Archive for February, 2014

Voucher Bill Fails in Committee

February 27, 2014 4 comments

Yesterday evening, about the time I went to dinner, just from reading the tea leaves following social media, I was convinced that HB 3398 – the Voucher Bill – was going to pass committee. It was either going to be a tie vote with the passing vote broken by House Speaker Hickman, or several of the Republican no votes were going to leave the committee room before the vote was called.

I came back from dinner and was pleasantly surprised. By a vote of 14-8, the bill failed. Here’s the breakdown:




Mike Christian, Sally Kern, Mark McCullough, Jason Nelson, Tom Newell, Leslie Osborn, Sean Roberts, Colby Schwartz Don Armes, Mike Brown, Ann Coody, Doug Cox, Lee Denney, Joe Dorman, Chuck Hoskin, Scott Martin, Jeannie McDaniel, Skye McNiel, Jerry McPeak, Richard Morrissette, Eric Proctor, Earl Sears Lisa Billy, Mike Ritze, Mike Sanders, Weldon Watson, Paul Wesselhoft

This shows me that the email and phone calls helped. It would be worth reaching out to the people you contacted initially and letting them know you appreciate them listening to you. It’s also why so many of us are planning a field trip to the Capitol on March 31st. As poorly planned as this bill was, it’s a drop in the bucket compared with the funding problems that schools are facing. Add A-F Report Cards, RSA, and Common Core to the frustration being felt in homes and schools, and there will be plenty to discuss.

Let’s also not kid ourselves into thinking that the idea of vouchers is dead. Jason Nelson still believes in sending public funding to private schools and not adding accountability. He has also stated that the only reason he wouldn’t push for all-out vouchers (rather than just based on family income) is because he knows it has no chance of passing. He’s surely not the only one who feels this way, and he’s surely not the only one who has read the ALEC and FEE playbooks.

For now at least, logic prevailed and the majority of our representatives listened to their constituents. For that, we should feel thankful.

Reading Sufficiency: A Tale of Two Papers – Part 849

February 26, 2014 5 comments

The Oklahoman made a splash again this morning with the editorial, Conspiracies, anecdotes no substitute for analysis. The title itself is the deepest part of the piece, but let me quote from it anyway:

Consider a recent Owasso forum focused on education. At that event, some attendees complained about a new law requiring retention of third-grade students who read at only a first-grade level or lower, based on state tests. The fact that children should be taught to read should be obvious, yet the law still has detractors.

Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, has filed legislation to allow parents, teachers and local school board members to socially promote students even when tests show a child is far behind classmates. Nollan’s argument for her bill rested, in part, on an anecdote. “I had a third-grader in my district who threw up on her test,” Nollan said. “This is an 8-year-old.”

Think about that: The justification given for changing a major state law is that a single child out of roughly 50,000 third-grade students in Oklahoma once vomited during testing. The law of averages suggests this scenario happens at schools every day across Oklahoma, regardless of whether testing is ongoing. That child could have simply been sick, or other factors may have induced stress. Yet that isolated instance is pointed to as justification for watering down efforts to teach children to read.

To politicians, anecdotes are the gold standard. Without them, we wouldn’t have the Merry Christmas Bill, the Pop Tart Gun Bill, or so many more of the fabulous entries into our state’s legislative record. Just think back to any presidential debate from the past 20 years. Every candidate has cherry-picked someone’s tale of woe and made it the symbol of what’s wrong with this country.

In this case, however, I’m siding with the politician. I have seen the increase in anxiety. I have seen the students crying after their benchmark tests. I have seen teachers whipped into a frenzy over the fear that in spite all their efforts, a student will have a bad test day and they won’t have the documentation to promote the child anyway.

Selective story-telling isn’t limited to politicians, by the way. The editorialists at the Oklahoman missed the big ideas from the parent meeting. Fortunately, the journalists at the Tulsa World were on hand to do something resembling reporting.

Seven legislators and Joel Robison, chief of staff for state Superintendent Janet Barresi, took questions from more than 100 people who asked questions and shared concerns about education funding, the Reading Sufficiency Act and other issues…

Several people also spoke about their opposition to the third-grade reading law, which this year requires third-graders to show proficiency on their reading test or be retained in the third grade.

Robison told parents that there are six ways a third-grader could be promoted to fourth grade after failing the reading test. But one parent told him that has backfired in her daughter’s third-grade class.

“What’s happening, sir, is they are taking instruction time from our children to build a portfolio on every single child just in case they don’t pass,” she said.

After a pause, Robison said, “That’s unfortunate,” bringing a chorus of groans from the audience.

Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, said she has heard that as many as 4,000 third-graders could be retained this year. Robison said state officials estimate that about 12 percent of the state’s third-graders would be in danger of retention.

“Overtesting, teaching to the test, high-stakes testing — all has been detrimental,” said Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs. “I had a third-grader in my district who threw up on her test. This is an 8-year-old.”

She said she has introduced a bill that allows for a team of parents, teachers and principals to decide after remediation whether a child should be promoted to the fourth grade.

“We’re really hoping to put it back into your hands to make the decisions,” Nollan said. “The people on the front lines are the best people to make the decision as to whether a child should be retained or promoted.”

