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Archive for October, 2013

Third Shift

October 16, 2013 2 comments

I have nothing to link, but districts are now looking at a third iteration of their report cards. I wonder what the explanation is this time.

Simply Outraged

October 16, 2013 6 comments

We already didn’t take A-F Report Cards seriously. They are statistically unreliable. They include calculations with arbitrary weights. And they are more subject to political narratives than they are to reality.

Today, after much fanfare, schools finally received their preliminary letter grades. There were some surprises, but nothing far off the expectations that had been communicated.

Thirty minutes later, that all changed. The SDE had applied their own formula incorrectly. Apparently, someone mistook the top quartile of students in math for the bottom quartile.

They recalculated grades, and schools saw drastic changes. Many dropped by more than a letter grade.

How can anyone continue expecting people to take this seriously? In thirty minutes, we saw the biggest problem with A-F Report Cards. They depend more on the formula than they do on the students. They are useless in highlighting school performance.

Erasing the Past

October 16, 2013 10 comments

Did you know that at this moment, the only school or district accountability reports you can access on the SDE’s website are the A-F Report Cards from 2012? Here we are halfway through October, and the 2013 reports aren’t available. Also, as I found out yesterday, nothing prior to 2012 is available.

To refresh your memory, from 2001-2011, school accountability was measured on a 1500 point scale know as the Academic Performance Index (API). People who thought numbers are too hard to understand decided we needed an easier system. Plus, Jeb Bush loves him some A-F!

When you go to the SDE page for API scores and try to search for any information, you get this message:

The State Department of Education is currently reviewing historial assessment and accountability reports to ensure compliance with the new Student Data Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability Act.

Some sites on this web page may be temporarily disabeled until compliance is ensured.

Nothing says accountable and transparent like a message that tells you there’s nothing to see here. And typos.

Nothing Like Waiting ’til the Last Minute

October 15, 2013 2 comments

 

Districts work really hard this time of year to complete their accreditation reports. That’s why some find it frustrating that at 3:32 on the day those reports are due, the SDE sends out a notice that schools will have three more days to complete them.

 

OSDE: Deadline for Accreditation Application and October 1 Child Count

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 10/15/2013 03:32 PM CDT

To all district superintendents,

On behalf of Accreditation and the Office of Student Information, thank you to all districts that have certified the October 1 Child Count and Accreditation Application.

As the October 15th deadline nears, the Oklahoma State Department of Education is pleased to report that over 90% of districts have been able to certify their reports.

However, because nearly 10% of districts have asked for assistance from the OSDE and the department continues to respond to those requests, the Superintendent has extended the deadline for both the Accreditation Application and the October 1 Child Count to Friday, October 18th at 5:00 PM CDT. This will allow the Office of Student Information enough time to address all requests for data support from districts needed to certify the October 1 Child Count.

The OSDE shares the districts’ commitment to reporting accurate data and is equally committed to supporting districts as they complete these reports.

Because of statutory obligations, there will be no further extensions.

Regards,

John Kraman
Executive Director, Student Information
Oklahoma State Department of Education

 

Never mind how hard 90 percent of the districts worked to complete them on time. Or what other tasks they pushed to the side to complete the reports. Or that most of the state is on fall break two of the next three days.

 

Oh, and at the end of the day on the 15th, no A-F Report Cards. Maybe tomorrow, right?

Pick a Date – Any Date

October 15, 2013 1 comment

Schools using the SDE secure site to logon and see their A-F Report Cards see the following schedule:

Phase I: Aug 30 – Sept 30 – Complete

All testing data and corrections have been sent back to the testing company for final scoring.

Other data for review: Available Sept 16

  • Attendance details (Elementary, Middle School) – Now Available
  • Dropout details (Middle School) – Now Available
  • Advanced coursework details (Middle School, High School) – Now Available
  • Graduation cohort rate details – Now Available
  • College placement exam details – Now Available

Phase II: Now Oct 16 – Oct 29 – Final Review of Report Card Grades

After final scoring, the data will be used to calculate the A-F report card grades. Administrators will be able to review their site level grades on October 15 – 27th.

Phase III: Now October 29 – Public Release of Report Cards

Pending State Board approval of A-F Report Card grades.

Does someone want to explain Phase II to me?

Blindly Leading Change in Ignorance

October 14, 2013 2 comments

Effectively leading people through change is predicated on understanding what is currently in place. That seems obvious, right?

