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Like a Myth to a Flame

March 13, 2014

Did you check your email today? As luck would have it, we have an email from Janet Barresi. That’s fortunate; we wouldn’t want to start a break from school without one of her missives to analyze.

Time on TestsBy Janet Barresi, State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Wednesday, March 13, 2013I hear from educators and parents throughout the state about “teaching to the test” and time spent on testing. I agree teachers should spend more time teaching and students should spend less time worrying about tests.But I want to clear up some myths.Out of all the hours required for instruction in a school year – 1,080 hours by state law – less than 1 percent is spent by a student taking state- or federally mandated tests. Other assessments may be given by teachers or required by school districts. Yet, even if we look at the grades that have the most assessments — fifth and eighth —there are only four state or federal tests required: math, reading, writing, science or social studies/U.S. history.

Next year, fifth- and eighth-graders will not take a separate writing exam, shaving even more time from testing.

Third, fourth and sixth grades have only two federally required assessments. Seventh grade has only three required tests – two by the U.S. Department of Education and one by the state.

Keep in mind that end-of-instruction tests can be taken any time from seventh grade through high school. Not all of such exams will be taken in a single year.

It is true, of course, that testing means a lengthier disruption for school staffers than for students. But if we look at the time impact on students, it is not nearly as long.

Assessing what a child knows and can do at the end of a course of study gives guidance on which instructional methods are successful and helps identify those students who need additional help. Without assessments, we have no measure of whether our students are moving closer to the goal of being college-, career- and citizen-ready by the time they graduate high school.

Too often our students are ranked behind their national peers. When I took office, only 26 percent of Oklahoma fourth-graders were proficient in reading. That same year, more than 42 percent of college freshmen in the state needed remedial courses, which cost money and earn no credit. Only assessments tell us if we are on the right track before we get students across the graduation stage.

Our students deserve to know that what they have been taught in their classrooms is truly preparing them for life, whether that life consists of college or a decent-paying job. They deserve to know they can compete for any job they wish. Information from assessments tell us whether we’re delivering for our students. They deserve this knowledge.

Basically, she’s saying that over testing is a myth – like evolution and climate change. Or if it’s not, it’s probably the schools’ fault. Of course it is. Everything is our fault. On the other hand, she also can’t count to five. After reading the email in the morning and pondering on it throughout the day, another educator posted Barresi’s letter to Thinglink dissecting some of the flaws with the state superintendent’s reasoning.

Nerd moment: Thinglink is new to me. It’s really cool. The instructional possibilities are tremendous. Then again, several of my Twitter followers apparently already knew that.

Among the observations:

  • No time will be saved with the elimination of the writing test. In fact, if you look at the RFP for our newfangled OCCRA tests, writing will be included in all the reading assessments. If anything, this will increase testing time.
  • The statement that EOIs can be taken anytime from seventh grade through the senior year is true, but really goes without saying. I guess Barresi’s point is that high school students really don’t take that many state tests. I’ll address that below.
  • Online testing causes many schools a disruption to instruction that lasts for several weeks. Schools don’t exactly have unused labs or computers lying around. Computer classes simply don’t meet for periods of time.
  • Although schools may choose to do extra tests, such as benchmarks, they are part of the instructional strategy necessary to prepare students for high-stakes tests. With graduation, third-grade retention, A-F Report Cards, and soon teacher evaluation tied to test scores, how can we not focus on the tests…every…single…day?
  • College remediation requirements vary by each institution of higher education and are a steady revenue stream for them – and often a waste of students’ time. Often, students meet the State Regents’ benchmark of 19 in each subject area on the ACT but not the higher benchmarks that some of the colleges set.

