Yesterday was pretty anti-climactic. The morning was loud and at times, contentious. The afternoon was like a balloon with a small pin prick. Slowly, and noticeably, the air went out of the Senate first, and then the House.
I won’t spend a whole lot of time on that. Before I discuss two bills that warrant your support, I want to share with you the experiences of Oklahoma teacher and English/language arts standards writing team member, Kelli Anglley.
I had the unique opportunity to go to the state capitol today and speak with our legislators about the Oklahoma ELA standards that I helped author.
As I teacher, I often wonder why our legislators make the decisions they do. Today I gained some insight. Teachers obviously cannot go and lobby because we are teaching. However, other groups seem to have more time on their hands.
This group (ROPE – Reclaiming Oklahoma Parent Empowerment, formerly Restoring Oklahoma Public Education) was there in force. They were holding red signs that read “FIX AND VERIFY” in reference to our new standards. Some members of this group had no clue why they were there. I heard a lady say to another, “Why are we here again?” All she had done was answer a robocall plea to be at the capitol. It took all I had not to walk up with my copy of the standards and say, “Which one would you like me to fix and verify” because I am almost positive most have never even read them.
As legislators would walk past them, they would chant and and grab some for conversations about the bills they were interested in.
As members of the writing team walked by to enter the House Republican Caucus, where we were invited as guests, this group was chanting “STOP COMMON CORE” the whole time we walked down the long hallway.
1. Our standards are NOT Common Core.
2. I’ve never been on either side of a protest before, so that
was very odd.
My opinion is that this is why we get some of the crazy legislation we get – because there are crazy people up at the capitol bending our legislator’s ears. I feel that my presence there today, shaking hands, putting a face to the standards, and answering questions helped. However, I am very happy to be going back to my classroom tomorrow.
As parents and teachers, we need to get more involved. I’ll post a group in the comments that you can join if interested in current educational legislation.
I was there for a little while in the morning too, but I missed that scene. That’s probably a good thing.
1. Senate Bill 1170 – This bill would repeal End-of-Instruction testing and give districts control over testing and graduation requirements for high school students. This bill does nothing for grades 3-8 testing, which is fine with me. That’s more complicated, and I’m still not sold on anything we’ve seen to replace those tests. It’s a good start and would save the state money (and high schools valuable time).
2. House Bill 2957 – This bill would end the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation System and place the job of teacher evaluation back into the hands of districts. As with SB 1170, it’s a bill that provides flexibility and local control.
(By the way, this is a stark contrast to SB 1187 which rolls back years of progress on teacher protections – get this…as a REWARD for being successful! That’s not the local control we’re looking for.)
HB 2957 also would save districts money. Time, flexibility, and cost-savings. These are always upgrades.
As hard as we’ve worked these last few weeks fighting madness, let’s keep that energy focused, and fight for things we want. These bills passed their chamber of origin unanimously this month. As I found talking to people at the Capitol today, there are more elected leaders trying to help us than hurt us. Let’s thank them and let them know we support good legislation.
Last week, Oklahoma school districts received their allocation notices for two major reform programs: the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA) and Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE). The RSA money is based on counts of current K-3 students reading below grade level, as assessed by one or more benchmarks. The ACE money is based on the number of students who scored below proficient on the Spring 2013 assessments for seventh and eighth grade math and reading, and any End of Instruction (EOI) exam.
The per pupil allocation for RSA is about $76. For ACE, it is about $66 for each student with an unsatisfactory score and about $50 for each student scoring limited knowledge. If a “typical” district has a going rate for tutoring of $15-20 per hour, and schools decide to use their money this way, there would be enough funds for three to five sessions per student. This, of course, would leave nothing for materials, software, summer programs, or professional development – which is how the SDE recommends districts spend 25 percent of their RSA funds.
The “typical” district has to decide how to manage this. Is it better to invest resources for students in need of the greatest assistance now (third graders, and high school students needing help before re-testing on an EOI) or in those in danger of being harmed by the current laws later (K-2 students, and eighth and ninth graders)? Should we focus on tutoring now, including time away from music, art, and PE, or just plan on having RSA summer school? Should we keep middle school and high school students out of elective courses or provide last-minute cram sessions before the winter and spring re-testing windows?
