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2013 in review

December 31, 2013 Comments off

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 150,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 6 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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On Science, Executive Orders, and Plagarism

December 17, 2013 6 comments

We in the blogosphere kid Janet Barresi and Mary Fallin about their wild declarations sometimes. They get really excited when they’re letting us know that Oklahoma is Oklahoma and nobody is going to tell us what to do.

The problem is that there’s not an original idea between them. Somebody is always telling us what to do, and they’re letting it happen.

I posted late last week that the Oklahoma State Department of Education is asking for comments from Oklahomans like you on the new OASS (Oklahoma Academic Standards for Science). They want you to know believe that the standards were written by Oklahoma educators.

They weren’t. They were lifted, practically verbatim, from the Next Generation Science Standards. As Jenni White and Rob Miller point out in their analyses (which are eerily similar), reading the OASS side by side with the NGSS shows very little difference. Essentially, Oklahoma has removed references to evolution and climate change. That’s it. While both White and Miller (and I for that matter) like the structure and organization of the standards, we all deserve to be told the truth.

Of course, for six months, the SDE has been passing off the Common Core State Standards for English/Language Arts and Mathematics as the Oklahoma Academic Standards. As with the NGSS, the CCSS were developed by Achieve, Inc. That is the group driving standards, curriculum, and assessment in Oklahoma.

Naturally, because leaders of conservative states like ours pretend to believe in local control, they want to assert the state’s supremacy. That’s why Fallin issued an executive order declaring that those interloping Feds better keep their interloping hands off of our schools – except for special ed and Title I money of course. We need to be mad at the Feds for cutting that!

There are two reasons why her executive order makes me laugh. First is that the US Department of Education may have incentives for adopting CCSS and other poorly researched reforms (VAM, anyone?), but they are not the author, merchant, and carnival barker for them. That responsibility has fallen to the Chief State School Officers – especially the nine who are members of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. The second is that Fallin didn’t even write the executive order. It’s nearly identical to the one released in October by Iowa’s governor, and it’s nearly identical to the one released this week by Mississippi’s governor. The anti-Fed position is a red herring intended to disguise the fact that these governors are actually embracing the Common Core.

We shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that Oklahoma writes our own standards or executive orders when we don’t even write our own laws. We also shouldn’t believe that the tests that we’re going to pay Measured Progress to write for us are anything terribly different than what PARCC would have written before we pulled out of their tests (while trying to remain on their governing board). As the Request for Proposals issued by the SDE made clear, the tests will be written to PARCC specifications. And they shall be called OCCRA.

Now for the punchline: last week, the SDE released sample responses to the current fifth and eighth grade writing tests. Of note is how the instructions indicate scorers should deal with responses that do not fully cite their sources. Fifth graders will not have to use quotation marks or reference the title and author of sources. Eighth graders will not have to reference the title and author (which I suppose means that they will have to use quotation marks).

Using this as a reference point, I think we can say that our entire state government is performing pretty well when held to a fifth-grade standard. Another way to say this is that Oklahoma fifth graders who pass the state writing test are pretty much ready to be in charge of this state. Maybe this is why I tend to have so many citations in my posts.

For further reading, please see the following:

Next Generation Science Standards

Oklahoma Academic Standards for Science

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s Executive Order

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin’s Executive Order

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant’s Executive Order

SDE Memo on Citing Evidence on State Tests

Waiting on School Designations

December 16, 2013 1 comment

For the last few months, much of the public education narrative has been focusing on the release, problems with, and reactions to Oklahoma’s A-F Report Cards. Soon – eventually – the less publicized, but more impactful accountability measure will be released. I’m talking about federal designations.

While the letter grades schools receive don’t require them to take any action, being placed in one of the school improvement designations does. In accordance with Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind waiver, there are three improvement categories.

