Archive for November, 2013

November Review/December Preview (2013)

November 30, 2013 1 comment

What a month this was! We finally had the release of our A-F Report Cards. We had insult after insult from the state superintendent and a veiled threat from the governor. We also had more people than ever speaking out about it. Parent meetings are becoming more common all over Oklahoma, and at each, the common thread is that state policy makers are out of touch with communities.

It’s no wonder that this blog is getting so much traffic. Allow me to stat-brag with a few numbers.

April – December 2012 31,418 views
October 2013 20,731 views
November 2013 32,243 views*

*as of 11:00 am 11/30/13

October set a record by about 3,000 page views. November blew it away, with more views than I had in the blog’s inaugural year. While I’m incredibly thankful that so many people keep stopping by to see what’s being read, I know that the traffic is more of a result of what’s happening in this state than how I’m responding to it. It’s no wonder then that November saw five of the ten most viewed posts ever on the blog (each with over 2,000 views).

  1. I Too Will Be Damned – At first I thought it was just Superintendent Barresi lashing out irrationally at her detractors (which is a trend). It turned out to be a new campaign theme. Barresi has said, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to let the unions or anyone else in the education establishment lose another generation of Oklahoma’s children,” on multiple recorded occasions now. It’s the biggest slap in the face a state leader has ever given teachers. She’s quickly approaching Chris Christie territory, and this behavior shows no signs of abating. Next thing you know, she’ll be calling schools “failure factories” and wagging her finger in teachers’ faces.
  2. Education Reform Candidate Meeting – This was another place where Barresi repeated the line about being damned. What was interesting about the two hours of video from this campaign event was that Barresi had her positions questioned by a potential challenger, as well as from voters in the audience. Through all the politics, you can hear the fears of parents who have unique concerns for their children and the impact of Barresi’s reform agenda. Remember that these parents vote.
  3. About the Governor’s Letter – After Governor Fallin (or her spokesperson, depending on what you choose to believe) started a fury by questioning whether complaining about the A-F Report Cards would prove counterproductive when asking the legislature for more money, she backtracked and asked for calm. In defending the A-F Report Cards, she resorted to something far short of logic. I countered each point, and apparently, that resonated more with my readers than the veiled threat itself.
  4. Things that correlate to A-F Grades – This was one of my most deeply statistical pieces. Usually, I put a ton of work into calculating data and writing these, only to find the response disappointing. Not only did the post resonate, but it also generated additional research by other readers and bloggers. In short, we keep finding a strong correlation between poverty and accountability measures.
  5. Speaking of Cheap Political Theater – This was the original Fallin post after she made what seemed like a threat. Her spokesperson said it’s wrong to tell parents the law is wrong (which sounded to many readers like a double standard).

What we’re seeing, in addition to continued attacks on public education, is a tightening of the ranks among elected leaders right now. As they attempt to silence discord, both within the Republican Party and outside of it, the clamoring for change grows louder. In terms of her re-election, I’ve always thought Fallin was pretty safe. Maybe that’s why she’s marching lock-step with Barresi now. Or maybe it’s part of a larger strategy to be relevant nationally in 2016. Who really knows?

Fortunately, December is usually a calmer month. We won’t have as many major announcements or political events. Then again, since most of what I write comes as a response to something that surprises me, we may set more records.

Black Friday Education

November 29, 2013 1 comment

I started a post Wednesday about the things I’m thankful for as a blogger. First was my career. I wouldn’t write passionately about public education if I hadn’t had such an amazing time working with students, parents, teachers, and administrators over the years. I’m also thankful that so many people are reading and responding to what I write. It lets me know I’m not alone. Add to that the increase in Oklahoma educators writing their own blogs, following each other on Facebook and Twitter, and we can all agree there is as much passion for public education as ever in this state.

I got distracted. I never finished the post. That happens more often than you realize. I have several unfinished posts that don’t seem very timely now. There’s one titled “About That Thirty Percent,” discussing the OU/OSU research report. There’s an untitled one discussing struggles that districts have had with Acuity (the free benchmark testing program from CTB/McGraw-Hill) during the time when schools are trying to give winter EOIs. There are many of these. For this Thanksgiving weekend, I think I’ll let Rob Miller’s post from yesterday do my talking for me.

