Archive for December, 2014

How WordPress summarized the year on okeducationtruths

December 31, 2014 1 comment

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 270,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 12 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Categories: Uncategorized

2014 #oklaed Year in Review: The Mixed Tape Version

December 28, 2014 2 comments

Note to readers: If you’re viewing this post in email, please consider opening a browser. Otherwise, you may miss some of the embedded media.

I hope you’ve been enjoying your Christmas Vacation. I have – in part by watching Christmas Vacation…and A Christmas Story, and Scrooged, and Elf, and about a dozen other great seasonal classics, up to and including Die Hard. I even enjoyed yesterday’s unexpected snowfall. I’ve had great times with friends and family, minimal travel, and enough unhealthy food to last…well, at least until next year. Talk about your first-world problems, right?

I’ve even had the time to do some writing – including four unfinished blog posts. I think I’ve lacked focus the last few months. The June primary election was so satisfying that even when Janet Barresi or the Oklahoman would do something that irritated me, I just knew that it really didn’t matter that much.

That’s why I barely scoffed at reading the Oklahoman’s puff piece on Barresi yesterday. The article comes with an interview for which, in another mindset, I would have provided insightful commentary. By insightful, of course, I mean snarky. Instead, I took to Twitter and had the following conversation with long-time friend-of-the-blog, Jennifer Williams:

mix tape

I woke up this morning determined to make said mixed tape. I will write my wrap up as if I were making a mixed tape. If you want commentary on Barresi’s ongoing delusions of competence and thoughts on what might be next for her, I encourage you to read Brett Dickerson’s excellent blog from earlier today. In short, he doesn’t think we’ve seen the last of her.

For those of you younger than I am, before the age of iTunes playlists, some of us had to work really hard to piece together musical compilations. In my case, since I didn’t have a dual cassette player, I had to buy records (yes, I’m that old) or try to record songs off the radio. This meant that while I was “doing my homework” (really, mom…I was) I would keep the stereo on with a blank tape inside. If I heard the intro of a song I liked, I would quickly hit the record button on my stereo.

Then when the need arose, I would ride my bike to Sound Warehouse and buy blank tapes, borrow another cassette player from my neighbor and BFF, and figure out how many songs I could fit on a 90 minute tape. (Again, talk about your first-world problems.) If I were making the tape for say, romantic purposes, it was sure to have Journey’s “Open Arms” and “Heaven” by Bryan Adams. If it was an upbeat mix for the pool or the basketball court, it had to have “Panama” by Van Halen. Those were the basic rules.

Since it’s 2014 and we’re speaking in theoretical terms, I will employ a few basic rules for this list. While I often use music (both the earworm and the classic rock variety) on this blog to illustrate a point or thread together my ideas, I will not use songs that I have previously included on my blog. That means no Good Riddance (Green Day), Life of Illusion (Joe Walsh), or even that disco classic Hotline (The Sylvers). I will try to limit myself to one song per month, even in June. And I will only use songs that I actually have in my iTunes library. Maybe we can get K-TEL to package and sell this for us to shore up the education budget (since apparently the lottery hasn’t helped).

My first post of 2014 contained this admonition to our cobbled community of bloggers and education advocates:

We have to acknowledge that 2014 is a critical year for the future of public education in this state. We will either restore local control or continue selling out to Achieve and ALEC. We will improve access for all students to diverse and engaging academic choices, or we will hold them up as a sacrificial offering to corporations and shady nonprofits.

In 2013, more voices emerged in the resistance. This year, we need more active bloggers, more strategic social media, and more contact with lawmakers. An engaged public can’t won’t be ignored. There’s nothing magical about a loud, well-informed electorate.

That’s exactly what happened. We engaged the decision makers and voted en masse. We defeated an incumbent Republican who only managed 21 percent of her party’s primary vote. For any of that to have any meaning, it can’t stop in 2014.

January – I Can’t Tell You Why (The Eagles)

For some reason, Barresi’s people decided that we would now define Full Academic Year as any student who was continuously enrolled from October 1st through the beginning of the testing season. The effect of this decision (which isn’t legislated or written into the administrative rules) was that more student scores were included in the calculation of A-F Report Cards. Including the highly mobile population in school grades serves no purpose other than to penalize the schools who serve the most vulnerable students. This has always been the motive of the school choice/corporate reform groups out there.

