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After the Top 20: Dishonorable Mention

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

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

TLE Implementation

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

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

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

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

Test Exemption in Moyers

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

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

Removing API Scores from the SDE Website

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

Visit the page now and you see the following message:

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

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

Whole Language

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

The Shameful Treatment of Crutcho Public Schools

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

Badmouthing Teachers in Public

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

Illegal Hiring Practices

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

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

Vendor Favoritism

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

Rewards that Nobody Wants

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

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

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

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

Favoring Charter Schools

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

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

FAY/NFAY

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

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

Pricey Propaganda

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Threat

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

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

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

Reason #3 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Vendetta against Jenks

Timing is everything. Yesterday, as I was poised to post the #4 reason in my countdown, I ran across the information about Janet Barresi’s campaign owing the candidate herself nearly $2 million. Apparently, that nugget of information is something my readers find interesting. In fact, twice in the last week or so, I’ve broken from the countdown to discuss something topical that was too new to make the list. The other time was when I posted the letter that the REAC3H coaches received from Barresi via their boss Teri Brecheen. In my mind, the common thread connecting the campaign contributions and the dismissal of the coaches is that both show how disconnected Barresi (and many of her top staff at the SDE) are from everyday people – even those who work for them.

Today, I have the good fortune of adding a late-breaking news nugget to the post that I had originally scheduled to run today. Here is what posted to the NewsOK website this afternoon

The campaign manager for state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi alleged Wednesday that rival Joy Hofmeister broke the law by sending campaign-related emails to school district administrators on their work accounts.

Hofmeister, of Tulsa, and Brian Kelly of Edmond are opposing Barresi in Tuesday’s Republican primary. Hofmeister said the allegations are “desperate attempts” by Barresi to “smear my reputation to distract voters from her failures.”

“I was a private citizen, during the time period of these conversations, responding to emails like most average citizens do,” Hofmeister said in a statement. “Janet Barresi is fast and loose with her accusations hoping to bully me with her personal fortune because I have decided to stand against her and fight for the school children of Oklahoma.”

This seems like a desperate leap to me. I hope it was worth the $1,500 her campaign spent to dig through the emails.

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

#5 – Fabricating Special Education Percentages

#4 – Changing Biology Cut Scores

#3 –  Vendetta against Jenks

The real story is the ongoing feud Barresi and the SDE have been waging against Jenks Public Schools. I started paying attention to it in May 2013.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education is investigating Jenks Public Schools apparently to see if its parent-led movement to opt students out of “field tests” was instigated or encouraged by district employees, the Tulsa World has learned.

“There is an investigation, but at this time, we don’t really want to discuss it so that it won’t be compromised,” said department spokeswoman Sherry Fair.

The state enforces strict security protocols to ensure the reliability of testing results. Officials declined to provide more specific information about what rules they think Jenks administrators might have violated.

Although state education officials declined to release specifics, it appears the investigation targets an opt-out movement among parents of Jenks Middle School students during last month’s testing period.

The school received a flurry of opt-out forms from parents in April asking that their children not be subjected to field tests, which are used by testing companies to evaluate questions for future use. They do not count in either a student’s grade or in a school’s state grade.

“Our kids are being used as unpaid subjects by CTB/McGraw-Hill (a testing vendor) without our consent or permission,” PTA President Deedra Barnes told the Tulsa World last month.

In response to a Tulsa World inquiry, Jenks district officials confirmed they had received an Open Records Act request from the department April 24 asking for a number of records related to testing.

Jenks spokeswoman Bonnie Rogers said the district is complying with the state’s request in accordance with state law.

“This was a parent-initiated movement and the district followed all state laws and regulations in administering state-mandated tests,” she said.

Rogers said she preferred not to comment further because of the ongoing investigation, except to say the district was surprised by the number of parents who opted their child out of the tests. About half the students did not take the field tests, she said.

Barresi, as Rob Miller (the Jenks Middle School principal), pointed out on his blog just last night, campaigned in 2010 telling us that she valued what parents think. Her actions ever since being elected show otherwise. Parents may matter, but not as much as testing. Although I suppose if you could test parents, you’d really have something that she values.

The investigation yielded nothing. The Tulsa World looked into how this started and found a very skeptical state superintendent pulling the strings.

Documents show Barresi requested in a telephone conversation April 5 that Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman initiate an internal investigation into the opt-out movement.

