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Archive for June, 2014

Reason #2 to Pick a New State Superintendent: The Settlement with CTB

As we spiral to the finish line of next week’s primary in the state superintendent’s race, the commercials are getting uglier. Liberal this. Conservative that. While I have a preferred outcome, I think I speak for many who are simply looking forward to getting past Tuesday. It’ll get worse before it gets better – sort of like the last four years!

#5 – Fabricating Special Education Percentages

#4 – Changing Biology Cut Scores

#3 – Vendetta against Jenks

#2 – The Settlement with CTB

As many of you may remember, two (Indiana and Oklahoma) states had to shut down all online testing in April 2013 because CTB/McGraw-Hill’s servers couldn’t handle the load. This disruption led to questionable test results and a pathetic settlement agreement:

  • A cash settlement ($367,205)
  • Professional development for teachers to help them become more acquainted with the type of items that can be expected on new English language arts and math assessments and how to adjust instruction so students will be successful on these tests. ($13,000)
  • Formative tests for teachers that can be given on a voluntary basis twice a year to measure student learning and drive instruction for the benefit of increased student achievement in the second grade. ($678,400)
  • Formative tests for teachers that can be given on a voluntary basis twice a year to measure student learning and drive instruction for the benefit of increased student achievement for grades 3 through 11. ($6,600)
  • The commissioning of an independent study to evaluate the impact of the disruptions on student test scores. HUMRRO, Inc. has expertise in the area of analyzing testing disruptions. They will provide an independent opinion that is expected to be delivered in late August. ($48,000)
  • Prior to testing, CTB will conduct a technology readiness assessment of each Oklahoma School District to: ($125,000)
    -Capture specifications regarding bandwidth, number of workstations, server
    configuration, etc. at each school site
    -Identify a technology contact at each school district
    -Perform online stress tests at every site
    -Conduct training and deploy implementation services at all sites
    -Establish a technology forum to deliver regular communications to districts

The SDE was supposed to distribute the cash at the top to schools. I don’t recall that happening. The last item – technology readiness assessment – did happen, but there was a threat from Janet Barresi along the way (a veiled threat, it turned out). The bulk of the “punishment” was that CTB would make available to schools a product they never wanted. That’s like going to dinner, sending back your steak because it’s over cooked, and being compensated with a fish that’s also overcooked.

I first take issue with the fact that CTB was merely punished. Why weren’t they fired outright? Barresi said the contract prohibited firing them for poor performance, but that’s simply not true. When it happened again this year, she made it clear she could and would fire them.

“It is an understatement to say I am frustrated. It is an understatement to say I am outraged,” Barresi said at a news conference held at the department.

“The state was ready. Districts did all we asked of them. We quadrupled training, conducted stress tests and addressed a litany of issues in hopes of guarding against as many system deficiencies as possible. But we could not guard against everything, and this is a 100-percent failing of CTB.”

CTB indicated it is monitoring the errant hardware and is working with the hardware vendor to guard against another interruption. This marks the second year of significant system disruptions surrounding the vendor.

As I mentioned in reason #19, the path taken by the SDE to hiring CTB to run our testing program was problematic. That was the highlight. Then they failed us once, and we slapped them on the wrist, so they could fail us again. In contrast, Indiana’s state superintendent showed more resolve in sticking up for her schools.

“I have spent the last several months talking with Hoosiers about the impact these interruptions had in the classroom.  Although Dr. Hill’s report found that the statewide average score was not affected by the interruptions, there is no doubt that thousands of Hoosier students were affected.  As Dr. Hill stated in his report, ‘We cannot know definitively how students would have scored this spring if the interruptions had not happened.’ Because of this, I have given local schools the flexibility they need to minimize the effect these tests have on various matters, such as teacher evaluation and compensation.  I have also instructed CTB McGraw-Hill to conduct enhanced stress and load testing to ensure that their servers are fully prepared for next year’s test and ensure that this never happens again.”

What I wouldn’t give for a state superintendent with that kind of attitude!

As for the study by our state, it revealed little. A small percentage of the scores wouldn’t count, which was fair. The SDE made it clear, however, that the impact on state averages was minimal.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a lot more concerned with each individual student than I am a teacher average, a school average, a district average, or the state average. If we’re going to spend all of this time and money testing and preparing for tests, we should get results that mean something.

Testing is the cog in Janet Costello “Schedule J” Barresi’s reform plan. It’s central to every other idea. When she was for the Common Core, it was because she wanted better testing. She wants this to be a part of teacher evaluations. She wants tests deciding the fate of kids. But when the company we pay millions to do what she values can’t finish the job, she does nothing – not even a healthy round of name-calling.

Keep your steak (and your fish). I want my money back – and a competent leader in that position.

Reason #3 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Vendetta against Jenks

Timing is everything. Yesterday, as I was poised to post the #4 reason in my countdown, I ran across the information about Janet Barresi’s campaign owing the candidate herself nearly $2 million. Apparently, that nugget of information is something my readers find interesting. In fact, twice in the last week or so, I’ve broken from the countdown to discuss something topical that was too new to make the list. The other time was when I posted the letter that the REAC3H coaches received from Barresi via their boss Teri Brecheen. In my mind, the common thread connecting the campaign contributions and the dismissal of the coaches is that both show how disconnected Barresi (and many of her top staff at the SDE) are from everyday people – even those who work for them.

Today, I have the good fortune of adding a late-breaking news nugget to the post that I had originally scheduled to run today. Here is what posted to the NewsOK website this afternoon

The campaign manager for state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi alleged Wednesday that rival Joy Hofmeister broke the law by sending campaign-related emails to school district administrators on their work accounts.

Hofmeister, of Tulsa, and Brian Kelly of Edmond are opposing Barresi in Tuesday’s Republican primary. Hofmeister said the allegations are “desperate attempts” by Barresi to “smear my reputation to distract voters from her failures.”

“I was a private citizen, during the time period of these conversations, responding to emails like most average citizens do,” Hofmeister said in a statement. “Janet Barresi is fast and loose with her accusations hoping to bully me with her personal fortune because I have decided to stand against her and fight for the school children of Oklahoma.”

This seems like a desperate leap to me. I hope it was worth the $1,500 her campaign spent to dig through the emails.

Here’s a recap of the Top Five (so far):

#5 – Fabricating Special Education Percentages

#4 – Changing Biology Cut Scores

#3 –  Vendetta against Jenks

The real story is the ongoing feud Barresi and the SDE have been waging against Jenks Public Schools. I started paying attention to it in May 2013.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education is investigating Jenks Public Schools apparently to see if its parent-led movement to opt students out of “field tests” was instigated or encouraged by district employees, the Tulsa World has learned.

“There is an investigation, but at this time, we don’t really want to discuss it so that it won’t be compromised,” said department spokeswoman Sherry Fair.

The state enforces strict security protocols to ensure the reliability of testing results. Officials declined to provide more specific information about what rules they think Jenks administrators might have violated.

Although state education officials declined to release specifics, it appears the investigation targets an opt-out movement among parents of Jenks Middle School students during last month’s testing period.

