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10.25.15 #oklaed chat questions

October 25, 2015 1 comment

I hope you can join me tonight for the weekly #oklaed chat from 8:00 to 9:00. I will have three co-moderators: leadership students from each of the high schools in the Mid-Del school district.

We have a group of 24 students – juniors and seniors, eight from each school – who meet monthly to discuss a variety of issues. They are nice enough to invite me to join them, so I’ve spent a couple of days asking them to come up with questions they’d like to ask us.

Here’s where we’re headed tonight:

Q1 How can schools balance the need for increased security measures with having a welcome climate for students and parents? #oklaed

Q2 What has your school or district done to make high school schedules align with research on teenage sleep patterns? #oklaed

Q3 What should schools do to help students use technology more effectively and responsibly? #oklaed

Q4 How can schools give students more academic choices and autonomy? #oklaed

Q4b How can schools make electives as important as core classes? #oklaed

Q5 Should high schools students be asked to select a major or area of academic emphasis? #oklaed

Q6 What can we do to make teachers feel less rushed and less focused on testing? #oklaed

Q7 How can schools help students with testing anxiety? #oklaed

Q8 How can schools hold teachers and coaches accountable for the balance between homework, activities, and life in general? #oklaed

Q9 Should all students have a career path chosen by the end of high school? #oklaed

Q9b What should schools do to help students explore careers? #oklaed

Q10 Should schools limit the number of AP classes students take at any one time? Why or why not? #oklaed

We’ll start promptly at 8:00 with introductions, and begin with the questions at 8:04. About every 5 minutes, we’ll add a new question, but as always, feel free to keep the conversation going on anything that you feel remains unfinished.

And get your own students to participate, if you can. We need to hear their voices too.

See you tonight!

Why I support replacing the EOIs with the ACT (Part III)

So far, I’ve written about ten reasons why we should dump the EOIs and use the ACT as our high school test. You want the ubiquitous College and Career Readiness? It’s there; both higher education and career tech can make use of the results. You want to preserve instructional time in schools, save parents and the state money, and improve critical relationships? We can do that too.

Still, I keep getting questions, and the answers aren’t all easy. You see, punting the EOIs and running with the ACT is not a perfect choice. No such thing exists.

Here are the ten reasons I gave for making this switch in Part I

  1. Students don’t care about the EOIs.
  2. Colleges don’t care about the EOIs either.
  3. This measure would save Oklahoma families money.
  4. This measure would save the state money.
  5. The ACT would fulfill NCLB requirements.

    …and Part II of the series.

  6. Counselors would have more time to be counselors.
  7. Teachers would have more time to be teachers.
  8. The ACT unites K-12, Higher Ed, and Career Tech.
  9. Feedback will be timely .
  10. Schools can quit begging for volunteers during testing season.

On the flip side, I tend to get these five arguments against doing this pretty consistently:

  • ACT is Common Core – This is false. ACT is a test that is aligned both to its own college readiness standards and the Common Core. The truth is that a single test question can be aligned to multiple standards. ACT has always paid attention to state standards. Half the country is still using the Common Core, and ACT is responsive to the marketplace. I have no problem with this.
  • ACT is too closely aligned with Pearson – At this point, who isn’t? It’s true that Pearson makes a ton of profit from testing. They also make a ton of profit from textbooks, online instruction, educational software, and probably the air we breathe. Yes, ACT is running their Aspire assessment program (3rd through 8th grade) off of a platform developed by Pearson. Paying for every student in the state to take an ACT wouldn’t really be padding Pearson’s pockets anyway. Tests on the national test date are still paper/pencil tests. Most Oklahoma high school students will take the ACT at least once anyway. We’re not going to make Pearson go broke by boycotting the ACT – no more than we’re going to make the Oklahoman go broke by – oh wait, too close to call on that one! As much as I want the Gates Foundation out of education policy, I’m also not going to make Microsoft go broke by switching from a Windows computer to a Mac – just my school district.
  • Some kids aren’t going to college – This is also true. The problem is that I can’t look at them and know which ones. Sometimes, I can’t even talk to them and know. They don’t always know themselves. I propose giving all students an ACT during their sophomore year (some are suggesting the junior year) because it would give parents and counselors something to look at in terms of course selection. It also might ignite the interest of a student who didn’t know he/she would score so well. Taking the ACT doesn’t obligate a student to go to college. It just puts a number on the table that may help people make some decisions about the future before the future is right in their faces.
  • The ACT doesn’t have science and social studies sections – Again, this is true. I know some of the people who loved me when I was fighting for APUSH a few weeks ago will despise me saying this, but I really don’t care if we test in those subject areas. I think the teachers benefit from not having their subject area tested. It gives them a better chance to focus on the students and the standards – all the standards. It goes back to my first two points above. If the students don’t care about the results and the colleges don’t care about the results, then what are we testing for?
  • The science reasoning of the ACT doesn’t align well enough to course content to meet NCLB requirements – This may be the most valid of the five points. Federal statutes say nothing about testing social studies.

