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2014 #oklaed Year in Review: The Mixed Tape Version

December 28, 2014 2 comments

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

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

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

mix tape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February – The Old Brown Shoe (The Beatles)

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

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

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

The yellow barriers outside are an eyesore and an embarrassment.

The electrical system is dangerously outdated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March – Best Day Ever (Spongebob Squarepants)

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

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

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

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

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

April – The Song Remains the Same (Led Zeppelin)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June – Joy to the World (Three Dog Night)

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

July – Be Yourself (Audioslave)

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

August – Runaway Train (Soul Asylum)

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

September – Suspicious Minds (Elvis Presley)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October – Everything to Everyone (Everclear)

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

November – The Remedy (Jason Mraz)

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

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

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

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

December – Money (Pink Floyd)

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

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

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

Moving Forward

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

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

Happy New Year, y’all.

Introducing the Winter Testing Fellowship (WTF)

September 29, 2014 4 comments

Last week, the Oklahoma State Board of Education sent shockwaves through the state when they declined to vote on a bid by CTB/McGraw-Hill for winter End-of-Instruction testing. With that testing window due to open December 1, time is critic…never mind. It’s probably too late. Today, CTB – who the Board fired over the summer – withdrew their bid. As of today, nobody has a bid in place for the winter contract.

The SDE press release today reeked of exasperation.

CTB/McGraw-Hill withdraws from bidding process for state winter assessments

OKLAHOMA CITY (Sept. 29, 2014) – In the wake of the Oklahoma State Board of Education decision last week to delay action on selecting a vendor for winter assessments, proposed vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill has indicated it will withdraw from the bidding process.

The board voted Sept. 25 to table a would-be sole-source contract with CTB. The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) had recommended using CTB for the winter assessment window. An estimated 51,000 tests are expected to be given during that period, the bulk of them being end-of-instruction (EOI) exams necessary to meet high school graduation requirements.

OSDE is continuing its work with Oklahoma’s Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to see if any other viable solutions exist. In addition, last week the OSDE submitted a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the spring EOI exams to OMES for review and approval since OMES is responsible for issuing the RFP.

OSDE staff had recommended CTB/McGraw-Hill for the $2.8 million contract because of limited time to realistically initiate an entirely new testing platform before the testing window begins in mid-November.

At the request of OSDE, the Board of Education voted in June to terminate the state contract with CTB/McGraw-Hill. The action came after glitches during the spring 2014 testing.

The board is expected to hold a special meeting within the next several weeks to take up the matter.

I’m at a loss. At this point, I have a hard time believing that this problem is solvable. While it’s tempting to laugh at the cherry on top of the SDE’s ongoing incompetence over the last four years, I just can’t. Students are counting on these tests. Students who need to re-take their EOIs to graduate, as well as those in schools on a trimester system, could really suffer because Barresi’s regime ultimately failed at the one thing that matters the most to them – testing.

While I’m not laughing at the situation, I am laughing at Rob Miller’s take on it. I also think it’s worth reading Jason James’s thoughts on the crazy last couple of weeks.

Maybe this is why Barresi’s chief-of-staff ALLEGEDLY tendered his resignation over the weekend. I’ve only had a few emails asking me to look into it and this comment on an earlier post.

Rumor has it Joel Robinson, SDE Chief of Staff gave notice of resignation over the weekend and the State Dentist was pissed and asked he keep it quiet as long as possible.

Also if someone wanted to do some investigating, Kim Richey received a nice pay increase around May 2013 making her salary about $90,000. general counsel and the state board secretary and administrative staff still fall under control of the state board. If you look back at state board agendas around that time there was not an agenda item regarding this pay increase nor state board approval. At the same time the other two attorneys in that office were bumped up to $80,000.

If that is true, I wonder what she’ll call him!

