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Posts Tagged ‘A-F Report Cards’

One Year Later: How Far We’ve Come

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year, but it has. On June 24, 2014, Oklahoma voters not only elevated Joy Hofmeister over the incumbent state superintendent; they did so with a more decisive margin than any of us had imagined. Many of us went into the day worried that Hofmeister would fall just short of the 50% tally necessary to avoid an expensive run-off election. As the evening unfolded, Hofmeister not only won the primary, she comfortably surpassed 50. Furthermore, if she had faced a run-off election, it wouldn’t have been against the incumbent. Janet Barresi had finished in third.

Among the Democrats in the race, voters had narrowed the choices to two. John Cox would eventually defeat Freda Deskin in a late summer run-off. Then something amazing happened. Hofmeister and Cox went around Oklahoma debating one another. In public. Pretty much everywhere. It was one of the most civil things I had seen in politics in a long time. When I finally saw them at Westmoore High School in October, the general election was but a few weeks away. By then, they probably didn’t have many surprises left for one another. Most of the discussions were on point. A few barbs by each were political in nature, but very few. It was largely a substantive discussion.

SIDE NOTE: I had this picture in the back of my head of the two of them driving all over the state in an old VW van continuing their debates as they moved from stop to stop. Yes, I know that’s not how it all happened, but don’t ruin this for me.

Meanwhile, Barresi had more than six months remaining in her term. During that time, she continued the work of the previous 42 months. The only difference was that more of us were speaking out against her. She defended herself rather crassly at the Vision 2020 conference. She created a crony position for an in-house investigator who paraded around Oklahoma trying to intimidate leaders in various district. Board members called her out. She swore at one of them. Even on her last day in office, she fired people pretty much just because she could.

At noon on January 12, Hofmeister took office. She then had an open house at the SDE to greet people and set a new tone for her upcoming administration. The big WELCOME #OKLAED banner in front of the building did that. As I chatted with several old friends, we all expressed optimism.

For me, that feeling hasn’t faded.

Superintendent Hofmeister has had some early victories in her administration. She eliminated the field test for fifth and eighth grade writing and announced that the prompt would ask students to write in the narrative mode. A few months later, when the tests came back with the exact same problems as last year, she wasted no time in announcing that the scores wouldn’t count in the A-F Report Card calculations. Last year, if you’ll recall, it took an entire tortured summer for Barresi to finally make that decision.

To me, the most impressive thing she’s done, is gather her assessment team and get Measured Progress to change the practice of a student’s score range appearing on the screen after finishing each state test. She did it quickly. Most Oklahomans were appreciative.

She worked with legislators to try to curb testing. If it hadn’t been for a few in leadership positions, they would have been able to eliminate the writing tests.

This needs to happen, by the way. Nobody values writing instruction more than I do. Lousy prompts on lousy tests lead to dubious writing that is scored by temporary labor who are poorly trained and poorly compensated.

Hofmeister even came to the rally at the Capitol in March and has continued fighting to curb the teacher shortage. At times, it has seemed as if her ideas are left hanging in mid-air because we still have the same governor, representatives, and senators we had before. She hasn’t won every political fight for us, but it was only the first year.

She still has some critics on the fringe of each party. Many of them hold dearly to petty, perceived slights and are susceptible to every conspiracy theory they can imagine. It’s to be expected.

The Oklahoman also hasn’t warmed up to Hofmeister, but then again, they still have Barresi’s first campaign manager’s husband writing editorials. Similarly, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs continues pushing back against her and all things public education. Expecting something different would be like asking the sun not to shine.

In spite of this, I do still feel optimistic. More importantly, I feel respected. I feel that my profession and the children we are passionate to serve have a voice – and that her voice will only become more influential during the next several years.

Going back a year – actually, a year and two days – I hosted the Sunday night #oklaed chat and asked several questions about the primary election. I want to share a few responses to the second question, which was, “What should a new state superintendent do on day one in office.”