NCLB required assessments

The way I see it, Oklahoma would have two options to meet this requirement if we replaced the EOIs with the ACT: (a) Explore the extent to which ACT’s standards align to Oklahoma Academic Standards for Science and submit this analysis to the feds with our updated waiver request; or (b) develop a separate science test (basically, keep using the Biology I assessment we have in place now). This could be a road bump, but it is far from a dead end. Ultimately, I don’t know how much a Biology test that most students have to take in ninth or tenth grade says about their readiness for high school graduation or college entrance. This is one of the massive problems with No Child Left Behind and the main reason we should be working together as a state to minimize the damage it brings to our students and schools.

With the last several posts on this blog (save one calling for a no vote on a voucher bill), I have been trying to make a case, more or less for supporting SB 707. Nowhere does the bill specify that ACT will be our high school testing vendor. Most people I talk to read it that way. Still, the process would include multiple state agencies and public hearings – real ones this time. Recommendations would be made in 2016, and implementation would begin during the 2017-18 school year. This is not a rush job. It’s also not a rock to which we are chaining ourselves. Should the vendor fail to meet our expectations, we can fire them. The legislation can change the law at any time.

That’s why I support this bill – and pretty much by default, replacing the EOIs with the ACT. It passed through the Senate Committee on Education by a vote of 11-1. It passed through the Committee on Appropriations by a vote of 37-6 (yes, nearly the full Senate serves on that committee). It sounds like a done deal, at least in the Legislature’s upper chamber, right?

Keep calling. You can never tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yes on Senate Bill 707

In spite of the snow days, I haven’t really had much time to continue writing about my thoughts on replacing the EOIs with the ACT. Word has it, however, that opposition is mounting. In response, CCOSA sent out this action alert to members today:

Legislative Action Alert
Senate Bill 707:
Common Sense High School Testing

Please contact Your Senator TODAY and urge them to VOTE YES ON SB 707!

SB 707 would allow the State Board of Education to:

  • Eliminate End of Instruction tests AND replace those assessments that generate data relevant to students, educators, and are indicators of college and career readiness.
    • Currently Oklahoma spends over $17 million annually on student assessments that do not generate actionable data to improve student learning.
  • Select ACT or another assessment(s) to be used as a high school exit exam.
    • The selected assessment(s) must be used by Oklahoma institutions of higher education to determine college readiness/course placement.
  • Select other graduation requirement criteria, in addition to a designated assessment(s).
  • Select alternative assessments to demonstrate college and career readiness.

Facts about the ACT:

  • Currently 21 states administer the ACT Test statewide, either to every student (statewide administration) or at the school district level (district choice).
  • The ACT Test is used by some states as part of their accountability plan submitted to US Department of Education with their requests for waivers under ESEA.
  • The ACT Test measures College and Career Readiness described by ACT’s College and Career Readiness Standards – but it is an 11th grade test accepted by post-secondary institutions for enrollment and placement purposes.