The school received a flurry of opt-out forms from parents in April asking that their children not be subjected to field tests, which are used by testing companies to evaluate questions for future use. They do not count in either a student’s grade or in a school’s state grade.

“Our kids are being used as unpaid subjects by CTB/McGraw-Hill (a testing vendor) without our consent or permission,” PTA President Deedra Barnes told the Tulsa World last month.

In response to a Tulsa World inquiry, Jenks district officials confirmed they had received an Open Records Act request from the department April 24 asking for a number of records related to testing.

Jenks spokeswoman Bonnie Rogers said the district is complying with the state’s request in accordance with state law.

“This was a parent-initiated movement and the district followed all state laws and regulations in administering state-mandated tests,” she said.

Rogers said she preferred not to comment further because of the ongoing investigation, except to say the district was surprised by the number of parents who opted their child out of the tests. About half the students did not take the field tests, she said.

Barresi, as Rob Miller (the Jenks Middle School principal), pointed out on his blog just last night, campaigned in 2010 telling us that she valued what parents think. Her actions ever since being elected show otherwise. Parents may matter, but not as much as testing. Although I suppose if you could test parents, you’d really have something that she values.

The investigation yielded nothing. The Tulsa World looked into how this started and found a very skeptical state superintendent pulling the strings.

Documents show Barresi requested in a telephone conversation April 5 that Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman initiate an internal investigation into the opt-out movement.

In an email to Barresi later that day, Lehman reiterated that Jenks would comply with all the state’s requests. He also wrote that after speaking with Barnes and Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller, “it is clear to me that Ms. Barnes and other parents made the determination to pen the letter and take the action which resulted in Wednesday’s ‘opting out’ activity on the part of many Jenks parents and students.”

That evening, Barresi wrote an email to Chief of Staff Joel Robison, Assistant State Superintendent Maridyth McBee and the department’s general counsel, Kim Richey, about Lehman’s email.

“I am not buying the explanation that seems to insulate Miller and others. There had to be a great deal of conversation between Rob and the parents. Clearly this was orchestrated,” Barresi wrote.

By October, the SDE had quietly closed the investigation. Maybe they felt it was best not to keep this fire burning. After the World reported on the lack of findings, Rob Miller responded.

Did you notice something obvious that is missing from this SDE report? How about actual interviews with me, Deedra Barnes (our PTA mom who led the opt-out campaign), or any other parents, teachers, or staff members? They spoke to no one. Thus, the SDE erroneously concludes that I initiated the parent opt-out based on a loose interpretation of hundreds of emails. Of course, they omitted emails which did not serve their purpose of painting me as a “rogue” administrator trying to circumvent state law. If anyone at the SDE had taken the time to speak with a real person, they would have found out otherwise.

Here are the facts and they are irrefutable:

1. Every student at Jenks Middle School was properly scheduled for a test session for every assessment required by state law. Students with parents who chose to opt their child out of the field test(s) were given multiple opportunities to take these tests.

2. Only students with a signed letter from a parent were permitted to opt-out of a field test. No students were excused from participation in any operational test.

3. The school worked with the parents to create an opt-out letter using a template from a national opt-out organization. This was done to ensure that we had a consistent communication for documentation purposes.

4. No staff member asked or encouraged any student to opt-out. On the contrary, we repeatedly encouraged students to participate in all state mandated tests.

5. I did not coerce or encourage Ms. Barnes or any other parent to initiate an opt-out campaign. Ms. Barnes brought the topic up to me after getting increasing frustrated at the amount of unnecessary testing to which her child was subjected. Our parents sent information to other parents using a private email account. The school did not distribute the opt-out letters or information about the initiative with parents; rather these parents were directed to contact Ms. Barnes.

6. No one provided any information about the field tests that wasn’t available on the SDE’s own webpage. The Geography and US History tests were known to be field tests in early October. Teachers and students knew they would not receive a score from these tests and that the results would not affect the school’s accountability measures. Likewise, teachers and students were told that one of the two Writing tests would be a field test. How did they figure out which one was the field test? It wasn’t difficult. The directions in the test administrators’ booklet for the Writing field test clearly stated to students, “You are about to take the FIELD TEST for writing.” Duh!

The bottom line is that no laws associated with the Oklahoma State Testing Program were violated by anyone at Jenks Middle School. We simply have a high number of engaged parents who were fed up and wanted to send a message.

Regrettably, the SDE wants to make this a story about a principal (me) who in less than four days was allegedly able to convince over half the school’s parents to opt their child out of field testing. The story they want to ignore is the one about a large group of highly educated and passionate parents taking a stand over an out-of-control, high-stakes testing machine that negatively impacts their child’s education. These parents are not going away. In fact their numbers are growing every day.

The numbers have grown so much, in fact, that a Jenks Public Schools parent is just six days away from possibly knocking Barresi out of her re-election campaign in the primary. Diane Ravitch took Rob’s story national.

In the spring, the SDE added to this story when they selected school districts for field testing and somehow missed a couple. To no one’s surprise, Jenks was one of them. (Owasso was the other.) Here was Rob’s reaction.

Honestly, it was a pleasant surprise when we found out last week that students and schools in the Jenks district were NOT randomly selected to participate in ANY of these field tests. However, when we discovered that Owasso Public Schools had also not been “randomly selected,” several of us became a little suspicious. As you may have heard, some parents and educators in Owasso made some waves recently because of their vocal opposition to implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in their district. Therefore, this news was way too coincidental for random chance.

You could say that since Barresi took office, she has received a lot of grief from northeast Oklahoma. At one point, her Chief of Staff even called administrators from Jenks and Union dirtbags. She has ignored questions from Broken Arrow Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall. She even accidentally sent him the wrong email once, showing that she blamed the districts for the problems they were having with the ACE graduation law.

Her thirst for revenge is evident in all of these actions – and completely unacceptable for somebody who claims to be doing what she does to help children.

Reason #4 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Changing Biology Cut Scores

The response to yesterday’s countdown post has been surprising – and mostly private. The direct messages and emails I have received have been appreciative, and in a couple of cases emotional. Think about that for a minute. The vast majority of parents never have to deal with special education issues. The ones who do are often a fixture in conference rooms with administrators. Yet when someone with a forum takes the time to speak about the issues this group faces, support is overwhelming and from all angles.

Whether you’ve walked a mile in the shoes of a parent of a special needs child or not, you probably still have a good understanding of why it’s important for policy-makers, the SDE, and school districts to possess understanding and compassion. Most parents can send their children to school, check progress periodically, help with homework at night, and expect for the best. I wrote last night’s post with my mind on the parents who never know what they’re going to hear when they talk to their child’s teachers. For those of you who got that, I appreciate you letting me know.

Here’s a recap of the Top Ten (so far):

#10 – Ignoring Researchers

#9 – The A-F Rollout

#8 – The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

#7 – PASSing Around Our Standards

#6 – Learning to Use Reading for Political Gain

#5 – Fabricating Special Education Percentages

#4 – Changing Biology Cut Scores

Late last summer, after many districts around the state had already started holding classes, in fact, the SDE announced that test scores from the previous school year would be released soon.