February – The Old Brown Shoe (The Beatles)

While it’s tempting to make the entire month about the fact that Rep. Jason Nelson failed to advance his voucher bill (an Education Savings Account by any other name) out of committee, for me the highlight of the month was listening to Governor Fallin talk about the condition of the Capitol building.

In fact, this building has become a safety hazard. We are doing a great disservice to our state and its citizens by allowing the Capitol to crumble around us.

The exterior is falling apart, to the point where we must actually worry about state employees and visitors – including teachers and students on field trips – being hit by falling pieces of the façade.

The yellow barriers outside are an eyesore and an embarrassment.

The electrical system is dangerously outdated.

And guys, the water stains you’ve seen on some of the walls downstairs? I have bad news for you. That’s not just water.

Raw sewage is literally leaking into our basement. On “good” days, our visitors and employees can only see the disrepair. On bad days, they can smell it.

In fact, this is the topic of one of my unfinished posts. Just last week, the Oklahoman published a report detailing problems with the Capitol’s dome.

Engineers have discovered significant cracking in the cast stone panels that form the exterior of Oklahoma’s Capitol dome, completed amid much fanfare just 12 years ago.

“Cracks exist at a total of 172 units, or approximately 10 percent of all cast stone units on the dome. Most of the cracks occur at the base of the dome,” stated a report by Wiss, Janner, Elstner Associates, or WJE, a Chicago company that did a detailed examination of the building’s exterior as a prelude to repair work.

I love the symmetry of this. The year begins as it ends, discussing the fact that our Capitol building is in bad shape. This time, though, it’s the decorative – rather than the functional – part. In public schools, we refer to problems like these as deferred maintenance. We handle this by meeting with school patrons and making  a comprehensive list of everything that needs to be repaired, we determine how much money we can commit to those projects, and then we establish priorities. When it comes to fixing leaky roofs and replacing old, inefficient air conditioning units, there is always a lag between acknowledging the need and addressing it. There is also always more need than capacity.

I also love that the article talks about how the budget for repairs will be inadequate to cover eventual cost overruns – something just about every school superintendent understands. Don’t get me wrong; I want the Capitol looking nice. I want it safe and sanitary for the people we elect and the staff they hire – not to mention for the busloads of students who travel there for field trips.

March – Best Day Ever (Spongebob Squarepants)

First, let me make it clear that I’m not the only person who has access to my iTunes library. Still, as I was scrolling through the titles in it, this is the song that made me think about the day that I spent at the Capitol (on the outside, thankfully!) with about 25,000 of my closest friends. The rally in Oklahoma City brought people together from all over the state to speak collectively to our representatives about all the things wrong with the direction of public education in our state. Here was my summary of the day:

First was Peter Markes – Oklahoma’s reigning Teacher of the Year. He drew great parallels between farming and education, weaving both the funding issues and senseless mandates into his metaphor. This is the second time I’ve been fortunate enough to hear him speak, and he does not disappoint. He’s exactly what Oklahoma’s teachers expect in an ambassador – someone who believes in the profession and who fights the lie that public education is failing our children.

Next was Asher Nees, a student from Norman and the current president of the Oklahoma Association of Student Councils. He commented on the things he has noticed in public education, namely increased class sizes and policies that diminish student choices. He said he was there to fight to restore public education to something better for his younger siblings. (That is definitely a paraphrase. There was a lot of noise around me at this point.)

The one who really lifted the energy of the crowd was Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard. He hit the funding points, but he concentrated on a more important theme: respect. Every reform that has passed during the last few years shows that those making policy don’t respect the work that those of us who work with kids do. So many talking points from the governor, state superintendent, and countless legislators have come with a Let them eat cake attitude. The lack of concern for teachers, their working conditions, and most importantly, their students has been consistent. Disparage people long enough and they’ll let you hear about it.

Yes, I could have used some Aretha Franklin for the month, but somehow, I still haven’t upgraded that from vinyl. For the record (pun intended), this is still the biggest issue in our state. We need more evidence that our policy makers respect the people who actually teach the kids.

April – The Song Remains the Same (Led Zeppelin)

I only use this song because I don’t have “Oops, I Did It Again” available. Also, I needed some of my credibility back after using a Spongebob song. In April, predictably, we had some problems with the online testing that reminded us of the 2013 problems we had with online testing. Barresi’s response was to call the failure unacceptable and assure Oklahomans that the glitch didn’t impact third grade testing. Her reasons as to why we didn’t fire them in 2013 were hollow, of course.

