Archive for May, 2014

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 (405) 557-7307 440
Banz, Gary W. (405) 557-7395 406
Bennett, John (405) 557-7315 300A
Biggs, Scott R. (405) 557-7405 242
Billy, Lisa J. (405) 557-7365 302A
Blackwell, Gus (405) 557-7384 305A
Brown, Mike (405) 557-7408 545
Brumbaugh, David (405) 557-7347 400B
Cannaday, Ed (405) 557-7375 546
Casey, Dennis (405) 557-7344 300B
Christian, Mike (405) 557-7371 303
Cleveland, Bobby (405) 557-7308 240
Cockroft, Josh (405) 557-7349 329B
Condit, Donnie (405) 557-7376 500A
Coody, Ann (405) 557-7398 439
Cooksey, Marian (405) 557-7342 409
Cox, Doug (405) 557-7415 331
Dank, David (405) 557-7392 435
Denney, Lee (405) 557-7304 441
Derby, David (405) 557-7377 408
DeWitt, Dale (405) 557-7332 328
Dorman, Joe (405) 557-7305 540
Echols, Jon (405) 557-7354 248
Enns, John (405) 557-7321 434
Fisher, Dan (405) 557-7311 202
Floyd, Kay (405) 557-7396 510B
Fourkiller, William (405) 557-7394 542
Glenn, Larry (405) 557-7399 502
Grau, Randy (405) 557-7360 338
Hall, Elise (405) 557-7403 301
Hamilton, Rebecca (405) 557-7397 510
Hardin, Tommy (405) 557-7383 301
Henke, Katie (405) 557-7361 246
Hickman, Jeffrey W. (405) 557-7339 401
Hoskin, Chuck (405) 557-7319 509
Hulbert, Arthur (405) 557-7310 204
Inman, Scott (405) 557-7370 548
Jackson, Mike (405) 557-7317 411
Johnson, Dennis (405) 557-7327 404
Jordan, Fred (405) 557-7331 405
Joyner, Charlie (405) 557-7314 436
Kern, Sally (405) 557-7348 304
Kirby, Dan (405) 557-7356 302B
Kouplen, Steve (405) 557-7306 541
Lockhart, James (405) 557-7413 505
Martin, Scott (405) 557-7329 432D
Martin, Steve (405) 557-7402 330
Matthews, Kevin (405) 557-7406 510B
McBride, Mark (405) 557-7346 248
McCall, Charles A. (405) 557-7412 244
McCullough, Mark (405) 557-7414 435A
McDaniel, Curtis (405) 557-7363 539B
McDaniel, Jeannie (405) 557-7334 508
McDaniel, Randy (405) 557-7409 438
McNiel, Skye (405) 557-7353 433B
McPeak, Jerry (405) 557-7302 503
Moore, Lewis H. (405) 557-7400 329
Morrissette, Richard (405) 557-7404 543
Mulready, Glen (405) 557-7340 200
Murphey, Jason (405) 557-7350 437
Nelson, Jason (405) 557-7335 301A
Newell, Tom (405) 557-7372 328B
Nollan, Jadine (405) 557-7390 329A
O’Donnell, Terry (405) 557-7379 242
Ortega, Charles (405) 557-7369 337
Osborn, Leslie (405) 557-7333 303B
Ownbey, Pat (405) 557-7326 334
Perryman, David L. (405) 557-7401 539A
Peterson, Pam (405) 557-7341 442
Pittman, Anastasia (405) 557-7393 510
Proctor, Eric (405) 557-7410 540A
Pruett, R. C. (405) 557-7382 501
Quinn, Marty (405) 557-7380 300C
Renegar, Brian (405) 557-7381 504
Reynolds, Mike (405) 557-7337 301B
Ritze, Mike (405) 557-7338 303A
Roberts, Dustin (405) 557-7366 200
Roberts, Sean (405) 557-7322 250
Rousselot, Wade (405) 557-7388 507
Russ, Todd (405) 557-7312 300
Sanders, Mike (405) 557-7407 205
Schwartz, Colby (405) 557-7352 407
Scott, Seneca (405) 557-7391 539
Sears, Earl (405) 557-7358 333
Shannon, T. W. (405) 557-7374 301
Shelton, Mike (405) 557-7367 539
Sherrer, Ben (405) 557-7364 500
Shoemake, Jerry (405) 557-7373 506
Smalley, Jason (405) 557-7368 244
Stiles, Aaron (405) 557-7386 250
Thomsen, Todd (405) 557-7336 433
Trebilcock, John (405) 557-7362 410
Turner, Mike (405) 557-7357 246
Vaughan, Steve (405) 557-7355 328A
Virgin, Emily (405) 557-7323 500
Walker, Ken (405) 557-7359 204
Watson, Weldon (405) 557-7330 302
Wesselhoft, Paul (405) 557-7343 332
Williams, Cory T. (405) 557-7411 544
Wood, Justin F. (405) 557-7345 202
Wright, Harold (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