Superintendents and District Testing Coordinators,

Please see the calendar below for a schedule for the release of test scores.

Test Scores Released August 23
Districts have 30-day window
to verify tests scores
August 29 to September 30
Districts have a 10-day window
to review A-F Report Cards
October 10 to 23
SDE staff presents A-F Report Cards
To SBE for approval
October 24 BOE meeting

Then the timeframe changed. The testing company pushed the release back another week. Yes, schools had been working with their preliminary data for two months. They had begun planning for improvement. They had set up schedules for remediation. They just didn’t have all the information they would need for the accountability reports that would become a fiasco two months later.

Oh, and they had no science scores. The SDE was late in releasing those because they were still manipulating the data. A few weeks later, when schools had that information, teachers – especially Biology teachers – were furious. Parents and administrators were angry and confused. Not only were scores much lower than they had been in the past; they did not reflect the opinions of the committees that were in place to set them. One reader sent me this:

Now that test scores have been released to districts, there has been a lot of discussion about the impacts of these scores. I’ve been asked for my opinion about these scores by several teachers, so I thought I would share my (rambling, sometimes incoherent) thoughts with you, the advocates for education in this state. (Also, be aware that I am approaching this from the perspective of my background as a high school biology teacher, although I suspect that many of these points apply to other disciplines and grades.)

First, has raising the cut scores for passing a test ever improved education? I don’t know of any studies that suggest this is true. If there was any evidence showing that raising cut scores alone, without providing additional supports to teachers, improves student achievement, then I would be more willing to accept the SDE’s justifications. Also, if I had confidence that the OCCTs and EOIs test student understanding of science–which I don’t– then I would be more apt to agree with the SDE’s decision. But this will only be a hardship to students, families, schools, and teachers. What is the purpose of making it more difficult to pass a test when you don’t help teachers become more effective? Just telling teachers to “do better or your test scores will be awful and your job will be on the line” is neither motivating nor effective.

When I heard the cut scores, I went through my previous years’ scores to determine how they would have effected my students– the students that I know. I know whether these students had mastered the biology curriculum. And I determined that many of my students, whom I– as a professional educator– deemed to be proficient in biology– would not have passed. And my school would have had to spend scarce resources to remediate these kids. I get that we want to raise the bar– I want that, too. But I don’t want to raise the bar for proficient students, students who “get it”. I want support to meet the needs of the struggling students.

Finally, I want to share my experience as a member of the committee that “set the cut score” for this year’s biology EOI. I put that phrase in quotation marks, because we didn’t actually set the cut score. We began by working through the actual EOI (I’m proud to say that I didn’t miss a single question, although I did struggle a LOT with three questions. I have a masters degree in science education; I’ve taken 40 hours of graduate-level biology courses. I’ve taken– and passed– every pre-med course offered at OU. I have earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and I will earn a second masters in December before I begin a PhD program in spring. I have 248 hours of college credit under my belt. I taught biology for 8 years, and I served on several SDE assessment committees. AND I STRUGGLED WITH 3 QUESTIONS ON THE BIOLOGY EOI. Do you know what finally enabled me to answer those questions? I had to switch from the mindset of a person who is proficient in biology content, and instead think like a standardized test writers. What hope was there for our kids to answer those questions correctly?)

Like I said, if I believed in the ability of these tests to accurately gauge student understanding of biology, then I would not be writing this angry diatribe. But I’ve found that my own professional assessment of student understanding is far more reliable than the EOI.

I’ll skip all of the boring parts, but I will tell you that after we set our initial cut score recommendation, Meredith McBee from the SDE addressed us, and showed us data regarding how our cut score recommendations compare to ACT and NAEP data. Our cut scores did not align at all to the ACT or NAEP, but it was not sufficiently explained to us how the EOI comparable score was determined. We were also told that the legislature expected the biology test to be more rigorous than in the past. We were encouraged to reconsider our cut score based on ACT, NAEP, and the legislature’s intent. We did not deviate much from our original recommendation.

Now, here’s the part that should really concern teachers: When Meredith McBee presented cut score recommendations to the State Board of Education, she proposed a completely different cut score than the one that we came up with, and SHE TOLD THE STATE BOARD THAT THE CUT SCORE WAS DETERMINED BY A COMMITTEE OF TEACHERS. Now, I realize that the SDE has the ability to override the teacher committee’s recommendation. But it makes me steaming mad that they overrode our recommendation, and passed their own off as the recommendation of the teachers.

If I were still a biology teacher, I would be passing this information on to every parent of every student who did not pass the biology EOI. Our students should not be political pawns.

In addition to so many other misguided beliefs, Janet Barresi feels that if you don’t measure something, you don’t really value it. On the other hand, if you measure something, and you have no idea what unit of measurement you’re using, it’s hard to place much stock in the result. It was an insult to the students who took the class and the teachers who prepared them. It was a slap in the face for those who served on the standard setting committee (and evidence of why the SDE has difficulty recruiting people to serve on such committees).

Students who take the Biology EOI have to pass four of seven EOIs to graduate. When they went home in May 2013, they had a pretty good idea of how ready they were. When the results came in, a lot of those ideas were dispelled.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma has gone 10 years since completing a standards-adoption process in science; hence, schools are using textbooks that are falling apart. That doesn’t help.

These are the kinds of problems that linger to this day. The SDE shows little regard for what the schools tell them. Even when they ask our opinions, they don’t listen. This is evident in the deaf ear they are turning to the writing scores. Everything about this undermines the entire multi-million dollar testing process.

One thing we know as we await final scores for the 2014 tests this summer is that past is prologue. Later this month, the SDE will again host educators for standard setting for our social studies exams. At this point, I don’t expect a different outcome. The educators will go through the process to determine cut scores for the 5th and 8th grade tests, as well as the U.S. History EOI. The SDE will do whatever they want.

“Schedule J” Janet

We are a creative people. A time-honored tradition in American politics is the public issuing a nickname to candidates. The Gipper. Tricky Dick. Slick Willie. Honest Abe. Silent Cal. All the way back to Tippecanoe and Tyler Too. At our most mundane, we refer to our presidents by their initials – FDR, JFK, LBJ. Word had it that the first President Bush sometimes referred to the second President Bush as “Quincy,” a nod to our second and sixth presidents.

In our state superintendent race here in Oklahoma, I have seen several clever nicknames for the incumbent, Janet C. Barresi – Breezy and Superindentist come to mind. And while I don’t typically use the nicknames, they definitely ring true. Today, I’d like to introduce a new one.

Schedule J Janet

The image above is Schedule J – a public document required by the state of Oklahoma. It shows that the Friends of Janet Barresi 2014 committee owes Janet Barresi the individual $1,982,167.44 as of June 9, 2014. Yes, Schedule J Janet is out nearly $2 million of her own money for this campaign. As one of her few remaining political allies would say, HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH? Considering the fact that her campaign currently has a little over $73,500 on hand, I’d say the odds are against her getting that money back.

Schedule E also shows that she made a media placement and production purchase of $567,487.35 on June 5, 2014. She’s committed to a shock and awe finish this next week.