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 21, 2014) – As a result of online testing disruptions for students in grades 6-8 and high school end-of-instruction (EOIs) exams, State Superintendent Janet Barresi has directed testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill to suspend online testing for today.

“We certainly share in the frustration that students and school districts feel,” Barresi said. “It is of paramount importance that CTB finds the nature of the problem and resolves it as quickly as possible.”

About 6,000 students in grades 6-8 and high school EOIs were disrupted as a result of a system-wide problem with testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill’s network.

This did not affect third-grade reading tests, as tests for grades 3-5 are administered by paper and pencil.

CTB technicians are onsite at the agency and in constant communication with the company’s national headquarters working to determine the exact nature of the disruption.

The State Board of Education went on to fire CTB over the summer – one summer too late.

May – I Won’t Back Down (Tom Petty – as covered by Johnny Cash)

Most of the month of May saw the various politicians in this state debating HB 2625, which inserted a little slice of sanity into the third grade retention law. The critical piece was a provision to include a committee to make final decisions about retention, and to include parents on that committee. During this month, we also saw the SDE release third grade reading scores to the media before schools could view them.

The Legislature sent HB 2625 to the governor by a margin of 132-7. Fallin waited until the last minute to veto the bill, then played games with sending her official veto message to them, and then they turned around and overrode her veto without debate – by a margin of 124-19.

June – Joy to the World (Three Dog Night)

There really was no other choice for the month of June. This was the month that those of us who’ve been using our outside voices for some time now felt a collective sense of pride…of relief…of hope. It was affirmation that we matter. It’s the month in which I actually moderated an #oklaed Sunday night chat. It’s the month in which I did a top 20 list of reasons to defeat Barresi, followed immediately by a new number one right after Barresi told a group to tell their critics to go to hell, followed by an honorable mention list with a dozen additional reasons. Most of all, it’s the month when Oklahoma Republican voters eliminated her by a four-to-one margin.  Even the people who agreed with many of her reforms rejected her sorry implementation of them. It was beautiful.

July – Be Yourself (Audioslave)

After losing her primary, Barresi made it clear that she would not fade away quietly. A couple of weeks later, she attended the SDE Vision 2020 conference and just let Janet be Janet. She held a roundtable session and told attendees that she would never apologize for anything she had done in office and that she knows she’s “pissed a lot of you off.” My only question was her use of a lot rather than all.

August – Runaway Train (Soul Asylum)

In August, the Democrats had their runoff election, and John Cox defeated Freda Deskin, setting up the November election against Joy Hofmester for state superintendent. That news, however, was overshadowed by the fact that the USDE had revoked Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind Waiver. This was followed by the revelation that nobody at the SDE knew how to calculate the Academic Performance Index that would have to be used in the absence of the waiver. It was a distressing time, because schools that had Title I funds faced the threat of 20 percent of those resources being tied up in federal bureaucracy rather than on services that actually help kids. With that in mind, it was hard to simply be amused at the ongoing ineptitude of the SDE.

September – Suspicious Minds (Elvis Presley)

On a side note, I don’t know how I’ve gone this far through my life without backup singers. This needs to happen.

In spite of the fact that she had a perfectly good former teacher, former principal leading the accreditation division at the SDE, Barresi created a new position and appointed her staff attorney’s husband to it.

OKLAHOMA CITY (Sept. 24, 2014) — Dr. Larry L. Birney has been named assistant state superintendent for accreditation and compliance for the Oklahoma State Department of Education. The new position will help OSDE’s accreditation standards division ensure local schools are operating in compliance with state laws.

Birney served as executive director of the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Standards in Oklahoma from June 2008 until May 2011, when he retired. He was a 35-year veteran of the San Antonio Police Department, rising to the rank of acting deputy chief and later director of police human resources.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said Birney brings a needed expertise in investigation.

“OSDE routinely receives a number of allegations and complaints involving schools around the state, accusations that run the gamut from mismanagement to privacy violations to potentially criminal matters,” she said. “One need look no further than newspaper headlines and TV news broadcasts to see the spectrum of situations that warrant professional, precise and effective investigation. Larry Birney is uniquely qualified for this role, combining significant experience in law enforcement and education.”

This was Barresi’s way of saying, I know you school people do all kinds of illegal stuff. Now I want to find it and punish you for it. This bad hire in particular is the first thing Joy Hofmeister needs to address on January 12th after taking office.