The story, when told in full, is much more interesting. The key word here is parents. It’s not just teachers and administrators who hate the mandatory retention law; it’s parents too. Even ones who should have no concerns about how this will impact their children are unnerved. The Oklahoman believes parents should hold the schools accountable for wasting the time of all students by doing the portfolios (which of course are one of the good cause exemptions – and something REAC3H coaches are training districts to complete under the watch of the SDE). On a greater level, what parents should really demand is that we quit wasting such an insane amount of time on high-stakes testing. And by time, I also mean tens of millions of dollars a year.

During a Q&A with KFOR in Oklahoma City yesterday (questions = softballs & answers = blame teachers), Superintendent Barresi did everything the Oklahoman editorial decries. She discussed her sons’ struggles with reading (anecdotal evidence). And she blamed all of the adults for creating the anxiety being felt by Oklahoma’s students.

To that end, I’d agree with her. I just think she’s blaming the wrong adults.

Fortunately, some of the grown ups in Oklahoma City have been listening to parents. Yesterday, the House Education Committee advanced two bills that would provide more options to parents of third graders in lieu of retention. The only two who voted no on each bill were Sally Kern and Jason Nelson. I’ll let that fact speak for itself.

Two More Questions on the Voucher Bill

February 20, 2014 1 comment

You may have heard that HB 3398 – the voucher bill – was laid over yesterday. That means the House Appropriations and Budget Committee will hear it today (on the schedule for 11:30). Yesterday, I posted three questions I hope committee members will ask the bill’s sponsors. Today, I pose two more.

  1. Will this bill really help children in poverty change schools? The numbers don’t lie. Private school education isn’t cheap. A voucher won’t be the tipping point for low-income families. It might help some middle-income families, but not very many. Also, for many of the families in urban areas, additional barriers such as transportation will come into play.
  2. What can we do to make public schools more attractive to the public? That’s the real issue here. It’s easy to talk about giving parents choices, but law after law limits what parents can choose for their children within public schools. I wrote a post over a year ago titled The School I Choose, which outlines the qualities that I believe most parents want in a school. Generally, I believe public schools provide more of these qualities than private schools do. There are exceptions both on the public and private end, however. I acknowledge that. Some of the missing elements are due to ever-increasing unfunded mandates. That is within the legislature’s control to change.

I also encourage you to read Seth Meier and Wesley Fryer’s thoughts on the voucher bill. And please contact any and all committee members and let your feelings be known.

Three Questions for the A & B Committee to Ask

February 19, 2014 4 comments

The House Appropriations and Budget Committee will hear HB 3398, creating Oklahoma Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) today. Here are three questions I hope they ask.

  1. How many Oklahoma students currently attend public school on a transfer outside of the school district in which they reside? One of the big talking points of the bill’s sponsors is that children should not be limited by their zip code. I’ve even heard Jeb Bush say this on multiple occasions. The committee should do a little fact-finding. To what extent are transfers allowed, and to what extent are they denied? Ask the bill’s sponsors what their personal experience is with transferring children to a district other than the one in which they pay property taxes.
  2. Why does the bill preclude the state from extending assessment and accountability to any private schools receiving students on a voucher? Our state superintendent loves to say that measuring is caring – or something like that. The bill’s sponsors vote for every test and accountability system that comes before them, no matter what experiences other states have tried with them. Why can’t the state – if it’s going to spend money in private schools – determine the quality of the investment?
  3. If this measure is about parental choice, why not just listen to parents who are furious over the reforms the state is handing down to public schools? Whether it’s the Common Core, Reading Sufficiency, A-F Report Cards, or increasing the time, cost, and importance of testing, parents’ opinions have not been heard. Overall, people tend to like the schools their children attend. This would probably be more true if the policy makers would listen to parents and educators.

That’s all I have today. You can read additional concerns from CCOSA, USSA, and OSSBA. Most importantly, contact any and all committee members and let your feelings be known.

Voucher Bill to be Heard Tomorrow

February 18, 2014 2 comments

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m no fan of vouchers. Call them Education Savings Accounts, or anything else; all they do is take money from public schools and put them into private schools – with no accountability. Since you’ve already heard from me on this subject, here’s today’s notice from CCOSA:


HB 3398 by Representative Jason Nelson (R-OKC) and Representative Tom Newell (R-Seminole) creates the Oklahoma Education Savings Account (ESA) Act.  If passed, Oklahoma would become the second state in the nation, behind Arizona, to have Education Savings Accounts.  ESA’s are accounts for eligible students to pay education expenses incurred through enrollment in a non-public school settings.  To be eligible, a student must commit to withdraw from enrollment in a public school in Oklahoma AND meet certain income requirements as set forth in the bill.


HB 3398 will be heard by the House Appropriations and Budget Committee on Wednesday, February 19 at 4:30 p.m.


Please contact EVERY MEMBER of the House Appropriations Committee BEFORE 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 19th and ask committee members to VOTE NO ON HB 3398.