Focus Schools

  • The 10% of Title I and non-Title I schools in the State that either have the lowest performance for any of the three lowest achieving subgroups in the State within each grade span (elementary, PK-8, middle/junior high, and high school) for reading and mathematics based on the detailed criteria in Section 2.E of Oklahoma’s approved ESEA Flexibility Request and has not been designated as a High-Progress Reward School; or have the lowest graduation rate for either of the two subgroups with the lowest graduation rates in the State

Targeted Intervention Schools

  • Any Title I or non-Title I school that is identified as a D school based on the State’s A-F School Report Card System that has not been identified as a Priority School

Priority Schools

  • Any Title I or non-Title I school that is identified as an F school based on the State’s A-F School Report Card System
  • Any Title I school in the bottom 5% of Title I schools as well as any school in the bottom 5% of all schools (Title I and non-Title I) in each grade span (elementary, PK-8, middle/junior high, and high school) for reading and mathematics based on the detailed criteria in Section 2.D of Oklahoma’s approved ESEA Flexibility Request and has not been designated as a High-Progress Reward School
  • Any Title I-participating high school, Title I-eligible high school, and non-Title I high school in the State with a graduation rate below 60% for three consecutive years
  • Any Tier I school receiving School Improvement Grant (SIG) funds to implement a school intervention model

I know that all sounds confusing, and perhaps a little repetitive, but as always, I’m here to help.

The state selects the three lowest performing subgroups and then ranks all schools for their performance within those subgroups. There is a list for Title I schools, and a separate list for non-Title I schools. Within those lists are separate lists for elementary, middle and high schools. If a school is in the bottom 10% of any of those lists, it is on the Focus School list. If it is in the bottom 5% of any of those lists, it is on the Priority School list. Additionally, any school with a D is placed on the targeted intervention list, and any school with an F is placed on the Priority School list.

(I should also mention that the state will put out a list of Reward Schools as well. However, last year, most schools on the list were less than eager to claim their “prize.” Only 14 of 229 eligible schools applied.)

Here we are, the last week in December before Christmas Break, and schools still have not received their designations. This is problematic for many reasons. First is that each school on one of these lists has to complete an improvement plan. We know that all of the D and F schools will be on a list. We know that all of last year’s Focus and Priority schools will be on a list. But it’s possible that a D school could have been placed on the Priority School list and not even know it. It is also possible that a C school could be on either the Focus or Priority school lists. Each list comes with different requirements.

It is also important to note that last year’s Focus and Priority schools remain on the list (because they have to meet Annual Measurable Objectives for two years after being placed on the list). They have not been told if they made AMOs either, and this also impacts the work that goes into planning. In short, schools do not know how to tailor their improvement plans to satisfy the state’s requirements.

This is inexcusable. Once the testing company certified the data in October, the SDE had all the information it needed to calculate the A-F Report Cards. It also had all the information it needed to calculate the school improvement lists. If school improvement is something meaningful – something more than checklists, boring PowerPoints, and meaningless tasks – then schools need this information in a timely manner. It is also worth noting that the School Status Designation Appeal Form lists a due date of January 14. Actually it lists Friday, January 14, 2014, which isn’t even a real date (I swear I’m buying the SDE an editor for Christmas).

The form states schools will have 10 days to appeal their status. That means they are likely to remain in limbo until after New Year’s Day.

The A-F Report Cards are just window dressing. They require no work from schools, other than answering questions from patrons who seem more than capable of understanding how flawed they are. The NCLB waiver designations require a tremendous amount of work. It’s unfortunate that the SDE is causing that work to be delayed.

Same Straw Man, Different Day

December 14, 2013 10 comments

At first glance, today’s column in the Oklahoman seems like a minor departure for our state superintendent. She acknowledges the effects of poverty on learning. She uses a more conciliatory tone than she does in interviews and on the campaign trail.

Too many children come to school hungry, tired and ill-prepared to learn. More than half of Oklahoma kids in poverty are living with a single parent, many of whom are holding down two or more jobs just to make ends meet. Many of these children don’t have the benefit of an adult helping them with their homework, much less the use of books or a home computer.

That’s why the column is worth a second read. In spite of the subtle differences, the message remains consistent with everything she has ever said. She still believes Oklahoma schools are using poverty as an excuse rather than trying to help children.

Is poverty, then, good enough of a reason to hold these children to low expectations that essentially relegate them to a lesser education?

This is Janet Barresi’s standard Straw Man argument. What she doesn’t understand, having never spent a year teaching children in a high-poverty school, is that every teacher, principal, and staff member works to overcome these obstacles. At the end of the year, no good educator is satisfied with the results. Students take tests, and eventually, scores from those tests are converted into accountability measures.

As reflected by the A-F school grades released last month by the Oklahoma State Department of Education, there is often a correlation between students’ academic achievement and their income level.