October – Everything to Everyone (Everclear)

Probably the biggest news from October was the State Regents finally certifying that Oklahoma’s PASS standards would prepare our students to be College and Career Ready (a phrase that needs to be on our New Year’s resolution list of tropes never to use again). There were caveats to the certification, but it proved enough to appease our federal overlords, who eventually reinstated our waiver (sparing the SDE the embarrassment of trying to calculate a formula they hardly understand).

November – The Remedy (Jason Mraz)

On November 2nd, Oklahomans overwhelmingly elected Joy Hofmeister as our next state superintendent. Although there are still some out there who are reluctant to accept the fact that she is in fact VERY different than Barresi, I have been very pleased with how she has prepared herself for office. From her transition team to her trips around the state, she continues to show that she will learn what there is to be learned. She listens to the people who elected her and to the people who work directly with students. Four years from now, if she has disappointed us, I will gladly eat my words.

The morning of the election, this is what I wrote:

When the votes are counted Tuesday night, we will have chosen a new state superintendent. Hopefully, we will have chosen a new governor too, but I’ve already put my chips down on that race. Joy can do this job, and so can John. Whoever wins, we will have an effective advocate for funding and common sense when it comes to school regulations. Both would face significant obstacles, though. As Brett Dickerson points out today, there will be forces trying to wrest control over policy decisions away from the new state superintendent.

Make no mistake about it. We have someone who wants to know what’s keeping us from helping kids and what she can do about it. We won’t always get our way, but she is listening. That’s huge.

December – Money (Pink Floyd)

Right before Christmas Break, word broke that a flaw in the funding formula has been unearthed. This means that state aid to school districts has been calculated wrong for each of the last 22 years! Apparently, this miscalculation was first presented to the SDE 10 years ago. While I question the timing of the revelation, the fact is that when the current school year’s state aid is recalculated, there will be a group of winners and a group of losers. Beyond that, I have no idea what will happen. (This was the topic of another one of my unfinished posts.)

If I’m leading a district that has been shorted by the error for more than two decades, I want to get it all back. It’s probably not possible, but this error, compounded over 22 years, could be a huge deal. If the state (probably through litigation) has to fix the error, it will cost a number of districts more than they will be able to afford. This would be similar to losing in a game of Monopoly and having all of your mortgaged assets redistributed. Eventually, we will have to sort out how this happened. On this rare occasion, I happen to agree with the Oklahoman, which suggested we not forget this problem started under the previous administration at the SDE. That said, I can’t say for certain who is to blame – SDE people or the Oklahoma Tax Commission. This just isn’t something that’s in my wheelhouse.

In any case, state leaders need to be mindful that wrecking small school districts over funding issues they didn’t cause could devastate several communities.

Moving Forward

I can’t wait for 2015. This year was better than 2013; why not continue the trend! As for our friend, Superintendent Barresi, whom we bloggers will surely miss, I have one final long distance dedication:

As the song says, you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

Happy New Year, y’all.

A Funding SNAFU

December 18, 2014 1 comment

Earlier this week State Superintendent Janet Barresi sent all public school email addresses a Christmas card. Then came the warning that we better take our TLE and like it. This afternoon, she sent schools a message that is going to take a while to soak in.


The time for calculation of the midyear adjustment is upon us. I wanted to alert you to changes in the calculations of the midyear and a possible delay in the release of the midyear adjustment.

Earlier this fall, the Department became aware of a statutorily required cap in the formula dealing with agricultural and commercial personal property. The calculation, as prescribed in law, requires that the Department cap these two segments of personal property at 11 percent. The Department historically has not applied the statutory cap on commercial and agricultural personal property.

We believe that plain language of the statute requires the Department to place the 11 percent cap on commercial and agricultural personal property.

The Department faces a number of challenges in applying this cap to the state aid mid-year allocation. The State Department of Education (SDE) has been in communication with the Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) and has been told that the information needed to apply the statutory cap may not be available until mid-January. If the Department were to delay the midyear adjustment until we obtained the needed information from OTC, the SDE would risk violating its own statutory Jan. 15 deadline for release of the midyear adjustment.

It is important to note that this language was placed in the statute in 1992 when the formula used prior year Ad Valorem even though the OTC was not able to provide that specific data by districts at that time. When the formula was changed to use current year Ad Valorem this section was not adjusted, creating an inherent conflict in the two provisions of law. The statutes require the Tax Commission to provide to the SDE the data needed to implement the statutory requirement. Until this year, the data has not been provided to the State Department of Education by the Tax Commission in order for the Department to impose the cap on commercial and agricultural personal property.