  • Oklahoma’s public schools deserve the support of the Legislature so that they can continue to be the school of choice.
  • Taxpayers are not given the opportunity to opt out of publicly funded programs:
    • Ex. Most Oklahomans do not plan to go to prison yet our taxpayer dollars support the Department of Corrections.
      • Under the logic of HB 3398, those taxpayers not going to prison should get a refund of the portion of their taxes that are used to subsidize that “government run institution” because they are choosing not to go there.
  • Ex. Some Oklahomans will never visit a state park and/or recreation facility maintained by the State Department of Tourism.
    • Under the logic of HB 3398, Oklahoma taxpayers not using state parks and recreation facilities should receive a refund of the portion of their tax dollars that are used to support those parks and recreational facilities that the taxpayer does not use or enjoy.
    • HB 3398 has limited accountability mechanisms in place to ensure that taxpayer dollars used to pay for the private and/or homeschool education of students are not misused.
      • HB 3398 will result in the creation of additional bureaucratic positions to monitor the conduct of private citizens and private schools participating in the ESA program.

Actual Ideas for Actual Needs

February 18, 2014 Comments off

Today’s editorial in the Oklahoman (side note – wondering how many blog posts I’ve started that way) questions HB 2642 by Representative Lee Denney which would increase earmarked funding for education by $57 million this year and $575 million annually by 2023. The paper finds multiple flaws with this plan:

Schools, by the way, already get directly apportioned money off the top. That sum has increased from about $1 billion in 2004 to $1.4 billion this year. A similar effort significantly improved transportation funding, but there are important differences. For one thing, lawmakers truly neglected transportation for decades. The 2005 state appropriation was virtually unchanged from 1985 — and the condition of Oklahoma roads proved it.

In comparison, public schools are typically a top legislative priority. The $575 million increase Denney seeks over 10 years may sound impressive, but the Legislature increased school funding by $524 million in just four years between 2005 and 2009 — even as income taxes were cut. Recent years have seen some reductions to state school funding, but that action was forced by the national recession, not legislative hostility.

Furthermore, schools aren’t solely reliant on state funds. Districts’ local tax revenues have increased substantially since 2008. The amount districts carried over at the end of each fiscal year has surged 67 percent, rising from $460 million to $771 million from 2007 to 2013. Denney’s proposal would put school spending increases on autopilot, regardless of actual need, increased local funding or whether existing funds are being used efficiently. This would likely force discretionary budget cuts elsewhere, such as public safety, even when total revenues increase.

During the last six years, it’s been hard to argue that public schools have been the top legislative priority. Taxes have been a higher priority. Social bills that spur expensive legal challenges before being overturned by the courts have been a higher priority. In fact, the last two legislative sessions, since I’ve been watching closely as a blogger, education funding hasn’t been set until nearly the last minute.

The local funding argument also doesn’t hold water. In 2008, state funding accounted for 53% of all district revenue, while local funding produced 35%. By 2012, the splits were 48% and 39%. I don’t have the 2013 and 14 numbers, but the trend has moved in this direction for more than a decade. Yes, education saw a surge of funding in the middle of the last decade. This was after another downturn in 2002-04. Meanwhile, enrollment continues its steady growth and legislative mandates continue to skyrocket. Additionally, because of SQ 766, school districts have already started feeling the loss of local tax revenue, to the tune of $60 million annually – $23 million for AT&T alone (which should be used to help their network quit dropping calls).

The most insulting part of the editorial was the use of the phrase regardless of actual need. The SDE recognizes that the teacher shortage being felt in many parts of the state right now is only going to get worse. Although Janet Barresi’s recommendations are a mix of good ideas (restoring the Teacher Residency Program) and bad ones (increasing the pipeline from non-traditional workforce pipelines, such as TFA), they show that she’s paying attention to the problem. Superficially, so does her 2K4T campaign gimmick. Yes teachers deserve a raise. Yes, some districts have large carryovers right now. Some don’t, however. Bleeding your reserves dry is not a sustainable strategy for improving teacher morale (which Marisa Dye explains extremely well).

Many legislators are starting to grasp the severity of the problem. Yesterday, two bills increasing teacher pay were passed out of committee. This would cost about $237 million annually. That’s more than the Fallin budget, which offers no specific details. That’s more than the Barresi budget, which has way too much money tabbed for programs outside of the funding formula. Pat Ownbey from Ardmore has an idea of how to pay for this.

The source of funding would be a tax break on horizontal drilling. When the tax break was granted by the state, horizontal drilling was seen as an experimental endeavor. To stimulate drilling, a 7 percent tax on production was dropped to 1 percent. Ownbey said the tax break is scheduled to expire this year. A tax of one percent gives the state $332 million.

“If we negotiated somewhere in between one and seven percent, we would have enough to take care of the teachers and some of the state workers that have not received a pay increase,” Ownbey said. “The tax break was given over a period of time so they could experiment with horizontal drilling, and it worked. It has done a great job, but the period of experimentation is over. It is not like we are running up taxes.”

Ownbey said Texas charges 6 percent and South Dakota charges 11 percent. Former Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon (R-Lawton) is in favor of making the tax break permanent to encourage drilling, but Ownbey said new House Speaker Jeff Hickman (R-Fairview) has not closed the door on the issue.