Yes, there were a few snarky, Paul Lynde “center-square” type answers in there, but most were along the lines of inviting parents and educators to the SDE (done) and helping remaining SDE staff understand their role as a true service agency (visible progress on that front).

A year has made a huge difference. I’m still excited. I owe that feeling to Joy Hofmeister and the people of this state who decided a year ago that they had seen enough.

6-14-15 #oklaed Chat: Teaching and Assessing Writing

June 13, 2015 Comments off

6-13-15 #oklaed Chat: Teaching and Assessing Writing

I don’t want to spend much time talking about the fact that for the second straight year, Oklahoma’s fifth and eighth grade writing assessments won’t be used in calculating the A-F report cards. I was appreciative when Superintendent Hofmeister made the decision to throw the scores out, although there was a small amount of backlash from her usual critics.

How much did we spend on that test?

I don’t know. How much did you spend on the food that went bad in your fridge during the last 12 months? Just because you spent the money doesn’t mean you have to eat the rancid cheese. It will make you sick, for crying out loud!

To me, this sequence of events highlights the Legislature’s failure to act in any meaningful way to deal with education issues during the 2015 session. They’ve ordered the SDE to study the A-F Report Cards. Meanwhile, we’ll still receive them.

They also put off the elimination of any state tests until the new math and English/language arts standards are in place. I can see the logic there, to an extent. On the other hand, I don’t care what standards we have in place; the writing tests we currently give students have always been – and will always be – a complete waste of money. I also – as you might have gathered last year – have a complete lack of faith in the ability of the testing industry to assess student writing ability.

That’s enough about that. As I have mentioned before, I became a teacher because of my love of writing.

darkandstormy_5013

Even now, as an adjunct professor, my favorite part of teaching is reading what my students write. I have strong opinions on writing instruction by the language arts teachers, but I also have strong opinions about other teachers’ expectations for student writing. Some of the best writing instruction I received in high school was from my tenth-grade U.S. History teacher, who I seriously underappreciated at the time.

The ability to write effectively is a key to unlocking more doors as adults. Dare I say that it’s critical to college and career readiness? Maybe I should change it to what Tyler Bridges suggested yesterday: future ready.

With that in mind, Sunday night’s #oklaed chat, which I will be hosting, is over the instruction and assessment of writing. Below is a preview of the questions; the first one is huge and will likely require follow-up discussion.

Q1: How should writing instruction look at the various grade levels?

Q2: Should writing expectations vary from subject to subject in school?

Q3: How has writing instruction changed as a result of technology?

Q4: What mode of writing (descriptive, informative, narrative, persuasive/argumentative) is most critical for students to learn?

Q5: How could blogging or tweeting be used in the classroom?

Q6: What is the best way to provide grammar instruction to students in order to improve writing?

Q7: Should writing and reading be taught as a combined discipline or two separate subjects?

Q8: What would it take for a state writing assessment to mean something to students, teachers, and parents?

See you on Twitter Sunday night at 8:00! Remember to use the #oklaed hashtag with all of your responses.

Two Weeks to Go: Will the Legislature Act to Curb the Teacher Shortage?

In January, Kevin Hime, Superintendent of Clinton Public Schools, did everything he could to push the Oklahoma community of education supporters to view the 2015 legislative session through a singular lens:

I have been pushing for #oklaed to have a one issue legislative session.  I believe the only issue we should be discussing until fixed is #teachershortage.  Recently looking at SDE documents I noticed #oklaed employed almost 60k teachers in 2008 and a little more than 52k in 2014.  Mathematically it looks like we should have almost 8K Teachers looking for a job but we started 2015 over 1000 teachers short.  We are setting records for alt certs and emergency certifications every year. Why is my issue so much more important than yours?  What is your issue?

