Archive for June, 2014

24 Hours Later, a New #1: Barresi and Moore

I spent the last three weeks counting down the 20 biggest reasons to replace Janet Barresi when we go to the polls on Tuesday, knowing the whole time what would be the number one reason. Once it posted, I changed my mind within four hours. Thanks, Rob Miller! Thanks Janet Barresi!

Over the past year, I’ve tried to avoid writing about the Moore tornado because that is such a personal tragedy for so many people. I’ve known all along that Janet Barresi made promises she never intended to fulfill. I’ve had more messages from employees and patrons of the district than I can count. I think – even before Rob’s big revelation yesterday, if you’re in the footprint of that storm and have dealt first-hand with Barresi and the SDE since the tornado, this has been your #1 reason to elect someone new all along.

As an example, I give you this paragraph from an email I received last week from a Moore teacher:

To say that JB hasn’t been helpful is an understatement.  From the day she showed up uninvited at our district-wide meeting (on May 22–not even 48 hours after the tornado), took a seat on the stage (also uninvited), and then trotted out empty promises about all of the assistance SDE would provide…to the problems we had during the summer getting deadlines extended or communication that we needed…she and her staff have been far more hurtful than helpful.

If you’ll recall, about a month later, she sent an email to all MPS employees. This was equally intrusive, as she just took upon herself to send a message – a poorly written one at that – to a district that continues to function out of temporary workspace. She received no consent from the district to do so. Many found the action alarming.

Now she’s comparing the work we have to do as educators to rebuild the state standards to what Moore has experienced over the last 13 months. It’s not comparable, and it’s just not acceptable. One thing is the result of the folly of politicians. The other is the devastation of nature’s wrath. I think MPS Superintendent Dr. Robert Romines (who responded in the comments on Rob’s blog) is completely on target. Here’s an excerpt:

My response to Dr. Barresi’s comments will focus on Moore and its community because I am here and that is what I know. Our school district and its community are known for their resilient spirit, unwavering support for others, and determination – that is who we are and that is who we will always remain. These are attributes that we will continue to display in the event of tragedy or in something as simple as change. The 2500 plus employees of MPS are committed to doing what is best for our students, and we simply ask that the State Department of Education rely on the people in the trenches to help with making the changes needed over the next few years. We can do this without telling others “where to go” and asking for certain groups to “pony up”. Over this past year, not once did I have to tell anyone “where to go” or “pony up” and the school district and its people have accomplished much success! MPS and other communities have proven that great things can happen with the right attitude, spirit, and determination. In the future, I would humbly request that no one from the State Department of Education or any other agency use Moore Public Schools, our tragedy, and our rebuilding projects to help their cause.

This is precisely why I have avoided writing about Moore very much. I don’t think the district needs other people telling their story for them. Most who live and work there just keep their heads down and focus on the task at hand.

All that said, this is the most offensive action by Janet Barresi yet. She’s campaigning now as if it’s a good thing that the legislature and governor dumped the Common Core, but the truth is that she fought desperately to save it. Regardless of how you feel about the standards, you must acknowledge her lie here.

You also have to admit that her characterization of the SDE’s labors as something of a holy war is a bit disconcerting. Hers is the language of a delusional ideologue. She’s so committed to her cause that she doesn’t even listen to her own words anymore. She has no class and no clue. This may be all that overshadows her incompetence.

As for Moore – if all of those 2,500 employees vote – and everybody they know votes as well – June 24 will be the day all Oklahomans can say goodbye to Janet Costello Barresi. We won’t even tell her where she can go.

Reason #1 to Pick a New State Superintendent: FERPA Violations

Well, friends, we’ve reached the end – of the countdown. Not the race for state superintendent. And certainly not for the blog. No, this goes on no matter who wins the election. I could certainly use a little break though.

As I’ve counted down my top 20 reasons to elect a new state superintendent, I have found some glaring omissions. Based on page views, I definitely think many of you would have rearranged the list.