Maybe the answer is right in front of us. I think we have the expertise here in this state to get us through this short-term crisis. Maybe a collection of bloggers and discarded SDE employees should band together to form an assessment collective. We could call ourselves the Winter Testing Fellowship™.  I haven’t figured out the hierarchy of the Fellowship yet, but I’m pretty sure I want to be its president. This is a $2.8 million dollar contract! I’m a long-time Oklahoma educator, so that’s way above my pay grade. Rob and Jason could join the crew. So could Claudia, Brett, and Seth. Even though we really don’t have time for it, I’m going to put Rob in charge of field testing!

We could have a Jeopardy! Style format – it has to be more valid than what the SDE has been shoveling at us for the last few years, right? Would you like to make this a true daily double to pass your Biology I EOI and possibly graduate from high school?

Maybe we could go with Who Wants to Re-Take an EOI (hint: nobody). On the next question, feel free to use a lifeline. You may phone a friend, but you can’t choose the 50/50 option. That would constitute a modification, and as you know, Arne Duncan wouldn’t like it.

Actually, when it comes to game shows, I’m a fan of the classics. I grew up on a steady diet of Tic-Tac-Dough and The Price is Right. Both of those seem appropriate when it comes to testing contracts.

All I’ve heard for months is that we need Oklahoma standards that represent Oklahoma values. The cycle might as well culminate with Oklahoma assessments written by Oklahoma educators who keep all of their profits in Oklahoma. In fact, we could even form a non-profit in order to shelter all of our profits. Trust me; it’s a thing.

In all seriousness, we own the test questions. We probably also own reams and reams of paper. We also own a huge mess. We have to find a solution and soon.  Just print tests and hand score them. It’s less than ideal, but it would get us through the winter. Otherwise, the students who need one more test to graduate won’t get it – through no fault of their own. This is Janet Barresi’s ultimate – and hopefully last – SNAFU.

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

You may have noticed that I’ve been pretty invisible for the last two weeks. I decided to step away from the blog (and social media, to a large extent) after the election. After writing 35 posts in all during the month of June, I was exhausted. Apparently my readers were too. Nobody has been messaging or emailing me to ask where I’ve been. Since you didn’t ask, here are some of the ways I might have been spending my down time:

  • Driving around the state telling people to “go to hell
  • Trying to get an okeducationtruths booth in the Exhibitor Hall at Vision 2020 (with my own chocolate fountain)
  • Working part-time for CTB/McGraw-Hill making up my own rubric for writing tests
  • Helping top SDE staff prepare their résumés for January
  • Searching the Internet for crafty ideas of how I can use all my leftover Brian Kelly for State Superintendent yard signs
  • Taking dance lessons from Rob Miller

Please don’t take my blogging vacation to mean that I’m satisfied, however. If the tantrums (tantra? tantrii?) at the State Board of Education meeting two days after the election and the finger-wagging editorials from our friends at the Oklahoman are an indication of anything, our fight to improve respect for public education and dispel reformer myths is far from over.

At the SBE meeting on the 26th, Superintendent Barresi made it clear that she is not finished fighting. At regular intervals throughout the meeting, she commented on being fought at every turn by the education establishment and other defenders of the status quo. She still has taken no responsibility for the things she did poorly – namely leading and campaigning. The Board acted on a motion to end the state’s contract with CTB, which they would have been able to do last year as well. They tabled ending the testing contract with Measured Progress, however.

Interestingly, they also delayed approval of a plan to begin the standards-writing process to replace Common Core and PASS. As you probably know by now, four SBE members (appointed by Governor Fallin) are listed among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to have HB 3399 (signed by governor Fallin) declared unconstitutional. Apparently, because of this, we can’t move forward on standards or testing. If the State Supreme Court reinstates the Common Core, we get to keep Measured Progress. If they don’t, we have to issue a Request for Proposals and select a new testing company really quickly.

Now fast-forward to July 9th (while I skip several other frustrating things from the SBE meeting and the editorial pages) as the Oklahoman seemed to be still lamenting Barresi’s loss. At issue is the selection of Duncan Superintendent Sherry Labyer to lead the Commission for Educational Quality and Accountability.