One of the leading conservative minds in Oklahoma has accused us of blowing this issue out of proportion, but these numbers don’t lie. We have fewer teachers and larger classes. Imagine if we had kept all the closed positions open; we’d have several thousand vacancies!

With less than two weeks to go, how are our elected leaders doing? Let’s look at Kevin’s six criteria and assess.

Testing: In a recent survey conducted by our State Superintendent elect, testing was the first issue she needs to address.  How many teachers have left our profession because they feel students are over-tested.  If teachers are indicating in a survey that testing is the #1 issue, how can we fix teacher shortage without correcting our testing problems.

As of late last week, word reached several of us who follow the Legislature that SB 707 is still alive, but barely. Although it appears that a majority of members in both chambers support this legislation, it also appears that a small few in the leadership do not. This is not the time for the few to bully the many. This is the number one issue – even more than pay – decimating our teaching force. Some of the opposition has centered on the ACT, which the bill does not explicitly name as the replacement to the EOIs.  We have to start somewhere with reducing the emphasis on testing in Oklahoma schools. This bill does that.

Teacher Pay: Ask the governor or any legislator how are we going to fix teacher shortage and most will mention teacher pay.  So instead of starting with teacher pay start your discussion with teacher shortage.

I would love to see many changes in the way we compensate teachers in Oklahoma. Starting pay should be better, but veteran pay should be a lot better. The distance between lanes for degrees earned should be widened. And state aid should be solidified through dedicated funding that will not be exhausted in one year. The scheme that has been floated to use money dedicated for teacher retirement fails on both counts. It is not a recurring source of revenue, and it hardly moves the needle. A $1,000 raise for teachers would be appreciated, but it would move us from 48th to 48th in teacher pay. Oh wait, that’s no move at all!

Teacher Evaluations: Does anyone think VAMS, SLOs, SOOs, are any other acronym are good for teacher recruitment and retention.  Without fixing our evaluation system we will continue to struggle with recruitment and retention.

So far, nothing is fixed. We have hit pause on some things, but the terrible quantitative measurements of teacher effectiveness still loom.

Teacher’s Retirement: Just the threat to change scares current teachers.  If they change the system it will have a negative effect in the present climate.  I hate to be against an idea until I know what the idea is but change today when teachers have zero trust for those proposing the change will not help teacher retention and recruitment.

Technically, the legislators haven’t touched teacher retirement yet. Again, though, I should mention that the idea is being tossed around to divert funds for salaries – this one time only. The state treasurer is against it. The Oklahoman is against it. Don’t screw with retirement. Just don’t.

School Funding: Have you looked at Texas, Arkansas, or Kansas school buildings lately.  Recruiting teachers based on facilities if a non-starter for #oklaed. When you are 49th in school funding teachers find another state to work.

Again, we seem to be getting nowhere. During the March rally, many legislators blamed the economy. Others blamed their leadership. Here’s a fun fact: your constituents didn’t vote for the House and Senate leadership. They voted for you! Own your agenda. Represent your constituents and answer to them. Forget the leadership. Forget the lobbyists who buy your coffee, breakfast, and lunch. Make things better or admit to the voters that you failed them.

RSA, A-F,  and other REFORMS are all legislative burdens that have landed in the middle of teachers desks and hamper teacher recruitment and retention.

We seem stuck on these reforms. We still have the A-F Report Cards, and some in the Legislature are determined to make the Reading Sufficiency Act even more complicated. Let’s double the number of committees for our finishing third graders and have some for first and second graders as well. And let’s not fund any of this. And let’s make it clear to the dastardly education establishment that this is the price for keeping retention decisions in the hands of human beings.

So far, I can’t point to a success. Yes, the Legislature managed to make dues collection for teachers’ associations harder, but that’s hardly a selling point. They make promises, but promises don’t buy bread. Promises don’t restore priorities and balance to teaching. Promises don’t entice college students and recent graduates to pursue teaching careers in Oklahoma.

Action makes a difference. Nothing else.