For example, the post introducing the list has the most visits. That makes sense; it’s been on the blog longest. Second-highest, though is the #5 reason: Fabricating Special Education Percentages. I don’t know if it’s because my audience doesn’t like it when Barresi just makes stuff up or because we collectively flinch when special education students are getting a raw deal. Every problem we’ve had with testing has been felt harder by that student group. Most of the students impacted by mandatory retention are on an IEP. Even my post this morning, which was little more than poor judgment by someone barely out of college, fired people up.

In fact, the 26 months in which I’ve been blogging confirm what I’ve always known about those of us who actually work in education. We are compassionate people who do not stand for anyone mistreating our students.

That’s why the number one reason why we need to pick a new state superintendent goes back to an event from two years ago this month – the SDE releasing names of students making appeals to the State Board of Education in order to graduate.

The issue lingering with me is the fact that the SDE posted student records online. I understand making students and/or their parents sign a FERPA release so that state board members can go into executive session and examine student records. That does not mean, however, that it is either legally or morally permissible to do so. An SDE spokesperson with about 17 months of institutional memory defended posting the information saying there is a “longstanding precedent” to make information available to the board also available to the public.

While the intention is good, there is also a line that needs to be drawn. Not all records the board reviews in closed session carry the same degree of sensitivity. Across the state, school boards often go into closed session to discuss sensitive matters involving students or personnel. Most of those boards rightly post an agenda item vaguely referring to that student or employee. Here’s an example of an Oklahoma school district that managed to note what was being discussed regarding a student’s appeal of a suspension without making the details of that student’s life known to the world.

As it should be.

At the best, this was a misinterpretation of the Open Records Act. Perhaps something more sinister was happening. The former high level employee who called Tulsa-area superintendents “dirtbags” was not reprimanded by Superintendent Barresi. It is also noteworthy that the feud between Broken Arrow (which originated many of these student waiver requests) and Barresi was made public when she accidentally hit the “Reply All” button on an email. Surely the release of student records wasn’t clumsy. Hopefully it wasn’t done as a deterrent to discourage future appeals. And it certainly wasn’t retaliation. What was it then? Simply inexplicable.

That was back when I thought one of my posts being shared 17 times on Facebook was a big deal. To me, this was the epitome of what’s wrong at the SDE, and with Barresi. She doesn’t understand special education. Or testing. Or people. Or procedures. Or instruction. Or finance. For as much as she proclaims the LNH Scholarship to be the best thing going, she sure doesn’t show special needs students respect.

I did give the SDE credit the next time they had student appeals to discuss. They actually learned from their mistake. They still haven’t reached proficiency, but they showed growth. Three weeks later, they were reeling from the appeals.

I wasn’t the only one who wrote about that. So did Diane Ravitch. So did Parents Across America. And Education News. Their actions also bothered at least one legislator from Superintendent Barresi’s own party. There’s no other way to say it: releasing student records publicly has disgraced the SDE.

Here we are three weeks later, and people are still mad about it. They should be! I know some members of the board have already asked questions, and I expect they will continue to. Barresi is one of a breed of education reformers who like to extol the virtue of accountability. Well somebody needs to be held accountable for what happened. Whether through design or incompetence, the public forum created by the legislature for students to appeal for a high school diploma turned into an embarrassing circus. Students were bullied. Excuses were made. And somewhere, in the time and distance, nobody forgot that any of this happened!

This agency, under Barresi’s direction, squanders opportunity after opportunity to lead. Rather than capitalizing on the momentum from the 2010 election and effectively pursuing the agenda that got her elected in the first place, she – along with her top staff – insist upon steering the ship directly into the iceberg. Regardless of whether you’re for her or against her – embracing her reforms or resisting them – you have to admit that the performance of the SDE has been consistently disappointing.

We found out last week that this really was a pattern of behavior. Earlier that year, the SDE had released names of special education students to the Barresi campaign. From the Tulsa World:

The mother of a special-needs student says State Superintendent Janet Barresi violated the privacy rights of her child and others receiving state-funded scholarships to private schools by providing their names and home addresses to her campaign for re-election.

The woman said she kept her concerns to herself for two years at the request of Joel Robison, Barresi’s chief of staff at the Oklahoma State Department of Education, but a new Barresi television campaign ad reignited her anger over the experience.