That certainly isn’t the case universally. There are numerous cases of high-poverty schools that had exceptional performances. One such example is Southeast High School in Oklahoma City. Despite having 87 percent of its student body eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, the school earned an A overall. In the Putnam City district, Tulakes Elementary School — where more than 83 percent of students are on free or reduced-price lunches — earned a B-plus.

Barresi points to the outliers. Yes, they should be congratulated. Yes, we should delve heavily into exploring what works for them. We should not, however, accept the faulty logic of overlaying anecdotal evidence across every school in the state. If we do, then we should assume that every A school in the state is better than every B school in the state. I would argue differently. I have – repeatedly. A high-poverty school with a high grade has probably worked harder to get it. The B+ earned by Tulakes is probably more impressive than some of the higher grades earned by other schools.

It would be folly to deny the effects of poverty, but that should not, and cannot, allow for its acceptance. Poverty is a factor, not an excuse. We do no favors to children in low-income families when we hold them and their schools to a lesser standard of education. If we lower expectations for some students because of their economic condition, we in effect set them up for a future of closed doors and missed opportunities.

This is a matter of civil rights. A destitute child doesn’t warrant a good education any less than that of kids in comfortable suburbs. Schools alone can’t break the cycle of poverty, but providing a solid education for children in poverty can be a huge step toward giving them a pathway to a different future.

Nobody is arguing that a poor child deserves less of an education. Here she jabs again at her fictitious enemy. The calamity of it all is that she and her enablers know that poverty impacts achievement, but their solution continues to be blaming schools, rather than addressing poverty in our society.

Poverty creates a tremendous challenge for students, teachers and administrators. It will take a tremendous effort, but Oklahoma educators are more than up to the task.

If Barresi truly believed this last line, she wouldn’t continue insulting the profession and its professionals. She tells us in emails that it’s not her fault we aren’t doing our jobs. She calls out the “liberal education establishment” and those who would protect the status quo. She curses and pledges to block teachers from losing “another generation of Oklahoma’s children.”

Lost in this discussion is the picture of what working with students in poverty really entails. Schools not only struggle to meet their academic needs; they also lack the resources to attend to their physical, psychological, and social needs. Students in poverty don’t just lack adequate food and clothing. They are more likely to experience trauma in their home lives that interrupts the learning experience. Few schools have access to mental health professionals or social workers to regularly meet with children. Counselors are tied up managing the state testing program (in the schools that can still afford counselors).

Educators in schools with high poverty levels know that two things are true simultaneously. First, we want all students to succeed. Second, we know that no matter how hard we work we won’t always be successful. Understanding this balance between having high expectations and placing results in context is the key to remaining sane. It is not a lowering of expectations. It is not some Schrödingerian illusion in which two contradictory states exist simultaneously.

Having high expectations does not contradict with the understanding of the effects of poverty on learning. Not at all.

It’s time the state superintendent acknowledges this fact. What educators could use is more support, rather than two throw-away sentences at the end of another misleading opinion piece.

Please Comment on our OASS (Oklahoma Academic Standards for Science)!

December 13, 2013 3 comments

This afternoon, the Oklahoma State Department of Education is asking for your help. They have opened the public comment period for the new and improved science standards.

Public Invited to Comment on Proposed Oklahoma Academic Standards for Science

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 12/13/2013 03:54 PM CST

Proposed Changes to the State’s Science Standards

The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) has posted on the agency’s website the newly proposed draft of the Oklahoma Academic Standards for Science.

The draft is available on the OSDE’s Science webpage at http://www.ok.gov/sde/science.

Educators and the public are invited to submit written comments regarding the proposed draft. The public comment period is from Dec. 13, 2013, to Jan. 17, 2014.  All comments must be received by 4 p.m. on Jan. 17, 2014.

Send written submissions to the Oklahoma State Department of Education at 2500 N. Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK 73105-4599.

It is recommended that the introductory sections of the proposed draft be read prior to reviewing the standards including:

  • Introduction, Revision Process and Document Structure pgs. 4-7
  • State Superintendent Janet Barresi’s message pg. 8

The draft version is available in PDF.  For ease of access to the separate sections and chapters, bookmarks are provided on the navigation bar to the side of the document.

Writing and draft teams of more than 50 representatives from K-12, higher education, scientists, engineers, parent and community members from throughout the state developed and provided feedback on the standards, meeting multiple times. More than 500 educators throughout the state were involved in reviewing the standards.