We currently do not know the outcome of this redistribution, but we wanted to alert you to the possibility of an unanticipated change in your districts calculations and a possible delay in the receipt of the mid-year allocation.

We will calculate the midyear adjustment using the capped Ad Valorem and post the midyear allocation as soon as we receive the necessary data.

School districts will receive their Jan. 15, 2015, payment.

Janet C. Barresi

State Superintendent of Public Instruction

The short version of this is that a small part of the funding formula has been miscalculated for more than 20 years. I don’t know how much of that can be rectified or how that will impact already strapped public schools, but this could be catastrophic. As the Tulsa World report stated, this could be a windfall for some districts and disaster for others.

Merry Christmas, #oklaed! Hallelujah! Where’s the Tylenol?

Barresi Issues a TLE Warning

December 17, 2014 1 comment

Oklahoma’s Teacher/Leader Effectiveness System (TLE) is highly flawed. Ask anybody in a school, and you will hear that. Sure, some like the qualitative part that will eventually comprise 50 percent of a teacher’s overall rating. They say it has improved the language of the evaluation process. Unfortunately, it has also increased the extent to which teachers and principals are over-burdened with paperwork. It is a thorough process, but it is also terribly cumbersome.

This disruption to the status quo, however, has nothing on the impending disaster of the other 50 percent. When the quantitative component of TLE becomes reality, the bottomed-out morale of teachers will find a new low. Anybody who teaches or supervises teachers understands this. The future former state superintendent does not. Last night, Janet Barresi posted one of her final missives (at least in an official capacity), this time defending the TLE and refuting some of the concerns we’ve voiced for years. As usual, though, she misrepresented many, many things. I will attach a few excerpts and then respond.

When properly implemented by districts, TLE is not an excuse to fire teachers. We cannot and will not fire our way to a better education. TLE allows for focused professional development. It is a carefully designed system that helps good teachers become great, and struggling teachers become good.

Actually, this sounds like the justification of someone who hasn’t read the statutory language associated with the process. I understand – the relevant section doesn’t appear until pages 13-14. By then, most politicians have stopped reading to learn and commenced handing the document off to the underlings with instructions to brief me at a later time. Here’s the short version. Both career and probationary teachers who receive a less-than-effective TLE score for consecutive years can lose their jobs. Even if the principal observes good instruction happening in the classroom, an algorithm can override human judgment. Also, as I discussed Sunday, teachers who have the opportunity to make their own assessments (pre- and post-tests) will have a huge advantage over their counterparts. Still, Barresi warns us against the perils of abandoning evaluation by test score.

Some critics contend that TLE gives too much weight to student performance on assessments, but I believe the system we have designed strikes a good balance. It is important to recognize that student data is valuable. How can school leaders make informed decisions without indicators and data to guide them? How can parents feel assured they have an impartial measure of their school’s success if they only hear qualitative observations? Removing student data from TLE would threaten Oklahoma’s waiver from disastrous No Child Left Behind regulations, but even worse, it would usher in an accountability system that lacks measurable accountability itself.

Remember, Barresi and her ilk share the belief that anything you don’t measure doesn’t matter. As for me, I count two negatives in the previous sentence. It matters.

Seriously, though, Barresi still believes school leaders need her help to make informed decisions. We do use data, even if she won’t give us credit for it. As for assuring parents, I guess that’s what disembodied algorithms developed by out-of-state non-profits that have taken millions from our state are for. I’ve seen too many examples from this year’s VAM data that show great teachers with low scores. Even in cases where every student passes the state tests and most are advanced, the teachers are being labeled ineffective. Explain that to parents. Furthermore, we’ve lost the waiver once. If we lose it again, we’ll cobble something together and get it back. I’ve seen us do it.

Our work in school turn around has shown that as the hard work moves forward to improve instructional processes and practices, change the culture of the school and initiate the use of data as an integral component of improving instruction, that TLE scores also improve.

Rob Miller effectively took down this talking point recently. The SDE thinks they’ve discovered how to turn schools around. As Rob showed, they’ve also effectively discovered how not to turn schools around. Essentially, in any ranking system, there will be winners and losers. The system can’t help it; it was born that way. This is true for schools, for teachers, and for kids. Some will score high, and some will score low. Left to their own devices, some will rise, and some won’t. Placed under intensive scrutiny from the state, some will rise, and some will fall. It is a natural by-product of the system; often, what appear to be gains (or losses) are merely statistical corrections. No state agency deserves credit for schools that regress to the mean.