The same document shows that she is still paying her former chief of staff, Jennifer Carter – who is married to a member of the Oklahoman’s editorial board – for consulting services. Carter received $3,750 from the campaign in May, bringing her year-to-date total to 37,585.53. Does Barresi paying her own campaign and the campaign paying Carter amount to buying influence with the Oklahoman? That’s your call. He’s an editorialist. She’s a political consultant. Their jobs are bound to intersect, but full disclosure would be nice.

Quick math quiz: Referring back to PASS, would that tangled web be an example of the associative, distributive, or transitive property?

In contrast to the name of her committee, Barresi has few friends contributing anything of substance (cash or strategy) to her campaign. To be fair, I looked up campaign information on all the candidates for state superintendent. Information listed is as of June 16.

Candidate Loan Balance Cash on Hand
Barresi $1,982,167.44 $73,544.80
Cox $68,449.43 $128,611.16
Deskin $16,835.06 $110,279.93
Herron None Reported $5,914.46
Hofmeister $28,953.69 $27,527.36
Holmes $3,000 $5,745.73
Kelly None Reported None Reported

Interestingly, Republican Brian Kelly has raised and spent no money for this campaign. Why then are banners for him popping up in Oklahoma City? Who’s paying for those?

As I mentioned over the weekend, Barresi is all in. Only winning matters. The cost does not. Nor does the truth. While she’s busy stimulating the Oklahoma economy misrepresenting her one contending primary opponent, the rest of us are spreading the word every chance we get that another four years of Barresi just can’t happen.

Don’t let the lies or the cash fool you. Don’t let Schedule J Janet win.

Reason #5 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Fabricating Special Education Percentages

In case you missed yesterday’s endorsement of Superintendent Barresi from the Oklahoman, well too bad. I’m not going to link to it. At best, their praise was tepid. While I mentioned it briefly in yesterday’s post, I didn’t come close to the takedown provided by The Lost Ogle today. They mention the link between the paper and Barresi’s campaign:

Jennifer is a close ally of State School Superintendent Janet Barresi. She was Barresi’s first campaign manager, first chief of staff, and oversaw the creation of Barresi’s squadron of evil winged flying monkeys. She also pulled a Barresi in 2011 and referred to educators as “dirtbags” on Twitter. She’s now doing work for the Barresi campaign through her firm Jennifer Carter Consulting.

I’m telling you this because Jennifer’s husband, Ray, is a former PR flack who just happens to be an editorial writer for The Oklahoman. For a living, he regurgitates conservative talking points, protects the newspaper’s friends and allies, and attacks and destroys their enemies.

They conclude by expressing disbelief that anyone would vote to stay the course.

So there you have it, The Oklahoman thinks you should vote for Janet Barresi because… she’s an abrasive, alienating, bridge-burning tyrant lady who wants to improve education for all students? Uhm, can’t we find some nice qualified person who wants to improve education, too? In case you care, the answer to that question is “Yes.” Just don’t expect the Oklahoman editorial writers to tell you about it.

And that, my friends, is why I have a list.

#10 – Ignoring Researchers

#9 – The A-F Rollout

#8 – The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

#7 – PASSing Around Our Standards

#6 – Learning to Use Reading for Political Gain

#5 – Fabricating Special Education Percentages

Looking back upon the first half of the Top 10, I see trends. For misinformation, see #10 and #6. For incompetence, see #9. For a combination of those two things, see #8 and #7. Today’s post is about a topic that amounts to part misinformation, and part bullying – which will be a running trend throughout the top five.

I feel I start a lot of paragraphs with the clause, One of the most outrageous/ridiculous/disingenuous things she Barresi has ever said was…. Well that’s where we start tonight – with a line that she has repeated and revised may times since November. To my knowledge, the first iteration was at the candidate forum in November that I often reference (because it is so rich with material). She told the audience that 75 percent of all special education identifications are incorrect; that the school just hasn’t taught children to read. Not only is this complete nonsense; she has to know it is. Sometimes, it’s actually 50 percent. Sometimes it’s a vague number. Whatever it is on a given day, she tends to repeat some version of this line every time she discusses reading.

This statistic is supposed to be evidence that she knows something that we don’t know. It’s a refrain with no intent other than to perpetuate a lie – public schools are failing – and to do so using special education students as a prop.

Few things anger me worse than mistreating students on an Individualized Education Program. This includes dismissing their needs as well as dismissing their abilities. For years, schools have worked to curb over-identification of special needs students, knowing that getting that label early can lead to a life of low expectations. At the same time, when students are struggling to the point that their education suffers – whether it be for cognitive, physical, emotional, or any other set of reasons – we would be wrong not to accept the fact that an IEP is necessary.

Statewide, schools have held steady at an average of 15 percent of students on an IEP for years. That doesn’t mean we can’t find instances of over-identification or under-identification. After all, Cottonwood, the district that Barresi’s executive director of literacy led for years, has one of the highest special education identification rates in the state.

The belief that we don’t know how to place special education students correctly is a terrible indictment of teachers in the early grades. Most students placed on an IEP start to receive services before third grade. With this made-up statistic that Barresi tailors to her audience on any given day, she calls into question the competence of every single teacher children have before age eight.

This is worse than the learning to read, reading to learn trope because repeating the lie as she does undermines the work we do with some of our most vulnerable students. As I’ve repeated on this blog and on social media, the exemptions in place for special education students under the third-grade retention law do not provide much of a safety net.

This is one of the shorter posts of my countdown, but honestly, it doesn’t take a thousand words to remind readers that Janet Barresi does not understand special (or any other kind of) education. Rob Miller explained this well last week in one of his Really posts, hitting several points that I will again raise as we approach the top of the charts.

Reason #6 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Learning to Use Reading for Political Gain

In case you’re wondering, the number one reason to vote Janet Barresi out of office in nine days is that she is awful at her job. Furthermore, she’s surrounded herself with people who are awful at their jobs too.

That’s not how the countdown works, however. Apparently, I’m supposed to list specific ways in which she is awful at her job. As I do, feel free to grade this post for each of the five analytical writing traits separately. Hopefully I’ll get a 4.0 for coherence. On the other hand, I’ve written a lot this month in a short period of time. You can just give me a holistic score if you want. Pretend you work for CTB.

#10 – Ignoring Researchers

#9 – The A-F Rollout

#8 – The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

#7 –PASSing Around Our Standards

#6 – Learning to Use Reading for Political Gain

If there’s one thing I think Barresi has right, it’s the fact that reading is the most important skill our children learn. Within that topic, we disagree over everything else. Her mindset regarding reading instruction is that if a student can’t read after four years in the classroom, the school is to blame. Her mind is set. There is no room for argument.

Since the legislature updated the Reading Sufficiency Act in 2011 to include mandatory third grade retention that would take effect this school year, the SDE has made preparing for this moment a primary focus. At the same time, implementing TLE and CCSS were each a major focus, diluting the attention given to this effort. Still she found some federal money for one year and some Activities Budget money a second year to employ 60 REAC3H coaches, who she said were the cornerstone of the state’s efforts to prepare teachers and students for the test.