Complicating this decision-making process is the fact that districts don’t know until November how much funding to plan for. The quantity is finite, and the state splits it up among all participants. In the case of RSA, the SDE has to wait for all districts to report the number of students reading below grade level to slice the pie (in spite of statutory reporting deadlines). In the case of ACE, as they pointed out last week, we know that there are 30,806 more students needing remediation than there were a year ago. We also know that Biology was the only EOI in which the state average pass rate decreased in 2013.
Every district in Oklahoma has to make these choices. Each has to make them differently. See, in Oklahoma, there is no such thing as a “typical” district. The sizes vary – from fewer than 100 students to over 40,000. Some are remote, some are densely populated, and some have both rural and urban characteristics. Poverty levels are different, as are the levels of support from home and community.
The one constant among all districts is the lack of support from the state.
School districts received their allocation notices for two important programs today: the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA) and Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) Remediation. In both cases, the funding hardly covers the need.
The RSA program has been in place since 2006. The stakes are higher than ever now, though. School districts have had two years to adjust to the fact that third graders will be retained for an unsatisfactory score. In 2012-13, districts received no RSA funds. In 2013-14, they just now received them, and less than what was given to them in 2011-12. The SDE was kind enough to provide a PowerPoint telling them that this is all they get, and that they should spend 25% of the money on professional development for teachers. That and supporting Kindergarten through second grade students will leave hardly anything for direct interventions and summer school.
ACE has also been in place since 2006, and as with RSA, funding is nowhere near matching the need. Along with the allocation notice today, superintendents received this information today.
|ACE Remediation Funding Allocations FY14
OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 11/20/2013 01:24 PM CST
The State Department of Education is now in the process of allocating state funds for ACE (Achieving Classroom Excellence) remediation dollars, and we want to provide you with details on the process. Allocation were made available on November 19th, and payments will follow shortly.
In June, the State Board of Education approved Fiscal Year 2014 funding for ACE remediation for a statewide total of $8,000,000. These dollars help districts prepare students to meet the testing requirements of ACE, and each district is required to provide remediation and intervention opportunities to students who score Limited Knowledge or Unsatisfactory on ACE exams listed below:
Districts are provided with ACE remediation funds based on the number of students who qualify for remediation. Allocations are made on a per-student basis. Here are some key numbers on this year’s allocation:
Attached is a detailed spreadsheet on ACE remediation allocations.
Please do not hesitate to contact the ACE office (405-521-3549) regarding allowable expenditures and the State Aid office (405-521-3460) regarding the funding calculations.
My point here is that as the legislature continues emphasizing reform, they need to pay for the programs that support students. While I don’t love ACE, and I absolutely detest RSA in its current form, I want the funding to follow the mandate.
This deficit is entirely on the legislature. The SDE has asked for huge increases for both programs (172% for ACE, 147% for RSA). These increases need to happen.
Meanwhile, we need to have an honest discussion about the impact of budget cuts on accountability, as Okie Funk discusses today.
As I’ve written before, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has shown that Oklahoma has cut education funding by 23 percent since 2008. That’s a staggering cut. It’s simply indefensible to implement a new draconian ranking system of schools after such a decrease in funding. It’s also obvious that when considered together, the funding cuts and the A to F system represent the culmination of a right-wing agenda to damage the credibility of public education here. It’s a classic case of “starve the beast” ideology.
The beast is starving, serving more students than ever, and answering to more mandates and reforms than I can count.
That has to stop.
I predict that tomorrow, the sun will come up. It will probably be hidden behind clouds, but it will be there nonetheless. I have faith (or a basic grasp of science).
I also predict the State Board of Education will hold its monthly meeting as scheduled. Since schools have been informed that the release of A-F Report Cards has been postponed, I will go out on a limb and say that they’re going to talk about that.
I doubt, however, the SBE will have a discussion about other key resources and pieces of information that remain unavailable to schools. Allow me…
State Averages – In addition to finally having report card grades finalized, schools would like to know the state averages for the tests they had students take six months ago. With so many of the cut scores moving as they did, having that information would be helpful in giving data reports to school boards. Numbers always need context. If our scores went down in Biology, but we’re still above the state average, then that can be a reference point. Not only do we want to see improvement in our test scores each year; we want to see improvement relative to state averages.
