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Archive for May, 2014

Do you have Joy in your email?

We interrupt the post I’ve been writing about Janet Barresi’s reckless scheme to fund the FBA to make a couple of snarky comments about her persecution of Tulsa-area school districts. While I was researching legal issues and responses to her plan, I came across this in the Tulsa World:

Several Tulsa-area school districts have received Open Records requests from state Superintendent Janet Barresi’s re-election campaign for any communications between employees and Republican rival, Joy Hofmeister.

“I’m tempted to ignore it like they’ve ignored all my correspondence the last four years,” Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow said. “But we’ll reply. We always do.”

Tulsa Public Schools, along with Jenks, Sand Springs, Sapulpa and Union, received a request dated May 8. The campaign asks that districts provide the records by May 23.

In fact, the request specifies any communication — written or electronic — that even contains the name “Joy Hofmeister” between March 1 and April 1, school officials say.

She has previously made similar requests of Jenks Public Schools, of course.

In late April, Barresi’s new campaign manager, Robyn Matthews, and Oklahoma City political strategist Neva Hill came to Jenks to scour the more than 7,000 pages of emails and other communications. They ultimately got copies of 692 pages and paid the district $1,410 for time and materials expended by Jenks school employees in compiling the request.

There’s something specific they’re looking for, but I’m not sure what it is. The dates of this particular witch hunt are very limited.

I think Barresi’s campaign is missing the point. It’s one thing to try to discover what the schools are saying about her opponent; I’m more interested in what they’re saying about the state superintendent. Maybe their ears are burning. Perhaps it’s best if they don’t know.

The SDE’s Miasma

No Science Standards for You!

Today’s word is miasmaan oppressive or unpleasant atmosphere that surrounds or emanates from something. As those who regularly read this blog must know, there are two things I love: science and a well-placed word.

Yesterday, the House Committee for Administrative Rules voted to reject the new Oklahoma Academic Standards for Science (OASS). If you’ll remember, during the winter, the Oklahoma State Department of Education posted the new standards, accepted comments, and adopted them. This committee’s approval was to be the final step before implementation.

Apparently, the committee had two key objections. First, the SDE and the teachers on the committee relied far too heavily on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) – which were developed by Achieve, Inc. (which also brought us the Common Core). The problem with this objection is that SDE staff were given the direction to use NGSS as a framework. Many bloggers, in fact, pointed out the similarities.

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.

When I wrote that in December, it was a criticism of the fact that we were more or less adopting national standards and calling them our own. Basically, we’re running into another example of politicians changing their mind about what they want and not really caring about who that impacts.

The second objection was that where the standards discuss climate, teachers could then segue into lessons indoctrination about climate change. I downloaded OASS again and did a search for the word climate. This key science term appears 47 times in the document. The only discussion of climate change, however, is in the assessment section with this limitation:

Assessment does not include climate change.

That sentence is in the document multiple times. Yes, there may be a rogue liberal here and there (or even a conservative who believes in climate change) who is willing to teach concepts that make people uncomfortable. We may even have an activist in the classroom. The standards, however, don’t enable activism. That’s a matter of principals knowing what’s going on in their building.

Another way of looking at it is that if we’re so scared that our children might learn about climate change, we should probably take the word climate out of the social studies standards as well. While the word only appears five times in that document, in one instance, on page 64, we can find this evocative gem:

Examine the ongoing issues of immigration, employment, climate change, environmental pollution, globalization, population growth, race relations, women’s issues, healthcare, civic engagement, education, and the rapid development of technology.

If that isn’t a laundry list of liberalism, I don’t know what is! Oklahoma teachers worked hard developing those standards too, but I guess 2012 was a completely different era – an epoch ago, if you will.

(And if I just single-handedly got the state social studies standards tossed out, my apologies to all affected by this.)

My point is that if we’re so afraid of climate change that we can’t even discuss climate, we’re in a world of hurt. Most Americans accept climate change and still don’t curb their energy consumption. It’s not going to cripple the state’s economy. Even still, if it’s not assessed, what’s the likelihood that our children will be making dioramas that depict rising sea levels as they envelop Miami?