“We have infrastructure we are not taking care of,” Ownbey said. “I talked to the speaker to see where he stood on it, and he is not closing the door on it. My thoughts, on what he told me, are that it is an issue worth looking at it.

“The companies are coming to Oklahoma because the oil is in the ground. We need to look at this revenue as revenue we can invest in our infrastructure.”

The money is there, and somebody has a plan for making it available where it’s needed. This is where the legislature needs to focus. It might not be what the Oklahoman wants, but maybe that means we’re getting somewhere.

Help Wanted

February 16, 2014 Comments off

In case you haven’t heard, the SDE’s assistant superintendent for accountability and assessments will vacate her position March 14. Although the testing program has not run all that smoothly under Maridyth McBee’s watch, the timing of this change is a concern for those in school districts who manage testing, which starts on April 10. Two pieces of news should be of tremendous comfort, however.

First is that the SDE has a seasoned veteran of testing at the ready to serve in an interim capacity. From the Tulsa World:

[SDE Director of Communications Phil] Bacharach said Wes Bruce, a nationally recognized consultant in the field who has been working with the department since before McBee’s decision, agreed to expand his role in assessments in the interim.

“We do anticipate a smooth transition,” he said. A national search is already underway for her successor. and Bacharach said there are some strong candidates in the field.

Bruce is the former chief assessment officer for the Indiana Department of Education under former Superintendent Tony Bennett, who lost the election in 2012 for another term.

Bennett then became Florida’s education commissioner. He resigned less than eight months later amid accusations that he changed the state’s A-F grading formula to raise the grade of a charter school backed by influential Republican donors. Bruce retired last fall under Bennett’s successor, Glenda Ritz.

Let’s recap the connections here. Bennett is one of Barresi’s closest political allies. What she and her supporters (to the extent that they exist apart from her own checkbook) don’t copy from Florida, they copy from Indiana. Faced with a testing debacle nearly identical to Oklahoma’s at the exact same time, Ritz – an actual educator – held the testing company accountable in a meaningful way.

What led the SDE to decide we needed Bruce on our payroll is unclear. But it’s a good thing he saw fit to pack up and leave his home and put his skills to work for another state.

Bacharach said Bruce does not live in Oklahoma. “But under terms of his agreement with SDE, he is here for a number of days each month and is in routine contact via Skype, email, etc.,” he said.

It is unclear whether that will continue under his interim leadership.

Well that’s different. This guy is phoning  Skyping it in. But he has close ties to PARCC, which helps because…oh wait, it’s not. We pulled out of PARCC.

Still, this is only temporary. Bacharach also said a national search is already underway for McBee’s permanent replacement. By already underway, of course, they mean on back channels. Currently, no job posting appears on the Careers at SDE page.

Maybe they’re trying to find the right words to use in the job description. If that’s the case, allow me to help. That is what I’m known for, after all.

Assistant State Superintendent for Accountability and Assessments

General description

Under general supervision from the State Board of Education (SBE) and with diligent collaboration with Oklahoma school district personnel, effectively lead the state testing program in accordance with all state and federal laws, always maintaining the best interest of students.

Minimum Qualifications

  • Master’s degree in education, testing, or related field from an accredited college or university (doctorate degree preferred)
  • Five years successful employment in as a public school employee, leading to an understanding of school district operations
  • Five years in a leadership capacity in the testing field, either with a public agency or a company that specializes in assessment.
  • Residence in Oklahoma


  • Knowledge of validity and reliability of data, as well as the inherent limitations of high-stakes testing
  • Ability to make the testing company or companies with which the state contracts work in the best interest of the students of Oklahoma, rather than making the students of Oklahoma work for the benefit of the vendor(s)
  • Skill in communicating promptly with stakeholders regarding concerns with the state testing program
  • Ability to lead a team of content area assessment specialists who will ensure that test items align with Oklahoma Academic Standards (but definitely nothing federal)
  • Knowledge of Oklahoma school districts and the qualities that make each different
  • Understanding of the impact of socio-economic factors on student achievement and recognition of the extent to which they predict standardized test results

Examples of Work Performed

  • Successfully complete all required student testing (and a limited amount of item tryouts) within each school year’s testing window and with the least possible amount of disruption to instruction
  • Coordinate and conduct training of Oklahoma school personnel on the implementation of the Oklahoma School Testing Program (OSTP) College and Career Readiness Assessment (OCCRA)
  • Closely advise the SDE communication team on future renaming, rebranding, and marketing efforts, should such an occasion present itself
  • Coordinate and conduct training of any testing vendor(s) about the extent to which Oklahoma school district calendars, technology, and staffing levels impact the ability of the state to conduct standardized testing
  • Ensure student confidentiality at all times, including any appeals made on behalf of children to the SBE
  • Utilize practicing Oklahoma educators and the input they provide in the item selection and standard setting processes
  • Establish performance levels for each state assessment prior to the testing window each school year
  • Align with state research universities to determine the efficacy of state and federally enacted accountability systems
  • Advocate for students to the SBE relative to the impact of federal and state laws and policies on their academic progress
  • Develop strategies for communicating the impact of the state’s assessment and accountability policies on specific populations, such as special education students and English language learners
  • Construct a definition of Full Academic Year that school district personnel can both understand and accept

I looked at a posted position for the formatting, but the language definitely reflects my own preferences. This probably has more boxes that a school district would check than what a state agency under the indirect control of Chiefs for Change would check. In short, I hope the person who replaces McBee on a permanent basis is not a Jeb Bush/Tony Bennett/Janet Barresi crony. I’m hopeful we can find an Oklahoma educator with a strong testing background.