I present Superintendent Barresi’s weekly newspaper column:

The Power of Assessments
By Janet Barresi, State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Monday, Oct. 14, 2013

I had the opportunity last week to participate in an interim study on Oklahoma school assessments hosted by state Sen. John Ford and state Rep. Ann Coody. I thank them and the other lawmakers in the room for the time they spent over the course of two days to hear from experts in every area of assessments. Presenters included classroom teachers, school administrators, higher education representatives, major testing companies such as ACT and SAT, and technology experts.

Many people in the room spoke with a common voice that teachers are tired of feeling like they must teach to the test. I agree. Teachers deserve the right to be creative and innovative in their classrooms, to think outside of the box, to get their students to think and grow in ways that might not match a bubble on a multiple choice exam.

That’s why I’m excited about the new Oklahoma College and Career Ready Assessments being planned for students for the 2014-15 school year. They move students away from the fill-in-the-bubble, rote memorization tests that now exist. Instead, these performance-based exams include strategies to promote critical thinking and problem solving as well as practical application of securely held foundational knowledge.

Teachers should not feel they have to work merely to get students through the test. The assessments that are given should instead work for the teacher. Assessments are needed to evaluate what students know and to show how they apply their knowledge. A math teacher needs to know more than whether a child got a right answer on a test, but how the answer was achieved. An English teacher needs to know more than whether a child has memorized a list of characters from a story, but instead that the child is understanding the text and using thinking skills to craft an essay based on the passage read.

Teachers need the data that good assessments yield. They need to know which students are struggling, in what areas and why. We can’t wait until the end of a child’s senior year and give them one assessment to make sure they are ready for the future. We must use judiciously placed assessments along the way to help guide instruction. These consist of state and federal assessments as well as benchmark assessments used at the discretion of school districts.

Craig McVAy, Superintendent of El Reno Public Schools, spoke to the group about a strategy employed in his district in which the progress of each of the district’s students is discussed each Friday. By doing this, teachers can tell which students are on the right track and which students need a different instructional approach.

This is fantastic work. I know many other districts take a similar approach, and I applaud them.

The bottom line is we must help prepare our students for their future, whether that includes college, workforce training or a path that leads straight to a career. The data we glean from the right assessments can help us achieve this.

Rob Miller beat me to the punch weighing in on this today, as did one reader who sent me a list of complaints about the inaccuracies in Barresi’s column:

#1. The current tests do NOT require rote memorization of facts. She says this over and over, but she’s thinking of tests from long ago. With the requirements for Level 2 and 3 DOK, tests cannot simply require recall. Which leads to #2 — she really doesn’t understand what teachers mean when they talk about “teaching to the test.” She is talking from her own experience, as a student, at least 40 years ago. #3. The new tests will not be some magic panacea that will make teachers all googly over them — they will do the same things and create the same curricular problems. The big difference is that, instead of all the questions being “bubble-in”, some will be high-tech matching or something similar to that. #4. Nothing is being said about the awful things that are about to happen to writing instruction, as we teach students to write so that a computer will score it well. This means we will teach form and format — we won’t be teaching anything about being novel or interesting.

I love the word googly, by the way.

Number one is my biggest problem with the column. There is not an answer students can get right on these tests by memorizing anything. And if that’s her problem with the current tests, it has no basis in facts.

On a related note, if you like tests that require critical thinking rather than rote memorization, try some of the existing (and being developed) packages from ACT and the College Board. They’ve been assessing college and career readiness for decades – imperfectly, but still better than any company that states hire.

This lack of understanding for what we do in schools, with curriculum, and under current testing conditions is evident in every decisions she has made since taking office. Her funding priorities reflect a belief that teachers don’t know how to teach children. When she patronizes teachers by suggesting their districts pay raises they can’t afford or sustain, they don’t buy it.

Tomorrow morning, in theory, schools will have the opportunity to look at their preliminary A-F Report Card grades for 2013 for the first time. I say in theory because nothing about this year has gone according to plan. School was out before the powers that be decided what the A-F rules were. And just last week – six months after testing – districts received notice that writing tests would have to be rescored. Add to that the fact that the testing company’s servers couldn’t handle the load and that cut scores were changed drastically, and I just can’t say with any faith that anybody still has faith in what we’re getting.