Concidentally, the teacher shortage was the topic of tonight’s #oklaed chat on Twitter. Here are some of my favorite comments from the discussion.

Throughout the chat, we kept coming back to the fact that salary matters, but so do the working conditions of our schools.  I still believe that we’re losing teachers equally to both of these factors. We’ve tried and tried to explain this, but I don’t know if the politicians get it yet.

We have two weeks left to make them get it. Call. Write. Email. Visit. Don’t limit your time to your own senator and representative. Pick several. Call the leaders. Even if they tell you to call your own people, be persistent. They chose to lead. This is what they get.

Oklahoma Senate Directory

Oklahoma House Directory

Find their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Post articles using your own social media and get more parents and educators (and other citizens who care) involved.

We have two weeks to make sure the people we may or may not vote to re-elect listen to us and do something of value to stem the teacher shortage. Use it well.

A Gentle Reminder: Poverty Matters

September 21, 2014 3 comments

The Oklahoman has an article this morning on the front page of the paper in which officials from several suburban districts downplay the importance of the state’s A-F Report Cards. The catch is that these districts have fairly good performance. While the article itself is currently only viewable by subscribers, the graphic associated with the article is viewable to anyone. Showing Oklahoma City Public Schools and five other large districts in pie charts, we see percentages of each letter grade for each district. For the sake of comparison, I looked up the 2013 free/reduced lunch rates of these six districts as well.

District Schools with A or B Schools with D or F Free/Reduced Lunch
Edmond 100% 0% 26.6%
Moore 74% 3% 41.0%
Norman 55% 23% 49.1%
Mid-Del 36% 24% 68.9%
Putnam City 23% 23% 75.3%
Oklahoma City 20% 64% 86.4%

In other words, if we were to rank the districts by overall performance, they would fall in the exact order of their poverty levels. This is no coincidence.

In previous years, the SDE has also posted a spreadsheet of school performance, which allowed me to cut-and-paste, and then align columns with another database. This year, there is no spreadsheet. And there is no need. The linkage between poverty and test scores is well-established.

Last year, I found that poverty had a strong, negative (-0.60) correlation to A-F Report Card Grades. It was even stronger than the year before (-0.44). While I wonder what the data would show this year, I’m not going to hand-enter the grades into a spreadsheet. I don’t have time for that.

Tulsa area school leaders are similarly unimpressed.

Sapulpa schools have seen sliding grades the last three years, but Superintendent Kevin Burr said what the grade card doesn’t show is the growth taking place among students at those schools.

“What we prefer to look at, which is a stronger indicator to us of whether or not we’re making progress, is an assessment that is independent of politics and manipulation of any kind, and that is the ACT (college entrance exam),” he said.

On Wednesday, the same day the state released the A-F school report cards, Burr said he learned that Sapulpa Public Schools got the highest composite ACT score in the history of the district.

“It’s beyond ironic that we face the kind of grade card speculation and scrutiny we are when in fact we’re enjoying knowing that the kids at the end of the spectrum, who we are responsible for, are being better prepared than they ever have been,” he said.

We strive for things that matter. Getting our students ready for college matters more than the state tests do. It takes teachers committed to students in Pre-K and beyond. It takes all the classes. And it takes focus, even in the face of constant political disparagement.

To those who are busy saying so – telling their communities to look away from these monstrosities masquerading as accountability – we say “thank you!”

There's nothing to see here!

There’s nothing to see here!

After the Top 20: Dishonorable Mention

Counting down from 20 was so much fun (how fun was it?)…it was so much fun I added a new number one yesterday afternoon. Now I’m going to add 13 more! These are additional examples of things that Barresi or the SDE have done during the last 42 months to wreck public education. Whether an example of failure by design or incompetence, each is worthy of dishonorable mention. There is no particular order to the following list. Nor should they be interpreted as Reasons 22-34. Some could easily have made the top 20. Even after this, I’m sure I’m missing something.