 Please contact your Senator TODAY and urge them to VOTE YES on SB 707!

So far, I’ve provided ten reasons why we should proceed with this plan. You can read Part I and Part II on the blog. I’ll try to work on Part III tonight and have it posted by morning.

The EOIs are a $7 million a year boondoggle. And that’s just the direct cost. Indirect costs associated with the program make it probably double the price. We have the power to put an end to that this year, saving families and the state a lot of money.

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Why I support replacing the EOIs with the ACT (Part II)

Soon after I posted Part I, Claudia Swisher asked about high stakes and cut scores – especially for students who aren’t going to college. This is a critical issue to address, and probably the one that drove the stake through the heart of the Common Core last year.

In my perfect world, we would have no test tied to graduation. That being said, I live in this world. The Oklahoma Legislature is going to demand something to replace the EOIs as a graduation test. I don’t have the perfect solution to this issue, and I don’t feel it needs to be addressed at the legislative level. This is something for the State Board of Education and the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability to establish through administrative rule. We must have safety nets for students on IEPs and for English Language Learners. We must have a system that serves all students.

Most importantly, we must remember that a freshman who doesn’t plan to go to college might become a sophomore who does (and then a junior who doesn’t, and so on). My goal isn’t to get every child to college; it’s to get every child ready to do something after high school. College and career tech are the obvious paths, but not the only ones. When a high school has more than 90 percent of graduates either enrolling in college or participating in career tech programs, I feel that students are taking advantage of their opportunities. The other ten percent (or whatever the percentage is at a given school) matter too, and should ACT become the test that replaces the EOIs, this group’s needs have to be considered.

So Claudia, I thank you for that segue into my next point, after a recap of the first five:

  1. Students don’t care about the EOIs.
  2. Colleges don’t care about the EOIs either.
  3. This measure would save Oklahoma families money.
  4. This measure would save the state money.
  5. The ACT would fulfill NCLB requirements.
  6. Counselors would have more time to be counselors – Of all the people in schools whose jobs are not what they imagined them being, I think counselors have the worst of it. For all the principals who imagined themselves as instructional leaders but spent more time chasing dogs off campus, unclogging toilets, and settling disputes in the school drop-off line, there are even more counselors who spend way too much time securing test materials.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKkZhubwt04After testing and scheduling, counselors have little time left to provide actual guidance to students. Yes, we all have complicated jobs, but if the news from around the country tells us anything, it’s that our counselors need more time to meet the social/emotional needs of students.

    Last night’s #oklaed chat was a perfect illustration of that. The topic was bullying, and Claudia moderated the discussion. You should go back and read it if you weren’t able to participate.

    Social media has made bullying more prevalent and more complicated than ever. The hardest part of dealing with bullying in schools is helping the victims find the courage to report what’s happening to them. They need a relationship with their counselors more than they need a sharp #2 pencil. High school testing could be completed via the ACT. The counselors wouldn’t have to secure all the materials, beg for volunteers, collect forms from test administrators and monitors, and sign away their first-born to Rumpelstiltskin every spring. Tracking for remediation would be easier. They’d have more time to help kids.

  7. Teachers would have more time to be teachers – Yes, overtesting is a real thing. Those who write editorials love to point out that students only really have to take one or two EOIs per year in high school. This just shows they have no clue as to the disruption testing causes. I suppose you could argue that the benchmark testing and review weeks are the schools’ choice. You can’t argue, however, that a school having to turn every computer lab into a testing lab for weeks at a time is anything other than a disruption. If you believe that, ask a high school computer education teacher. You’ll soon learn differently.No matter what we use for testing – high-stakes or otherwise – schools are going to focus on the results. This might mean ACT prep classes, but many high schools have those already. What it won’t mean is more schools drilling for EOIs that aren’t well-linked to college-readiness. If we’re going to over-think our test results, let’s focus on a test that actually means something to students and colleges.
  8. The ACT unites K-12, Higher Ed, and Career Tech – Because the ACT has WorkKeys® as part of its assessment system, providing the ACT to high school students can help inform Career Tech placement decisions. From their website:ACT WorkKeys is a job skills assessment system that helps employers select, hire, train, develop, and retain a high-performance workforce. This series of tests measures foundational and soft skills and offers specialized assessments to target institutional needs. As part of ACT’s Work Readiness System, ACT WorkKeys has helped millions of people in high schools, colleges, professional associations, businesses, and government agencies build their skills to increase global competitiveness and develop successful career pathways.