In the meantime, with a major assist from the Oklahoman, Barresi has taken every opportunity to show that only her opinion matters. She has controlled the narrative with talking points straight out of Florida, faulty research, and a fundamental misunderstanding of what the tests in Oklahoma measure.

There are several points in time that would make sense for starting this discussion. For this piece, I’m going to begin with a campaign forum at which Barresi spoke in November, then hit several key moments that have happened since then.

“If you don’t measure it, it doesn’t matter.”

-Janet Barresi (November 2013)

During this forum, Barresi was debating 1994 and 1998 Republican state superintendent candidate Linda Murphy. At the time, Murphy sounded like a potential candidate herself. At one point, a parent asks her a question, and Barresi defends the retention law.

Barresi fields an emotional question from a parent of a stressed out special education student. She responds by digging in on the third grade retention law. Again she blames school districts, claiming that they waited until this year to act. She conveniently forgets two facts. First is that until August, school districts had received no guidance from the SDE about how to take the six good cause exemptions written into the law from statute to action. Once again, here is the process: Statute to Administrative Rule to Guidance for Implementation. For all of the training that school districts have received (or not received, depending on the REAC3H coaches), in assisting third graders, the real trick is knowing how to enact the law. The second fact is that school districts received no RSA funding last year and still wait to receive their notices of funding for this year. Schools continue working with students and waiting endlessly on the SDE.

The first year the SDE had the REAC3H coaches, they were working their way into the schools they served, between periods of receiving training themselves. Not until the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, however, had districts received anything that resembled official guidance from the SDE. This past school year, the coaches probably spent almost as much time helping their districts with paperwork as they did on training.

The mindset of the SDE seems to have been that they would spend a lot of money and hope that what they were buying made its way into schools. As I’ve written previously, the REAC3H coaches turned out to be a big help. The problem is that they could not reach all the teachers in all the schools in a meaningful way. Sixty people can only be in so many places.

By January, the SDE had sent forms for districts to use to predict how many third grade students would score Unsatisfactory on the reading test. Shortly thereafter, she held a press conference and would only let members of the media ask questions. In fact, when a parent tried to have a word with her, she shut that parent down, asking, “Are you with the media?” She also tersely told those in attendance that “the time for debate is over.” That’s the Barresi way – always shut down dissent by putting her fingers in her ears.

This was also the first time I can remember Barresi using the trope about fourth grade being the age when “children transition from learning to read to reading to learn.” It’s a hell of a sound byte, but it’s completely meaningless. As reading guru Claudia Swisher points out all the time, we never quit learning to read. As for children still in the process of learning to read, they are still using their emerging skills to aid in other learning. In truth, every skill you gain in decoding information assists you in every other academic endeavor.

In February, the retention law came up at a parent forum in Owasso:

Seven legislators and Joel Robison, chief of staff for state Superintendent Janet Barresi, took questions from more than 100 people who asked questions and shared concerns about education funding, the Reading Sufficiency Act and other issues…

Several people also spoke about their opposition to the third-grade reading law, which this year requires third-graders to show proficiency on their reading test or be retained in the third grade.

Robison told parents that there are six ways a third-grader could be promoted to fourth grade after failing the reading test. But one parent told him that has backfired in her daughter’s third-grade class.

“What’s happening, sir, is they are taking instruction time from our children to build a portfolio on every single child just in case they don’t pass,” she said.

After a pause, Robison said, “That’s unfortunate,” bringing a chorus of groans from the audience.

With minimal guidance from the SDE, school districts were doing everything they could conceive to help their students succeed. People who don’t understand instruction, measurement, or child development probably also don’t understand the lengths that teachers will go to in order to get their kids where they need to be. A week later, however, Barresi sent schools a condescending letter that made it sound as if she got it. Here is the opening:

Dear educators:

As you are well aware, this is a critical time for the Reading Sufficiency Act’s third-grade reading requirement. I know that those of you teaching K-3 are working hard to give your students the gift of literacy, and I have seen impressive reading plans in districts large and small across Oklahoma. With the OCCT testing window only a month away, I wanted to address some common questions about how to prepare for RSA today and in the months ahead.

As outlined by the RSA, by this point you already have identified struggling readers through benchmark assessments and have notified parents of the children who are struggling. In the coming weeks, keep doing what you do best — explore the fundamentals of reading with those students using whatever the techniques or resources you think will work most effectively. If you need assistance from one of our REAC3H coaches or the literacy department, help is only a phone call away.

Talk to parents or guardians. If you can reach out to families — especially those where education is not a priority — with accurate information about the RSA and the importance of literacy, you could help spark an entirely new future for those children.

I really took issue with that third paragraph. Schools had been reaching out to families, and yes, there are a lot of households where education is not a priority. When it came to having information about the RSA, however, that wasn’t the line of demarcation. I have had many conversations with parents holding advanced degrees in which I had to carefully walk through each of the six Good Cause Exemptions. For many, disappointment in the provisions for special needs students was apparent.

Here’s how the letter ended:

I want to thank those of you who have taken the time to write to me with your thoughts and recommendations. It helps those of us at OSDE make appropriate adjustments in the program and in the supports we provide to you. Also, thank you to all of you who have attended our trainings. I hope you have found them to be of value.

Finally, I want to thank you for the work you do for the children of Oklahoma. Your steadfast commitment and professionalism are a testament to the greatness of teaching. My prayers are with you and for you and the children you faithfully serve.

These are the same teachers she blames in the letter. These are the same teachers who fought for changes to the RSA law that Barresi would later call outrageous. Yes, teachers, you’re both a disappointment and an inspiration. That’s how this works.

In April, this campaign (not the election – the PR campaign for the retention law) turned even more bizarre. While debating Joy Hofmeister, Barresi said the following:

A child who scores unsatisfactory on a third-grade assessment can’t read and comprehend ‘Horton Hears A Who.’ But they’re being sent into fourth grade where they are expected to read and understand “Little House on the Prairie.

The pairing of these two books seemed bizarre to most educators (but not to Rep. Jason Nelson, one of the few legislators who still sometimes has Barresi’s back). Claudia had this to add:

Back to Horton and Ma and Pa Ingalls. She identifies Horton as a first grade level, and Little House as a fourth. Jason James, who has written extensively about the third grade reading-language arts test, points out DDS Baressi’s two examples are really closer in grade level than she realized. Not a surprise…she is a dentist, not an educator.

Moving ahead to May, the SDE announced that a hotline would be established to help parents, teachers, or anyone else who called to understand the test scores when they were released. Then, inexplicably, the SDE released the scores to the media before schools could get onto the CTB server and pull them. Worse yet, parents could see that their child’s school had a certain percentage of students who received an Unsatisfactory score long before the school could notify them of their child’s status.

We were just getting going. Next came the legislature passing HB 2625, which allows for committees to decide whether students should be retained. Then came the governor’s veto. Then came the overwhelming override (without debate) by both the House and the Senate. Finally, we had another occasion for one of Barresi’s petulant outbursts. When interviewed about the override, she called it pathetic and outrageous.