As for the time and effort of the teachers who volunteered (and lost instructional time) to serve on the standards-writing committees…well, I really don’t have a profound way to finish that sentence. Thanks but no thanks, I guess. Or what about the textbook adoption cycle? Are we forgetting that science teachers haven’t adopted new instructional materials in 10 years? While I hope that means we are seeing more labs and less copying of definitions in our classes, there at least need to be resources available.

Maybe what’s really happening here is that the SDE is so tainted with Barresi that anything they do is at least funk-adjacent. There are still some really good people working there. Many have left the sinking ship, but not all have been able to find other suitable employment. I have to wonder if it’s because of their association with the state superintendent. I also have to wonder if that has anything to do with yesterday’s unprecedented (yes, no legislative panel has EVER rejected standards forwarded to them by the SDE) action.

Miasma – it explains so much. All the bad decisions and indecision. The inexplicable tone in communication from Barresi and her staff. If the Hodge Building collapsed into a sinkhole one night ala the ending to Poltergeist, I wouldn’t be surprised at this point.

Barresi: Still Lacking Comprehension

Today, the Oklahoma House of Representatives did the right thing, sending HB 2625 to the Governor by a vote of 89-6. The House also passed the emergency clause – which would make the changes to the Reading Sufficiency Act effective immediate upon the governor’s signature – by a vote of 83-6.

That happened at 4:25 p.m. At 4:52, the SDE responded.

Supt. Barresi comments on House passage of HB 2625

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 12, 2014) — Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi made the following remarks today following House passage of House Bill 2625:

“Today’s vote endorses a system of social promotion that has failed to reduce illiteracy and has deprived students from receiving the best education possible. Nothing is more fundamental to learning than the ability to read. The Reading Sufficiency Act can greatly improve literacy in our state, but it cannot work if it is abandoned for social promotion.

“Illiteracy in our children must be a call to action. Everything I’ve seen this school year proves that teachers all across our state have heard that call and are doing monumental things. They are persisting with struggling readers and giving children the one skill that will serve as a gateway to other personal achievements in their lives.

“The RSA ensures the greatest resources and amount of time available to intensive, customized reading instruction. Only in the most extreme cases when good-cause exemptions don’t apply is retention part of the law. The point of the RSA is to focus education for struggling readers long before they reach third-grade.

“Instead of providing an alternative to learning to read, which this pending bill does, we should instead spend our energies helping these students read. Instead of taking the easy way out, we need to make certain every effort is made by parents, teachers and our communities to help these children learn to read.”

“House Bill 2625 reinforces a status quo that has failed far too many children. It places exorbitant costs and time on school districts by mandating fourth- and fifth-grade reading remediation for students with Unsatisfactory and Limited Knowledge scores. Moreover, it requires districts to hire reading specialists to be on the committees, an expense that smaller districts will be unable to afford. It undermines a law that districts have had three years to comply with and involve parents in its implementation.

“Even a well-intentioned bill can have grievous consequences, and I am concerned that is the case with HB 2625.”

She just doesn’t get it. Parents and educators don’t want the fate of children decided by tests. She also doesn’t get that the six good cause exemptions provide very little relief – especially for special education students and English language learners. Her word choice, as always, tells the story clearly. Thankfully Teacher Appreciation Week is over. Barresi can go back to doing what she does best.

To say this vote endorses a system that has deprived students is ridiculous. Depriving schools money hurts kids.  Suppressing teacher wages so that they leave the state or the profession hurts kids. Teaching them and working with their parents on placement decisions, on the other hand, is a true illustration of doing best for children.

And this is not a one-year phenomenon. What Barresi has seen this school year is teachers and parents scrambling to prevent bad policy from hurting good people. Teachers in Oklahoma have always done monumental things and shown what persisting in struggle looks like.

Already, her one remaining ally in the legislature is calling on Governor Fallin to veto the bill. I’m not convinced her mind is made up. In any case, we can’t let that happen. She’s up for re-election too. Call today. Call tomorrow. Call every day until she signs HB 2625 into law.

That is all.

Third Grade Retention: Call Your Legislator

When I wrote Friday about the SDE releasing third grade reading scores by district and called it bad form, I had no idea just how bad it was. Rob Miller wrote Saturday about The Shameful Treatment of Crutcho Public Schools. If you haven’t taken some time to read it (and it will take some time), you should. It gives a painful, truthful glimpse into the world of a high poverty district and the people who work there as they struggle with the state for corrections and with the media for fair reporting.

