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Testing (our patience)

April 8, 2014

I once had a boss who was fond of saying, “If you give people enough rope, they’ll eventually hang themselves.” That is to say that when some people talk long enough they tend to just keep going until their true feelings are revealed. Such was the case yesterday when two of our state’s most bizarre orators took to the defense of state testing.

Below are several tweets about the statements of Rep. Sally Kern of Oklahoma City and Teri Brecheen, the SDE’s executive director of literacy. The context was yesterday’s House Education Committee’s discussion of SB 1654, which would eliminate all state testing that is not federally mandated.

Let’s start with Kern. Yesterday, Ed Tech Principal blogged about a response he received from her about testing. I tweeted that it was one of the most important blog posts of 2014 (keeping in mind that testing actually starts later this week).


Thank you for your email concerning SB 1654.

While I support less testing for our students, I do not think eliminating social studies tests is the way to accomplish that.  It is in social studies classes that our students learn about citizenship, our nation’s history, our Constitution and our democratic republic system.  As you well know, what you test, you teach.  If we don’t test on social studies we will not be teaching our students the principles that they need to be good productive citizens of our nation.  There are other and better ways to reduce testing than by getting rid of social studies tests.

Again, thank you for your email.

God bless,

Sally Kern

If you’ve followed Kern through the years, one thing is abundantly clear: she is adamant about schools teaching history the way she thinks it should be taught. I’m not going to get into what that is right now. The key is that she has strong feelings about what constitutes quality history and government instruction and believes the only way to keep teachers on that script is to test them.

Let me rephrase that: The only way to ensure that US history and government teachers stay on the blueprint is to test their creativity into oblivion.

I just wrote and deleted a paragraph discussing different sides of a few key moments since the revolution: the 3/5 Compromise; the Emancipation Proclamation; the New Deal; Iran-Contra. For one, this post isn’t about the ways students can explore those issues in depth and think critically. More importantly, the better teachers among us already have their students reading and discussing history beyond the dates, kings, and boundaries.

While Kern doesn’t trust history teachers to instruct the way she prefers, Brecheen clearly doesn’t trust reading teachers to teach reading at all. What she said in committee yesterday is really no different than what I’ve heard her say at various SDE-hosted events. It’s really no different than what Janet Barresi says when she’s talking out of the side of her mouth that bashes our profession (followed quickly by faint praise from the other side).

Brecheen also tries overlaying testing norms over the state tests, which are actually criterion-referenced. This shows not only disrespect for our teachers, but a complete lack of understanding of testing. You can’t apply norms to criterion-referenced tests because the establishing of a criterion, by practice, is subjective to interpretation. Scoring a 50 on a criterion-referenced test is not a good thing. It means you missed half the questions. Scoring in the 50th percentile on a norm-referenced test is average (technically median).  When the state went to CRTs in the 1990s, it was an attempt to ascertain how many students had met a standard rather than how many were above average. I’d expect the Executive Director of Literacy for the SDE to understand this.

I’d also expect Brecheen, a former K-8 superintendent to understand something about teachers. At this point in her career, I would hope that she’s seen teachers work their asses off helping students not only improve their reading skills, but improve their love of reading. She should also understand that the love is more important; in fact, skill is more often a byproduct of passion than of drill.

In case you’re wondering, SB 1654 already passed the Senate by a vote of 44-0. It passed the House committee by a vote of 11-8. It still has two hurdles to clear: vote of the full House, and governor’s signature.

Doubling down on insults to the profession, Barresi today again questioned the competence of educators by claiming pervasive over-identification of special education students in our schools.

The interesting thing about this to me is that last in November, she claimed we were wrong on 75% of our special education identifications. I guess this means we’ve improved during the last five months. Way to go, Oklahoma!

As schools throughout Oklahoma begin testing in two days, I’m thankful for the clarity that comes from these conversations. Many of our so-called leaders don’t believe in our teachers. Many more do. Hopefully, as we begin this yearly dance between bubbles and graphite, most of our classrooms will be full of teachers and students who believe in each other. Hopefully many will take a moment to say as much. I suspect a few parents and principals will also take the time to express such confidence.