Commission members recently announced that Sherry Labyer, school superintendent at Duncan, had been hired as their executive director. Labyer has been a vocal critic of education reform in Oklahoma, opposing many transparency and accountability measures.

Labyer cheered lawmakers when they overrode Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of a reading proficiency bill this year. Thanks to the override, schools can now socially promote third-grade students shown to be illiterate on multiple measurements over several months. Nearly one-third of third-graders in Labyer’s district weren’t reading at grade level. Labyer also opposed A-F grades for school sites. Of seven graded schools in her district, none got an A. Two received Bs, four got Cs and one got an F.

Perhaps most troubling is that Labyer criticized state officials for increasing cut scores on state tests. To pass the Biology I end-of-instruction test, high school students previously had to answer just 52 percent of questions correctly. That’s been raised to 70 percent, which is hardly unreasonable. Labyer’s objection to such minimal standards is worrisome: She will have a major role in setting future cut scores.

Let me see if I understand this. The Oklahoman is against Labyer because she cheered for something that practically every superintendent in Oklahoma wanted – parental involvement in 3rd grade retention decisions. The combined vote of that veto override was 124-19. It was a no brainer.

Labyer also has the audacity to find the state’s A-F Report Card system to be highly flawed. Again, this is the prevailing opinion of people who actually work in schools. Researchers (airquotes removed for emphasis) have proven empirically that both iterations for the system actually mislead the public.

As for the Biology cut scores, this was one of the biggest slaps in the face to Oklahoma educators in recent years. The SDE actually brought teachers together to set passing scores, then went against their recommendation, causing passing rates to plummet. Students who went home for the summer thinking they had done well on one of the tests that counts as a graduation requirement came back in the fall and found something altogether different.

As far as I’m concerned, this hire is just what the newly formed EQA needs – an educator leading an education agency. That’s pretty much what last month’s election was about, right?

Opposing bad ideas and their lousy implementation does not make someone a defender of the status quo. As I’ve written time and again, most education leaders want to see change and progress. They just want to see it on the student level rather than the sound-byte level that those currently in power prefer.

This is why we keep fighting.

Remaining Focused after the Primary

We all still have work to do, so I won’t spend much time discussing the election or events leading up to it. Before we move forward, though, I would like to share a couple of videos with you. I’ve already pushed them out onto Facebook and Twitter in the last day or so, but if you didn’t happen to be online at the time, you may have missed them.

First is some raw video posted by the Tulsa World of the comments made by Superintendent Janet Barresi at the standards convening earlier this month. This is the Bible-quoting, go to hell speech. In case you can’t watch it on your mobile device, or if you’re trapped in a cubicle somewhere and don’t want to bother those around you, the World has also provided a transcription.

“I’m going to go look at the Legislature next fall, next year and I’m going to say folks, you want this done? Pay up, or you’re going to get the value for the money you put into it.”

“I’m determined. I am determined. Kids in Oklahoma deserve this. You deserve this. God has blessed this state and he blesses these children and I’m not going to let anything get in their way. They deserve the blessings of this state and the blessings of this country. And I need you to help me rebuild that. We are going to build a house.

“Anybody that has any question what we’re doing, read Nehemiah. Open up your Bibles and read Nehemiah. I want you to put on your breast plate and I want you to fight off the enemy at the same time you’re rebuilding the wall. Because there’s a lot of people, a lot of enemies are going to try to creep up the back of your neck and say you can’t do it, it can’t be done. Do me a favor and tell ‘em to go to hell. We’ve got a wall to build. ‘Cause I’m gonna be in there with you, too. I’m going to take the hits. I don’t care, I don’t care. And then we will be, we will be an example to the rest of the country about how you produce a wonderful child that is educated and ready to take control of their life. Are there any questions?