Waiver Designations – The A-F Report Cards are but the first hammer to drop. To be honest, they are little more than a marketing tool. If you have a good grade, you promote that to your community. You put a banner up at the local Chamber of Commerce. If you have a bad grade, the SDE calls you names and tells the world you have failed the children, which probably isn’t accurate.
Oklahoma’s waiver to No Child Left Behind, however, comes with some action items for low-performing schools. Not only can schools be placed on the Targeted Intervention Schools list with a D or the Priority Schools list with an F, they can be placed on the Focus School list with a higher grade. All it takes is for one of the three designated subgroups to score lower than 90 percent of the state. At this point, schools literally have no way of knowing whether they are on these lists (although to be fair, schools remaining in the D or F range during all the flip-flopping of the last couple of weeks pretty much know). Halfway through the year is a little late to have schools start jumping through the hoops that come with these labels.
On a related note, I suppose schools might like to know if they have landed on either of the reward lists so they can receive “flexibility incentives.” Last year, though, only 14 of 229 eligible schools applied to receive their reward.
RSA Money – In case you somehow missed it, this is the year that Oklahoma’s third grade retention law (the Reading Sufficiency Act) kicks in. It sure would be nice if the funding allocated by the legislature were available to schools now. They’ve done their part, completing beginning of the year reports. They even have plans for using those funds to help their struggling readers. Many, in the absence of an allocation, have put those plans into motion anyway, hoping the funding catches up. The problem – as always – is planning with so much remaining uncertain. Without knowing how much money will be available, a school or district has a hard time knowing how far their scant resources will go.
ACE Remediation Funds – As with the RSA money, schools have not received one dime of support this school year to help remediate students needing to pass End of Instruction tests to graduate, as required by the Achieving Classroom Excellence law. This can be attributed, in part, to the delay in finalizing test scores. Allocations are based on the number of students scoring below proficient on the EOIs or on the 7th or 8th grade reading and math tests. Since the pot of money is only so big, the SDE has to have a final number to work with in order to make the allocations.
I get that. Life is hard up at the Hodge Building. It wouldn’t be that much of a challenge to do an estimate at the beginning of the school year, allocate half to schools at that point, and then make the rest available after scores are final, would it? Educators know that the longer we wait to begin remediating students, the less effective it will be. Plus, we are quickly approaching the winter re-testing window. It would be nice to get some re-teaching and preparation done before that.
Federal Program Reimbursements – We all know that the federal government has had its money problems this year. First there was Sequestration, a budgeting process through which districts lost about 10 percent of their federal funding. Then there was the Shutdown, in which millionaire and billionaire politicians played a riveting game of chicken (not enough brains for chess, I guess) while workaday bureaucrats took unplanned (and unpaid) vacation time.
While Sequestration impacts school budgets, the Shutdown should not. Districts have known the amount of their federal aid (Title I and other Title programs, special education, child nutrition, certain career tech programs) for a few months. They diligently planned and submitted their budgets. Now they wait patiently for those to be approved. This matters because schools do not receive federal funds in advance. They receive reimbursements for approved expenses in those programs.
Last year, schools did not begin receiving payments on their federal claims until after New Year’s Day. On the hook for huge personnel, training, and materials expenses, districts began to worry about cash flow. This year, understandably, many finance and federal programs managers around the state are worried it will happen again.
By the way, if you ever wonder again why districts like to keep carryover funds, maybe you should re-read the last six paragraphs.
It’s fair to say that the recent delay in the release of A-F Report Cards has Oklahoma school districts playing the waiting game. Unfortunately, that’s not the only thing slowing them down.
Friday, the Oklahoma State Department of Education released a media alert for the governor’s ACE Awards Ceremony, which will be held Monday at noon. From the release:
The Governor’s Ace Award is given to school districts in which 100 percent of the seniors of the Class of 2012 met all graduation requirements, including Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE). ACE, which was enacted in 2005 under Gov. Brad Henry, requires that high school seniors, beginning with the Class of 2012, prove proficiency on four of seven end-of-instruction exams before graduation.