    Because of this connection, Oklahoma’s career tech centers have always had an interest in working with students and parents to interpret EXPLORE scores (for eighth graders) and PLAN scores (for tenth graders). The State Regents have also utilized staff to help schools make the connections between these assessments and planning for the future. Even with EXPLORE and PLAN going away in the near future, letting students take an ACT during their sophomore year will help them if they choose a career tech program of study.

  9. Feedback will be timely – Do you know how long it takes us to get back our EOI test scores each year? Let’s see…we take them in late April or early May…we get preliminary scores in late May or early June…we get initial score reports in July (usually)…and we get final reports, if we’re lucky, right before school starts. With the ACT, students will have score reports in three weeks. If we choose a school day test date (as other states have done), we’ll have our own scoring window. If we choose to give students a ticket they can use on any national test date (making the in-school disruption even less), then we can get results back early in the year. Here’s how one reader put it in the comment section yesterday:I would love to see every 10th & 11th grader take the test in the Spring–and the most-motivated seniors can spend their final year trying to advance their scores.Depending on the “stakes,” of course. I’m fearful that this would push schools to force every student into ACT Prep classes, eliminating choice-electives, & maybe undermining the importance of the exam itself.

    Still, I think that this is such a simple solution. Kids will get an exam that actually has purposes and insights regarding their futures. Teachers can teach to the limits of their disciplines without pressures to “teach to the test.” And eliminating 7 EOIs will free-up so much time for teachers, various counselors and support personnel, and the KIDS. Anybody who has spent time in a large high school during testing-season knows that our current system is an administrative nightmare. And nothing really gets done, anywhere. What a waste!

    Lastly, maybe discussion can shift toward COLLEGE READINESS in a real way–we use that word a lot in my school, but I fear that it’s just lip-service. Maybe we don’t do a good enough job identifying kids that aren’t college-bound and providing them with realistic alternatives. Maybe a yearly-ACT check would help us serve this population better before it’s all too late.

She pretty well touches on several of the points I’m making today. Most importantly, schools can receive information we can use early. If students test twice, we can see if course selection is making any difference. We can offer assistance with whatever remains of the ACE remediation funds once the EOIs are gone.

  1. Schools can quit begging for volunteers during testing season – I think parental engagement is a great thing. I’ve seen this be the critical variable in a school that turns the corner. Sometimes that starts with a new principal or an influx of new staff, but school success comes down to parenting, more often than not. Does the school make parents feel welcome? Do parents treat the school with respect? Is this a relationship or a transaction?The current testing process makes school seem like a transaction. Sign this. Watch that. Keep everybody under watch. How much could we do with the same parents in our libraries? On our playgrounds? In capacities I’ve never even imagined?Parents are an often untapped resource. Eliminating the EOIs would be a step towards changing that. If we could similarly unburden our elementary and middle grades, imagine how powerful that would be!

    I’ll pick up there in Part III.

Why I support replacing the EOIs with the ACT (Part I)

On Twitter and in this blog, I have often expressed support for the idea of eliminating the seven End-of-Instruction tests (EOIs) that our state requires and replacing them with the ACT. I have probably never explicitly spelled out my reasoning, though. While there is probably more momentum throughout Oklahoma for this idea now than there ever has been, I still know many educators, parents, and policy-makers who are not convinced. Fortunately, our new state superintendent is on board with the idea:Why I support replacing the EOIs with the ACT (Part I)

Over the next few blog posts, I will spell out my logic with ten eleven reasons (and counting) to make this change and five possible obstacles the state might face. First, let me give you a little background on my experience with the EOIs.