And of course, I wish Dr. McBee well in her post-SDE life.

Benchmarks and Testlets and Pilots, oh my!

February 11, 2014 5 comments

It was bound to happen. Once Measured Progress won the right to administer our 3-8 Reading* and Math tests, you knew they had to do something to pad their profit. In emails across the state today:

We at Measured Progress are honored to have been chosen by the Oklahoma State Department of Education to serve as assessment partner for the Oklahoma College and Career Readiness Assessment (OCCRA). The OCCRA will reflect the learning expectations articulated by Oklahoma’s new state academic standards.

Since the award was announced we have heard from many Oklahoma district administrators who are looking for assessments comparable in rigor and depth to that of the new academic standards. We are pleased to offer Measured Progress COMMON CORETM Assessments–a suite of testing tools specifically designed for use in the classroom and available now. While we are aware that Oklahoma has developed state-specific academic standards, we also know that the two sets of standards are parallel in rigor.

To be clear, the COMMON CORE Assessments are not predictors of student performance on the OCCRA or any other high-stakes test. Rather, they are formative assessment instruments that provide teachers with data to inform and adjust instruction. They also offer students the opportunity to take assessments similar in quality and depth to that of the new state assessment.

COMMON CORE Assessments include:

  • Benchmarks–tests that can be administered four times a year to give teachers valuable feedback about students’ grasp of the standards
  • Testlets–short, targeted quizzes that cover key standards and help teachers focus instruction
  • Item Bank–selected-response, short-answer, and constructed-response items that enable teachers to build their own classroom assessments

The Measured Progress COMMON CORE Assessments are delivered on a platform provided by our technology partner, eMetric, giving students the chance to take classroom tests on an interface virtually identical to what they’ll see on the state assessment. We are also preparing to pilot with districts a new generation of science assessments, as well as curriculum-embedded performance assessments–both built to reflect the state of the art in technology and content quality.

I will be calling you in the next couple of weeks to explore how we might help you make your local assessment program more effective and informative. In the meantime, please visit our website to learn more about the Measured Progress COMMON CORE Assessments. And if you are interested in participating in our science pilot, please visit our website or send an e-mail to our Product Management Group.

I want to see a show of hands. Which of you Oklahoma administrators have been pestering these poor people over the last three months? Let them breathe already! They’ve been busy preparing field tests item tryouts for our students to take after they’ve taken their real tests. If they don’t opt out that is. Because that would be wrong.

It sounds like Measured Progress is ready to provide something that schools are getting right now from Acuity for free. I just wonder at what cost. And they can’t say this strongly enough, but the benchmark test is no predictor for what will become OCCRA.

I am still giggling every time I say or read that. I have no plans to stop.

The kicker comes in the last sentence – the science pilot. Funny – I don’t think Measured Progress is our testing vendor for science. What’s that about, you ask?

Why Participate?

  • Students will get exposure to more rigorous science content likely to be seen in future Next Generation Science (NGSS) curriculum and assessments— through testlets and curriculum-embedded performance tasks.
  • Educators can evaluate the rigor of these new items and determine how well items helped them assess student understanding of the NGSS.
  • Feedback from students and educators will help inform the development of standards-based science assessments at Measured Progress.

What will my district pilot?

  • Districts can choose to pilot short pre-configured testlets and/or curriculum-embedded performance tasks.
  • Testlets are a collection of items that include five to seven items and cover grades 3-8, targeting specific Performance Expectations from NGSS.

What will be expected of educators and students in my district?

  • Curriculum-embedded performance assessments cover science content in grades 6-8; districts can also pilot an integrated math, ELA, and science task designed for fifth graders. 

  • All administrators must sign a non-disclosure agreement.

  • Pilot assessment materials will be administered between February and mid-May of this school year.

  • Educators will use available rubrics to evaluate student work and return completed student work to Measured Progress by June 1, 2014.

  • Participants will take part in an online training, which goes over administration, scoring, and how to complete the feedback survey.

But Oklahoma didn’t adopt the NGSS – we have OASS. It’s totally different! Besides, this is just an opportunity to sample their wares – not their instructional materials, but their test items. It’s not a field test. It’s not even an official item tryout. It’s a pilot. They’ve found another thing to call subjecting our students to tests that have no meaning. The creativity of these people will never end!

Keep in mind the benefit to us as educators is only that we get to see assessment items that may align to the new science standards, even though the state has not yet begun the process of selecting a vendor for those assessments. There’s no training over the standards themselves or how to improve instruction. This will absolutely be testing for its own sake. The testing company will benefit. Schools will not.