Today is the day that the Oklahoma House of Representatives will vote on HB 2625, which would give decisions about retention back to teachers and parents. Debate is expected to start at 1:00 this afternoon. By all accounts, there will be more people at the Capitol than the gallery can hold.

On March 4, the bill passed the House by a vote of 84-6. On April 16, it passed the Senate by a vote of 43-1. The bill needs to be sent to the governor now for two critical reasons. First, despite having an overwhelming majority of support in both chambers of the legislature, the bill is no lock for the governor’s signature. The statement released by the governor’s office is vague at best.

[The] governor believes it is immoral to advance a child reading at a first grade level or lower (unsatisfactory) to fourth grade; perpetuates a problem of students who aren’t prepared to higher-level classwork.

The Literacy Act of 2011 provides a means to identify those children who need additional help, a tool to measure the number of students reading at the appropriate grade level.

The problem existed for years, decades before it was addressed; reading proficiency was a problem even when pre-recession funding levels were at their highest, but we now have the means to measure and deal with the problem.

Funding is a part of [addressing student’s reading proficiency]: dedicated funding for implementing reforms was built into last year’s budget, and Gov. Fallin asked for more K-12 funding in this year’s budget.

There is no guarantee Fallin will sign the bill into law, and if the House waits too long, they might not be around to override a potential veto.

The second reason to act now is that in many areas of the state, the school year will end this week. By the 23rd, it will be over in just about all school districts. The decisions that have to be made impact children’s’ lives. Waiting until the last minute hurts the kids, the parents, and the schools that are working with them.

Many of the children impacted by this law are a point or two away from being promoted. While the test is flawed and more of a language arts assessment than a measure of reading ability, I have no doubt that many students would benefit from summer reading programs. Let me put it this way: a summer reading program hurts no one.

Retention, on the other hand, is socially and emotionally stunting. A committee that includes parents and teachers may look at all the available information and still consider retaining a third grader. The decision needs to be theirs, though.

Call the RSA Hotlines and ask the SDE staff who answer every possible question you can think of. Ask them why they released the scores to the media before schools had a chance to contact parents. Ask them why a failed testing company means more to them than the teachers who spend every day with children.

The RSA Hotlines will be active from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, Monday, May 12, through Friday, May 23.

Parents and community members can call (405) 521-3774 to leave comments or questions. The line will be monitored, with responses provided in a timely fashion.

District personnel who have questions should call (405) 521-3301, the main OSDE helpdesk line. Questions will be answered or calls routed to appropriate staff.

More importantly, call your legislator. Call several. Email them. If you’re coming to the city today, drop in and see them. Tell them to pass HB2625 today!