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.

Depends on What Your Definition of “State Mandated” Is

A reader emailed me an exchange between a technology group and Kurt Bernhart – the Executive Director of Research & Development in the Office of Accountability and Asessments – with the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Basically, they wanted to know whether or not the 95% and 90% testing rules* would apply to field testing item tryouts. Here is what he told them:

Hello all,

Regarding item tryouts and the 95% rule, here’s basically the answer. (Sorry for the legal speak, but it is required.)

According to Title 70, Sections 1210.508 and 1210.523 of the Oklahoma Statutes, the State Board of Education is required to conduct criterion referenced tests in grades three through eight, and conduct end-of-instruction exams in grades nine through twelve. Part of this requirement is that the State Board of Education must conduct field testing [item tryouts] to ensure that all criterion-referenced test items are validated and determined to be appropriate for assessing Oklahoma students. In addition to the statutory requirement, the State Board of Education’s administrative rule 210:10-13-2 states that “All public school districts in the state shall administer the state mandated academic achievement tests of the OSTP to all students enrolled in the designated grades.”

Also, not all districts were chosen in the field test sampling plan; however, those that were are required by the statutes and rules mentioned above to administer those assessments. Those districts who do not comply with the statutes and rules could face penalties from the State Board of Education.


Let me begin by saying that I’m not a lawyer, although I have a solid grasp on school law. Many people with whom I’ve talked feel the law he cites is limited in its scope. The term state mandated academic achievement tests, in my view, refers to those we legally have to give, not to the field tests item tryouts. At the end of the testing window, when we have administered all of those tests, we will have met that requirement. The statute and administrative rule are both silent on the issue of whether or not schools must participate in assessments given after schools have administered all of the subject-area tests.

Since we will not receive scores for these exams, I also have a hard time calling them academic achievement tests. Schools will receive no feedback about the extent to which their students achieved anything. They are tests over the standards that will be in effect next year. While most school districts have been working since 2010 or 2011 transitioning instruction from PASS to the Common Core, in most cases, that process is still not complete. Thus the field test item tryouts assess skills that have yet to be integrated into the curriculum. We won’t even know which items were successful in their tryouts and invited to join the squad!

We’ve seen hollow threats from the SDE about “penalties from the State Board of Education” before. The end result was Superintendent Barresi naming districts who did not participate in the Stress Tests in an email newsletter. Are they going to penalize parents who throw down their number two pencils and say, “I’ve had it!”? Will they be called out by name too?

It’s hard-core bluster aimed at the fact that the SDE has lost control of the people from whom it expects sheep-like obedience. We’ve also seen the SDE run away from Jenks and Owasso on this issue while forcing all the other districts to participate. Eventually (June 24th), they’re going to learn that standing in the door with their arms crossed doesn’t intimidate the rest of us either. This administration will say anything to scare school districts into compliance with nothing more than the equivalent of an outstretched finger pointed into our backs.


*Under Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind waiver agreement with the feds, schools failing to test at least 95% of students enrolled in an assessed subject/grade will lose a letter grade on their A-F Report Cards. Schools failing to test at least 90% will receive an F.

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