I don’t believe that the “sole purpose” of TLE is to fire people. I know that it will happen, though. Good teachers will lose their jobs because of bad data. Whether or not the intent of TLE is to shame teachers and schools, this will be the outcome. No amount of spin from Janet Barresi, Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush, or anyone else will change that. As Superintendent-elect Hofmeister has traveled the state, she has heard some version of these concerns again and again. Our legislators have heard them too, and most seem to understand that something has to give. In policy terms, it probably will come down to a choice between delaying implementation of the quantitative score or tossing the entire TLE system.

The timing of this letter is curious. It makes me wonder if Barresi has a last-minute surprise for us at tomorrow’s State Board of Education meeting. This will be her last one (unless they do not choose a vendor for spring testing, in which case there may be a special SBE meeting early next month), and the agenda for it should post this afternoon. We can only wonder right now if this is a clue to what we’re going to see on it.

Report as Spam?

December 15, 2014 9 comments

This afternoon, the SDE sent this image out to all Oklahoma educators.

 I bet Rob Miller got two copies!

In case somehow you missed yours, I wanted to make sure you had it.

You’re welcome.

Categories: Uncategorized

Time Keeps on Slippin, Slippin, Slippin…

December 14, 2014 1 comment

One of my favorite songs of the 70s is Fly Like an Eagle by the Steve Miller Band. Maybe it’s the trippy, psychedelic sound from the people who also brought us The Joker. Maybe it’s their concerts I attended back in college. Or maybe it’s the lyrics.

Who are we kidding? This is me we’re talking about, here. Of course it’s the lyrics! In particular, this one verse has always spoken to me:

Feed the babies
Who don’t have enough to eat
Shoe the children
With no shoes on their feet
House the people
Livin’ in the street
Oh, oh, there’s a solution

It’s a simple idea. See a problem and meet it with a solution. It doesn’t take a committee or a convoluted algorithm to figure this out. Not every problem has clear roots and clear solutions, however. In the #oklaed online community – as well as in the non-digital discussions we have of education issues every day – those of us who discuss and debate are often met with the same response. It is some variation of, if you’ll pardon the grammar, You’ve told us what you’re against; now tell us what you’re for.

I agree with the idea that we should all be solution-minded advocates of children and the public schools that serve them. I’m probably as guilty as anybody of saying what I oppose. Maybe I just assume that in telling you what I’m against, it’s obvious what I’m for. Maybe I’ve assumed wrong.

In general, I’m for ideas, policies, and practices that unburden teachers so students can learn. By extension, I’m against their antitheses. Too often, education policy is a solution in search of a policy; hence, my 501 previous blog posts opposing the litany of corporate education reforms and their lousy implementation.

If you’re a stickler for being positive, however, I will try to summarize some of the things I oppose and what I would rather see us do instead.

I oppose high-stakes testing for students in PK-12.

What would I do instead? Absolutely nothing. I don’t want high-stakes testing. I don’t want it for third-graders. I don’t want it for high school students. Not in a boat. Not with a goat.

As you know, the state of Oklahoma forces public schools to give even more tests than the dreaded federal government requires us to. These tests form, among other things, the exit exams for Oklahoma high school students. In spite of the fact that many students begin taking these tests in middle school, passing four of seven is a graduation requirement. Meanwhile, these tests mean nothing to higher education.

I have said on this blog and on social media more times than I care to count that we should replace all of our high school tests with the ACT. I don’t have exact percentages, but a vast majority of Oklahoma graduates have taken it at least one time. Maybe if we quit paying unreliable vendors to create tests that our students could care less about, we could afford to pay for one college-entrance exam for each graduate.

On the elementary and middle school end, we could adopt ACT’s Aspire tests for third through eighth grade, or we could find another battery of tests to give students in those grades. While I would love to see Congress repeal No Child Left Behind in its entirety and start over with reasonable education policy, I am also a realist. If we’re going to test in reading and math, let’s keep it simple and test for growth. And for the love of all things decent, let’s make the reading test an actual READING test!

There would be no more re-testing students who performed poorly on a criterion-referenced test by giving them a norm-referenced test as a follow up. That’s the least sensible solution I’ve ever heard. Instead, when we get the original results, the schools and parents can decide what’s best in terms of retention or promotion.