Today, however, I want to talk about the day after Thanksgiving. One of my favorite things about Black Friday is all the people posting something along the lines of spending the day after you said what you were thankful for trampling people to get to things you don’t really need. There’s something about today that’s fairly instructive for us in education.

It starts with the hype. Act now and get this laptop! Today only, 75% off of skinny jeans! For a limited time, buy the only product fully aligned to the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Assessments!!

What? One of these things doesn’t belong? Think again.

We shop on Black Friday or Cyber Monday because of the hype. The truth is that retailers sell the electronics with the least amount of power at the low, low price they’re advertising just to get you in the door (or to their website). Clothing stores give you limited time offers that expire right before the next ones begin. Education vendors do the same thing. They’re all aligned to whatever initiative is new and shiny. They’re all the only ones who have cracked the code.

This is also the emerging business model of corporate education reform. Create hype (such as charter schools, virtual schools, and vouchers). Increase demand for your product and services by pretending that it already exists (leading to waiting lists). Promote your successes and hide your failures. Control the narrative through media. Demoralize the people working for you while pretending to the world that they have the sweetest deal and best benefits in the world (certain politicians and retailers do this very well). Foster a culture in which parents camp out, line up, and trample each other for the false promise of a better education for their children.  Reformers, like retailers, thrive on convincing the public that their deal is the only deal worth having.

I would like to think that Thanksgiving, rather than Black Friday, says more about who we are as a society. Most of us would rather show gratitude for something that works than act horribly in pursuit of something that isn’t really an upgrade. Retailers and reformers hope differently.

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Another Textbook Cycle Shuffle?

November 25, 2013 18 comments

A comment on one of my posts from last week got me thinking about the Oklahoma State Textbook Committee.  I’m glad it did; otherwise I might not have known that the committee was meeting tomorrow. Looking at the agenda, two items caught my attention:

9. Discussion on changing subject cycle
10. Vote on amending subject cycle

It seems we’ve altered the cycle already a couple of times in recent years. It is not clear from the agenda what it is we are changing this time, but something tells me it might be science. As it stands, the SDE still has not adopted new science standards. Until those are in place, it is impossible for the publishers to create materials that they claim are aligned to them.

Currently, most schools in Oklahoma use science books that are at least eight years old. They aren’t in good shape, and schools don’t have money to replace them. If nothing changes, districts will likely have to choose between purchasing new science or reading books in 2015. If science is pushed back another year, the textbooks will be 10 years old before they are replaced.

This creates uncertainty and sends reinforces the message that science is less important than other content areas. Given all the grandstanding about college and career readiness that we see in this state, it’s absolutely the wrong message. I don’t expect much publicity from the meeting, but hopefully, somewhere out there, somebody has more information on this.

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“Typical” Remediation

November 25, 2013 6 comments

Last week, Oklahoma school districts received their allocation notices for two major reform programs: the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA) and Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE). The RSA money is based on counts of current K-3 students reading below grade level, as assessed by one or more benchmarks. The ACE money is based on the number of students who scored below proficient on the Spring 2013 assessments for seventh and eighth grade math and reading, and any End of Instruction (EOI) exam.

The per pupil allocation for RSA is about $76. For ACE, it is about $66 for each student with an unsatisfactory score and about $50 for each student scoring limited knowledge. If a “typical” district has a going rate for tutoring of $15-20 per hour, and schools decide to use their money this way, there would be enough funds for three to five sessions per student. This, of course, would leave nothing for materials, software, summer programs, or professional development – which is how the SDE recommends districts spend 25 percent of their RSA funds.

The “typical” district has to decide how to manage this. Is it better to invest resources for students in need of the greatest assistance now (third graders, and high school students needing help before re-testing on an EOI) or in those in danger of being harmed by the current laws later (K-2 students, and eighth and ninth graders)? Should we focus on tutoring now, including time away from music, art, and PE, or just plan on having RSA summer school? Should we keep middle school and high school students out of elective courses or provide last-minute cram sessions before the winter and spring re-testing windows?

Complicating this decision-making process is the fact that districts don’t know until November how much funding to plan for. The quantity is finite, and the state splits it up among all participants. In the case of RSA, the SDE has to wait for all districts to report the number of students reading below grade level to slice the pie (in spite of statutory reporting deadlines). In the case of ACE, as they pointed out last week, we know that there are 30,806 more students needing remediation than there were a year ago. We also know that Biology was the only EOI in which the state average pass rate decreased in 2013.