For each, I’m going to limit myself to a paragraph or two and add a relevant link.

TLE Implementation

On many fronts, the SDE has mishandled the development of the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness system. While the qualitative component that counts for half of a teacher’s evaluation has been met with good reviews overall, initially Barresi was reluctant to accept the TLE Commission’s recommendation for a model. She was hell-bent on anything but the Tulsa model (much as #oklaed is hell-bent on anything but Barresi right now). Validating the work of one of her staunchest opponents (TPS Superintendent Keith Ballard) was more than she could stomach. Unfortunately for her, more than 400 school districts went with the Oklahoma-grown evaluation model. Since the cool thing in 2014 all about growing our own, this should be ideal, right?

In 2012, when it came time to provide funds for districts to train teachers, principals, and other administrators in the models of choice, the SDE predictably dropped the ball. They had anticipated a cost of $1.5 million for training (after stating in legislative hearings that TLE would be a revenue-neutral initiative). The lowest bid received was $4.3 million. This was their solution:

Given that time is of the essence, to best serve the needs of districts, and to provide you with more autonomy over these funds, SDE has determined that it will indeed be most effective to distribute the $1.5 million directly to districts to seek TLE evaluator training.

Some districts had already tried to secure training independently of the SDE prior to that announcement, but the SDE had blocked them. They literally kept the entities authorized to provide the training from entering into contracts with individual school districts. This announcement by the SDE then was doubly frustrating. Districts trying to be proactive were blocked. They had to wait an extra 2-3 months for the training they knew their staff needed.

Test Exemption in Moyers

In April, a family in Moyers suffered a great tragedy. The school called the SDE to try to get a testing waiver for a student going through tremendous grief. It took a social media onslaught to get the agency to reverse its original decision not to grant the waiver.

Eventually, the SDE caved. They said it was a misunderstanding. Barresi was also quick to blame the federal government for setting such intractable testing rules. It’s a typical JCB story. Testing matters more than students or schools. If she looks bad, blame someone else – especially liberals or the feds.

Removing API Scores from the SDE Website

Janet Barresi tells anyone who is forced to listen to her that her greatest accomplishments are transparency and accountability. As of October (or earlier – this was when I first noticed it) the SDE’s Accountability Page no longer contains API scores . The Academic Performance Index was Oklahoma’s school accountability system from 2002-2011. It was replaced in 2012 by the A-F Report Cards, which were one of Barresi’s hallmark reforms.

Visit the page now and you see the following message:

*Please Note: The State Department of Education is currently reviewing historical assessment and accountability reports to ensure compliance with the Oklahoma’s new “Student Data Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013.” Some sites on this web page may be temporarily disabled until compliance is ensured.

Barresi likes to construct a narrative in which accountability didn’t exist before she showed up. As with most of her talking points, there is no merit to this. There is also no reason to hide old API reports. Nothing in the Act named above would require historical data to be removed.

Whole Language

In November, Barresi participated in a candidate forum that was captured on video and posted to YouTube. That video alone could have been the basis for a pretty solid top ten list. One of the outrageous things she said was that the reason Oklahoma students can’t read is because the University of Oklahoma still teaches Whole Language. She also insists that OU and OSU need to teach their education students how to teach reading and math. Maybe she was just still bitter about the research report discrediting her precious A-F Report Cards. In any case, she simply sounded uninformed and petty.

The Shameful Treatment of Crutcho Public Schools

Early in the Morning of May 10th, Rob Miller received an email from the superintendent of Crutcho Public Schools. The news media had been reporting that the district had the worst 3rd grade scores in Oklahoma. Due to technical problems with CTB/McGraw-Hill (go figure), she had not been able to login to confirm their scores. The first news story reported that none of the school’s students passed the test. They corrected it at the 10:00 broadcast. Unfortunately, we all know that retractions don’t have the impact as an inaccurate report in the first place. If the SDE hadn’t been in such a rush to get scores out to the media and represent their reading initiative as a success, this misrepresentation never would have happened. Barresi doesn’t care about that – just about controlling the narrative.