Barresi’s ad features a recipient of the state-funded Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships and accuses her GOP primary rival of “conspiring with education bureaucrats” to prevent other special-education students from obtaining the scholarships.

The mother of one such recipient said that in March 2012, her then-seventh-grader received an envelope in the mail from Barresi’s campaign.

Inside was a letter signed by Barresi to scholarship parents offering up to four tickets to an Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game, plus T-shirts, and an opportunity to shoot baskets and high-five the players as they entered the court.

I’m sure that was a neat experience for the children, but releasing the names of LNH Scholarship recipients to the campaign is crass. Having this effort as part of your campaign itself is crass. Again, we see that students – especially special education children – are only a prop to our state superintendent.

In response to this report, the SDE confirmed that the incident had happened, but blamed it on two former employees.

Phil Bacharach, spokesman for the state Department of Education, provided a written statement saying, “The staff members who were involved are no longer with the department, so the best I can offer is that the State Department of Education helped coordinate the Thunder game offer on behalf of organizations that wanted to do something nice for families with special needs children.”

He added that “no privacy was breached.”

When pressed, Bacharach said no student list ever left the Education Department’s office and that former general counsel Lisa Endres and events coordinator Ashley Hahn had sent the invitations after hours but mistakenly in campaign envelopes rather than Education Department envelopes.

Way to drop the bus on two people you don’t have on the payroll anymore!

Student information – regarding an IEP or anything else – is confidential. There’s no excuse for breaching that. There’s no excuse for having your campaign envelopes up at the agency, either.

The last 42 months, simply put, have disgusted me. Tomorrow, I’ll do a wrap up post with about 10 things that didn’t even make the list – either because I forgot about them initially, or because there just wasn’t room.  I hate it when people implore you to do something for the children or claim that they’re acting for the children. It’s a phrase that’s trite and saccharine and usually false. This election – starting Tuesday with the primary – is FOR THE CHILDREN. They’re the ones in the schools that our policy-makers continue to defile.

I never intended this blog to be all about Superindentist Janet Costello Breezy Schedule J Barresi. Hopefully soon, she’ll be relegated to the status of a minor character in the narrative.

The choice is yours. Go forth and vote, #oklaed.

All together now!

All together now!

Categories: Uncategorized

Pick a Different Word

I’m probably not the most politically correct person. I don’t tend to make huge mistakes that land my foot in my mouth, but I occasionally wish I could get a do-over when I speak. When I use social media, I tend to be more careful even. What I write – whether under my actual name or not – is a reflection upon me and everything I stand for. Even if I have a disclaimer on the top of my Twitter feed that the views expressed are mine and mine alone, the fact is that what I say may cause my employer some grief.

I won’t make this a big lecture, but a few days ago, a reader sent me an image of an old tweet (2012) from Janet Barresi’s campaign manager, Robyn Matthews. I don’t know much about her, so I looked at her Twitter feed and found that she sometimes gets impatient while waiting for lunch.

I can relate to that. I too like to eat my soup while it’s still warm. What I can’t relate to is the use of the R word to describe people trying to scalp Thunder tickets.


I find it offensive. Perhaps it’s just how I was raised. I get that not all people are wired that way, and I really try not to be the word police, but I have been known to ask others around me to pick a different word when I hear that one. It’s senseless. It’s imprecise. It’s insulting.

I also don’t work for a politician who acts like she’s the state’s leading advocate for special needs children. Then again, as of May 8, 2012, neither did Robyn Matthews. At that point, according to her online CV, she was a “Public Relations Coordinator,” a few months away from becoming a “Freelance Social Media Coordinator.” In that case, she definitely should have known better.

Perhaps it’s a mistake of youth. We have all had those. In 2012, Barresi was still two campaign managers away from selecting Matthews to run this train wreck. Heck, in 2012, she was still for PARCC and the Common Core! In any case, it’s not a good reflection on the candidate. Someone with a degree in journalism from OSU and a promising career in public relations should know better. Then again, when I was four years out of high school, I don’t know how smart I was about everything I said. Thankfully, there was no social media around to capture my gaffes.

End of lecture. Back to the countdown later this evening.

Categories: Uncategorized

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.

%d bloggers like this: