Home > Uncategorized > Reason #8 to Pick a New State Superintendent: The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

Reason #8 to Pick a New State Superintendent: The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

June 13, 2014

Yesterday’s post covered a comedy of errors that ended in a giant snafu – the 2013 A-F Release. After putting it on the blog, I settled in for a quiet night of living vicariously through my blogger friend, Rob Miller. Rob, it seemed, was fortunate enough to attend the debate in Tulsa between incumbent State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Costello Barresi and her primary challenger, Joy Hofmeister.

There were several telling moments from the debate, and I fully expect a recap from Rob on his blog later. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite tweets (his and others) from the evening.

Here Barresi admits that a week before Governor Fallin signed HB 3399, which overturned the Common Core, she was aware of the decision. That probably would have been good information to have shared with those working in her curriculum department at the SDE. Until the final hour leading up to the governor’s announcement, they were still working with schools and lobbying hard to encourage a veto of the bill. Fortunately, the SDE has a solution handy.

Oh, my mistake. That’s not the SDE. That’s the Fake OKSDE Twitter account. He or she (what’s up with anonymity, people?) has been away from Twitter since the fall. Last night’s return was welcome and timely. It also came in handy when Barresi made a couple of serious mistakes.

Apparently, counting to two is hard.

This was the best one. She simply has no clue what she’s talking about. Fake OKSDE summed it up thusly:

Fake OKSDE Microfibers

After seeing that, I couldn’t help myself and added this one:


I look forward to Rob’s recap of the evening, but if you want to read more about how little our state superintendent understands about the testing required of our students, check out the Tulsa World.

To refresh your memory, here’s how the Top 10 in our countdown began:

#10 – Ignoring Researchers

#9 – The A-F Rollout

#8 – The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

It’s always hard to know exactly where to place a current event within a list of things that have happened over time. Is this so high because the problem is ongoing? Hard to say. When it started, I figured it was steering towards the honorable mention. Before we look at this year’s test problem, let’s go back to October 2013. That’s probably when we should have known this wouldn’t go well.

Writing Assessment Update

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 10/07/2013 09:02 AM CDT

Dear Superintendent, Principal and District Test Coordinator,

It has been brought to our attention that some Grade 5 and Grade 8 Writing Assessments need to be scored by a third reader and will likely receive a new writing score.  The original two readers did not agree sufficiently to produce a valid score for the students’ writing.  You may or may not have students who will receive new scores.  If you do, the students whose papers are being re-scored are posted on the State Department of Education Single Sign On Site. Click below the chalk board in the Accountability A to F box. Next, click on the reports tab found on the blue bar near the top of the screen. The students are listed by school.

Please know that the impacted students will receive new writing assessment scores in the middle of October.

Yes, a week before the SDE released our A-F grades last fall, they were aware that CTB still needed to re-score some of our writing tests. With that in mind, why is it so difficult for the SDE to take seriously the irregularities that school districts are pointing out to them? Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s fast-forward to the first of this month. When schools around Oklahoma started looking at their fifth and eighth grade writing scores they noticed some serious problems.

  • The rubric does not seem to have been used correctly.
  • Most students received the same sub-score for all five writing skills.
  • Students who properly cited a prepared text received deductions for plagiarism.

Several districts contacted the SDE about the concerns. One teacher even reached out on their Facebook page. This was the response:

Each test was assessed by two independent scorers – as well as a third when individual scores differed by more than one point on any trait – who employed a rubric made widely available to school districts and the public on the SDE website at sde.ok.gov. Initial reports from CTB/McGraw-Hill suggest that the test taker’s use of passage-based content and utilizing his or her own words were among the more prevalent issues in scoring of fifth- and eighth-grade writing tests.

The SDE public relations firm then linked to technical manuals.

Teachers who had taken the time to review student responses using the rubric were finding many instances in which their own professional judgment could not reconcile with the assigned score. Unfortunately, besides the three problems listed above, there is a fourth.

  • The cost to re-score student responses is ridiculous.

As one district put it to the SDE:

The fee of $125 is exorbitant. Scorers paid by CTB receive a low hourly wage and have to keep a relatively high production rate during the time they are under temporary assignment with the testing company. While we understand that some processing costs exist, none of that would explain the $125 fee. By our most conservative estimates, this amounts to a 90% mark-up of CTB’s out-of-pocket expenses. In other words, the fee is in place as a deterrent to keep districts from asking for tests to be re-scored.

The way I see it, this was a missed opportunity by the agency and Barresi’s campaign to side with schools and hammer another nail into the testing company. Unfortunately, the SDE just doesn’t take schools seriously. Teachers can’t possibly be right. The testing company knows the kids better than the teachers, right?

That might be true if it weren’t for the fact that the people grading our writing tests are temporary hires working for about $11.05 per hour. They don’t even have to have any background in education (which obviously isn’t a deal breaker for the SDE).

Earlier this week, several of the complaining districts received nearly identical three-page responses from the SDE. Lisa Chandler, one of the agency’s newest hires, quoted heavily from the technical manuals for interpreting the rubric, as well as the training protocol for scorers. She spent all that time telling the schools nothing. In short, just shut your mouths and move on with your lives.

Fortunately for those impacted by this issue, this isn’t the end of it. School districts are concerned about having the tools to give students and parents feedback about writing. Teachers and principals are concerned about the impact the flawed scores might have on teacher evaluations and school report card grades.

This issue is recent, but worthy of the top ten, partly because of what it symbolizes. As we continue struggling with an obtuse leadership that refuses to take an inept testing company to task, we face the larger burden of the fact that neither entity treats teachers with respect. We burn through a lot of taxpayer money, and the only proof that the scores are accurate is because they tell us so. If we question it, we’re protecting the status quo.

Eleven days left.

Glad you could make it back, @FakeOKSDE. You’re sorely needed.

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