election.
This may end up being Barresi’s proverbial “land war in Asia.”
Maybe that’s why the report was completed in July, but only made public after the World submitted an open records request.
Side note: Rather than complaining to the paper’s editorial board about perceived unfair coverage, Barresi and the SDE should refrain from insulting and persecuting the districts in northeast Oklahoma.
Oklahoma educators need to understand two things: (1) If you oppose the SDE, they will try to come after you. (2) They are prone to overreach.
Oklahoma parents need to understand quite a few things, but one thing in particular regarding this situation: Your collective voice will drive the change we need in education. That starts with changing the state superintendent. It also includes changing the culture of high-stakes, low-validity testing. It includes pressuring legislators to fully fund mandates and support teachers with more than lip service.