“Love you all. I pray for you guys every day. Every teacher in the state, I pray for you every day. I know there’s some that hate me and want me to lose my campaign. We’re not talking about campaigns right now. I don’t care, I love them anyway. I appreciate their service, I understand the toughness that they’re into and I just offer you up to God and ask him to hold you every day. Thank you all. God bless you.”

As I said at the top, I don’t want to live in the past. This becomes relevant, however, knowing what is on the agenda for today’s State Board of Education meeting. Several items catch my eye. They will be discussing where the state stands regarding our No Child Left Behind waiver. They may act to terminate our testing contracts with CTB/McGraw-Hill (for incompetence) and Measured Progress (because of HB 3399). They will also discuss the new standards-writing process.

That’s where the video comes in. She makes it clear that we’re going to write the best standards in the country, which is a laudable goal, but speaks in terms of holy war. What I would have hoped she might have learned in the last four years is that teachers function best when they are allowed to collaborate. Under heightened stress, such as what she describes, the threads connecting us are more likely to sever. Combine this with video of her speech Tuesday evening, and we have a clear picture that she intends to have these standards written before she leaves office in January.

HB 3399 gives the SBE two years to send them standards. School districts are still wiping the little rubber pellets away from where they’ve erased the words Common Core from all of their curriculum maps. The SDE has charged Teri Brecheen, who “led” the state’s efforts to implement the third-grade retention law. Brecheen also wrote (although it was signed by Barresi) the letter letting the REAC3H coaches know they were no longer employed. Read that again, and you’ll see more evidence of people who think this is a holy war.

If it is, by the way, what does that make the rest of us? Isn’t it possible that the people who think third-grade retention is for the best, along with those who don’t, all have the best interest of children at heart? Do we have to pull from the book of Nehemiah to state our case? I simply don’t think retaining third graders is a great idea. Developmentally, it’s too late. We are slamming on the brakes while emerging readers also develop a love of books, which is key to learning to read or reading to learn or whatever you want to say. I respect your opinion, if you believe differently, unless you stick your finger in your ear when opposition comes at you. It certainly doesn’t help when you call people pathetic.

This is why we must pay attention. This is why I will continue writing about anything that happens in Oklahoma education, if I feel I have something to add. We still have a state superintendent, and we must remain focused.

Reason #2 to Pick a New State Superintendent: The Settlement with CTB

As we spiral to the finish line of next week’s primary in the state superintendent’s race, the commercials are getting uglier. Liberal this. Conservative that. While I have a preferred outcome, I think I speak for many who are simply looking forward to getting past Tuesday. It’ll get worse before it gets better – sort of like the last four years!

#5 – Fabricating Special Education Percentages

#4 – Changing Biology Cut Scores

#3 – Vendetta against Jenks

#2 – The Settlement with CTB

As many of you may remember, two (Indiana and Oklahoma) states had to shut down all online testing in April 2013 because CTB/McGraw-Hill’s servers couldn’t handle the load. This disruption led to questionable test results and a pathetic settlement agreement:

  • A cash settlement ($367,205)
  • Professional development for teachers to help them become more acquainted with the type of items that can be expected on new English language arts and math assessments and how to adjust instruction so students will be successful on these tests. ($13,000)
  • Formative tests for teachers that can be given on a voluntary basis twice a year to measure student learning and drive instruction for the benefit of increased student achievement in the second grade. ($678,400)
  • Formative tests for teachers that can be given on a voluntary basis twice a year to measure student learning and drive instruction for the benefit of increased student achievement for grades 3 through 11. ($6,600)
  • The commissioning of an independent study to evaluate the impact of the disruptions on student test scores. HUMRRO, Inc. has expertise in the area of analyzing testing disruptions. They will provide an independent opinion that is expected to be delivered in late August. ($48,000)
  • Prior to testing, CTB will conduct a technology readiness assessment of each Oklahoma School District to: ($125,000)
    -Capture specifications regarding bandwidth, number of workstations, server
    configuration, etc. at each school site
    -Identify a technology contact at each school district
    -Perform online stress tests at every site
    -Conduct training and deploy implementation services at all sites
    -Establish a technology forum to deliver regular communications to districts

The SDE was supposed to distribute the cash at the top to schools. I don’t recall that happening. The last item – technology readiness assessment – did happen, but there was a threat from Janet Barresi along the way (a veiled threat, it turned out). The bulk of the “punishment” was that CTB would make available to schools a product they never wanted. That’s like going to dinner, sending back your steak because it’s over cooked, and being compensated with a fish that’s also overcooked.