As the bulletin states, there is a PDF you can download and review. After 238 pages, you may have a few questions (such as “Do these standards make my OASS look big?”)

While I am reviewing, I will keep the first two sentences from the introduction in mind.

Science uses observation and experimentation to explain natural phenomena. Science refers to an organized body of knowledge that includes core ideas to the disciplines of science and common themes that bridge the disciplines.

My comments will reflect any items that deviate from these principles. I will also be mindful of the hard work of all the Oklahomans who developed these standards. Their time should be appreciated by all of us.

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Roster Verification: The Pilot

December 13, 2013 6 comments

In this episode of Roster Verification, Janet and her friends experience some wacky shenanigans and unfortunate misunderstandings. Mr. Roper comes in and makes everybody feel terribly uncomfortable. In the end, everybody learns a valuable lesson about hubris.

In the television universe, production companies develop single episodes of new shows to try to sell a series to a network. This is called a pilot. In a typical year, about three pilots are developed for every show that airs.

An actual television pilot

An actual television pilot

In education reform, we only tend to pilot programs to which we have already committed, either through policy or contract (or both). That’s why teachers and administrators were excited this week to receive the following email from the SDE:

Roster Verification Coming Soon!In order to successfully collect data for the 35 percent quantitative portion of TLE, teachers will utilize a process called Roster Verification to properly link themselves to the students they teach.Why is Roster Verification important?  This process is important because no one is more knowledgeable about a teacher’s academic responsibility than the teacher of that classroom!  Rightfully so, teachers should have the opportunity to identify factors that affect their value-added results (e.g., student mobility and shared-teaching assignments).In order to assist teachers throughout this process, the Oklahoma State Department of Education (SDE) has partnered with Battelle for Kids (BFK), a non-profit school improvement organization. Together, SDE and BFK will provide teachers with an easy-to-use data collection instrument, Roster Verification training, and communication resources.During February, 2014 the Office of Educator Effectiveness is hosting webinars on Roster Verification.  The webinars will explain how to use the Batelle for Kids program to link students and teachers accurately.  Five sessions will be offered at various times.  We encourage administrators and/or data personnel to sign up for a session.  The same information will be covered at each session, and one session will be recorded and posted on the TLE Web page to access anytime.

TLE Roster Verification Webinars

Feb. 24, 1:00 – 2:30 PM;  Feb. 25, 9:00 – 10:30 AM;  Feb. 26, 3:00 – 4:30 PM; Feb. 27, 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM; Feb. 28, 9:00 – 10:30 AM

To register for a webinar session, go to:  https://oksdetraining.webex.com and click on the “upcoming” tab.  Select one of the webinars titled TLE Roster Verification.

As required by state statute, mandatory roster verification is scheduled for the spring of 2014 and should be completed by all districts.

To learn more about roster verification, please access the following link: http://ok.gov/sde/tle-roster-verification

The catch is that 2013-14 is a pilot year. Districts must participate at all of their school sites, but they can select which teachers to use. They can use one teacher, one department, or the whole school. They are testing, more or less, how well the information tracks.

When Roster Verification is in full effect, we will eventually be able to calculate how much time each student spent with each teacher in each grade. That way, as the email suggests, we will know which teachers add the most value.

I’ve made my opinions on VAM clear before. We’re going to be making personnel decisions based on test scores. In some cases, these decisions will impact teachers in non-tested grades and subjects. Roster verification is a process by which we assign a percentage of responsibility to different teachers for a student’s growth. By responsibility, of course, I mean credit and blame.

If you’re a first grade teacher, eventually we will be able to tell you what percentage of the students you’ve taught passed the third grade reading test, took accelerated math classes in middle school, and graduated high school on time. We’ll also be able to tell you how many of your students were retained in third grade, struggled in math down the road, and dropped out.

To conduct Roster Verification (and VAM), the SDE has contracted with Batelle for Kids. Here’s how BFK describes themselves:

Battelle for Kids is a national, not-for-profit organization that provides counsel and solutions to advance the development of human capital systems, the use of strategic measures, practices for improving educator effectiveness, and communication with all stakeholders in schools.

Those who have read this blog for a while know I get twitchy around the words nonprofit or not-for-profit. Essentially, I loathe the idea that you can count as a charitable donation money you have given to an organization that really isn’t a charity.