Welcome to the testing mélange, Measured Progress. You’re gonna fit in pretty well around here.


*It’s not all reading. It never is.

What Does the Angry Mob Say?

February 8, 2014 8 comments

Yesterday’s hot topic across social media – other than whether or not Bob Costas should wear an eye patch during the Olympic broadcasts – was the outrage expressed by two Oklahoma legislators over the Oklahoma Education Coalition plan to rally at the Capitol (if it’s still standing by then) on March 31.

“It’s indefensible for government entities to use government resources to lobby government for more taxpayer money for more government,” Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, said in a news release. “It’s also extremely inappropriate for government entities to pressure their employees to take time away from their important duties to lobby for money for that entity.”

State Rep. Mike Turner, R-Oklahoma City, agreed.

“This sort of behavior should not be tolerated by our schools or any other state agency participating in this gross abuse of your hard-earned money,” Turner said.

To the best of my knowledge, Murphey now holds the Oklahoma record for most uses of the word government in a sentence of that length. We’re asking the Elias Sports Bureau to check the archives, but I’m pretty sure of this.

Gentlemen, what is indefensible that over the past five years, Oklahoma’s public schools have taken the largest cuts of any state in the country. Last year, the legislature appropriated more money than at any other time in history, yet funding for education still does not approach pre-recession levels. The number of students served increases. The mandates increase. Testing – the number of tests and cost per test – continue to increase.

Let me try to illustrate some of the outrage Oklahomans feel. Last weekend, a reader made a comment on one of my posts that effectively captures the mood of many Oklahoma educators and parents.

The use of a group of 10 students was instituted when the State Board of Ed decided to not follow the recommendation of the Teachers and the Commission that evaluated this idea. they recommended staying with 15 for statistical validity. Of course valid results are not at all what the SDE is after. Also as shown by last year’s biology tests if this years history tests scores are too high they will raise the cut scores ex post facto and make it look like whatever they (the SDE) want. I think the March on the Capitol March 31st is a good idea but I think we need to show up with pitch forks, axes and flaming torches.

He is responding to the decision by the State Board of Education to use groups of ten students for accountability purposes. (The commenter added in a follow-up that he was being facetious about the angry mob stuff.) It is another example that shows how the Barresi administration pulls together groups to do their legwork for them and then disregards their recommendations. In fact, it is another example of the lack of respect that the SDE frequently shows for the education profession as a whole.

This is why so many concerned Oklahomans are going to the Capitol next month. It’s about money. It’s about policy. It’s about respect. None of those things are going in the right direction at this moment. Many school districts across the state are taking that day off (a day which will be made up). Others are sending representatives while still holding school. More importantly, parents are involved – many, many parents.

We should also remember that this isn’t a conservative vs. liberal issue. It’s not just one part of the state either. Altus. Tuttle. Edmond. Clinton. Sand Springs. These are conservative communities. And these are but a representative sampling.

I’ll give you another example of the disconnect between our policy makers and our schools. Thursday, Superintendent Barresi and Ashley Gaona, a third-grade teacher from Clinton, had a lively exchange on Twitter.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be around a teacher who lacked emotion. Feeling something for your students, school, and community does not eliminate your ability to reason, however. Barresi should be careful about to whom she condescends. Gaona, as of last night, is now a blogger.

According to her (or whoever has been writing back to me on Twitter), I have an “emotional issue” and she states it is of the “utmost importance that children learn to read.” Oh, really? You mean, all of the time I have spent with students hasn’t been for their benefit? All of the hours I put in at school (and the extra hours I put in after school) are for myself and I truly don’t care for my students? If only she knew how much I truly worry about and adore my students. She will never understand or comprehend what teachers go through on a daily basis for their students.

I understand that many people are afraid to ask Janet Barresi questions. I have a rebuttal to that–I am not afraid to ask her questions about the future of my students. You know why? I make mistakes… I am human. If I reprimanded my students every time they questioned my teaching, well… I would be a terrible teacher. If I can’t answer their questions, I shouldn’t be teaching. If they are correcting me, I have done something right and I will take that criticism as constructive. Don’t be afraid to have a voice for your students.

We have to fight for education in this state. There is no other way to change the current situation. We can’t go around and complain without taking action. Write your legislators (I am in the current process of doing so). Make this situation known to fellow educators. Make this situation known to parents. This isn’t just for us educators–it’s for the kids. Who knows what that actually means more than us–their teachers? Be their voice.

It’s not just Ashley, either. The blogosphere was exploding last night. I’ll give you a few paragraphs from each, but it’s worth your time to follow the links and read each blogger’s effort in full.

Fourth Generation Teacher: Marching for Kids, Marching for my Family

I hate when politicians try to bond with me by telling me their wife or mother or cousin was a teacher…Don’t insult me like that. They are NOT invested in this profession the way I am. Their one relative who used to be a teacher does not stack up against my family tree.

I share this to give you the background of why I will be in OKC on March 31. I will not be marching for more money, even though money is vital for our schools. I know the funding could be found if our politicians cared. What I do know is they’re trying to portray us all as greedy, money-grubbing teachers.