I first take issue with the fact that CTB was merely punished. Why weren’t they fired outright? Barresi said the contract prohibited firing them for poor performance, but that’s simply not true. When it happened again this year, she made it clear she could and would fire them.

“It is an understatement to say I am frustrated. It is an understatement to say I am outraged,” Barresi said at a news conference held at the department.

“The state was ready. Districts did all we asked of them. We quadrupled training, conducted stress tests and addressed a litany of issues in hopes of guarding against as many system deficiencies as possible. But we could not guard against everything, and this is a 100-percent failing of CTB.”

CTB indicated it is monitoring the errant hardware and is working with the hardware vendor to guard against another interruption. This marks the second year of significant system disruptions surrounding the vendor.

As I mentioned in reason #19, the path taken by the SDE to hiring CTB to run our testing program was problematic. That was the highlight. Then they failed us once, and we slapped them on the wrist, so they could fail us again. In contrast, Indiana’s state superintendent showed more resolve in sticking up for her schools.

“I have spent the last several months talking with Hoosiers about the impact these interruptions had in the classroom.  Although Dr. Hill’s report found that the statewide average score was not affected by the interruptions, there is no doubt that thousands of Hoosier students were affected.  As Dr. Hill stated in his report, ‘We cannot know definitively how students would have scored this spring if the interruptions had not happened.’ Because of this, I have given local schools the flexibility they need to minimize the effect these tests have on various matters, such as teacher evaluation and compensation.  I have also instructed CTB McGraw-Hill to conduct enhanced stress and load testing to ensure that their servers are fully prepared for next year’s test and ensure that this never happens again.”

What I wouldn’t give for a state superintendent with that kind of attitude!

As for the study by our state, it revealed little. A small percentage of the scores wouldn’t count, which was fair. The SDE made it clear, however, that the impact on state averages was minimal.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a lot more concerned with each individual student than I am a teacher average, a school average, a district average, or the state average. If we’re going to spend all of this time and money testing and preparing for tests, we should get results that mean something.

Testing is the cog in Janet Costello “Schedule J” Barresi’s reform plan. It’s central to every other idea. When she was for the Common Core, it was because she wanted better testing. She wants this to be a part of teacher evaluations. She wants tests deciding the fate of kids. But when the company we pay millions to do what she values can’t finish the job, she does nothing – not even a healthy round of name-calling.

Keep your steak (and your fish). I want my money back – and a competent leader in that position.

Reason #4 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Changing Biology Cut Scores

The response to yesterday’s countdown post has been surprising – and mostly private. The direct messages and emails I have received have been appreciative, and in a couple of cases emotional. Think about that for a minute. The vast majority of parents never have to deal with special education issues. The ones who do are often a fixture in conference rooms with administrators. Yet when someone with a forum takes the time to speak about the issues this group faces, support is overwhelming and from all angles.

Whether you’ve walked a mile in the shoes of a parent of a special needs child or not, you probably still have a good understanding of why it’s important for policy-makers, the SDE, and school districts to possess understanding and compassion. Most parents can send their children to school, check progress periodically, help with homework at night, and expect for the best. I wrote last night’s post with my mind on the parents who never know what they’re going to hear when they talk to their child’s teachers. For those of you who got that, I appreciate you letting me know.

Here’s a recap of the Top Ten (so far):

#10 – Ignoring Researchers

#9 – The A-F Rollout

#8 – The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

#7 – PASSing Around Our Standards

#6 – Learning to Use Reading for Political Gain

#5 – Fabricating Special Education Percentages

#4 – Changing Biology Cut Scores

Late last summer, after many districts around the state had already started holding classes, in fact, the SDE announced that test scores from the previous school year would be released soon.