In an email to Barresi later that day, Lehman reiterated that Jenks would comply with all the state’s requests. He also wrote that after speaking with Barnes and Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller, “it is clear to me that Ms. Barnes and other parents made the determination to pen the letter and take the action which resulted in Wednesday’s ‘opting out’ activity on the part of many Jenks parents and students.”

That evening, Barresi wrote an email to Chief of Staff Joel Robison, Assistant State Superintendent Maridyth McBee and the department’s general counsel, Kim Richey, about Lehman’s email.

“I am not buying the explanation that seems to insulate Miller and others. There had to be a great deal of conversation between Rob and the parents. Clearly this was orchestrated,” Barresi wrote.

By October, the SDE had quietly closed the investigation. Maybe they felt it was best not to keep this fire burning. After the World reported on the lack of findings, Rob Miller responded.

Did you notice something obvious that is missing from this SDE report? How about actual interviews with me, Deedra Barnes (our PTA mom who led the opt-out campaign), or any other parents, teachers, or staff members? They spoke to no one. Thus, the SDE erroneously concludes that I initiated the parent opt-out based on a loose interpretation of hundreds of emails. Of course, they omitted emails which did not serve their purpose of painting me as a “rogue” administrator trying to circumvent state law. If anyone at the SDE had taken the time to speak with a real person, they would have found out otherwise.

Here are the facts and they are irrefutable:

1. Every student at Jenks Middle School was properly scheduled for a test session for every assessment required by state law. Students with parents who chose to opt their child out of the field test(s) were given multiple opportunities to take these tests.

2. Only students with a signed letter from a parent were permitted to opt-out of a field test. No students were excused from participation in any operational test.

3. The school worked with the parents to create an opt-out letter using a template from a national opt-out organization. This was done to ensure that we had a consistent communication for documentation purposes.

4. No staff member asked or encouraged any student to opt-out. On the contrary, we repeatedly encouraged students to participate in all state mandated tests.

5. I did not coerce or encourage Ms. Barnes or any other parent to initiate an opt-out campaign. Ms. Barnes brought the topic up to me after getting increasing frustrated at the amount of unnecessary testing to which her child was subjected. Our parents sent information to other parents using a private email account. The school did not distribute the opt-out letters or information about the initiative with parents; rather these parents were directed to contact Ms. Barnes.

6. No one provided any information about the field tests that wasn’t available on the SDE’s own webpage. The Geography and US History tests were known to be field tests in early October. Teachers and students knew they would not receive a score from these tests and that the results would not affect the school’s accountability measures. Likewise, teachers and students were told that one of the two Writing tests would be a field test. How did they figure out which one was the field test? It wasn’t difficult. The directions in the test administrators’ booklet for the Writing field test clearly stated to students, “You are about to take the FIELD TEST for writing.” Duh!

The bottom line is that no laws associated with the Oklahoma State Testing Program were violated by anyone at Jenks Middle School. We simply have a high number of engaged parents who were fed up and wanted to send a message.

Regrettably, the SDE wants to make this a story about a principal (me) who in less than four days was allegedly able to convince over half the school’s parents to opt their child out of field testing. The story they want to ignore is the one about a large group of highly educated and passionate parents taking a stand over an out-of-control, high-stakes testing machine that negatively impacts their child’s education. These parents are not going away. In fact their numbers are growing every day.

The numbers have grown so much, in fact, that a Jenks Public Schools parent is just six days away from possibly knocking Barresi out of her re-election campaign in the primary. Diane Ravitch took Rob’s story national.

In the spring, the SDE added to this story when they selected school districts for field testing and somehow missed a couple. To no one’s surprise, Jenks was one of them. (Owasso was the other.) Here was Rob’s reaction.

Honestly, it was a pleasant surprise when we found out last week that students and schools in the Jenks district were NOT randomly selected to participate in ANY of these field tests. However, when we discovered that Owasso Public Schools had also not been “randomly selected,” several of us became a little suspicious. As you may have heard, some parents and educators in Owasso made some waves recently because of their vocal opposition to implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in their district. Therefore, this news was way too coincidental for random chance.

You could say that since Barresi took office, she has received a lot of grief from northeast Oklahoma. At one point, her Chief of Staff even called administrators from Jenks and Union dirtbags. She has ignored questions from Broken Arrow Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall. She even accidentally sent him the wrong email once, showing that she blamed the districts for the problems they were having with the ACE graduation law.