Badmouthing Teachers in Public

The most-viewed post of all time on this blog is from March: How to Lose Your Appetite. The funny thing is that I really didn’t care for the post all that much. Based on screenshots and redacted identities, I piece together comments overheard from Barresi during lunch. She thinks Sandy Garrett had no accomplishments. She thinks the legislature is crazy. She thinks teachers are liberal. She blames everyone but herself for how badly she is doing in this job. Her commercials make that perfectly clear.

Illegal Hiring Practices

Normally, especially with state government jobs, an agency will post a position (and a job description). Under Barresi, nothing is done the normal way at the SDE. Did you know that Michelle Sprague, the Director of Reading/Literacy, is set to become the new Director of Elementary English/Language Arts? Funny, that position never posted to the SDE website. That must’ve been an oversight, as was the creation of the new position. Likewise, Sprague’s successor in the position she’s leaving has already been selected. That job never posted either.

Throughout Barresi’s tenure at the SDE, she has fired and run off good people, often replacing them with others who aren’t qualified for their jobs. The SDE has definitely found a few hard workers who try hard to help schools through all of the challenges they face, but their efforts are often stymied from above. Maybe it’s just as well that they’re not performing legitimate job searches. There’s no point for great people to leave good jobs to go up there now.

Vendor Favoritism

The SDE is supposed to help schools find solutions to their problems. This should not include a show of favoritism to certain vendors. I’ve covered the irregularities with the selection of CTB/McGraw-Hll and the bad decision to keep them after the first annual testing debacle in the countdown already. It goes beyond that, though. She has pushed specific professional development providers relative to the Reading Sufficiency Act and Advanced placement programs. And in one debate last week, she said that she hoped schools would go back to Saxon Math – which I’m sure thrilled all the other publishers. It’s not that I want all the vendors to be happy or all to be miserable. I just want them all to have a fair shot. Too many times, whether through sole source contracts or less-than-transparent bidding processes, they find the deck to be stacked.

Rewards that Nobody Wants

One component of the state’s ESEA Waiver is that the SDE will provide rewards to schools with high achievement and schools with high growth. In 2013, the first year anything other than certificates were given as a reward, only five percent of eligible schools applied.

  • 229 Reward Schools were eligible to apply.
  • 14 applications were received.
  • 6 grants totaling $400,000 were awarded.
  • 60 percent of the funds are to be spent celebrating the success of the Reward School.
  • 40 percent of the funds are to be spent on partnership activities benefiting both the Reward School and the Partnership School.

The catch was that schools eligible for a reward had to partner with a low-performing school to apply. Unless I missed it, the SDE announced no new awards in 2014. In that case, they could have used the $2.8 million set aside for that expense to make up the deficit in funding employee benefits, rather than yanking funds at the last minute from professional development and alternative education.

By the way, for some reason, the legislature raised this pool of funds to $5.4 million next year.

Favoring Charter Schools

In October 2013, Janet Barresi said during a radio interview that she is “embarrassed” Oklahoma doesn’t have more charter schools. She continues not to comment, however, on the fact that the ones Oklahoma has don’t perform as well as the state’s traditional public schools. Both years in which we’ve had A-F Report Cards, even though the formula changed considerably from 2012 to 2013, charter schools did not score highly. We know that not all charter schools are created equally and that by law, they are supposed to accept students on a lottery basis. We also know that some have ways of counseling out students who might be hard to serve. And we know that they don’t face all the same regulations as traditional public schools.

While I have written consistently that I oppose expansion of charter schools out of the state’s urban areas, I do not oppose their existence altogether. What I’d like to see is all public schools granted some of the flexibility charter schools have. I’d also like to hear politicians acknowledge these differences in their discussions of charters.