Every district in Oklahoma has to make these choices. Each has to make them differently. See, in Oklahoma, there is no such thing as a “typical” district. The sizes vary – from fewer than 100 students to over 40,000. Some are remote, some are densely populated, and some have both rural and urban characteristics. Poverty levels are different, as are the levels of support from home and community.

The one constant among all districts is the lack of support from the state.

Remediation Budgets

November 21, 2013 Comments off

School districts received their allocation notices for two important programs today: the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA) and Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) Remediation. In both cases, the funding hardly covers the need.

The RSA program has been in place since 2006. The stakes are higher than ever now, though. School districts have had two years to adjust to the fact that third graders will be retained for an unsatisfactory score. In 2012-13, districts received no RSA funds. In 2013-14, they just now received them, and less than what was given to them in 2011-12.  The SDE was kind enough to provide a PowerPoint telling them that this is all they get, and that they should spend 25% of the money on professional development for teachers. That and supporting Kindergarten through second grade students will leave hardly anything for direct interventions and summer school.

ACE has also been in place since 2006, and as with RSA, funding is nowhere near matching the need. Along with the allocation notice today, superintendents received this information today.

ACE Remediation Funding Allocations FY14

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 11/20/2013 01:24 PM CST


The State Department of Education is now in the process of allocating state funds for ACE (Achieving Classroom Excellence) remediation dollars, and we want to provide you with details on the process. Allocation were made available on November 19th, and payments will follow shortly.

In June, the State Board of Education approved Fiscal Year 2014 funding for ACE remediation for a statewide total of $8,000,000. These dollars help districts prepare students to meet the testing requirements of ACE, and each district is required to provide remediation and intervention opportunities to students who score Limited Knowledge or Unsatisfactory on ACE exams listed below:

  •     seventh grade reading
  •     seventh grade math
  •     eighth grade reading
  •     eighth grade math
  •     any end-of-instruction exam

Districts are provided with ACE remediation funds based on the number of students who qualify for remediation.  Allocations are made on a per-student basis. Here are some key numbers on this year’s allocation:

  • This year’s statewide count for Limited Knowledge is 79,214 (an increase of 8,458 over last year) .
  • The maximum remediation amount for Limited Knowledge is $180 per student.
  • If allocated at 100%, the total amount for Limited Knowledge is $14,258,520 .
  • Available funding is prorated at approximately 27.89% for $3,977,022.
  • Total count for Unsatisfactory is 60,097 (an increase of 22,348 over last year).
  • Max remediation for Unsatisfactory is $240 per student.
  • If allocated at 100%, the total amount for Unsatisfactory is $14,423,280.
  • Available funding is prorated at approximately 27.89% for $4,022,978.

Attached is a detailed spreadsheet on ACE remediation allocations.

Please do not hesitate to contact the ACE office (405-521-3549) regarding allowable expenditures and the State Aid office (405-521-3460) regarding the funding calculations.

My point here is that as the legislature continues emphasizing reform, they need to pay for the programs that support students. While I don’t love ACE, and I absolutely detest RSA in its current form, I want the funding to follow the mandate.

This deficit is entirely on the legislature. The SDE has asked for huge increases for both programs (172% for ACE, 147% for RSA). These increases need to happen.

Meanwhile, we need to have an honest discussion about the impact of budget cuts on accountability, as Okie Funk discusses today.

As I’ve written before, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has shown that Oklahoma has cut education funding by 23 percent since 2008. That’s a staggering cut. It’s simply indefensible to implement a new draconian ranking system of schools after such a decrease in funding. It’s also obvious that when considered together, the funding cuts and the A to F system represent the culmination of a right-wing agenda to damage the credibility of public education here. It’s a classic case of “starve the beast” ideology.

The beast is starving, serving more students than ever, and answering to more mandates and reforms than I can count.

That has to stop.

More Accountability Analysis

November 21, 2013 1 comment

I have great readers; let me start with that. They are astute, and they have initiative.

I think the people who frequent this blog understand that I love a number of things. Kids are first on that list. That’s why I became a teacher. That’s why I’ve dedicated my career to education. I also love the public school system, which is why I’m always interested in making it better. I reject poorly-researched ideas that are more political than productive. Still, I have always believed that this profession is too important for those of us in it ever to be content that we are doing enough. The children are too important. We can always do better.