Superintendents and District Testing Coordinators,

Please see the calendar below for a schedule for the release of test scores.

Test Scores Released August 23
Districts have 30-day window
to verify tests scores
August 29 to September 30
Districts have a 10-day window
to review A-F Report Cards
October 10 to 23
SDE staff presents A-F Report Cards
To SBE for approval
October 24 BOE meeting

Then the timeframe changed. The testing company pushed the release back another week. Yes, schools had been working with their preliminary data for two months. They had begun planning for improvement. They had set up schedules for remediation. They just didn’t have all the information they would need for the accountability reports that would become a fiasco two months later.

Oh, and they had no science scores. The SDE was late in releasing those because they were still manipulating the data. A few weeks later, when schools had that information, teachers – especially Biology teachers – were furious. Parents and administrators were angry and confused. Not only were scores much lower than they had been in the past; they did not reflect the opinions of the committees that were in place to set them. One reader sent me this:

Now that test scores have been released to districts, there has been a lot of discussion about the impacts of these scores. I’ve been asked for my opinion about these scores by several teachers, so I thought I would share my (rambling, sometimes incoherent) thoughts with you, the advocates for education in this state. (Also, be aware that I am approaching this from the perspective of my background as a high school biology teacher, although I suspect that many of these points apply to other disciplines and grades.)

First, has raising the cut scores for passing a test ever improved education? I don’t know of any studies that suggest this is true. If there was any evidence showing that raising cut scores alone, without providing additional supports to teachers, improves student achievement, then I would be more willing to accept the SDE’s justifications. Also, if I had confidence that the OCCTs and EOIs test student understanding of science–which I don’t– then I would be more apt to agree with the SDE’s decision. But this will only be a hardship to students, families, schools, and teachers. What is the purpose of making it more difficult to pass a test when you don’t help teachers become more effective? Just telling teachers to “do better or your test scores will be awful and your job will be on the line” is neither motivating nor effective.

When I heard the cut scores, I went through my previous years’ scores to determine how they would have effected my students– the students that I know. I know whether these students had mastered the biology curriculum. And I determined that many of my students, whom I– as a professional educator– deemed to be proficient in biology– would not have passed. And my school would have had to spend scarce resources to remediate these kids. I get that we want to raise the bar– I want that, too. But I don’t want to raise the bar for proficient students, students who “get it”. I want support to meet the needs of the struggling students.

Finally, I want to share my experience as a member of the committee that “set the cut score” for this year’s biology EOI. I put that phrase in quotation marks, because we didn’t actually set the cut score. We began by working through the actual EOI (I’m proud to say that I didn’t miss a single question, although I did struggle a LOT with three questions. I have a masters degree in science education; I’ve taken 40 hours of graduate-level biology courses. I’ve taken– and passed– every pre-med course offered at OU. I have earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and I will earn a second masters in December before I begin a PhD program in spring. I have 248 hours of college credit under my belt. I taught biology for 8 years, and I served on several SDE assessment committees. AND I STRUGGLED WITH 3 QUESTIONS ON THE BIOLOGY EOI. Do you know what finally enabled me to answer those questions? I had to switch from the mindset of a person who is proficient in biology content, and instead think like a standardized test writers. What hope was there for our kids to answer those questions correctly?)

Like I said, if I believed in the ability of these tests to accurately gauge student understanding of biology, then I would not be writing this angry diatribe. But I’ve found that my own professional assessment of student understanding is far more reliable than the EOI.

I’ll skip all of the boring parts, but I will tell you that after we set our initial cut score recommendation, Meredith McBee from the SDE addressed us, and showed us data regarding how our cut score recommendations compare to ACT and NAEP data. Our cut scores did not align at all to the ACT or NAEP, but it was not sufficiently explained to us how the EOI comparable score was determined. We were also told that the legislature expected the biology test to be more rigorous than in the past. We were encouraged to reconsider our cut score based on ACT, NAEP, and the legislature’s intent. We did not deviate much from our original recommendation.