I’ll be marching to end the high-stakes in assessment. End the madness of testing every grade every year. End the test prep, hour after hour. End the narrowing of our curriculum to concentrate on the two high-stakes areas: math and science. I’ll be marching to put an end to un-funded and under-funded mandates that pile one on top of another, like, as Linda Darling Hammond has noted, layers of sedimentary rock…nothing ever taken away, just more piled on top.

The Legislature must be put on notice that if they mandate something, they must fund it. I’ll be marching to remind our Legislators that filing 500 bills, only 291 of which were labeled as education bills, is micromanaging of a profession with which most have no experience, except their years as students. I have written about the bills we know about here and here. I’ll be marching against the voucher bill, a not-so-subtle way of taking MORE money out of public schools. I’ll be marching for any of the bills that rein in the OSDE and its reckless behavior. I’ll be marching for the bill that will allow parents to opt out their children from testing.

Excellence in Mediocrity: Get Ready to Fight

Teaching has not been my family’s business, but it is now. My wife and I are first generation teachers. It is not just our job, but it is our livelihood and our passion. When someone begins to denigrate my family’s livelihood, I tend to get protective. That is exactly what these lawmakers have done. 

Make no mistake Oklahoma, this type of message is calculated and it is intended to set up teachers as the villain. On March 31, there will be a Rally for Education at the State Capitol. I believe that it will prove to be a pivotal point in Oklahoma’s education history. Some lawmakers, public figures, private entities, and citizens will continue to be relentless as March 31 approaches.  For this reason we must fight.

I started this blog in hopes that rookie educators would stand up: not just for the students, but also for the profession. Please understand that we will be called selfish, we will be called “liberal union bosses” (oh wait! we already have), and we will expectedly be told that we don’t care about our students. I hope that every single person reading this understands that we are much stronger united. We will put aside political affiliations, and we lift up our desire to stand up for issues that directly impact our students and our profession. Just read the comments from the aforementioned article…these people will tell us that we are just in this to increase our pay.

Haselwood Math: What Would You Do?

I have become increasingly frustrated with the very toxic relationship that has developed in my state between the Teacher, the Politicians, and our State Superintendent.  I surely do not understand all of the different things that go into the entire process.  I don’t know how the funding works, except that its based on enrollment and taxes/tax bases.  I have no idea what the elementary EOI’s look like or what they test on, I don’t even know what our Math EOI’s look like (the whole no peeking, but make sure they are not randomly clicking thing)…But I do know that in my high school the entire month of April and part of May are dominated by testing (roughly 25 school days).  Kids that are taking tests in multiple subjects miss multiple classes over multiple days.  It’s frustrating….

But I am bothered by what some of our political leaders are suggesting about teachers and I just do not think that it’s fair or right.  I promise you that the people that I work for love the students.  They are AMAZING TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS!!  We work so hard for our kids – I can’t tell you how proud I am of my school and district!  I know that we will meet any challenge that comes our way and will keep climbing up the mountain (PASS) – even when we have to trudge down the mountain to climb the next one (Common Core) because there is a change in direction.  I also know that it would be great if I could get an actual cost of living increase.  I know I will never get rich teaching, guess what, not my life goal.  But it is nice to feel some love once in a while.  And if thousands of my colleagues from around the state want to rally for some love, what’s wrong with that?  That is one of the most treasured parts of living in the United States!  Being able to have a rally, peacefully, to stand up for what you believe is the right thing.  Think of all of the positive things that have come from peaceful rallies in our country, sometimes those are just the things that are needed to start positive change.

A View From the Edge: An Appalling Lack of Respect

Remember Superintendent Barresi’s lovely “I’ll be damned” speech from November when she blamed Oklahoma’s educators for losing a generation of children? This was followed by her refusal to meet with Oklahoma Education Association members in January, while labeling them as “liberal union bosses.”

Yesterday, she once again displayed her appalling lack of respect for teachers during an interview with Tulsa’s Channel 8 news reporter Kim Jackson.

When asked about the reasons for Tulsa Public Schools high number of schools receiving D’s and F’s on last year’s A-F report card, she said:

“They [TPS] have been failing for decades. When you keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, that is a sign of insanity. For years and years, kids in poverty and kids in chronically low performing schools were hidden. Now we’ve shown the light on it. These teachers should not feel stressed. They should feel supported.”

No, Dr. Barresi, you have it backwards. These teachers are stressed (we all are) and clearly do NOT feel supported by an out-of-touch State Superintendent who is constantly blaming them for the poor performance of their students, while simultaneously dismissing the obvious effects of poverty, broken homes, abuse and neglect, poor parenting, high mobility, and crime-infested neighborhoods. Not to mention the lack of adequate funding from our state legislature.

These types of comments from our state education leader demonstrate an ignorance of reality and are a tremendous insult to the hundreds of dedicated teachers in TPS. Does Dr. Barresi honestly believe that labeling these schools with D’s and F’s, based on what researchers have shown to be an inaccurate and arbitrary grading system, is going to have the effect of positively motivating these educators to do a better job?

I doubt calling them insane failures will help either.