This leads me to another thing I love: the use of data to contribute to a narrative. I always believe that good numbers tell us something. I also always believe that numbers are never the entire story.

This takes me back to several things I’ve learned from my readers over the past few days. As you’ll recall, on November 6th when the State Department of Education released the A-F Report Cards for schools (and initially for districts), I provided statistics of how the scores broke down by district. Harold Brooks has provided a comment on that post, providing even more details.

I looked at everything labelled HS, MS or JHS, and ES and then binned everything else together into another category. Most of the “other” are single schools in small towns that I assume are elementary, but I’m not going to go through all of that. “Other” also includes schools that don’t follow the standard naming convention in most of the grade file.

The results. First, raw counts:































Second, by percentages for each kind of school (e.g., numbers under HS are percentages of HS getting that grade):































HS is that easiest school to get an A or B (3 out of 7 HS are A, 3 out of 4 are B or better). There’s not a lot of difference in the rest of the categories, but MS/JHS is hardest to get an A.

A good school is a good school. I don’t believe that Oklahoma’s high schools are that much better than Oklahoma’s middle and elementary schools. Last year’s grades showed the same tendency. However, under the previous accountability system (yes, there was one), the converse was true. Elementary schools consistently scored much higher.

Another reader pointed me to this spreadsheet showing all school districts in Oklahoma, their student counts, and the percentages of students eligible for free and reduced lunch. The table also has bilingual student counts, which is information I previously didn’t have. Last week, I ran correlations between school grades (and district grades) and poverty. Yet another reader suggested to me that I run correlations between the grades and poverty, this time only using districts with more than 1,000 students.

Comparison Correlation
All District Grades to Poverty -.52
Large District Grades to Poverty -.80
Large District Grades to Bilingual -.32
Large District Grades to Poverty + Bilingual -.76
Small District Grades to Poverty -.51
Small District Grades to Bilingual -.10
Small District Grades to Poverty + Bilingual -.45

Both factors – poverty and bilingual education – seem to impact large districts to a greater extent. Statistically speaking, there are a couple of factors here. One is that the data for bilingual counts include a lot of schools with none reported. Zeros in statistics skew results (as they do with student grades). Another factor is that there were 131 of the large districts (still a statistically significant sample) and 386 small ones.

My takeaway from this is that while the report cards tell the story of schools’ accomplishments only to a limited extent, and while my analysis from before built on that, there is always more to learn, if you’re willing to unpack the data and find out what is happening. Among our largest schools, we see more variance in socio-economic levels. We also know that urban poverty and rural poverty are not identical.

I can’t state enough how much I appreciate the work that went into compiling this data.

Finally (for this post), I want to point to a graphic that I saw posted several times on Facebook and Twitter yesterday. The article, “How Poverty Impacts Students’ Test Scores, In 4 Graphs,” shows that nationally, students in poverty struggled more than those not in poverty on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) exams in 4th and 8th grade reading in math.

Look for yourself. There’s always more information out there, if you’re just willing to “research” it.

Taking One for the Team (Part 2)

November 19, 2013 12 comments

I’m not an expert in whole language. I know just enough about the practice to be dangerous. I probably know more about it than Superintendent Barresi, however. On that note, let’s explore the highlights of part 2 of the District 2 Candidate Meeting. This section includes questions from the audience and responses from both Barresi and one potential challenger, Linda Murphy. As with the first section, I forced myself to sit through the whole thing.