Background

Prior to 2000, I really didn’t pay much attention to education policy. I was in my twenties (which is no excuse) and comfortable in my classroom at Mustang High School. Then, in 2001, the state rolled out two end-of-instruction tests: English II (which is what I taught all day) and US History. I wasn’t concerned with how my students would do on the test, but I didn’t appreciate the disruption. Two years later, as a result of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the state introduced the Algebra I and Biology I EOIs. The English II test became part of the NCLB accountability package. The US History test was optional under federal law, as it remains. Let’s put a pin in that thought for now.

In 2006, the state passed the Achieving Classroom Excellence Law (ACE) requiring that high school students, beginning with the freshman class of 2008-09, pass four of seven EOIs. Two of these would have to be English II and Algebra I. In 2008, the final three EOIs were put in place – Geometry, Algebra II, and English III. As a teacher, I never had to care how my students did on the tests. We had them for information only (those were the days). I just taught and hoped I taught well. I didn’t use any test results to confirm or disconfirm that.

As an administrator, though, I can’t remember a time I haven’t been at least partially focused on the scores. I’ve watched them move with the political whims and just hoped that whoever I happened to be working for came out well in comparison to the state and surrounding communities. Meanwhile, I hear the complaints of teachers and principals everywhere telling me that testing narrows the focus of the curriculum.

With that said, let’s start the list…

Reasons to Replace the EOIs with the ACT

  1. Students don’t care about the EOIs – In December, I participated in a High-Stakes Testing (HST) Summit along with members of several groups from around the state. The 50 or 60 people there came from the classroom, the school office, the central office, parent groups, church coalitions, community groups, tribal leadership, various advocacy groups, and elected office. Most importantly, we also had two high school seniors with us. We divided into three smaller groups, and I met with the one tasked with discussing state and federal testing requirements.As often happens in groups, we pulled out chart paper and began brainstorming. Never one to throw out good ideas – mine or those of other people – I took pictures of each page. I won’t fill this space with all the pictures, but I will share the one titled, “Concerns With Testing.”

    Concerns with Testing
    For those of you reading in email and perhaps not seeing the picture, we had several issues listed, including the fact that students are focused on tests that colleges use. For most Oklahoma children, this means the ACT. The two seniors both mentioned that they had passed enough EOIs early in high school to graduate, making their remaining tests irrelevant.

    For many students, Advanced Placement courses are also a greater focus. If you’re a junior taking AP US History, which is more important to you? The AP test, or the EOI? One of them could earn you college credit. Passing the EOI is equivalent to getting an extra gold star on your high school transcript. Sure, it makes your teacher look good – and I’m all for that – but it does nothing for the student.

    While I would love to see Congress pass a replacement to NCLB that didn’t require annual testing in reading and math and then testing once in high school, it’s not realistic to think that this option has a chance. Let yourself dream for a moment, though. If this somehow happened, more than 70 percent of Oklahoma students would still take the ACT. Whether you like the test or not, it matters to our high school students.