Her thirst for revenge is evident in all of these actions – and completely unacceptable for somebody who claims to be doing what she does to help children.

Throwback Monday

March 17, 2014 7 comments

I get confused sometimes with my social media days. Is it Man-Crush Wednesday and Follow Thursdays? And what’s the one with the talking camel?

I guess that’s not really terribly important. Today, I want to show you a quote from a couple of years ago and see if you can guess who said it and about whom. Bonus points if you can figure out from whose website I lifted it.

“_____ has spent her entire adult life working in the field of education. She is a teacher with hands-on classroom experience, an executive with private sector experience, and a researcher with a passion for finding ways to improve our schools and boost student performance. Her experience, dedication and passion for reform will serve her well.”

To make you think for a few seconds, I’m going to insert a series of tweets that have nothing to do with the quote or one another (or do they?).

Ok, time. Do you have it? First, I should mention that those four tweets really are unrelated, other than being a few of my favorites during the last month or so.

The quote above comes from Jason Nelson’s blog dated January 13, 2012. The speaker is Mary Fallin, and the subject is Joy Hofmeister, on the occasion of her selection to the State Board of Education. I’m not sure how much research the governor and her staff did before selecting Joy for the SBE, but I doubt it was as thorough as what the Tulsa World reports Janet Barresi’s campaign is doing:

State Superintendent Janet Barresi’s campaign has requested all communications records between Jenks Public Schools employees and Republican challenger Joy Hofmeister dating back to 2007, a move Hofmeister said is just another “public intimidation tactic.”

Barresi’s campaign manager, Sam Stone, made the Open Records request by letter on Jan. 28 and asked that they be available for inspection by Feb. 10 or Feb. 17.

“It’s part of doing our research on Joy. We’re trying to flesh out her positions on the issues,” he said.

“It is certainly not a surprise to learn that Janet Barresi is scrambling to dig up dirt on me or anyone else who asks questions or dares to hold her accountable for her failed leadership,” Hofmeister said. “This is her style. It is nothing more than an attempt to bully and intimidate.”

All four of Hofmeister’s children have attended Jenks Public Schools since kindergarten. Only one child, a son, remains in Jenks Public Schools. He is a senior.

She also has been a member of the board of the Jenks Public Schools Foundation.

[Jenks CIO Bonnie] Rogers has worked since receiving the request compiling thousands of emails and correspondence between Hofmeister and any Jenks school employee and she has still only made it to 2011. The district’s email archive only goes back to October 2009.

So far, she has pulled up 3,661 emails and used four reams of paper to copy them.

“I don’t know what they’re looking for,” Rogers said. “So far, what they will find is that Joy has been an active parent, an active board member of the foundation and involved in her business.”

My hunch is they don’t know what they’re looking for either. This seems like a needle-in-a-haystack exercise to me. Then again, it’s all perfectly legal. Barresi’s campaign is making the request this time, unlike last year when her agency went after Rob Miller. That was perfectly legal too (incredibly misguided, but legal).

In fact, any person can initiate an open records request against any government entity. Sure, it can become burdensome, but hey, they work for the public. They’re here to serve.

Hmm. Let me say that again. Anybody can make an open records request at any time. Say, for example, someone was curious about any correspondence between the Governor (or her staff) and Barresi (or the SDE) about how to protect the Common Core…such would be a reasonable inquiry. Or if you were curious about internal discussions of how the SDE should react to CTB’s complete meltdown last year during testing…that would be ok too. Even if you wanted to see how the Barresi’s inner circle discussed the relative merits of various A-F Report Card formulas with key legislators…they’d have to provide that information too. The possibilities are endless!

You see, part of serving the public is an ongoing commitment to transparency. It’s not bullying or intimidation to ask for answers – until someone does it to you.

Then it’s just karma.

What a Terrifically Bad Idea

This is an early Christmas for bloggers. Unless you’re one of the many who gave up social media for Lent, you probably know by now that Rob Miller dropped some incredible news last night. The Oklahoma State Department of Education instructed Measured Progress to exclude Jenks and Owasso from field testing item tryouts this spring. If you haven’t read it, go do that now. I’ll wait for you. If for some reason, you’re continuing to read my blog without looking at Rob’s, here’s a blurb:

Honestly, it was a pleasant surprise when we found out last week that students and schools in the Jenks district were NOT randomly selected to participate in ANY of these field tests. However, when we discovered that Owasso Public Schools had also not been “randomly selected,” several of us became a little suspicious. As you may have heard, some parents and educators in Owasso made some waves recently because of their vocal opposition to implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in their district. Therefore, this news was way too coincidental for random chance.