  • 6:20 Barresi claims that the US Department of Education is more scared of us (states) than we are of them. She claims to fight with them frequently and that they don’t know what to do with her. If her idea of fighting includes stepping aside and letting them dictate how our state wrote its waiver to NCLB, I agree. If it includes adopting all of the du jour reforms of the hour in order to apply for (and not receive) Race To The Top funds, I agree. If she’s talking about winning a single battle with the feds that appreciably improves the learning conditions of students or the working conditions of teachers, I must be missing something.
  • 9:05 Barresi states, “If you don’t measure, you don’t care.” It’s one of the things she keeps saying. In part one, she said, “If you don’t measure it, it doesn’t matter.” Somehow, we have become a society that only cares about the things that can be counted. Scratch that, I think I’d rather say it this way: WE CAN’T LET SOCIETY DECIDE IT ONLY CARES ABOUT THINGS THAT CAN BE COUNTED! The qualitative things are important too. Of the things that count, only a few can be measured. (If I stick with this long enough, I’ll have a t-shirt or bumper sticker.)
  • 11:15 She claims that her hands are tied about the textbook committee because of the state constitution, which she doesn’t want to change. I don’t see why not. We vote on silly state questions every couple of years. Sometimes, we even do so in a way that really hurts funding for education (SQ 766, anyone)? If something is outdated in the state constitution, work on it. That’s part of the process.
  • 14:20 She repeats the statement that Limited Knowledge means that students are reading two grade levels behind. It doesn’t. It’s somewhere between one and eight correct responses away from proficient, which in theory is on grade level.
  • 16:15 She responds to a question about the third grade retention law by stating that the intent is for identification of struggling readers to be a process spanning from Kindergarten to grade three. That’s four school years. Between the passage of the legislation in 2011, schools have had two years to prepare.
  • 16:30 This is the statement I teased in the intro: “I’m now finding out … University of Oklahoma believes in Whole Language. So they’re teaching Whole Language.” So we’re having to go back with high school teachers and teach them phonics-based instruction. Don’t even get me started on that.” Well, Dr. Barresi. You started. Let’s discuss.
    Once upon a time, colleges of education around the country debated the best approach to teaching literacy to the youngest students. While some dabbled in Whole Language instruction for a year or two (much like one might have dabbled in speech pathology a year or two), Phonics won the day. The claim is baseless. It is a continuation of her war on academia. She’s engaging in party politics on a Saturday morning seven months before the primary. Anything she can make sound liberal is red meat for her audience. I heard both laughter and anger after posting that comment on Twitter earlier. Mostly anger.
    Plus, I don’t see any mention of Whole Language here or here.
  • 21:30 Barresi responds to a question about liberal teachers by saying, “There will still be liberal teachers after the Common Core, unless the local board acts.” I have to ask: should school boards be actively finding and eliminating the liberals in their midst? Maybe she misspoke. Or I misheard. Nope. I just listened again. I heard correctly.
  • 22:00 and counting…For about a minute, it seems there is coughing coming from around the area of whoever was filming. But the coughing seemed like a word – a word being repeated for a minute. A word actually, that is often spoken in a cough in an attempt to show disbelief. A word actually, that we consider to be synonymous with politics.
  • 22:45 Barresi goes on a rant mocking the deans of the colleges of education at OU and OSU. It finishes with “Can we just teach them how to teach reading and how to teach math?” I have to say, the potential candidate standing next to her has taught more kids to read and do math than Barresi ever will.
  • 23:00 Speaking of Murphy, here she directly challenges Barresi’s complete acceptance of the Common Core and her insults at teachers. The next several minutes are awkward but unremarkable.
  • 36:00 Barresi fields an emotional question from a parent of a stressed out special education student. She responds by digging in on the third grade retention law. Again she blames school districts, claiming that they waited until this year to act. She conveniently forgets two facts. First is that until August, school districts had received no guidance from the SDE about how to take the six good cause exemptions written into the law from statute to action. Once again, here is the process: Statute to Administrative Rule to Guidance for Implementation. For all of the training that school districts have received (or not received, depending on the REAC3H coaches), in assisting third graders, the real trick is knowing how to enact the law. The second fact is that school districts received no RSA funding last year and still wait to receive their notices of funding for this year. Schools continue working with students and waiting endlessly on the SDE.
  • 36:45 Barresi states that districts dumped the Common Core on teachers this year. That’s also not true. Districts large enough to have curriculum specialists have been working to transition the local curriculum to the Common Core since 2010 – before the final version of the standards were written. Then came the SDE and it’s since-abandoned REAC3H Networks and inconsistent REAC3H conferences. In truth, teachers, principals, and other district staff have been taking every opportunity they can to find Common Core resources, with little tangible help from Barresi or her people.
  • 43:00 Murphy takes a shot at John Kraman, the Executive Director of the Student Information system. She states he came to Oklahoma directly from Achieve, Inc., which was the organization most directly responsible for the final draft of the Common Core State Standards. She also goes after state Career Tech Director Bob Sommers – who serves in a dual capacity as Governor Fallin’s Secretary of Education. She mentions that he was previously associated with Carpe Diem, a nationwide for-profit charter school chain. This is also factual. Barresi fervently defends both. It’s probably the tensest exchange of the two videos.
  • 47:00 Murphy points out again – and accurately – that federal money is tied to the reforms that Barresi has implemented since taking office. Barresi again lets it be known that she hates the federal government: “I won’t let this continue. There is no connection of testing dollars with any of the reforms. I won’t let that line of argument go forward.”