Armes, Don donarmes@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7307 440
Banz, Gary W. garybanz@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7395 406
Bennett, John john.bennett@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7315 300A
Biggs, Scott R. scott.biggs@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7405 242
Billy, Lisa J. lisajbilly@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7365 302A
Blackwell, Gus gusblackwell@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7384 305A
Brown, Mike mikebrown@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7408 545
Brumbaugh, David david.brumbaugh@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7347 400B
Cannaday, Ed ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7375 546
Casey, Dennis dennis.casey@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7344 300B
Christian, Mike mike.christian@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7371 303
Cleveland, Bobby bob.cleveland@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7308 240
Cockroft, Josh josh.cockroft@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7349 329B
Condit, Donnie donnie.condit@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7376 500A
Coody, Ann anncoody@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7398 439
Cooksey, Marian mariancooksey@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7342 409
Cox, Doug dougcox@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7415 331
Dank, David david.dank@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7392 435
Denney, Lee leedenney@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7304 441
Derby, David david.derby@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7377 408
DeWitt, Dale daledewitt@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7332 328
Dorman, Joe joedorman@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7305 540
Echols, Jon jon.echols@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7354 248
Enns, John john.enns@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7321 434
Fisher, Dan dan.fisher@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7311 202
Floyd, Kay kay.floyd@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7396 510B
Fourkiller, William will.fourkiller@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7394 542
Glenn, Larry larryglenn@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7399 502
Grau, Randy randy.grau@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7360 338
Hall, Elise elise.hall@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7403 301
Hamilton, Rebecca rebeccahamilton@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7397 510
Hardin, Tommy tommy.hardin@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7383 301
Henke, Katie katie.henke@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7361 246
Hickman, Jeffrey W. jwhickman@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7339 401
Hoskin, Chuck chuck.hoskin@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7319 509
Hulbert, Arthur arthur.hulbert@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7310 204
Inman, Scott scott.inman@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7370 548
Jackson, Mike mikejackson@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7317 411
Johnson, Dennis dennis.johnson@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7327 404
Jordan, Fred fred.jordan@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7331 405
Joyner, Charlie charlie.joyner@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7314 436
Kern, Sally sallykern@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7348 304
Kirby, Dan dan.kirby@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7356 302B
Kouplen, Steve steve.kouplen@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7306 541
Lockhart, James james.lockhart@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7413 505
Martin, Scott scott.martin@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7329 432D
Martin, Steve stevemartin@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7402 330
Matthews, Kevin kevin.matthews@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7406 510B
McBride, Mark mark.mcbride@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7346 248
McCall, Charles A. charles.mccall@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7412 244
McCullough, Mark mark.mccullough@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7414 435A
McDaniel, Curtis curtis.mcdaniel@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7363 539B
McDaniel, Jeannie jeanniemcdaniel@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7334 508
McDaniel, Randy randy.mcdaniel@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7409 438
McNiel, Skye skye.mcniel@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7353 433B
McPeak, Jerry jerrymcpeak@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7302 503
Moore, Lewis H. lewis.moore@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7400 329
Morrissette, Richard richardmorrissette@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7404 543
Mulready, Glen glen.mulready@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7340 200
Murphey, Jason jason.murphey@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7350 437
Nelson, Jason jason.nelson@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7335 301A
Newell, Tom tom.newell@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7372 328B
Nollan, Jadine jadine.nollan@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7390 329A
O’Donnell, Terry terry.odonnell@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7379 242
Ortega, Charles charles.ortega@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7369 337
Osborn, Leslie leslie.osborn@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7333 303B
Ownbey, Pat pat.ownbey@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7326 334
Perryman, David L. david.perryman@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7401 539A
Peterson, Pam pampeterson@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7341 442
Pittman, Anastasia anastasia.pittman@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7393 510
Proctor, Eric eric.proctor@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7410 540A
Pruett, R. C. rcpruett@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7382 501
Quinn, Marty marty.quinn@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7380 300C
Renegar, Brian brian.renegar@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7381 504
Reynolds, Mike mikereynolds@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7337 301B
Ritze, Mike mike.ritze@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7338 303A
Roberts, Dustin dustin.roberts@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7366 200
Roberts, Sean sean.roberts@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7322 250
Rousselot, Wade waderousselot@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7388 507
Russ, Todd todd.russ@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7312 300
Sanders, Mike mike.sanders@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7407 205
Schwartz, Colby colby.schwartz@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7352 407
Scott, Seneca seneca.scott@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7391 539
Sears, Earl earl.sears@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7358 333
Shannon, T. W. tw.shannon@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7374 301
Shelton, Mike mikeshelton@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7367 539
Sherrer, Ben bensherrer@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7364 500
Shoemake, Jerry jerryshoemake@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7373 506
Smalley, Jason jason.smalley@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7368 244
Stiles, Aaron aaron.stiles@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7386 250
Thomsen, Todd todd.thomsen@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7336 433
Trebilcock, John johntrebilcock@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7362 410
Turner, Mike mike.turner@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7357 246
Vaughan, Steve steve.vaughan@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7355 328A
Virgin, Emily emily.virgin@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7323 500
Walker, Ken ken.walker@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7359 204
Watson, Weldon weldon.watson@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7330 302
Wesselhoft, Paul paulwesselhoft@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7343 332
Williams, Cory T. cory.williams@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7411 544
Wood, Justin F. justin.wood@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7345 202
Wright, Harold harold.wright@okhouse.gov (405) 557-7325 335

Third Grade Reading Scores: Lessons in Bad Form

By 10:00 this morning, most Oklahoma school districts were able to log on to CTB’s secure site and view preliminary third grade reading scores. By 10:48, the Oklahoma State Department of Education had released a bulletin proclaiming the addition of high-stakes testing to the Reading Sufficiency Act a success. It’s a long bulletin, so rather than posting it in full as I normally do, I’m going to get to it piece-by-piece.