  1. Colleges don’t care about the EOIs either – In the four years that Oklahoma spent wading in the shallow end of the Common Core swimming pool, the funniest thing I heard was that colleges were going to start using PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments (the Common Core testing groups) as part of the college admission process. Maybe this isn’t as laughable as the thought of colleges using the EOIs, since there would have been some level of national comparison possible from the tests. Still, it wasn’t going to happen. The SAT (a College Board product) and ACT (owned by ACT, Inc.) are exams with decades of history.Yes, both tests are going through a redesign. They do this every so often. When I took the ACT in the late 80s, it had a Social Studies section. When my wife took it in the early 90s, it didn’t. More recently, both the SAT and ACT have added writing components. As the tests changed, the respective companies communicated these changes to the colleges and high schools that utilize them.
  1. This measure would save Oklahoma families money – Each ACT a student takes costs $38.00. If the student adds the writing section, the cost jumps to $54.50. While this isn’t a back-breaker for most families, the reality is that many students take the exam multiple times. They want to increase their score, or they’re applying to a college that uses superscoring, which takes the highest subsection from each test to generate a higher composite score. If the state paid for one test for each high school student – and did it during the sophomore year – this would help parents out a little bit and give students an early idea of how much work they need in order to prepare for college.
  1. This measure would save the state money – For fiscal conservatives such as the naysayers on the Editorial Board of the Oklahoman, this reason should really punch their ticket to the show. Our current battery of EOIs costs the state just a hair short of $7 million. That’s just the testing contract. This figure doesn’t count the cost of staff to manage the program, interpret the results, lead all the committee work that goes into the development of test items and standard-setting, or the legal staff necessary to pull us out of contracts (or negotiate settlements) when the testing program breaks. Every student taking one ACT, by the SDE’s math, would cost about $1.5 million.I haven’t heard a proposal to do this, but I’d like to see the state go a step further. If students took the ACT during the sophomore year, they would quickly know what areas need the most improvement. This could drive course selection (a bonus for the people who like rigor) and remediation opportunities – in real time, rather than months after testing concludes. Then, the state could pay for a student to take a second ACT during the junior year – any time during the junior year. Now we’ve subsumed the ACE remediation budget into testing. That’s another $8 million, based on the budget for the current school year.

    In a year with a $600 million shortfall, leaders need to find ways to save money without hurting schools. This would be the epitome of such an effort.

  2. The ACT would fulfill NCLB Requirements – In spite of what the Oklahoman published this morning, all we have to do to comply with No Child Left Behind and its waiver is test reading, math, and science once during high school. The ACT would take care of that. We’d have to write this plan into a revision of our NCLB waiver, but that process is about to start anyway.

Still to Come in Part II

  • The benefits of using a test that K-12, Higher Ed, and Career Tech all value
  • Overtesting – yes, it’s a real thing!
  • The value of timely feedback
  • Schools making better use of all those parent and community volunteers (in case anyone still believes private schools have the market cornered on parental involvement)

Barresi’s Radio Interview with KFAQ

September 25, 2013 11 comments

Superintendent Barresi has been tossing around labels such as liberal to describe anybody who opposes her on anything and words such as conservative. This tweet is a good example.

https://twitter.com/JanetForKids/status/382610391911497728

If you don’t want to take the time to listen to the entire 13-minute interview, I’ll give you my takeaways:

  1. She is “all in” on the Common Core.
  2. She doesn’t want Oklahoma to have anything to do with national science or social studies standards.
  3. She thinks Oklahoma educators have significant input in the test development process.
  4. She thinks the ACT assessments are not appropriate for Oklahoma standards.
  5. She has concerns about data-mining nationally but thinks Oklahoma’s student information system is completely secure.

My quick thoughts:

  1. Barresi’s own party has grave concerns about the Common Core. Yesterday, members of the legislature held an interim study on the Common Core. Oklahoma Capitol Source has thorough notes on the hearing, including the testimony of three out-of-state presenters. The facts about the genesis of Common Core are in there, though I don’t necessarily agree with the conclusion that national standards are a slippery slope to communism. It’s notable that while Barresi paints herself as a conservative, other Oklahoma Republicans remain unconvinced.
  2. Wholesale adoption of the Common Core for reading and math was fine. With science and social studies, we have to watch out for liberals and facts.
  3. There’s a big difference between having input from educators and actually listening to the people you’ve invited to the table. This has been a problem for three years now. It’s sort of like the Seinfeld episode where Jerry tells the rental car company “You know how to take the reservation. You just don’t know how to hold the reservation.” Seeking input when your mind is already set is neither good leadership nor good customer service.
  4. Barresi states in the interview that her concern with the ACT assessments that are available from third through 12th grade is that they don’t go “deep enough into the information.” That shows a complete lack of understanding of the standards. The Common Core is not an information-based set of standards. It is a collection of descriptions of tasks students should be able to complete. Standardized testing is not about students rattling off facts. Neither is most classroom instruction. The ACT is a college-entrance exam. Barresi continuously tells groups she wants students to be college, career, and citizenship ready. The ACT also has a careers component embedded in their assessment. Their tests would provide an articulated set of results that would compare well from year to year. Plus, no college is ever going to care how Oklahoma students perform on tests we pay testing company X to develop for us.
  5. I’m not an expert in Oklahoma’s student information system. I hear a lot of complaints about its effectiveness. So I’ll stay fairly silent on this issue. The theme is consistent, at least: anything national is bad; anything local is good.