FAY/NFAY

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Janet Costello Barresi claim that under her watch, the SDE has transformed from being a regulatory agency to being a service agency. None of us buy that. For example, on January 15, 2014, the SDE notified schools that they had changed the definition of Full Academic Year to mean “part of the academic year.” Instead of previous definitions, which had included some logical starting point relative to the beginning of the school year, we would now be counting all students who remained continuously enrolled from October 1st and before.

Supposedly, there was a hue and cry from Oklahoma administrators to make this change. I have a hard time believing that. Yes, we want to teach all children we have, but the FAY/NFAY designation is really only an accountability issue. Schools with high mobility have a hard enough time without the SDE senselessly piling on via bureaucratic fiat.

Pricey Propaganda

In April, the SDE released 2,000 copies of the agency’s annual report at a cost of $33,000 to taxpayers. Printed copies. In 2014. Simply inexplicable. One senator felt the same way:

Patrick Anderson today said he was shocked that the State Department of Education spent $33,268.00 on its annual report. The report, which is 60 pages in length and includes 50 glossy color photos and charts, was delivered to legislators Wednesday.

According to the document, the Department of Education printed 2,000 copies, meaning each copy of the report cost taxpayers $16.63.

“This is a total waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Anderson, R-Enid. “The State Department of Education is simply required to make an annual report to the members of the Legislature, not produce a coffee table book. The fact that our limited education dollars are being spent on projects like this is mind-boggling.”

Anderson was the author of Senate Bill 1697, which directed state agencies to issue such reports in electronic format to save taxpayer dollars. SB 1697 was signed into law in 2010.

In four years, the SDE can’t make this switch, but they expect schools to make more drastic changes virtually overnight? Classic.

The Threat

I already covered in Reason #3 in the countdown how Barresi and the SDE threatened to revoke certification from one vocal critic. In January of this year, the SDE announced that all school districts would be required to participate in the systems tests of their computers for both testing vendors. If they didn’t, they might lose funding, accreditation, or certification of administrators. This was nothing but a bullying tactic. Districts that did not comply faced no sanctions. As for the instructional time lost, we gained nothing in return. Measured Progress, which seemed like a pretty decent outfit altogether (at least more responsive than CTB or Pearson, our previous testing vendor), is one-and-done. The bill revoking Common Core essentially kills our state’s contract with them.

If after all of these reasons, you have any doubts that Janet Barresi is a bully, just think back to a SBE meeting not too long ago when the elected state superintendent pulled aside an appointed board member, berated her, and shook her finger in her face, and began a fight that she will likely lose on Tuesday. Who was that board member again? Oh yeah, Joy Hofmeister.

Two days to go, people. Stay in the fight. Keep writing, sharing, and talking to your friends. We can’t afford for one educator, one parent, or one voter to stay on the sidelines. Too much is at stake.

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

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

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

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

#20 – Oklahoma’s ESEA Waiver

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

#15 – In and Out of PARCC

#14 – Value-added Measurements

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

#9 – The 2013 A-F SNAFU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The emails actually told administrators that the grades were final.

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

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

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

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

***SDE*** Report Cards Update

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

Dear Superintendents, Principals and DTC’s,

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

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

Maridyth McBee, PhD
Assistant State Superintendent
Accountability and Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janet Barresi

State Superintendent of Public Instruction

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

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

SNAFUBAR - Copy

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

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

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

Reason #10 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Ignoring Researchers

We have entered the Top 10! I could introduce the list like Letterman and say that it was sent in from the home office in…wait, where’s the home office again? Not important.

Any of the issues covered in the previous ten posts would make for a decent stand-alone cause to fire Janet Barresi. Imagine a school superintendent hiring people illegally. Or burning time and cash on a testing program only to scrap it while it’s still in development. Or insulting the workforce time and time again. The only reason blogs like this exist is that under Janet Barresi’s watch, head-scratching decisions and mistakes are the norm. They cease to surprise us anymore.