Nearly 80 percent of state third-graders to be promoted to fourth-grade

16 percent score Unsatisfactory on Oklahoma reading test

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 9, 2014) – About 80 percent of Oklahoma third-graders are eligible to be promoted to fourth-grade based on the state’s reading test scores, according to figures released today to Oklahoma school districts and elementary schools. Sixteen percent of third-graders scored Unsatisfactory but will have two additional opportunities to demonstrate basic reading skills through a student portfolio or an alternative reading assessment provided for under the state’s Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA).

Under the RSA, schools now will determine which third-grade students qualify for one of the law’s good-cause exemptions to allow promotion to fourth-grade. Students who scored Unsatisfactory will have the summer to take alternate tests and attend summer reading academies. Teachers can provide portfolios of a child’s work to show he or she can read at grade level.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi thanked teachers in pre-kindergarten through third-grade for their tremendous work in helping to ensure every child is able to read.

“Nothing is more fundamental to a child’s education than the ability to read, and it is our responsibility to educators to see to it that all children have the resources necessary to gain this vital skill before they slip further and further behind. We are moving in the right direction,” Barresi said.

“The strong numbers for proficient readers attest to the hard work and tenacity of our children and their teachers. In the three years since the enactment of the RSA’s retention portion, teachers have devoted countless hours and leant their expertise to improving reading instruction for children. They have done superbly.”

Superintendent Barresi heralds the fact that four-fifths of the state’s third graders are eligible for promotion. She glosses over the fact that one-fifth aren’t. We’ve never collectively held back 20 percent of a grade-level in Oklahoma.

Yes, schools are working through Mother’s Day weekend to figure out how to apply the six good-cause exemptions. Unfortunately, they don’t provide much in the way of relief – not even for special education students or English-language learners.

About those three years, though – if the current incarnation of RSA is so great, then why are unsatisfactory rates climbing? As this graphic from Nate Robson at Oklahoma Watch shows, the unsatisfactory rate has risen during Barresi’s tenure.

Part of the problem has been the loss of funding for RSA by the legislature. More importantly, the SDE has confused the implementation of every major reform they have supported. While some of their REACH coaches have provided great professional development for the districts they serve, there has been a lack of focus. If we’re grading people on the value they add…

“Doomsday predictions from some critics of RSA had suggested that anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of our third-graders would score Unsatisfactory. But Oklahoma teachers and schoolchildren were, and are, up for the challenge.”

Statewide, scores for the third-grade reading Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT) were as follows:

1,120 — or 2.2 percent — scored Advanced

32,531 — or 64 percent — scored Proficient

7,070 — or 13.9 percent — scored Limited Knowledge

7,970 — or 15.7 percent — scored Unsatisfactory

The RSA includes special exemptions for students with disabilities, English Language Learners and students who have been retained twice. When these good-cause exemptions are factored in, the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) anticipates the number of students facing retention to decrease significantly.

Four percent did not take the test for various reasons (absent, no longer enrolled, etc.).

I don’t recall seeing the 25 to 40 percent predictions. That doesn’t mean they weren’t there, but I didn’t see them. Next year, when we have an all new test from an all new vendor based on whatever we’re calling the state standards at that time, this will be a reasonable projection.

Barresi also overstates the extent to which IEP and ELL kids will be spared. Yes, in many schools, the majority of students scoring unsatisfactory on the test fall into these two categories. The reality is that the state regulations do little to help. Here are the good cause exemptions relating to those groups:

1. Be identified as Limited-English Proficient (LEP)/English Language Learner (ELL) on a screening tool approved by the Oklahoma State Department of Education Office of Bilingual/Migrant Education and have a Language Instruction Educational Plan (LIEP) in place prior to the administration of the third grade criterion referenced test; and the student must have had less than two (2) years of instruction in an English Language Learner (ELL) program.

5. Students with disabilities who participate in the statewide criterion-referenced test and have an IEP may qualify for a good cause exemption. To qualify for this exemption, the student must meet the following criteria: (A) The student must have been previously retained in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, or third grade; (B) The student’s IEP must: (i) Identify Reading as an area of education need for the student or identify some type of special education service in the area of Reading; and; (ii) Reflect that the student has received intensive remediation for more than two years. Intensive remediation may include any type of program offering intensive reading instruction that is identified as appropriate by the IEP team.