I oppose high-stakes testing for teachers and principals too.

Maybe it would suffice to give a blanket statement that I oppose high-stakes testing, but these are really two separate issues. Besides, the harm to students is immediate. The harm to teachers builds over time. More importantly, we do what we do for the kids – not the adults. Perhaps a better way to put this is…

I oppose the use of test scores in any form to evaluate educators.

As you probably know, one of the Florida Oklahoma reforms adopted by our state in 2011 was the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness system. Using the legislative guidance and the models adopted by the TLE Commission, most Oklahoma districts have been using the qualitative (observational) portion of TLE for one or two years. I hear mixed reviews of the system from around the state.

Generally, the people who like it say that they have had better conversations about what quality teaching looks like than ever before. Generally, though, the people saying this have been principals. On the other hand, many of the people who have told me they don’t like the qualitative portion of TLE complain that it is so time consuming they can’t attend to their other job duties. For both principals and teachers, this amounts to massive increases in paperwork. Still, the qualitative portion of TLE is angel food cake in comparison to the quantitative part.

Unless something changes in state law, beginning with the 2015-16 school year, 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation will be quantitative. All teachers will get to pick an Other Academic Measure (OAM) to count for 15 percent of their overall evaluation. In most cases, teachers have picked measures that all but ensure high scores. It is a paperwork exercise in futility. The other 35 percent will be determined through either a Value-added Model (VAM) score or a Student Learning Objective (SLO) score.

To get a VAM score, teachers have to have students who take reading in math in consecutive years. PK-3 teachers will not get a VAM score. Neither will most middle and high school teachers. In all, somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of Oklahoma teachers will get a VAM score, which is a measure of actual student growth against predicted student growth. To determine VAM scores, the state uses a formula that considers prior performance, demographic factors, and possibly ambient temperatures – nobody is quite sure, really. If it’s publicly available, I haven’t seen it. In all, the state has contracted with at least three companies to develop and implement our VAMs.

The remaining teachers – the vast majority of them – will be able to create their own SLOs, cherry-picking standards to emphasize throughout the year. They will be able to create their own pre-test and post-test. They will be able to set their own instructional and testing conditions. In other words, they can totally stack the deck.

If you were a principal, why wouldn’t you let them? Think about this for a minute. If you work 180 days a year with someone and observe them in their classroom at least four times a year, you probably know whether they are doing a good job or not. The last thing you want would be for some disembodied formula to override the good evaluation you’ve given that teacher. Not only are good teachers hard to find; so are bad ones.

In this system, teachers evaluated with SLOs will be able to protect themselves. Meanwhile, teachers evaluated with VAMs will be subject to the whims of the formula. These are two vastly unequal systems. Teachers who get a low overall TLE score for multiple years will be eventually lose their jobs.

What I would like to see in place of this system is districts using an observational teacher evaluation tool that allows principals to embed professional development that teachers actually need: classroom management, content knowledge, pedagogy. Teacher effectiveness can be observed a lot more than it can be measured.

I oppose ranking schools.

I probably spent more of the first year (2012) of this blog discussing the A-F Report Cards than I did discussing all other issues combined. The reason was twofold. First, I oppose taking everything that schools do and distilling that information into a single letter grade. Second, the methodology employed by the SDE was convoluted and completely illogical. It got better in 2013, but still was thoroughly eviscerated by researchers at OU and OSU.

In place of ranking schools, I would rather see the state release as much school information as possible, without adding interpretation. The closest we come to this right now is the annual School Report Cards released each May by the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability (formerly the Office of Accountability). They have test scores, demographic data, longitudinal college data, census data, and even figures from the Office of Juvenile Affairs.

Say, for example, you were considering moving to Broken Bow. You could look at the SDE’s report card for the high school and see that they earned an A-, or you could look at the EQA report card and see all kinds of data. You can see that on four of seven EOIs, their students were above the state average. You can also see that they exceed the state average for free/reduced lunch eligibility. In spite of the fact that the district population is less educated overall than the rest of the state, and the school’s relative poverty, student performance seems to be pretty good. And this comes with a less experienced group of teachers than what the state has overall. Perhaps the four percent mobility rate helps them. Who’s to say?

The point is that if I’m moving to SE Oklahoma, I want a lot more information than a single letter grade. If you want to make a decision on where to move your family based on something this shallow, you probably don’t deserve someone else putting all of the pieces of information in a formula for you. You should make the effort yourself.