Looking up their most recent tax form 990 on Guidestar, I found out a few interesting things about BFK. Here is some basic financial information from 2011:

Total Revenue $21,398,999
Total Expenses $18,761,469
Revenue Less Expenses $2,637,530
Beginning Fund Balance $8,896,988
Ending Fund Balance $11,534,518

With such a healthy ending fund balance, I do hope they gave all of their employees a $2,000 raise!

This clearly is a non-profit on the rise. As I’ve said before, I don’t mind people making money. Profit is a good thing. I just abhor the doublespeak of non-profits making so much money. Where they make and spend their money is also interesting. They are heavily funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They have taken money from Race to the Top. Their top 11 executives all have six-figure salaries (as do two additional consultants).

Imagine the outrage if a school district in Oklahoma with a $21 million budget had 11 employees making over $100,000 (with the leader earning about $421,000). Imagine the outrage if Governor Fallin’s supporters knew that Oklahoma’s teacher evaluation system was entangled with Race to the Top, the hallmark of federal interference.

Roster verification does not benefit students. It does not give parents or teachers more information to make decisions. It simply creates additional work for already overextended teachers and principals while lining the pockets of out-of-state companies that are beholden to the corporate reform agenda.

Unfortunately, we know the network has picked up this pilot and bought several seasons worth of episodes.

About the OPI Ranges

December 12, 2013 2 comments

As long-time readers know, I go through spells in which I don’t write much. They are usually followed by stretches in which I write too much. That doesn’t stop me from reading and tweeting profusely, however.

During the last eight days or so since I last posted, one of the things I’ve most enjoyed reading has been the Oklahoma Policy Institute article on our A-F Report Cards. Gene Perry provides a measured discussion of the ways in which the formula stacks the deck against high-poverty schools.

Perry mentions some of the flaws with the way growth points are calculated for the report card. I want to add a little bit of context to the discussion. Below, I have included two tables – one for reading and one for math. Each includes the Oklahoma Performance Index (scale score) range for all tested grades or subjects.*

2013 Reading OPI Ranges

Test

U

LK

P

A

3rd

400-643

650-696

703-870

903-990

4th

400-651

658-697

703-832

856-990

5th

400-639

645-697

705-828

860-990

6th

400-646

652-699

706-822

833-990

7th

400-666

668-694

700-797

818-990

8th

400-651

658-699

701-821

842-990

English II

440-608

616-699

702-814

817-999

English III

440-668

670-699

701-801

802-999

 

2013 Math OPI Ranges

Test

U

LK

P

A

3rd

400-627

635-697

704-792

808-990

4th

400-637

644-693

700-798

815-990

5th

400-636

644-697

704-788

800-990

6th

400-662

666-699

700-794

796-990

7th

400-673

680-695

702-798

807-990

8th

400-641

649-698

700-769

774-990

Algebra I

490-658

665-696

700-760

764-999

Algebra II

440-647

657-696

702-781

787-999

Geometry

440-629

637-698

703-775

781-999

The first thing I notice is that the OPI ranges vary considerably. The more important thing I notice is that from grade-to-grade, OPI growth can actually lead to a loss in score range. For example, a student with a 650 OPI in reading in grade three would be in the Limited Knowledge range, but a student with a 651 (gain of 1 point) in grade four would be Unsatisfactory. A similar pattern follows other years of growth:

2013 OPI Growth Quirks

Subject

Span

Lowest LK

Highest U

Growth

Reading

3rd to 4th

650

651

1

Reading

5th to 6th

645

646

1

Reading

6th to 7th

652

666

14

English

II to III

616

668

52

Math

3rd to 4th

635

637

2

Math

5th to 6th

644

662

18

Math

6th to 7th

666

673

7

Math

8th to Alg. I

649

658

9

This matters because parents, teachers, and even legislators to whom I have spoken all find the calculation of growth points to be the hardest part of the report card to understand. This is supposed to be transparent. This is supposed to be easy and sensible. It is not.

In both years that we have had A-F Report Cards, it has bothered me (along with many other people) that growth is only calculated using students whose OPI scores increased. Among the many problems I have with that is that we don’t even have consistent lines of demarcation between each of the score ranges. If your OPI increased, but your performance level decreased, does that show growth at all?

*This analysis does not include OMAAP tests. Doing so would open another can of worms altogether. Since the OMAAPs are sadly gone after 2013, I’m going to leave that particular can closed for now.

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