I had one other thought after reading Barresi’s latest attempt to spin the narrative:

We have many more required tests than the third through eighth grade battery and the EOIs. Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • DIBELS (or another diagnostic) under the Reading Sufficiency Act – given frequently to EC-third grade students
  • ACCESS for English Language Learners
  • PLAN and EXPLORE (from ACT) – paid for by the State Regents, and technically optional, but tests that actually provide useful information
  • The PSAT – which is administered by many districts to help predict future success in Advanced Placement courses and used as an alternate test for the EOIs
  • An ever-increasing number of AP tests at the end of the year (as schools chase bonus points for their A-F Report Cards and parents chase higher weighted grade point averages for their children)
  • Nationally normed intelligence tests for identification in GT programs (usually in elementary grades
  • Any number of re-tests for third grade reading, eighth grade reading, and the EOIs

Barresi is trying desperately to wrest the dialogue away from us. She can’t like that Bixby has a board-adopted opt out policy. She also can’t like that Rob Miller’s blog has had tens of thousands of page views in 24 hours after he let us in on the little secret about Jenks and Owasso not having to do field tests.

Superintendent Barresi’s words continue to show that she doesn’t have much regard for us professionally or intellectually. Ours show that we’re not going to take her disrespect without a fight.

3 months…9 days…and counting…

  1. joeddins
    March 13, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    If you want to call me i might give you some positive information on college preparation, remediation and graduation numbers from the OSRHE Annual Remediation report, or you might find it yourself. 918-256-2205


    • March 14, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      Thanks, I think this is worth a blog post. I got some numbers from http://www.okhighered.org today. I’m trying to find some research I did a few years ago for a class about each individual college’s methodology for placement in those courses. In some cases, it varies by major.


      • joeddins
        March 14, 2014 at 1:17 pm

        In 2005-2006 Dr. Risser gave total access to Jim Purcell Asso. Vice Chancellor fo Strategic planning and Analysis, OSRHE. I visited with him multiple times, like 30.
        #4 I have detailed data and knowledge on this, can you call me now ?


  2. joeddins
    March 13, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    In the “Office of Accountability – Profiles 2012 State Report it states ” Beginning with the class of 2012, students must pass Algebra IEnglish II and two of the remaining five EOIs to graduate from high school. With this additional requirement placed on the importance of the EOIs, the scores should rise in the coming years, ” ACT scores are flat. They lower cut scores to only fail a thousand or so students as instructed by ACE rules.


    • March 14, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      That’s the same conclusion I have. Algebra I scores spiked the first year they counted for ACE. It could be a more favorable cut score, extra focus, or a combination of both. Strangely, English II scores didn’t rise much, but English III did.


      • joeddins
        March 14, 2014 at 1:33 pm

        Algebra I scores “spiked” because 12,000 scored sat & 22,000 scored Lim Know the next year they changed the description from general knowledge to acceptable knowledge moving 22,000 can not do algebra to can do algebra Went from a closed test to an open test. ACT scores stayed level. Studies available in 2005 which I accessed, showed this would happen.


  3. Teacher's Husband
    March 15, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    “Although schools may choose to do extra tests, such as benchmarks, they are part of the instructional strategy necessary to prepare students for high-stakes tests. With graduation, third-grade retention, A-F Report Cards, and soon teacher evaluation tied to test scores, how can we not focus on the tests…every…single…day?”

    In elementary grades, this means STAR, BEAR, Literacy First, Alpha Plus testing, practice OCCT tests and others that are used to create and maintain the documentation (that is saved for years) of what is taught and how students progress. Woe to those without it when the state auditors come. Now the “Measured Progress” people have sent out practice tests for the field tests that are in May.

    THE SDE offices knows these things too. But at Paul Harvey would say, “Now, the rest of the story…”


  4. joeddins
    March 15, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    Annual remediation report OSRHE 1997 data not in report. Number of freshmen direct from Ok high schools; 18,244 , without remediation 13,067 any remediation 5,168 . Bachelor degree 6 year graduation. Any remediation 875, without remediation 4,598. Drop out any remediation 4,293 , without remediation 8,478. We have almost twice as many fail to graduate not needing remediation as needed remediation. My conclusion – If we want more bachelor degrees, the population to draw from is student who were prepared in high school, but failed to complete bachelor degree. My guess from reliable anecdotes, tired with wife and children and no money. Interesting , from 50,000 9th grade enrollment less than 6,000 plus est 2,500 private and out- of- state public univ. bachelors degree in 6 years.


  5. joeddins
    March 15, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    In ten years of many OSRHE programs and ACE, the preparedness of high school graduates remains the same, as does graduations from college.


  1. March 14, 2014 at 9:17 pm
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