That said, there are two things I would like to see different about how the EQA reports this data. First is that by the time they published the 2013 test results, we had already administered the 2014 tests. Those scores are available much sooner than that. Make the school/district results visible before the report card is published. (Why the SDE doesn’t do this is beyond me.) I know the EQA gets data from several different agencies, but they should be able to put together some kind of a searchable database online that makes those pieces available in real time. They have great financial data that many Oklahoma legislators could stand to review before embarking on misguided task forces.

The second thing I would like to see different is that on some of the EQA reports, the office adds a checkmark or a star if certain benchmarks are met. Again, this oversimplifies information and is subject to the politics of standard-setting at the state level. It’s a completely superfluous feature.

All of this being said, I understand that we are not likely to be rid of a school ranking system anytime soon. While I am excited that Superintendent-elect Hofmeister is utilizing OU and OSU researchers in reforming the system, I will have to wait and see just how much enthusiasm I can muster.

I also oppose Merit Pay, Vouchers (Education Savings Accounts by any other name…), the Parent Trigger, and Funding Cuts.

This post is approaching 2,000 words very quickly, though, so I will come back to those another time. In the meantime, I will continue believing in the simplicity of these lyrics…

Oh, oh, there’s a solution…

Categories: Uncategorized

The Rob Miller Rule?

December 8, 2014 2 comments

In case you missed it, the Oklahoma State Department of Education has some proposed administrative rule changes posted to its website. Many of them are minor language changes, or instances of revision caused by legislation. One in particular caught my attention, however. Read it and see if you can guess why the proposed rule was written:

210:10-13-24. Oklahoma School Testing Program field test participation

At the direction of the State Department of Education, an Oklahoma public school district or charter school shall be required to participate in the field testing of assessments administered under the Oklahoma School Testing Program. No school district or charter school shall be exempt from the requirement to participate in field testing conducted under the authority of the State Board of Education for the purposes of developing or facilitating state assessments.

In 2013, if you’ll recall, a large contingency of parents in a school somewhere in the Tulsa area (I forget where) decided their students didn’t have to take field tests. Coincidentally, the testing company claimed it did not have enough usable data from the field test to give an operational 7th grade geography test the next year. More comedy ensued in 2013 when the SDE renamed the field tests item tryouts, which fooled no one. Then in 2014, the SDE exempted two entire districts (in the Tulsa area) from having to take field tests.

I love this. It’s like the SDE is saying, enough of the hijinks and shenanigans, Rob. Seriously, I expect every sentence of the proposed rule to end with a direct address. Below is my rewrite:

210:10-13-24. Oklahoma School Testing Program field test participation, Rob

At the direction of the State Department of Education, Rob, an Oklahoma public school district or charter school shall be required to participate in the field testing of assessments administered under the Oklahoma School Testing Program. No school district or charter school shall be exempt from the requirement to participate in field testing conducted under the authority of the State Board of Education for the purposes of developing or facilitating state assessments, Rob.

To be fair, the SDE has a non-Jenks Public Schools rationale for the new administrative rule. You can read their entire rule impact statement, but here are the first three points:

What is the purpose of the proposed rule?

The purpose of the proposed new rule at 210:10-13-24 is to articulate the statutory requirement, under 70 O.S. § 1210.505 et seq., for Oklahoma school districts to participate in field testing of assessments conducted under the Oklahoma School Testing Program (OSTP). The rule codifies existing State Board of Education and State Department of Education policy, and ensures the validity and reliability of assessments through appropriate field testing.

What classes of persons will be affected by the proposed rule change and what classes of persons will bear the costs of the proposed rule change?

The proposed changes will affect public school students and teachers, public school districts and public schools, and charter schools. The agency does not anticipate any additional costs to result from the rule amendment.

What classes of persons will benefit from the proposed rule?

The proposed changes will benefit students and teachers as well as public school districts, public schools, and charter schools.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to miss the comedy of Janet Barresi and her legal staff when she’s gone. No amount of field testing will ensure the validity and reliability of our state tests. And no amount of testing – field or otherwise – will benefit public school students.

This rule, as often is the case, solves no problem. I don’t know of a school or district that refused to administer a test. Parents refused to have their students sit for tests, which is perfectly acceptable. We shouldn’t let those little details called facts get in the way though.

That’s our job.

The public comment period for the proposed administrative rule changes is open now and ends December 19. The full list of rule changes is available on the SDE website. Comments can be submitted by email.

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