Now, here’s the part that should really concern teachers: When Meredith McBee presented cut score recommendations to the State Board of Education, she proposed a completely different cut score than the one that we came up with, and SHE TOLD THE STATE BOARD THAT THE CUT SCORE WAS DETERMINED BY A COMMITTEE OF TEACHERS. Now, I realize that the SDE has the ability to override the teacher committee’s recommendation. But it makes me steaming mad that they overrode our recommendation, and passed their own off as the recommendation of the teachers.

If I were still a biology teacher, I would be passing this information on to every parent of every student who did not pass the biology EOI. Our students should not be political pawns.

In addition to so many other misguided beliefs, Janet Barresi feels that if you don’t measure something, you don’t really value it. On the other hand, if you measure something, and you have no idea what unit of measurement you’re using, it’s hard to place much stock in the result. It was an insult to the students who took the class and the teachers who prepared them. It was a slap in the face for those who served on the standard setting committee (and evidence of why the SDE has difficulty recruiting people to serve on such committees).

Students who take the Biology EOI have to pass four of seven EOIs to graduate. When they went home in May 2013, they had a pretty good idea of how ready they were. When the results came in, a lot of those ideas were dispelled.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma has gone 10 years since completing a standards-adoption process in science; hence, schools are using textbooks that are falling apart. That doesn’t help.

These are the kinds of problems that linger to this day. The SDE shows little regard for what the schools tell them. Even when they ask our opinions, they don’t listen. This is evident in the deaf ear they are turning to the writing scores. Everything about this undermines the entire multi-million dollar testing process.

One thing we know as we await final scores for the 2014 tests this summer is that past is prologue. Later this month, the SDE will again host educators for standard setting for our social studies exams. At this point, I don’t expect a different outcome. The educators will go through the process to determine cut scores for the 5th and 8th grade tests, as well as the U.S. History EOI. The SDE will do whatever they want.

Reason #8 to Pick a New State Superintendent: The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

Yesterday’s post covered a comedy of errors that ended in a giant snafu – the 2013 A-F Release. After putting it on the blog, I settled in for a quiet night of living vicariously through my blogger friend, Rob Miller. Rob, it seemed, was fortunate enough to attend the debate in Tulsa between incumbent State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Costello Barresi and her primary challenger, Joy Hofmeister.

There were several telling moments from the debate, and I fully expect a recap from Rob on his blog later. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite tweets (his and others) from the evening.

Here Barresi admits that a week before Governor Fallin signed HB 3399, which overturned the Common Core, she was aware of the decision. That probably would have been good information to have shared with those working in her curriculum department at the SDE. Until the final hour leading up to the governor’s announcement, they were still working with schools and lobbying hard to encourage a veto of the bill. Fortunately, the SDE has a solution handy.

Oh, my mistake. That’s not the SDE. That’s the Fake OKSDE Twitter account. He or she (what’s up with anonymity, people?) has been away from Twitter since the fall. Last night’s return was welcome and timely. It also came in handy when Barresi made a couple of serious mistakes.

Apparently, counting to two is hard.

This was the best one. She simply has no clue what she’s talking about. Fake OKSDE summed it up thusly:

Fake OKSDE Microfibers

After seeing that, I couldn’t help myself and added this one:

microfibers

I look forward to Rob’s recap of the evening, but if you want to read more about how little our state superintendent understands about the testing required of our students, check out the Tulsa World.

To refresh your memory, here’s how the Top 10 in our countdown began:

#10 – Ignoring Researchers

#9 – The A-F Rollout

#8 – The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

It’s always hard to know exactly where to place a current event within a list of things that have happened over time. Is this so high because the problem is ongoing? Hard to say. When it started, I figured it was steering towards the honorable mention. Before we look at this year’s test problem, let’s go back to October 2013. That’s probably when we should have known this wouldn’t go well.