Since November, we’ve watched and fought as the state superintendent has made crazy statements about the most important thing we teach children. She still thinks our third grade reading test (which is really more of a language arts assessment) can detect grade level. It can’t. She thinks giving parents a say in retention decisions completely guts the law. It doesn’t. She has spent every day of this campaign stomping her feet about the importance of reading. Sometimes, when the light is just right, you can even see the steam coming out of her ears. She blames the education establishment, when really, it was parents who provided the momentum for HB 2625.

As a side note, I’m still curious as to why overwhelming support for this bill held no sway over the governor as it did with HB 3399.

Barresi, when it comes to any education issue, digs in completely. There is no compromise. If a great number of teachers who cumulatively have thousands of years of experience tell her that their time in the classroom has shown them something that she doesn’t believe, she falls completely deaf. She is an ideologue first, a politician second, and an educator never.

The only thing her drive for mandatory retention has accomplished is that it brought fear into the classroom. Now that I look at that statement, I probably had this a couple of spots too low at six.

All In for #oklaed

I’ve mentioned to a couple of readers lately that with this countdown, I’m about to hit a wall. Every day, I am not only writing a new post that I hope is shared beyond the 2,000+ Twitter followers and 2,000+ Facebook friends of the blog; I am also remembering things that don’t even make the Top 20, which will probably lead to me writing more.

Lately, the reality of how close this primary is has begun to sink in. The campaign ads are getting meaner. The debates are more frequent. We’re a little more than a week away, and I honestly have no idea what the poll numbers are. All I do know is that the incumbent in the state superintendent’s race can fund her own campaign (reportedly dropping $1 million for a late media push), one challenger (Hofmeister) is running a grass roots campaign based upon small donors, and the third Republican in the primary (Kelly) has made one notable appearance in which he confused the RSA with the Common Core.

Among the Democrats, I really can’t tell who will emerge from the group of four. My guess is that none will hit 50% outright and that two will head into an August run-off. I just can’t guess which two it will be.

Here are some numbers worth noting. In 2010, there were 250,247 votes cast in the Democratic primary and 231,863 votes cast in the Republican primary in the state superintendent race. I expect those numbers to flip. More precisely, I expect both parties to see increases, but the Republican increases to outpace those of the Democrats by far. Further supporting this belief, I give you this, from the Enid News and Eagle.

An analysis by the Enid News & Eagle pins the number of educators who became Republicans over the past year at 1,253. But who are they?

They mostly come from small, rural school districts. More than half of them work in districts with fewer than 200 state certified educators.

These schools are spread throughout the state and don’t seem to fit a geographical pattern. Sentinel, Central and Frederick Public Schools had roughly a third of their teacher corps change parties.

Stringtown, a district of 19 certified educators near McAlester in the state’s southeast quadrant, saw more than half convert before the June 24 primary.

The analysis could only confidently identify 229 converts from the 10 school districts with the most employees, each with more than a thousand educators.

The state’s largest public school employer, Oklahoma City, had just 14 who switched, according to the analysis.

Enid, already a heavily Republican city, saw only a 1.2-percent conversion rate.

The review isn’t perfect, though. While voter registration data provided by the State Election Board includes information like birth dates and addresses, the education department’s list of certified teachers only provides first and last names along with school district where they work.

Because neither list shares a unique identifier, the results had to be calculated based on names. That effort showed 7,301 Oklahomans who were Democrat or independent switched to the Republican Party. Then that list was compared to the database of more than 50,000 teachers, counselors, coaches and administrators who are on file with the state.

Finally, out came a number: 1,253, which is 17.2 percent of all converts.

That is impressive research. I agree that it has limitations as far as accuracy goes, but it’s still pretty telling. The Eagle also talked with a couple of educators to find out why. Enid teacher Matt Holtzen explained his switch:

We’re the ones on the front lines. We’re the ones who see the impacts of the decisions made by our elected officials. Teachers are the first to respond to any problems they see coming down the pike.

Elk City Superintendent Buddy Wood added this:

The morale in public education, in Elk City, is as low as I’ve ever seen it. Ever. In 34 years.

That alone is sufficient reason to replace Barresi. The Oklahoman, to no one’s surprise, feels that teacher frustration is precisely why we should re-elect the state superintendent in spite of the problems of her administration.

Barresi’s office has made mistakes. The rollout of her A-F grading system for the state’s schools, which puzzled superintendents across Oklahoma, should have been handled better. Releasing the names of students who were appealing the results of state-mandated graduation tests was a gaffe. Problems with the companies that administer end-of-year tests have been troublesome.

Spolier alert! They’re dipping into my top five before I even reveal it! And these are the people on her team. For good measure, they added this:

Barresi’s management style has left her open to criticism, but this shouldn’t be a personality contest. Playing nice and getting along well with others aren’t the only measures on the report card for state school superintendents. Barresi’s overarching goals are ones Oklahomans should support, regardless of party affiliation. She wants to improve education for all students. She wants to increase rigor so those students are well prepared to succeed in high school and college or in their careers.

Her pursuit of significant reform has naturally drawn protest, particularly from the education establishment. Yet Oklahoma doesn’t need more of the status quo, more of the same policies and practices that helped give the nation’s secretary of education plenty of fodder to ridicule this state.

Criticism of her management style goes beyond personality. She alienates the people she needs to have on board with her reforms. Her management style has made it impossible for her to achieve her overarching goals. Even the people who agree with those goals think so – with few exceptions.

Sometimes, I wake up in a cold sweat wondering what the future would look like with another four years of Barresi in office. For one thing, some of us have been quite outspoken – especially bloggers like Rob Miller and me. In fact, I picture something like this happening to us if she gets another term.

Nun GIF

The last two years have seen Barresi face not only opposition from the Education Establishment, but repudiation from her own party. In 2012, the legislature made it clear that they did not approve of how the SDE was spending the Activities Budget. In 2013, they re-wrote the rules for the A-F Report Cards, making comparisons from 2012 irrelevant. This year, they pulled a 2012 with the SDE’s Activities Budget again, included parents in the third-grade retention decisions, and repealed the Common Core, which Barresi had been pushing ever since taking office.

Still, she’s pumping money in for a late surge. Joy Hofmeister can’t counter that out of her own pocket, and while donations keep coming in, it’s going to take more than money. If Barresi is going to spend $1 million down the stretch (how much is enough, Janet?), then we need one million stories, shares, and likes. We need Twitter and Facebook lighting the way. With reports of low voter turnout among educators in 2010 serving as a reminder of how we got here, we have to do everything in our power to ensure we don’t have a re-run. Even with half the legislators in her own party openly opposing her, Barresi could still win.

Why do we fight so hard? Because every time Barresi opens her mouth, she insults the people working with Oklahoma’s children.

Because Oklahoma’s children continue coming to school, we must continue fighting to make school a better place. I believe in reform. I believe in school improvement. I also believe we all deserve a leader who is competent, understanding, and sincere.

Janet Barresi has pushed all her chips to the center of the table. It’s time we do too. It can’t just be the regulars who blog and tweet, either. We all have too much to lose.