With that, let’s review where we’ve been and get going with the next one.

#14 – Value-added Measurements

#13 – Being Damned

#12 – Holding Back State Aid

#11 – Evolution of the REAC3H Network

#10 – Ignoring Researchers

In January 2013, researchers from OU and OSU released a study that was critical of Oklahoma’s A-F Report Cards (Version One). Their concerns were similar to those raised in other states that have run this play from the Florida playbook.

Accountability systems are only useful if their measures are credible and clear.  Despite good intentions, the features of the Oklahoma A-F grading system produce school letter grades that are neither clear, nor comparable; their lack of clarity makes unjustified decisions about schools. Further, A-F grades are not productive for school improvement because they do not explain the how or why of low performance.  Building on what has already been done, Oklahoma can and should move toward a more trustworthy and fair assessment system for holding schools accountable and embracing continuous, incremental improvement.

Among their findings were several complaints about the system of a statistical and academic nature:

  • Scores assigned “do not seem to correspond to any recognizable metric.”
  • The use of proficiency levels “introduces grouping error.”
  • There is “unclear conceptual meaning of the index” for student growth.
  • Whole school performance grades are skewed by “overreliance on attendance and graduation rates.”

The researchers went on to put their concerns in more accessible language:

  • By not making explicit threats to the validity of report card grades, the OSDE misinforms the public about the credibility and utility of the A-F accountability system.
  • Performance information from the current A-F Report Card has limited improvement value; particularly, it is not useful for diagnosing causes of performance variation.
  • The summative aspects of the accountability system overshadow formative uses of assessment and performance.
  • High stakes testing, as a cornerstone of school assessment and accountability, corrupts instructional delivery by focusing effort on learning that is easily measured.

It wasn’t just OU and OSU, by the way. An Oklahoma City University professor did a separate study showing that the report card results were largely tied to poverty. Apparently his multivariate regression analysis was too complicated for the Oklahoman, the SDE, and key legislators. They seized upon both studies as propaganda of the Education Establishment and evidence that teachers and administrators just used poverty as an excuse.

To deny the impact of poverty on student learning would be like denying the impact of the Internet on newspaper circulation (sorry, Tulsa World – I love you, but it’s true). We know that with high-poverty student populations:

  • More intensive basic instruction is often necessary;
  • The fruits of teachers’ labor often leave for another school in the middle of the year;
  • What works for one group of students may not work for another; and
  • Past performance doesn’t always predict future results.

Either the legislature heard the criticism and it resonated, or they were frustrated with how the SDE handled the formula development in 2012. During the 2013 legislative session, they wrote new, simpler rules for the A-F Report Cards. The report cards would be easier to understand (though obviously not easier to calculate, as I will discuss in my #9 post).

When the SDE was set to roll out the report cards (Version Two) last fall, the researchers from OU and OSU released another study showing even more statistical flaws. Simple wasn’t better. Poverty still mattered more than all other considerations put together.

In her typical manner, Superintendent Barresi dismissed the findings, famously using air quotes around the word “researchers.”

This act of anti-intellectualism shows that she will say anything to appease the base (the comment was made during a candidate forum). She later hired a researcher from Harvard, made her one of the highest-paid people at the SDE, and had her issue her own findings about the OU/OSU report. Though SDE spokesperson Phil Bacharach (whom the Lost Ogle discusses on their site today) said the agency wasn’t “casting aspersions” on the OU/OSU report; they were just saying it was completely wrong.

Under Barresi, the SDE denies researchers who don’t fit their agenda and expects the public to accept their own data crunching. When we don’t, we’re beholden to the status quo. Every piece of Barresi’s reform agenda has one overarching goal – discrediting the work of public schools. When empirical evidence contradicts this agenda, she simply sticks out her tongue and makes raspberries at us.

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