This is an important accomplishment. In all, 186 districts will receive this award. The largest of these is Chickasha. In fact, most of the districts on the list are so small they either don’t have football at all or play 8-man football.
Last summer, Governor Fallin announced that she would like to explore the possibility of consolidating school districts. I hope, before she explores this further, she’ll remember this day, and the fact that so many small high schools are getting the job done.
Shortly after noon today, the SDE sent out this release explaining that test scores in Oklahoma are on the rise and are an indication that the ACE reforms implemented in 2005 are making a difference. In her remarks, Superintendent Barresi goes out of her way twice in the same paragraph to praise teachers for their hard work.
The release also calls the ACE exams “one of the most important indicators for college readiness” and points out that scores have been rising on the exams for several years. Let me go ahead and state the obvious then: it seems schools were on the right track two years ago when she was going all over the state campaigning and saying how badly schools were doing. And let me point out another obvious point: increases in ACE exam scores don’t correspond at all with performance on the ACT or SAT – indicators also cited by this administration (when it serves them) to point out the lack of college readiness.
She ties the gains to the ACE graduation requirements and makes the logical leap to saying, “This shows the need to press forward with our new third-grade graduation reading requirements next year, as well as our emphasis on science, literacy and math.” As this release went out, and as I write at this moment, the State Board of Education had convened into executive session to discuss graduation appeals for more than 80 students. This is the third board meeting with graduation appeals on the agenda, and this is the third different method the Board has used in listing the appeals for the public. It seems they’re still trying to zero in on an efficient way to manage the process without violating FERPA.
All of this leads me to another obvious statement: test results released today indicate that 72 percent of students passed the third grade reading test. While the rules adopted by the state board allow schools to promote students to fourth grade if they received a score of limited knowledge, proficient, or advanced, it’s pretty clear that we’re going to be looking at a lot more third grade retentions than we are ACE graduation appeals. I sure hope they get FERPA figured out before May 2014, when parents of third graders start swarming board meetings.
Leave it to the Oklahoman to take a quote from an Oklahoma school superintendent out of context and use it as the foundation for a diatribe against those who oppose certain reforms. Today’s gem comes from an editorial written at the expense of Lloyd Snow from Sand Springs. Snow spoke recently at a State Board of Education meeting and pointed out that “other states are beginning to turn the clock back” on high-stakes testing. They claim that Snow “wants to move the state backward [emphasis theirs]” and that people like snow “wish for the standards-free good ol’ days when the living was easy for administrators.”
There are many problems with this characterization. First is that Snow does not suggest moving the state backwards. He says that as we have followed other states deeper into the high-stakes testing morass, we should probably note that many of those states are now in full or partial retreat. Nor does Snow – or any other superintendent I’ve talked with – promote going to the time before standards. In all honesty, few administrators remain from before the days of PASS. For the vast majority of educators in this state, a profession with content standards is all we’ve ever known. Besides, of all the reforms being implemented in this state right now, the one getting the least resistance is the transition to the Common Core State Standards.
I’m also not sure what the Oklahoman means by “when the living was easy for administrators.” Maybe they’re referring to years past when all state mandates were fully funded. Oh wait – that’s never happened. Perhaps they mean prior to January 2011 when the state had a superintendent who ran an agency full of professional educators with some capacity to understand what it meant to spend every day of your contract year working with children. We didn’t appreciate them then, but in retrospect, those were some pretty good times.
The editorial goes on to use statistics out of context to continue their obsession with Tulsa-area districts that get in trouble for refusing to sit down and shut up. They state that there have only been 120 appeals so far out of more than 39,000 seniors in the class of 2012. While that may be accurate, they fail to mention that more than 2,000 students have been denied diplomas under the ACE requirements.
The piece ends with more vitriol towards Snow, who the paper insists was disappointed that so many of his students succeeded. It also warns against wishing we still lived in 1960 – which Snow is hardly doing. That point, however, is probably good to remember the next time the Oklahoman yearns for simpler times in some other regard.