Sorry, Barresi. You couldn’t stop it if you tried. You’re too invested now.

Education Reform Candidate Meeting

November 19, 2013 25 comments

Over the weekend, the Republican Party held a state superintendent candidate forum in the 2nd District. The incumbent, Janet Barresi attended. So did an undeclared challenger, Linda Murphy. Murphy, some will recall, ran for the position twice in the 1990s, and actually came pretty close to winning in 1994. Joy Hofmeister, the former State Board of Education member who resigned to run against Barresi, did not attend.

At the 4:00 mark Murphy begins her talk. It’s pretty consistent with the things I’ve seen from her over social media in the time I’ve had this blog. She strongly opposes the Common Core and feels the Barresi-led SDE leads with a top-down style, much as did the Garrett administration for 20 years before her. While I encourage you to watch the entire video, I’m not going to comment much on Murphy’s remarks. They were straight-forward and hardly inflammatory.

Barresi, on the other hand, begging at about the 26:30 mark, delivers a bizarre string of insults and inaccuracies that lasts over 30 minutes. I understand the nature of campaigning – especially in a primary. Politicians have to energize the base. They have to deliver the red meat. Here’s one educator’s overview of her remarks, in case you don’t want to sit through the whole thing.

  • 31:30 Barresi states that a student scoring Limited Knowledge on the 3rd grade reading test is two grade levels behind. This statement is flawed on a couple of levels. First is that the reading test is not a diagnostic tool intended to determine that piece of information. Second that a student scoring Limited Knowledge may be only one correct response behind a student scoring proficient. If she had said Unsatisfactory, I might have let it go. Still, the test doesn’t measure reading level. It never has.
  • 32:00 Barresi claims that 75% of all special education students are incorrectly identified, and that if we would teach them to read, they wouldn’t be in that position. This is patently false. I don’t know where she gets her numbers. She probably makes them up on the spot 80% of the time. This statement is an insult to everybody who has ever served on an IEP team and worked within a program to provide assistance to a student.
  • 35:45 Barresi states that under her watch, the social studies content standards were re-written to emphasize American Exceptionalism over pop culture. I’m trying to remember all of the End-of-Instruction questions over the Roaring Twenties, Elvis, and New Coke, but my mind must be struggling this morning. The truth is that she allowed a Texan with an extremist agenda to provide technical assistance during the re-write. Additionally, high school students now only study and test over American History since 1878. Earlier content is covered in fifth and eighth grade. As with all subjects covered in lower grades, our teachers do a good job teaching the material, but the level of critical thinking is a little less sophisticated than it is in high school.
  • 35:30 Barresi makes it clear that Oklahoma will eventually develop our own science standards, and that they will not include a discussion of evolution, carbon footprints, or global warming. “It’s not the truth.” Apparently, our efforts to develop critical thinkers will also lead to a generation that doesn’t get a chance to develop as scientists.
  • 40:30 Barresi begins to string the education establishment doesn’t want to be transparent and accountable theme throughout the rest of her remarks. This is also false. It’s the central message of her campaign though. She’s betting on the public disliking their own elected school board members, superintendents, and principals more than they dislike her in order to win re-election.
  • 41:00 She claims that the A-F scale is simply a conversion of all the information that was in the previous 1500 point API scale. This is also not factual. Yes, both measures had student achievement data, dropout and graduation rates, and attendance as factors. Scores counted differently in the API than they do for A-F, though. And API didn’t count the lowest-performing students three times – a factor that amplifies the effects of poverty.
  • By the way, and this is completely a sidebar here, someone posted this great file in a Google Doc, showing district-by-district, the grades with enrollment, poverty, and bilingual figures. Districts are ranked by poverty level, and the document runs 14 pages. The first district, Tushka, received an A-. While they should be congratulated for being a high-poverty, high-achievement school, keep in mind they’re the only A on the first 4 pages. The key statistical terms here are trend and outlier.
  • 42:00 This is one of my favorite parts. Even if you don’t want to watch the entire video, you have to see Barresi using air quotes to describe the OU/OSU “researchers” who discredited the A-F Report Cards. Having a state education leader so openly hostile to intellectualism and knowledge is unsettling, to say the least.
  • 43:00 Barresi states, “We put out a grade card that counts every student.” That’s true, unless you consider the students whose writing tests were still being re-scored six months later. Or the students not included due to the testing disruption. Or fifth, seventh, and eighth grade social studies.