Anybody who has ever worked with ELL students knows that language acquisition takes more than two years. And anybody who thinks that retaining special education students who are making gains is a good idea has never worked with them. Then again Janet Barresi thinks that most special education identifications are wrong.

One of the more dramatic successes to emerge from the RSA concerns students on Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs. Although 11.38 percent of third-graders last year scored Unsatisfactory on the reading test, it is important to note that 6.5 percent more students took the exam this year. That’s because this marked Oklahoma’s first year in which first-time test takers on an IEP did not have the option of taking a modified test. Oklahoma is one of the last states to phase out use of modified tests for students on an IEP.

Although about 3,000 more students with disabilities took the reading portion of the OCCT than in previous years, the percentage of Unsatisfactory scores rose by only 4 percent. Barresi credited that feat to extraordinary work of teachers.

She also praised the efforts of OSDE literacy (or REAC3H) Coaches. The coaches have traveled throughout the state, offering professional development in classrooms and training teachers, administrators and reading specialists to help their students improve reading skills.

“I need to give a big pat on the back to our REAC3H coaches,” Barresi said. “They have helped work miracles. I hear nothing but praise for them from educators from all across the state.”

She credits teachers, praises REACH coaches, and more or less blames the increase in unsatisfactory scores on special education students. That’s not all of the increase, however. The 3,000 increase in students taking the test is six percent of the roughly 50,000 total test-takers. So if all the increase is to be explained by more special education students taking the regular test, that means two-thirds of them scored unsatisfactory.

It’s nice that Barresi publicly credited teachers. As always, though, praise from her rings hollow.

Challenges face the state’s largest school districts. 32.7 percent of Tulsa third-graders scored Unsatisfactory, while 28.9 percent of Oklahoma City’s third-graders scored Unsatisfactory.

“The scores reveal the extent of the considerable work that will be needed in these districts, but great strides are being made,” Barresi said. “Teachers are committed to helping these students. There can be no option but to get these kids on track for literacy.”

The superintendent said educators recognize that many students who scored Unsatisfactory and do not meet a good-cause exemption may be anxious about what’s ahead.

“We want to reassure these students and their families that we will do everything possible to support the efforts to ensure they can read on grade level so they can have the earliest chance of promotion,” she said.

A number of school districts have scheduled summer reading academies, while others have put “transitional” grades in place. Some districts indicate they are considering mid-year promotion.

“An individual who isn’t given the opportunity to learn how to read is denied an opportunity to be a fully contributing citizen. Not only is that individual harmed, but our society is made the worse for it. If you cannot read, you cannot be enthralled by Charlotte’s Web. You cannot marvel at the genius of the Declaration of Independence. You cannot read the word of the Lord in the Bible,” said Barresi. “When Gov. Fallin and state legislators strengthened the RSA three years ago, they did so to ensure all our children have the gift of literacy.”

The scores reveal the extent to which abject poverty impacts our urban schools. We’re not talking about students who barely qualify for free/reduced lunch. We’re talking about a majority of students who come to school hungry. We live in a state that refuses to address poverty or properly fund public education, but we want to make sure the kids can read about pigs, spiders, liberty, and Jesus. In addition to school finance and child development, apparently Barresi also needs a basic course on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Third-graders who score Unsatisfactory on state tests and benchmark assessments are reading at about a first-grade level or below. First-graders proficient in reading can read simple words at the rate of about 60 words per minute. Fourth-graders, however, are expected to read 120 to 150 words per minute, and with more difficult text. They must read fluently for comprehension versus just learning to decode words.

Established in 1997, the RSA requires districts to conduct benchmark reading assessments at the start of kindergarten, first, second and third grades. A district must implement customized remediation plans for students with reading difficulties.

Although the law was in place for 17 years and funded by more than $80 million, the number of third-graders with reading difficulties was not showing improvement.

With the 2011 addition of the amendment on third-grade retention, many school districts have redoubled their efforts to help children read on grade level.

Starting Monday, Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) literacy staff and REAC3H Coaches will be manning telephone hotlines for educators and parents who have questions concerning the application of the RSA.

The RSA Hotlines will be active from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays from Monday through Friday, May 23.

Parents and community members can call (405) 521-3774 to leave comments or questions. The line will be monitored, with responses provided in a timely fashion.

District personnel who have questions should call (405) 521-3301, the main OSDE helpdesk line. Questions will be answered or calls routed to appropriate staff.