Writing Assessment Update

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 10/07/2013 09:02 AM CDT

Dear Superintendent, Principal and District Test Coordinator,

It has been brought to our attention that some Grade 5 and Grade 8 Writing Assessments need to be scored by a third reader and will likely receive a new writing score.  The original two readers did not agree sufficiently to produce a valid score for the students’ writing.  You may or may not have students who will receive new scores.  If you do, the students whose papers are being re-scored are posted on the State Department of Education Single Sign On Site. Click below the chalk board in the Accountability A to F box. Next, click on the reports tab found on the blue bar near the top of the screen. The students are listed by school.

Please know that the impacted students will receive new writing assessment scores in the middle of October.

Yes, a week before the SDE released our A-F grades last fall, they were aware that CTB still needed to re-score some of our writing tests. With that in mind, why is it so difficult for the SDE to take seriously the irregularities that school districts are pointing out to them? Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s fast-forward to the first of this month. When schools around Oklahoma started looking at their fifth and eighth grade writing scores they noticed some serious problems.

  • The rubric does not seem to have been used correctly.
  • Most students received the same sub-score for all five writing skills.
  • Students who properly cited a prepared text received deductions for plagiarism.

Several districts contacted the SDE about the concerns. One teacher even reached out on their Facebook page. This was the response:

Each test was assessed by two independent scorers – as well as a third when individual scores differed by more than one point on any trait – who employed a rubric made widely available to school districts and the public on the SDE website at sde.ok.gov. Initial reports from CTB/McGraw-Hill suggest that the test taker’s use of passage-based content and utilizing his or her own words were among the more prevalent issues in scoring of fifth- and eighth-grade writing tests.

The SDE public relations firm then linked to technical manuals.

Teachers who had taken the time to review student responses using the rubric were finding many instances in which their own professional judgment could not reconcile with the assigned score. Unfortunately, besides the three problems listed above, there is a fourth.

  • The cost to re-score student responses is ridiculous.

As one district put it to the SDE:

The fee of $125 is exorbitant. Scorers paid by CTB receive a low hourly wage and have to keep a relatively high production rate during the time they are under temporary assignment with the testing company. While we understand that some processing costs exist, none of that would explain the $125 fee. By our most conservative estimates, this amounts to a 90% mark-up of CTB’s out-of-pocket expenses. In other words, the fee is in place as a deterrent to keep districts from asking for tests to be re-scored.

The way I see it, this was a missed opportunity by the agency and Barresi’s campaign to side with schools and hammer another nail into the testing company. Unfortunately, the SDE just doesn’t take schools seriously. Teachers can’t possibly be right. The testing company knows the kids better than the teachers, right?

That might be true if it weren’t for the fact that the people grading our writing tests are temporary hires working for about $11.05 per hour. They don’t even have to have any background in education (which obviously isn’t a deal breaker for the SDE).

Earlier this week, several of the complaining districts received nearly identical three-page responses from the SDE. Lisa Chandler, one of the agency’s newest hires, quoted heavily from the technical manuals for interpreting the rubric, as well as the training protocol for scorers. She spent all that time telling the schools nothing. In short, just shut your mouths and move on with your lives.

Fortunately for those impacted by this issue, this isn’t the end of it. School districts are concerned about having the tools to give students and parents feedback about writing. Teachers and principals are concerned about the impact the flawed scores might have on teacher evaluations and school report card grades.

This issue is recent, but worthy of the top ten, partly because of what it symbolizes. As we continue struggling with an obtuse leadership that refuses to take an inept testing company to task, we face the larger burden of the fact that neither entity treats teachers with respect. We burn through a lot of taxpayer money, and the only proof that the scores are accurate is because they tell us so. If we question it, we’re protecting the status quo.

Eleven days left.

Glad you could make it back, @FakeOKSDE. You’re sorely needed.

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