It comes back to the question I always ask: Can we effectively explain this to parents? Yes, they understand letter grades, but they don’t understand why the rules for determining them changed so drastically (and contrary to what the Oklahoman wrote, not in a manner consistent with feedback from districts). They don’t understand why the rules are written after the fact. And they don’t understand why it takes six months to hold people “accountable.”

Premature Explanation

October 11, 2013 2 comments

Always proactive when it comes to education issues, the Oklahoman ran an editorial today defending the A-F Report Cards that will be issued to schools – in 18 days.

At the end of October, the state Board of Education will approve the A-F grades for Oklahoma schools. The introduction of higher standards on state tests for fifth- and eighth-grade science and writing, as well as high school biology, means students are now less likely to be found “proficient” in those subjects, which also lowers schools’ A-F grades.

Schools’ grades are also affected by changes Oklahoma lawmakers approved to the A-F formula this year in response to administrators’ requests. The combination of higher standards in testing and revisions to the school-grade calculation is expected to cause more schools to get an F or D on their report cards. Fewer schools will get an A; many more will be in the B and C categories.

Spoiler Alert! Pretty soon, they’ll be telling us about the last episodes of Breaking Bad and Dexter, too…

The list of reasons that this year’s report cards aren’t comparable to last year’s report cards is pretty long. The categories are different. The points assigned within categories are different. Some criteria have been eliminated or moved to bonus points. The cut scores on the tests changed. That’s three right off the top of my head.

The reasons not to take the grades seriously are even longer, and more profound. The writing test was moved from February to April after “administrative challenges” in awarding the testing contract the first time around. The writing mode changed without much warning. The tests were disrupted by server problems on the part of the testing company. Cut scores changed, against the recommendations of the educators the SDE gathered to set them. And as late as this week, districts were notified that thousands of writing tests would need to be re-scored. Have I left anything out?

So we’re supposed to accept the grades schools receive and assign meaning to them? You’ll have to forgive me if I have a good laugh, then tell school patrons the truth.

The grades are contrived to support a narrative. They don’t reflect the work that our students and teachers have done. And they come six months after our students have tested.

This year, the grades will be released to much less fanfare than last year. This year, they may even be released without the State Board of Education tabling them for a month first. Maybe the OU/OSU researchers who discredited the statistical worthiness of the grades last year will have a change of heart this time around. A real one – not the one that was erroneously reported by Superintendent Barresi last year.

Next week, when administrators get their first look at the calculations, we should get some idea. We’ll probably get more drivel like this on the editorial pages too.

One More Delay

October 7, 2013 6 comments

The following notice went out to superintendents, principals, and district testing coordinators this morning:

Writing Assessment Update

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 10/07/2013 09:02 AM CDT

Dear Superintendent, Principal and District Test Coordinator,

It has been brought to our attention that some Grade 5 and Grade 8 Writing Assessments need to be scored by a third reader and will likely receive a new writing score.  The original two readers did not agree sufficiently to produce a valid score for the students’ writing.  You may or may not have students who will receive new scores.  If you do, the students whose papers are being re-scored are posted on the State Department of Education Single Sign On Site. Click below the chalk board in the Accountability A to F box. Next, click on the reports tab found on the blue bar near the top of the screen. The students are listed by school.

Please know that the impacted students will receive new writing assessment scores in the middle of October.

This is another failure by the testing company and the SDE. As a state, we pay dearly for this testing process. We also pay generous salaries to state staff who can’t seem to get their jobs done effectively.

Issues regarding responses scored with low interrater reliability should have been resolved long before now. Even a few students having to have their tests re-scored can impact accountability reports. Also, if students are to receive corrected scores by the middle of October, then the SDE can’t possibly just be finding out about this today.

Once again, Oklahoma deserves better.

Poking the Bear

October 5, 2013 Comments off

I still can’t imagine what compelled Superintendent Barresi and the State Department of Education to take on Jenks Public Schools and JMS Principal Rob Miller. He didn’t break any laws; he just hurt some feelings. He empowered one of the most active parent groups in the state with information. They chose not to participate in all the field tests given by the state. That was their right.

As Miller pointed out on his blog, the SDE’s investigation didn’t even include interviews with school personnel or parents. It consisted entirely of emails provided by the district. That’s hardly due diligence.

Now Diane Ravitch has jumped in, defending Miller. This story is going national.

Good luck with that.

In Defense of Opt Outs

October 4, 2013 8 comments

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.

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