Of course, districts and parents are still welcome to contact OSDE for additional help after that period.

Again, Barresi provides misinformation about what the test tell us. They do not diagnose reading level. I enjoyed this response from the Norman Public Schools on Twitter. In what can be described as a great lesson in word choice, they called it the “3rd grade language arts exam” instead of a reading test. This more accurately explains to their parents and community what the scores represent.

Barresi is also wrong about the impact of the law over 17 years. Third grade reading scores did show improvement. Even fourth grade NAEP scores have improved over that time. ACT scores have improved too.

For months now we’ve heard Janet Barresi complain that 17 years of RSA without high stakes brought little gain. Now, with one year of high stakes, scores drop. Explain. And you don’t get to blame the special education kid. Neither do we, for that matter.

The only reason I care about these test scores is because people with no real investment in the children use them to make bad decisions – decisions that hurt kids. Yet in another show of bad form, the SDE released the scores by district on their website and to the media before many districts even had a chance to log on and look at them – much less contact parents. I’m all for transparency, and I’ve always said that test scores by grade, subject, and score level are a much better snapshot of school performance than A-F Report Cards, but these are only preliminary scores. The top of each score report has the following disclaimer:

Preliminary results pending corrections and SDE-approved status codes

This decision frustrated the Oklahoma City superintendent and the Tulsa superintendent. Rather than giving schools time to review the results and contact parents, they had to answer calls from all parents. The SDE added to the problem by creating unnecessary chaos. There will be updates. There will be status code changes. These things will impact whether students are retained.

But in their haste to make a big splash and somehow proclaim the fact that thousands of Oklahoma students may be retained (and that even more are worried) was somehow a victory, Janet Barresi and the SDE stumbled yet again.

This is why we must flood the legislature with phone calls, emails, and in-person visits on Monday. The House will hear HB 2625, which places the decision about retaining students back in the hands of parents and teachers. They will still review the test scores. They will still discuss the application of the good cause exemptions – or if none can be met. In some cases, they will still decide that retention is the best option.

The difference of course is who decides. A year’s worth of evidence will carry more weight than one test. A student’s IEP will carry more weight. A holistic evaluation of what the student knows and can do far outweighs a limited assessment that only arguably tests reading level.

If you’re like me, you’re mad, sickened, frustrated, and sad. Politicians playing with the lives of children will do that.

A Chasm of Words and Deeds

Janet Barresi wants you to know that she’s celebrating Teacher Appreciation Day. Or week. Or eternity. From yesterday’s press release, I’m not really sure.

Supt. Barresi remarks on National Teacher Appreciation Day

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 6, 2014) — In recognition of National Teacher Appreciation Day, Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi is urging all Oklahomans to show their gratitude.

“Teaching takes a special kind of person with great intelligence and heart. We’re lucky to have many truly remarkable teachers in Oklahoma, and I hope we all take the time to show our gratitude for them. Honestly, I’d hope every day is Teacher Appreciation Day,” Superintendent Barresi said.

This entire week, in fact, is observed nationally as Teacher Appreciation Week.

This morning, Barresi visited teachers at Shidler Elementary School in south Oklahoma City. It was a bit of a homecoming for the superintendent, who had done her student teaching there back in the 1970s.

With Principal Beth Steele leading the way, Barresi sat in on a remedial reading class. Reading Specialist Liz Davis employed an instructional reading program, Structured Language Basics, for a small group of children.

The next stop was the third-grade class of Alana LaFon, who led the class in a discussion about The Chocolate Touch, a book they have been reading. She asked students to use a finger to write on their foreheads how they would rate the book.

“Zero if you despise it,” the teacher said, “or 1, 2 or 3 if you like it.” To the untrained eye, no child appeared to write an invisible “0.”

The superintendent’s visit ended in a pre-kindergarten class. Kids sat, legs crossed, in a circle while teacher Amy Castleman led them through a host of words that include the letter “X.” The kids later paired off in groups of two for more word-centric questions.

They performed admirably. “Give your partner a ‘High-10!’” Ms. Castleman exclaimed.

Barresi was impressed by the teachers’ ingenuity and enthusiasm.

“Teachers are the heartbeat of our schools. They bring not only skill and knowledge, but also passion and enthusiasm,” she said. ”These teachers here at Shidler demonstrated that today. It’s invigorating to meet such great, dedicated educators. There are some wonderful things happening here.”