Reason #7 to Pick a New State Superintendent: PASSing Around Our Standards

Ten days from now, Oklahoma voters will go to the Oklahoma polls to utilize Oklahoma voting technology and choose the Oklahoma candidate who best represents their Oklahoma values. If that seems to be a little bit over the top, it’s because I want to make it clear that this blog is not the part of some out-of-state entity, lurking in the shadows, trying to usurp our schools. I am, as the About page of my blog states, “a long time Oklahoma educator who thinks the false narrative about failing public schools needs to be refuted.”

The meandering path we have taken these last four years has left our schools in chaos this summer. Barresi’s leadership is a big part of why that road is anything but a straight line. Cumulatively, it is worthy of a spot in the Top 10 in this countdown.

#10 – Ignoring Researchers

#9 – The A-F Rollout

#8 – The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

#7 – PASSing Around Our Standards

Before discussing where we are now, let’s look at how we got here. As a reference, I present a timeline straight from the public relations campaign the SDE began last summer, The Road Ahead.

A Timeline of Academic Standards in Oklahoma1983 – President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education releases report “A Nation at Risk”, documenting the need for education reform in the United States. The development of new standards begins.

1996 – A coalition of Nation’s governors and corporate leaders form Achieve, Inc., a bi-partisan organization to raise academic standards and graduation requirements.

2005 – Achieve, Inc. launches the American Diploma Project Network to align standards and graduation requirements to college and career readiness. Concept of the Common Core begins.

2005 – 2006 – Oklahoma joins the American Diploma Project Network.

2009 – Oklahoma joins other states in the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a state-led process to develop more rigorous, higher, and clearer academic standards.

2010 – Three Oklahomans selected for writing committees to draft PreK-12 standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics.

June 24, 2010 – State Board of Education adopts Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics for the Oklahoma Academic Standards.

July 6, 2010 – Governor approves adoption.

2010 – Transition to new standards begins. OSDE leads teacher development, local curriculum revision, and test development.

2011 – 2014 – OSDE provides ongoing assistance to districts for implementation of the Oklahoma Academic Standards.

2012 – State Board of Education adopts revised Oklahoma Academic Standards forSocial Studies and History, written by Oklahoma educators and content experts.

2012 – 2013 – OSDE leads revision process for Oklahoma Science Standards, written by Oklahoma educators and content experts.

2013 – OSDE launches For the Road Ahead family and community engagement initiative.

Spring 2014 – For the final year, state assessments reflect the Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS).

June 2014 – Transition to new Oklahoma Academic Standards complete.

Spring 2015 – New state assessment administered, reflects the Oklahoma Academic Standards.

I don’t know how much they paid for the PR effort, but it came with its own logo. Maybe it’s one of those crazy-high expenses Rob Miller discovered for us last week.*

oas_logo

That’s a pretty selective summary of how we got where we are (minus the 2013 developments). Yes, three whole Oklahomans were on the committee that wrote the Common Core. Three! But prior to that – hey, wait. Something’s missing. Apparently, nothing happened between 1983 and 1995 regarding standards in Oklahoma.

Nothing except for PASS, that is. Yes, the state’s promotional materials left off the standards that arose out of HB 1017 in 1990 – standards that were written by hundreds of Oklahomans! For more than two decades, these were the state standards. Each subject area under PASS has seen multiple revisions, but the title of the overall document has remained the same.

Under Barresi, all academic standards were rebranded as C3 standards in 2011. You can still see it in the logo above. Then in 2013 came OAS – the Oklahoma Academic Standards. It got even more amusing when OAS for science, or OASS as we’ve come to know it, came into being.

standards_billboard

The SDE under Janet Barresi is serious about the business of rebranding. For 20 years, Sandy Garrett had a summer conference called Leadership. In 2011, it was rebranded as Innovation. In 2012 it became Vision 2020. It has grown from a two day conference with chocolate fountains into a four-day extravaganza with an assortment of expensive keynote speakers. It is vendor-palooza, which is fairly important now that public education is in constant chaos.

We’ve also rebranded our tests. In 2013, the SDE changed the name of the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Tests (OCCT) to the Oklahoma College and Career Readiness Assessments (OCCRA) – which led to the realization that nobody copy-checks acronyms up there. Also, it spawned this image (have I mentioned how excited I am to have @FakeOKSDE back in the conversation here with us?.

OCCRAIn the meantime, we also dabbled in the PARCC consortium, until abruptly pulling out last summer. I digress – back to the standards.

The biggest problem we’ve seen regarding the standards (and similarly, to testing) is that we’re more interested in image and substance. Are the Common Core State Standards any good? That’s not the relevant question. What do people think of them? That’s what really matters. Last summer, when momentum was building across the country to dump them before full implementation, the SDE pushed us to accept OAS, but here was how they sold it to us.

What are the Oklahoma Academic Standards? OAS…

  • are custom-built for PreK-12 students in Oklahoma
  • prepare students with skills and knowledge needed to succeed in a rapidly changing world
  • provide a route for partners in education to readily follow with fewer, higher, and clearer standards
  • include assessment stops along the way so students get additional help needed to achieve peak performance
  • put teachers back in the driver’s seat to make instructional decisions that set graduates on the road to being college, career, and citizen-ready

I do think the SDE and I have different operational definitions for custom-built. Aside from that, who can argue with these bullet points? We absolutely want to prepare our students for a rapidly changing world.  We want to allow more room for our partners to be … wait, partners? Who are these partners? Is this like how every vendor comes into your school and swears they want to partner with you on your school improvement efforts? Is that why so many companies flock to Vision 2020? Are they looking for fresh meat? The fourth bullet highlights the SDE’s mindset on testing (in spite of what Barresi said in her debate against Hofmeister Thursday night). The fifth is a farce. Nothing about the way the SDE has operated since 2011 indicates that the top leadership there trusts teachers to do anything.

The passage of HB 3399, which overturned the Common Core State Standards, has set off a frenzy of summer activity around Oklahoma. Right now (well, hopefully not at 8:00 p.m. on a Saturday night), teachers and administrators are working to retrofit the work they’ve done over the last four years into PASS. They can’t simply back out. Whereas under PASS prior to 2010, a specific math skill might have been located in one grade, and under CCSS, it is in another, simply switching back would leave gaps in the curriculum. No, this switch back will take considerably more finesse than what Janet Barresi and Mary Failin think.

And why rush? In 2016, we will have yet another set of standards. Every candidate for state superintendent guarantees that they will not in any way under any circumstances resemble the Common Core. They are all going to load up a room with an assortment of people from all over the state and not emerge until new standards are written. It will be interesting to see if the phrase Oklahoma values means the same thing everywhere. Or rigor. Or even a phrase like critical thinking.

In the meantime, we have PASS. Barresi says now that these standards are fine. That’s definitely not how she felt in October.

That’s why I’m excited about the new Oklahoma College and Career Ready Assessments being planned for students for the 2014-15 school year. They move students away from the fill-in-the-bubble, rote memorization tests that now exist. Instead, these performance-based exams include strategies to promote critical thinking and problem solving as well as practical application of securely held foundational knowledge.

I know a lot of people who supported the Common Core. I also know a lot who fought against it. Most of the people I know in both camps are angry at the double-speak we’ve seen from Barresi. When it comes to education, it’s all about the façade. Nothing about her or the reforms she pushes helps children. The fight now is to get people who only marginally follow educational issues to see it.

