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Help Wanted

February 16, 2014

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/Skills/Abilities

  • 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.

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