  • 45:45 Barresi says what should really be at the top of all of her campaign literature: “If you don’t measure it, it doesn’t matter.” This is the mindset and practice most antithetical to the reasons all of us entered education in the first place. Sure we want to see student growth. Sure we root for the kids who struggle. We also put in the time with them. And we do countless things you can never measure. No test, no OAM, no VAM, and no third-party survey will ever effectively measure music, art, and the overall affective experience of schooling. Efforts to try are the work of narrow-minded people with an agenda. Everything schools do for kids has value – even the things you can’t measure.
  • 46:55 Barresi repeats her red meat line that she’ll “be damned if we’re going to lose another generation of children in this state.” As I have said before, this statement is an affront to all the educators who have devoted their careers to the children she holds up as props.
  • 53:50 Barresi states that she sees “chiefs from other states dealing with huge deficits.” Apparently she doesn’t understand that Oklahoma districts are still operating with budgets lower than they had before the recession. Or that cuts to school funding in Oklahoma are the deepest in the nation.
  • 55:00 Barresi states that districts are “holding back $770 million” that could be used in the classroom. To date, she has still not documented this. If she has the figures of each district’s June 30, 2013 carryover, she should release them. She also misstates how those funds are used. They don’t go to pay June, July, and August salaries. Those are encumbered before the end of May, typically. Districts maintain a carryover to help them manage the funding gap between the start of the fiscal year (July 1) and the availability of ad valorem funds several months later. For most districts, it takes four or five months for revenues to balance out with expenses. Since districts receive different percentages of their funding from state aid, there is naturally a variance in how much each one holds back.
  • 56:30 She claims that the SDE has reduced spending during their tenure. Well so have school districts, and for the exact same reason. Both have received less in appropriations from the legislature. Believe me; if she had more, she’d spend it.
  • 57:00 Barresi brags about firing so many people when she started the job that she had to answer phones herself. (I think that may have been the last time a phone was answered at the Hodge Building. I kid.) Yes, she fired people who opposed her politically, and she fired people with decades of experience. She fired staff who had tirelessly helped districts for years and replaced them with, in many cases, people who can’t or won’t answer questions. That isn’t to say that the SDE has no quality employees. I’m just saying they’re in shorter supply than before she started firing people.
  • 57:30 Barresi blames Obamacare for funding problems. She claims that insurance premiums are increasing at a record rate. Yes, they’re increasing quite a bit. But it’s not a record. This serves her politically, allowing her to glom onto the most divisive issue in the country right now. It’s smart, from a political perspective. It’s also completely disingenuous.
  • 59:00 She states that she would rather fight to put money into her initiatives than into the classroom. She’s thumbing her nose at you, first grade teacher with an increased class size. She’d rather give the money to charter schools and Teach for a minute or two America.

Yes, it’s all campaign bluster. But these are her positions. These statements differ from what she says when she visits your schools and praises your teachers. Remember that the next time she shakes your hand and tells you she appreciates you.

About the District Grades

November 18, 2013 Comments off

Thursday night, Oklahoma superintendents received notice from the State Department of Education that districts grades had posted. Again.

As you’ll recall, a week earlier, the SDE had attempted a simultaneous release of the school and district grades. They came close, but decided to hold back the district grades for corrections. I haven’t looked district-by-district at the grades, but there appear to have been very few changes.


Nov. 6

Nov. 14



















I’m all for the SDE taking the time to get the grades “right.” I just find myself questioning what took so long. What did we not understand on November 6th – six months after students tested – that we had a better feel for on the 14th? Is it the data or the formula?

Never mind. Neither answer reassures me.

I ran correlations between the district grades and free/reduced lunch rates and found a similar, but slightly smaller relationship than what exists with the school grades.

Comparison to Poverty


2013 District Grades


2013 School Grades


2012 District Grades


As I said last week, district grades hide things that site grades reveal. It makes sense that the relationship between poverty and performance is stronger at the site level. On the other hand, the formula we are using this year shows the relationship more clearly than the one we used last year.