2 months, 15 days, y’all!

  1. April 8, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    How is this Brecheen related to Senator Josh? I feel stupid for asking, but that’s the only way I can learn.


  2. Kathy Taylor Spivey
    April 8, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    Claudia – I am thinking it is Sen Josh Brecheen’s mom, Teru Brecheen, I saw her affiliated with the recent task force over the common core bill the Senate education committee brought in.


    • April 8, 2014 at 5:53 pm

      That is correct. And it’s a relevant point that I probably should have included in the post.


  3. Kathy Taylor Spivey
    April 8, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    …excuse me Teri….


  4. April 8, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    I received the same response for Kern. Word for word. She has not replied to my response yet when I questioned her. Kelly Curtright at the SDE is up in arms about this bill as well. I would LOVE it if the legislators voted to do away with testing for mathematics. I would jump for joy.


    • April 8, 2014 at 7:15 pm

      The issue really has two separate arguments.

      1: There is too much testing and we should address it by eliminating what we can.

      2: Social studies already gets the shortest straw of the core content areas.

      I agree with both of these arguments. However, I feel that eliminating testing requirements actually gives any teacher more freedom. That’s why I’m for the bill.


  5. Jacob Rosecrants
    April 8, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    As a history major, and Social Studies teacher, I would love to live in a standardized test-free world. But there is a problem. That isn’t my reality. By removing the standardized tests from Social Studies, it diminishes the importance of Social Studies in the grand over-testing scheme. Already Social Studies are viewed as a “lower class” compared to LA and Math. Educators who teach tested subjects are viewed as royalty; they don’t travel and they enjoy all the best tech. Our goal should be the elimination of ALL high-stakes tests, especially if they’re used to hire/fire or close/award schools. So, as much as it pains me to say this, I think we should keep the tests in Social Studies, at least until our lawmakers and government leaders decide to pull the plug on this standardized testing nightmare in which we find ourselves today.


  6. April 8, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    She is his mother.


  7. Lorie Brady
    April 14, 2014 at 9:58 am

    I would like to point out that Teri Brecheen completely transformed her poverty riddled, rural school district. It went from a failing school to a nationally recognized academic success story. If there is anyone who knows about reading instruction and passion for student success, it is Teri. I suggest that you find out a little more about the messenger before you start taking shots at her.


  8. Teacher N. Reading
    April 15, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Brecheen and Barrisi are two peas in a pod! It’s very easy to sit back and point the finger and proclaim that the teacher isn’t doing his/her job. What I would challenge those who participate in this type of activity to do is to look into some research. It was mentioned that Brecheen transformed an impoverished school into a success story, but I would be willing to bet that you have no idea how that was done. The wavers that were granted by the state for that particular school because of their unusually high special education and IEP students (how convenient). If we only tested the “creme dela creme” in every district we would all be success stories…on paper that is.


    • April 15, 2014 at 7:02 pm

      Seeing as I student taught in that school, I know exactly how it was done. Brecheen researched the best reading programs available. She discovered a company called Voyager. At the time Voyager only sold to very large school districts. She called for months and months to try and persuade the company to sell to her k-8 school with fewer than 100 students. Eventually they relented and sold her the program. She then instituted a data driven, prescriptive education program that individualized instruction. Students were placed in flexible groups based on specific skills. Students have the opportunity to roll up or back as needed based on formative assessments. Students who were not on grade level also received intensive intervention one on one with a special education teacher until they are on grade level. Every new student is screen and assessed. If they are not on grade level, they get the same intensive intervention. Funny that you should mention IEPs because their special education population out-scores general education students from around the state.
      If you were to talk to the superintendent who took her place, he would be able to tell you how every student in his school scored on the state test. He looks at the data from Success Maker every week to make decisions with his teachers. He gives them the training, resources, and support his staff needs to make his school a success. If I did not live thirty miles away I would have sent every one of my kids to that school.


      • Teacher N. Reading
        April 15, 2014 at 7:06 pm

        I’ve taught reading for many, many years and I have taught using Voyager…it’s worthless.