We have 10 days, Oklahoma. Get it done.

 

*Actually, The Road Ahead was funded by the GE Foundation – yet another out-of-state entity.

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

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:

microfibers

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.

Reason #9 to Pick a New State Superintendent: The 2013 A-F SNAFU

Since you’re reading a series about selecting a new state superintendent (and reasons not to keep the current one), it’s worth noting that six of the seven candidates showed up at a debate last night at Rogers State College in Claremore (Joy Hofmeister was not there). It was the first time I had seen any footage of Brian Kelly interacting with the other candidates.

There were several notable statements by the candidates – both good and bad. One confused the RSA with the Common Core. One continues to confuse A-F Report Cards with accountability. Several favor the ACT as the state assessment we will use for all things. Since I’m not going to go back through the entire hour and pick each candidate apart, however, I won’t single anyone out over this one event. If you have an hour, you should watch for yourself (or turn it on as background noise while you do other things.

As for Janet Barresi herself, I wish I had arranged my top 20 (and growing honorable mention) list into a bingo card. Between her responses and those of her opponents, we could have called several numbers during the debate, such as:

#20 – Oklahoma’s ESEA Waiver

#19 – Hiring CTB/McGraw-Hill in the First Place

#15 – In and Out of PARCC

#14 – Value-added Measurements

I would also include today’s post, as well as six of the eight remaining from the countdown (and three off the honorable mention list).

#9 – The 2013 A-F SNAFU

In October 2013, we learned that the state superintendent probably didn’t know what the acronym snafu means. Don’t get me wrong – it was the perfect word to describe the series of mistakes made by the SDE in rolling out last year’s A-F Report Cards. I just don’t think the tone of that word fits with how she usually speaks publicly.

To refresh your memory, let’s return to October 16, 2013 and go from there. Early that afternoon, I had this to write:

We already didn’t take A-F Report Cards seriously. They are statistically unreliable. They include calculations with arbitrary weights. And they are more subject to political narratives than they are to reality.

Today, after much fanfare, schools finally received their preliminary letter grades. There were some surprises, but nothing far off the expectations that had been communicated.

Thirty minutes later, that all changed. The SDE had applied their own formula incorrectly. Apparently, someone mistook the top quartile of students in math for the bottom quartile.

They recalculated grades, and schools saw drastic changes. Many dropped by more than a letter grade.

How can anyone continue expecting people to take this seriously? In thirty minutes, we saw the biggest problem with A-F Report Cards. They depend more on the formula than they do on the students. They are useless in highlighting school performance.

For many schools, grades changed again that evening. The next day explanations were in abundance.

Yesterday, when the grades were finally released, they looked a little high. Thirty minutes later, the SDE adjusted them, and they looked really low. Several schools received the explanation that the people plugging numbers into the formula had inadvertently mistaken the top quartile of last year’s test-takers for the bottom quartile. (Ironically, it was the math scores they had miscalculated.) And they had fixed the scores. And the grades were final.

The emails actually told administrators that the grades were final.

Then last night, I started receiving messages from people telling me that the grades had changed again. Now, they were somewhere in the middle of the first two iterations.

It takes months to calculate the grades, but only minutes to re-calculate them? And then a few hours to do it again – this time with no new explanation?

If anyone has ever doubted the idea that the biggest problem with A-F Report Cards is how easy they are to manipulate, this should be the day they stop. As Rob Miller says, the report cards are DOA.

That afternoon, the SDE released a memo explaining what had happened.

***SDE*** Report Cards Update

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 10/17/2013 12:42 PM CDT

Dear Superintendents, Principals and DTC’s,

It came to our attention yesterday that the bottom 25 percent growth on the A to F report card was calculated incorrectly.  A last-minute correction was made immediately before posting that inadvertently caused the errors. We are working to remedy this problem as swiftly as possible, and we will notify all districts once this has been corrected. The date for submitting Data Verification Forms for calculation errors is extended until 10:00 am, Oct 28th.

I deeply regret the challenges you experienced yesterday afternoon.  If additional calculation changes are needed, please submit the Data Verification Form and we will be happy to process it.

Maridyth McBee, PhD
Assistant State Superintendent
Accountability and Assessment

As I mentioned last night, the legislature simplified the way the SDE was to calculate A-F Report Cards earlier in 2013. Still, the SDE couldn’t make it work. By the end of the second day, many districts reported being on the fifth draft of their report cards.

All of this happened over the week that most districts took Fall Break, which gave many of us ample time to analyze every version that would come out. Eventually, some schools would report seeing their scores change more than 10 times.

By day three, though, Superintendent Barresi had to assert that someone was in charge, so she released a statement of her own.

**SDE*** A-F Report Card Update

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 10/18/2013 09:42 AM CDT

School districts and schools now have access to review their A-F report card and double check their data and calculations. I understand the experience of the past few days has been frustrating for school and district administrators. I am deeply sorry for the resulting delay and confusion, as are all of us at the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

A commitment to transparency can have an embarrassing downside. That was certainly the case when the grades were posted Oct. 16 even as they continued to undergo several versions. A last-minute correction in the calculation resulted in errors that subsequently had to be fixed. To ensure transparency in this process, the decision was made to leave the grades up as they were modified.

Fortunately, the problems were addressed and corrected during the designated 10-day window for schools, districts and the OSDE to check for errors. That doesn’t excuse the snafu, but only explains it — and we thank you for your patience.

Because of the delay, districts and schools have an extended period, until 10 a.m. Oct 28, to review and seek corrections on their prescribed grades. After that point, the proposed grades will be brought before the State Board of Education at the board’s Oct. 29 meeting for final approval.

Some opponents of school accountability will no doubt seize on the recent delay as yet another reason to postpone, reconfigure or simply trash the A-F report cards. Oklahoma parents, students and all interested parties can rest assured that will not happen. The annual grades are critical to heightening accountability, arming parents with important information and furthering the simple proposition that all children can learn.

Janet Barresi

State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Predictably, she blamed her opponents. She claimed that none of this would have happened if she – and her people – weren’t just so doggone transparent. She even faulted schools for missing deadlines.

And she called it a snafu. Rob could hardly contain his excitement. This word has been a source of hashtag fun for bloggers and social media magnates such as we are ever since.

SNAFUBAR - Copy

The fun lasted until November. First, the SDE had to delay the release of the A-F Report Cards for the second straight year. Barresi complained that complaining district superintendents were engaging in “cheap political theater.” She may not know much about public education, but on that topic, she is a subject matter expert.

I’m intentionally separating last year’s debacle from the overall conversation about the utility of simplifying school performance into A-F grades. This span of time showed clearly that the SDE can’t even manage to compute its own formula correctly. For all the things we can rightfully blame on CTB (such as the #8 post in the countdown), we still have the right to expect competence out of the people running the show. Whether it’s the SDE’s failure to listen to stakeholders, poor hiring decisions, creating a working environment that talented people would rather leave, or simply choosing the wrong vendor, I struggle to find evidence of what these people can do right.

The snafus end June 24 – not a moment too soon.

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