And how can she say that Dr. Ballard and TPS “are doing the same thing over and over again?” The Tulsa Model that is being used by nearly 500 school districts across the state as the qualitative component of the state Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE) Model was designed and implemented by administrators and teachers in Tulsa before she took office.

The one thing Barresi gets right is that doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result, is a sign of insanity. Keep insulting us. Keep making decisions that negatively impact the children we serve.  Just don’t expect us to take it graciously.

I have one more thing to recommend before I go – a set of things, really. First is the CCOSA Resolution enumerating the reasons for the rally. Second is their statement yesterday about Murphy and Turner’s backlash. Here’s an excerpt of that:

“It is troubling that certain elected officials would openly challenge the constitutional rights of parents, students, elected school board members and professional educators to peaceably assemble at the state capitol and advocate for their community schools,” said Steven Crawford, the Executive Director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration.  “This rally, on behalf of Oklahoma’s 678,000+ public school students, is supported by parent organizations as well as education advocacy groups.”

“Given that legislators are only in session Monday through Thursday during the months of February through May, it seems highly implausible that supporters of public education would be able to get to the Capitol except on a day when we would otherwise have school.  Fortunately, school leaders have planned ahead and provided adequate notice to parents and students about the schedule change so that students do not miss any instructional time or other necessary services,” said Ryan Owens, Executive Director of the United Suburban Schools Association.

March 31 – be there. Be loud. Be respectful. And be heard. I will.

Writing Test Club

February 7, 2014 Comments off

In the movie, Fight Club, the main characters operate under a strict set of rules.

The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. Third rule of Fight Club: Someone yells stop, goes limp, taps out, the fight is over. Fourth rule: only two guys to a fight. Fifth rule: one fight at a time, fellas. Sixth rule: no shirts, no shoes. Seventh rule: Fights will go on as long as they have to. And the eighth and final rule: If this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight.

Similarly, with the Oklahoma School Testing Program, the first rule of writing test is that you don’t talk about the writing test. Traditionally, the entire state has taken the writing test on the same day, with a few students having to make up the tests later. This year, many Oklahoma educators have been calling for the Feb. 26 date to be pushed back because of the unusually high number of snow days we’ve had across the state. Yesterday, the SDE sent out this notice in response:

OSDE: Modification to grades 5 an [sic] 8 Statewide Writing Day

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 02/06/2014 12:26 PM CST

Dear Superintendents, Principals, and District Test Coordinators,

Due to the inclement weather our state has been experiencing, the State Department of Education is making a modification to the grades 5 and 8 Statewide Writing Day which was previously scheduled for Wednesday, February 26, 2014.  Districts will be allowed flexibility to establish their own testing day for all students in attendance within the same testing window of February 26 – March 7. All makeup tests will need to be completed within this window as well. Districts should then package all Writing tests and ship them back to CTB for scoring. If you have questions, please contact the Office of Accountability and Assessments at (405) 521-3341.

They sort of gave us what we want, albeit quite clumsily. Immediately, two responses began popping up on social media. The first is gratitude. The second is disbelief.

This is a good question from someone who knows more than a little about testing validity and reliability. We give the writing test on the same day across the state to sequester the writing prompt. While I doubt any teachers will be seeking out information about the test from schools that have chosen to give it early, this still could potentially impact the entire process.

Since I am a self-styled helper, I have taken it upon myself to develop some guidelines that will help with test security during the newly created writing window.

  1. You do not talk about the writing prompt – whether you’re a student or adult. The last thing we need is people losing their certificates because they found out what the writing prompt was and made a single remark about it publicly.
  2. You do not talk about the writing prompt – Seriously! If someone goes ahead and gives the test on Feb. 26 and a student discusses the prompt, and then teachers begin discussing the prompt, the SDE will be all up in your business.
  3. When a student is tired or frustrated with writing, the test is over. This happened quite a bit last year when the testing company changed the format of the test and teachers were caught off guard. I have a feeling teachers will have students more prepared for surprises this year.
  4. There will be only two texts to a writing prompt.  Students will read two excerpts of texts and then respond to a prompt. The key is that they need to clearly cite the example texts as evidence of their points, but do so in a way that is not plagiarism. It’s a degree of nuance that ALL fifth graders have down, right?
  5. Write one sentence at a time, students. Oklahoma teachers who have students write frequently and evaluate their writing in a way similar to how these tests are scored probably have a leg up on the field. The SDE has a page with the writing standards, sample prompts, and rubrics for scoring student work. We only have a few weeks left, but if you’re teaching these grades, and you’re not familiar with these documents, you should probably take a look.
  6. Dress comfortably; we might be here a while. Whether we’re dealing with computer tests or not, expect the unexpected. Dress in layers. Maybe keep some extra Skittles in the pouch of your hoodie. This might not go as planned.
  7. Take your time. Students are scored on the quality of the response, not how quickly they finish. Remind them that writing is about expressing their ideas and that no matter what they write, they should be proud of it. As someone who finds writing cathartic, I never tire of telling students this.
  8. Everybody must test. This is Oklahoma. There are no opt outs. Except when there are.
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