A Sense of Urgency
When I was 16, I began my official days as a wage earner at Mazzio’s Pizza on the north side of Norman. At the very minimum wage of $3.35/hour, my goal was to make enough money in one shift to pay for the gas it took my 1974 LTD to drive there and back from the south side of Norman. Sure, gas was something like 79 cents a gallon, but this was one of the great American land yachts. By my admittedly sketchy math, it wasn’t worth my time to work fewer than four hours at a time.
Once I was at work, I’m not sure I was even worth what they were paying me. I remember my very first night there. I was washing dishes with one of those hoses that hangs down over an industrial size sink, just casually rinsing a rack of plates that was ready to go into the big, bad commercial dishwasher. The assistant manager walked up behind me and asked, “Rick, do you know what the phrase, ‘sense of urgency’ means?”
I said something along the lines of, “I think so.” She said, “Good, because if you want to have a second night here,” you’ll show me. Well, I did want a second night. I was 16. I had a gas guzzling car. Most importantly, Mazzio’s had a promotion featuring cool, colorful sunglasses that the rest of my high school surely would mistake for Ray Bans™. I spent the rest of that night washing dishes, busing tables, and mopping floors like a mad man. I had entered numbers and words onto a W-4 for the first time and I was not to be denied.
That was 1986, and to this day, the phrase “sense of urgency” makes me think of my first night of a seven year run in food service. It’s also the phrase that has come to mind frequently during the past week as I have watched Joy Hofmeister work to right a wrong.
In case you missed it, last Monday night, social media was buzzing with the information that most students taking online state tests were receiving instant scores and performance levels upon submitting their last answer. While I’ve always wondered why getting scores back to the schools takes so long after testing, I wasn’t exactly looking for an instant answer either.
After attending a work event, Joy noted on Twitter that she wasn’t ok with this practice either.
What I found out several days later was that she called testing staff into the office that night and immediately tasked the testing company, Measured Progress, with fixing it.
That’s a sense of urgency.
What I also didn’t know at that time was that this new feature of online testing was a surprise left for all of us by the previous administration. In fact, it’s right in the 2013 Request for Proposals (RFP) for the testing contract.
Oklahoma’s online testing program stems from the need for students and educators to receive the results of testing quickly as required by law. The online system must provide to students immediate raw score results (and performance levels for pre-equated tests) and complete student results within two weeks for schools and districts. The supplier should provide a detailed description of the system that addresses each of the topics below. In addition, the SDE prefers an online management system that enrolls and tracks paper and online testers within the same program (p. 20).
How did we miss that at the time? I guess we were all busy looking up the new testing vendor to realize that the state was asking for new features. Measured Progress actually had to write new code to make this feature possible. I don’t know if it was a large or small undertaking, but they did it, meeting the terms of the contract. When asked by Joy to undo this as soon as possible, they did – in under a week.
I won’t get into the horror stories of students seeing the word Unsatisfactory on the screen and bursting into tears. I will say that fixing this problem is a good cap to a solid first 100 days by the new state superintendent. She ended double testing in junior high math. She eliminated the writing field test. She announced the mode of writing for February’s fifth and eighth grade tests. She’s lobbied the legislature for testing relief and money for teacher pay. She actually showed up at the education rally, and other than a slam poet from Mustang, she stole the show.
If the first 100 days of her administration have been marked by urgency, I hope the next 1000 will be marked by persistence. There are many more battles to fight. Many are much larger. All involve the same goal – doing right by the students of this state.