It’s one thing to say that you appreciate teachers and make a photo-op at a school. It’s something altogether to show it with your deeds. Here are a few examples of what not to do, if you really appreciate the people who spend every day with children – whether cameras are there or not. I’ll put 15 minutes on the clock and see how many I can think of without looking back at the last four years.

  1. People who appreciate teachers don’t reduce their effectiveness to algorithms.
  2. People who appreciate teachers don’t call those who oppose their agenda liberals and the education establishment.
  3. People who appreciate teachers don’t fudge math to propose unsustainable raises that would make some schools go broke.
  4. People who appreciate teachers don’t grandstand with speeches about being damned and losing another generation of Oklahoma’s children.
  5. People who appreciate teachers don’t hang them out to dry over student test scores.
  6. People who appreciate teachers don’t insist that 75 percent of all special education identifications are a mistake.
  7. People who appreciate teachers don’t cater to corporate education reformers.
  8. People who appreciate teachers don’t cover for the testing company’s mistakes one year then feign disgust the next.
  9. People who appreciate teachers don’t invite them to serve on committees and discussion groups and then completely disregard their input.
  10. People who appreciate teachers don’t foster a rigid culture in a state agency that makes employees act without compassion (until social media calls them out for it).
  11. People who appreciate teachers don’t lament the shortage of charter schools in the state or promote private school vouchers.

That’s 11 off the top of my head. It made me realize why I’m so tired. This is just the surface of what we’ve been dealing with since January 2011. At the rally in March, Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard spoke about the underlying current of disrespect that our profession faces from politicians. He’s absolutely right. Nobody is fooled by opportunistic press releases and pictures with students.

Today, if you’re a teacher, know that the majority of the state still appreciates and respects you. I hope someone tells you that and means it.

Calling on the Hotline (in Disco Pants)

All across Oklahoma, schools are approaching Friday with tremendous anticipation. With third grade retention looming, and CTB set to release scores by May 9th, the SDE is now offering a new service.

Oklahoma State Department of Education offers Reading Hotlines

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 6, 2014) – The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) will soon establish telephone hotlines for educators and parents who have questions about the third-grade promotion portion of the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA).

OSDE literacy staff and REAC3H Coaches will answer questions and concerns, provide support for electronic submission of reports and help with communication for parents and citizens.

The RSA Hotlines will be active from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, Monday, May 12, through Friday, May 23. 

Parents and community members can call (405) 521-3774 to leave comments or questions. The line will be monitored, with responses provided in a timely fashion.

District personnel who have questions should call (405) 521-3301, the main OSDE helpdesk line. Questions will be answered or calls routed to appropriate staff.

School districts statewide will receive third-grade reading test scores from testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill by Friday. Only third-graders who score Unsatisfactory on the test and don’t meet one of the state’s good-cause exemptions will be retained.

Students who score Unsatisfactory will be able to take an alternate assessment or a teacher may provide a portfolio of the child’s work to demonstrate that he or she reads at appropriate grade level.

For a full list of good-cause exemptions and more information about third-grade promotion, visit thirdgradereading.ok.gov.

The first thing I notice is that the SDE insists on calling it anything but a retention policy. I’ve heard people who work there call it third grade graduation Here they call it promotion. Students, parents, and teachers aren’t worried about promotion. They’re worried about retention.

For two weeks, the SDE is going to have REACH coaches providing hotline support. All 60 of them? How many phone calls do they anticipate? Will the first call be to complain that CTB’s data site is down and that schools can’t access the scores?

I also think it’s interesting that there are different numbers to call for school personnel and non-school personnel. I wonder what would happen if someone called the hotline  …

…wait a second. I can’t continue without providing you with this classic 70s earworm from the Sylvers…

Now I’m picturing all the REACH coaches dancing disco-style like the band in that video. And yes, calling that song a classic is a bit of a stretch. Then again, so is providing Q & A support during the last two weeks of the school year (the last week in some places) for the third grade retention law. Where was this outreach to parents during the school year?

Back to the question I began to pose before the musical detour: I wonder what would happen if someone called each hotline with the same question. Would we get the same answer? And what questions should we ask when Oklahoma parents, educators, and community members flood the phones? Please share your ideas in the comments.

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