Add to that the number of districts whose overall grade is lower than any of their school grades, and we have more evidence of just how flawed the system is.

High schools seem to be performing better than elementary and middle schools, even though they’re teaching the same students those elementary and middle schools have prepared for them. The people tasked with calculating the grades seem to have problems understanding what it is they’re supposed to do with the data. Worst of all, the current testing company can’t get scores right (writing re-scores have still not been delivered).

And at the end of the day, we’re still just identifying which schools and districts teach high concentrations of poor kids. Congratulations, Oklahoma. Money well-spent.

Just Stop Saying Stuff

November 13, 2013 4 comments

We love accountability. We love transparency. We just don’t like tough questions.

That seems to be one of the biggest problems over the last month. The State Department of Education and Superintendent Barresi are a little defensive over the problems with the rollout of the A-F Report Cards. Between the ten or so times site grades changed to the mistakenly posted district grades, it has been a comedy of errors.

There also have been head-scratching statements in the press, such as today’s comment from Barresi in the Broken Arrow Ledger:

“Last year, a big criticism we had was that grades changed without anybody understanding why or being able to see the environment in which they are changed. We thought that was a valid criticism. We were determined this year, to make it totally transparent. And, everyone would be able to see every little change that occurred.”

We’re supposed to believe that the changes, and our ability to view them constantly, were intentional? This follows a snafu, a disavowal, and a lost generation (or two) of children. Even Governor Fallin has gotten in the act, threatening to withhold support of additional funding for schools if the complaining doesn’t simmer down (before she backpedaled clarified that statement). When it comes to speaking, maybe it’s time to understand that less is more.

I’ve posted this before, but it bears repeating. Here are some key dates in the A-F timeline, as it unfolded:

  • 10/26/2013 – Friday nights grade recalculation did not apply the state average increase for growth points. This has been corrected.
  • 10/25/2013 – Corrections applied from data verification requests-
    • Winter EOI Biology, History test data were added to the system and STNs cleaned.
    • Second Time Tests not marked as Second Time Test were corrected for EOI testing records.
    • Second Time Tests removed from 3% OAAP, OMAAP cap.
    • All 8th grade EOI tests count for current 9th grade site.
  • 10/22/2013 – Corrections applied from data verification requests-
    • Added Advanced Coursework Bonus Point to all Middle Schools and High Schools
    • Corrected rounding issues
    • Missing STNs added to OAAP, Winter EOI, Summer EOI Tests (Could affect participation percentage)
    • Corrected middle schools whose data was pulling high school tests into calculations
    • Corrected College Entrance Exam data for multiple schools
  • 10/17/2013 – The issue with the application of the 1% and 2% caps on OAAP and OMAAP tests has been corrected.
  • 10/17/2013 – Issues with the Bottom 25% Growth have been corrected. These corrections caused changes in the site grades.  Please use the subject links from the Report Card Detail Screen to view and verify the students included.
  • 10/16/2013 – Report card details and grades now available to district administrators
  • 10/15/2013 – Final scored files received from CTB

The SDE wants us to see that they repeatedly misapplied their own rules and formulas. That’s nice. It’s sort of like one of those restaurants where you can see into the kitchen. Why then do they not want us to see other things? For example – and again, I’ve written about this before – if you’re looking for API scores from 2002 through 2011, you get the following message:

Please Note: The State Department of Education is currently reviewing historical assessment and accountability reports to ensure compliance with the Oklahoma’s new “Student Data Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013.” Some sites on this web page may be temporarily disabled until compliance is ensured.

As I saw one person write on Facebook, “I do not think that word means what you think that means.” I guess it doesn’t help you continue delivering the message that you invented accountability when you have to provide evidence that an accountability system existed prior to your election.

I also wonder why the SDE doesn’t publish the accurate list of Priority, Focus, and Targeted Intervention Schools from 2012. The list they have here was what the SDE submitted to the USDE as an example, before they had done actual calculations last year. That’s unfortunate if you’re listed here, but you actually weren’t on final School Improvement lists. It’s also unfortunate if you’re a blogger and you thought you’d take some time in the next few days to research whether the listed schools showed improvement. Not that I know anyone like that.

Barresi says one more thing in the article that struck me as strange. In addition to district grades being re-released later this week, she says the SDE “will issue a state grade.” If I’m not mistaken, that has been up on the A-F website since the school grades were released last week. For the record, Oklahoma earned a C-.

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