      • April 15, 2014 at 7:32 pm

        Not all special ed students take a modified test, some take a regular test with accommodations. The fact is that every school had the same opportunity to use a modified test. Every school is limited to the percentage of students who are allowed to take a modified test. The reading program works for them because they use it the way it was designed to be used. They also have several other programs they use to augment their reading program. The point is, if they tried something that didn’t work, they tried something else until they came up with a system that worked for their student population. Perhaps if more districts tried to figure out what other schools are doing to be successful, we wouldn’t have all this animosity. Their school is completely open to other schools coming in to see what they are doing. My school went their this year and we plan on implementing many of the same things they do because our demographics are very similar. I don’t know why everyone’s first response is to trash another person’s success. This woman as changed the lives of hundreds if not thousands of children for the better. Isn’t that why we all got into teaching in the first place? She was the type of administrator we all wished we could have. If we continue to focus on what we can’t do, nothing will get better.


      • Teacher N. Reading
        April 15, 2014 at 9:38 pm

        Don’t misunderstand me…if Voyager works for them then more power to them. I agree you have to do what works for your students. No argument there. My point was that there have been special concessions made for Cottonwood that haven’t been made for other districts. As you know there is a certain percentage of IEP students that are allowed per district. If the district exceeds that percentage then they are penalized for it. Those scores count against them in the end. Cottonwood has nearly double the percentage of alloted IEP’s in their district. They have applied for and been granted a special waver by the state several times. They have not been penalized for their over abundance of IEP students. I find this a little questionable and highly unfair. I cannot fathom how a district with such a small amount of students, less than 250 total, can carry an average of 34% of students with learning disabilities. This would certainly raise a red flag if it were any other district. I suppose it helps to have friends in high places, but it certainly doesn’t make it fair or just.


      • April 16, 2014 at 6:26 am

        The reason they carry a higher percentage of students with IEPs is the same reason our district does. Coal and Atoka counties have the highest rate of meth use per capita in the US. Our school is very close to a prison. We also have close to 90% of students on free and reduced lunches. We have students who live in houses with dirt floors. We also welcome out of district transfers of students with IEPs. Almost 70% of Cottonwood’s students are out of district and many of those are on IEPs because parents know their children will not be pushed aside but challenged.


  9. Teacher N. Reading
    April 15, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    Also, at that time those special ed and IEP kids were given a modified test. Which I’m all for, however you cannot compare their scores to those of students taking the regular in modified test. It’s like apples and bananas…


    • Teacher N. Reading
      April 15, 2014 at 7:12 pm

      *unmodified test. Pardon me, I’m typing on my phone.


  10. Teacher N. Reading
    April 16, 2014 at 10:05 am

    You’re missing the point here. Let’s take your excuse for high IEP students for example….ok, if this is true of Coal county, why was Cottonwood the only school in the district that was granted a waver for their IEP kids? Every other school was penalized for having the above alloted percentage of IEP students. NO other school in Coal county received a waver for their special education students, even thought they were applied for…even though they too have a high rate of IEP students…even though they get Cottonwood’s IEP students when they get to the 9th grade…even though they are also 90% free and reduced lunches…even though they are also located close to the same prison…even though they have students who live in houses with dirt floors…THEY ARE IN THE SAME COUNTY, SEPERATED BY LESS THAN TWO MILES…do you see my point? THIS is what I find HIGHLY suspicious. Why just Cottonwood? Why do they get preferential treatment over the other two schools in Coal County who also applied for the waver but were denied? I can tell you why…it has nothing to do with them being a “sucess” story..it has to do with Teri Brecheen being in Baressi’s back pocket. Another question I have is how were you allowed access to all of this data as a student teacher? You spoke about the IEP students test scores ranking about the regular ed students scores in some instances. You are not allowed to see and inspect student files or have access to their test scores. As a student teacher you are not certified nor are you an employee of the district. You should not have been discussing individual student testing, IEP’s or scores. That’s in violation of student privacy and highly illegal.


  1. April 14, 2014 at 6:08 pm
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