Testing: To Profit or Not?

January 6, 2013 11 comments

I had an interesting discussion on Twitter Friday morning with two current Oklahoma district superintendents about testing. It began with Clinton Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Hime asking if high-stakes testing would be as popular if it were done by non-profits.

I responded that technically, the College Board (SAT, PSAT, AP exams) and ACT, Inc. (ACT, PLAN, EXPLORE) are non-profits. A quick bit of research on the state Open Books website allowed me to find the following state expenses for 2012 for testing contracts:

Company

Status

Expenses

NCS Pearson For Profit $14,200,000
CTB McGraw Hill For Profit $1,600,000
ACT, Inc. Non-Profit $1,500,000
College Board Non-Profit $900,000

Keep in mind that this includes all state contracts for testing – common education, higher education, and Career Tech. We should also note that the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education pay for all eighth grade students in the state to take the EXPLORE exam and all tenth grade students in the state to take the PLAN.

Pearson and CTB will be changing positions in 2013, with CTB being awarded the newest testing contracts, which include a suite of benchmark tests. The total amount will increase if Superintendent Barresi gets the legislature to approve a bump from $11 million to $16 million for the next fiscal year. Of the more than $18 million represented above, K-12 testing contracts are the vast majority of expenses.

However, the ACT and College Board share of testing revenue from our state increases when you consider the fact that students pay for those tests themselves. In 2012, more than 29,000 Oklahoma seniors took the ACT. At $35 a test, this accounts for another $1,015,000. This also doesn’t account for underclassmen taking the test any money spent on test preparation. Meanwhile, more than 23,000 Advanced Placement exams were administered at the end of the 2011-12 school year. Each of those exams cost $89, although some of the expense for that was borne by the state. According to this cost-benefit analysis report to the legislature, the SDE spent almost $600,000 on test fee assistance. This leaves about $1.5 million in test fees for parents.

A quick look at both the College Board and ACT websites shows that with more testing on the horizon, there is also more opportunity for Oklahomans to spend money with them – either directly or indirectly. College Board has Accuplacer, and a $1.99 smart phone app that you can also purchase. ACT has WorkKeys, a “job skills assessment system that helps employers select, hire, train, develop, and retain a high-performance workforce.”

College Board’s new president was a key architect of the Common Core State Standards. Something tells me they’re going to be a larger player in K-12 testing in the future. ACT is developing a new assessment system that will “span elementary grades through high school.” This system will launch in 2014.

By the way, I find it amusing that this system will be introduced in a “launch.” Since we currently don’t have a space program, we need something to help us imagine. As a nation. For the children.

Ultimately, we’ll be forcing our kindergarten students to endure high-stakes tests. Don’t laugh. There’s real momentum for this happening.

I remember watching a 60 minutes exposé in the 1990s critical of teachers “teaching to the test.” It’s a funny complaint from society. Policy makers create more laws calling for high-stakes tests. We evaluate schools and teachers by those tests. We spend crazy money on those tests, both as taxpayers and as parents. We use the results of those tests to plot the future of our children. We even use test results to determine more tests that students need. Teachers have not created this obsessive assessment culture. They’ve just been hired to work within it.

At this point, I don’t distinguish between the crass profiteers leeching off of public education or the so-called non-profits. They all make off with gobs of money. They all have seats at the policy-making table (a place where teachers aren’t allowed to speak). They all have been complicit in the destruction of what school used to be: a place for children to explore and pursue their passions.

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