So, I took it upon myself to make a few inquiries by phone and email. It did not take long to discover that we and Owasso were unique and that every other district in our area had been selected for this field testing.

A conversation yesterday with an executive at the headquarters of Measured Progress revealed what I suspected. Measured Progress was given specific instructions by the Oklahoma State Department of Education to draw their testing sample from all districts in Oklahoma, with the exception of two school districts: Jenks and Owasso. This information has been confirmed separately through sources at the state department. It certainly appears that “someone” at the SDE knowingly excluded these two districts to avoid negative publicly associated with a possible parent opt-out this spring.

My head is spinning!

Measured Progress admits that the SDE told them to exclude two districts because they have outspoken patrons. How in the hell did they expect to get away with this and not have backlash?

This action undermines everything that field testing is supposed to accomplish. Aside from that, it serves as encouragement to districts whose patrons want to defy the SDE.

The blame for this decision falls entirely on Superintendent Barresi. This isn’t like last year when she explained that she had taken no part in choosing the testing company that miserably failed in two states. This was planned and approved at the highest of levels. I honestly don’t think she can’t loan her campaign enough money to get out of this hole.

Once again, we see the arrogance of Barresi and her administration fully exposed. This action is unethical. While admitting the motivation behind it is at least honest, they really thought there would be no consequences.

Since Rob posted this story to his blog last night, it has gone viral. I told him that he would break WordPress. Last night, when I refreshed the story about an hour after it posted, the site was down. It happened this morning too. Thousands of shares later on Facebook and Twitter, it’s hard to really calculate the reach of the post. I’m sure it will reach pretty much every teacher and administrator’s inbox in the state. There will be questions from the media and from lawmakers. Speaking of which, I haven’t seen a flood of supporters stand behind Barresi lately. This won’t help.

On an unrelated note, the SDE is excited to announce that Vision 2020 Round Three is coming up in August. Based on the current news, I have a few suggestions for breakout session titles:

  • Parent power: You have the power to tell the SDE to stick it!
  • STEMming the tide of Opt Outs!
  • Redefining “statistically significant” and “randomly chosen”
  • Field testing: how to take your ball and go home
  • You can’t opt out; I’ll opt you out!
  • Words hurt, Rob.
  • Blogging for change (roundtable session)
  • How to clean out your office in six months

I’d go to that last one. It sounds fun.

Ned Ryerson?

February 1, 2014 4 comments

What a way to start Groundhog Day weekend!

Yesterday, the Oklahoma State Department of Education sent two communications to superintendents, principals, and testing coordinators. Friend-of-the-blog Rob Miller tackled the first one, which came at 3:06 p.m. I’ll re-post Rob’s spot-on thoughts on the message:

1. Is it really necessary to advise school districts anymore that results will not be received until July? I cannot remember the last time we had results before August. Why can’t we do standard setting in late May or early June so districts could get results by June 15th? The law specifically states that the SDE is to provide final results within two weeks—it has never happened!

2. I expect the standard setting process for US History to go much like the one for Biology last summer. A committee of educators and psychometricians will come together and make a recommendation. Then the SDE will ignore this recommendation and set the cut score wherever they want to reflect the increased “rigor” of the new standards.

3. We already know that last year’s 7th grade geography test did not go well. Schools and teachers received no actionable data from these assessments. The same will happen once again this year. According to the SDE, they will be determining the sampling of students who will participate in this year’s field test in February. I sure hope they pick Jenks Middle School again. Our parents love field tests.

4. This sentence makes me ill: “The OCCT ACE U.S. History test will fully assess the depth and rigor of the new Oklahoma Academic Standards.” What does this even mean?

5. OMAAPs are gone. We know this means that fewer students on IEPs will be successful on state testing. This will definitely impact school A-F grades next fall since these students’ scores will count both in the “whole school performance” and both sets of growth calculations. It could be ugly.

6. For both the CTB and Measured Progress “item tryouts,” the SDE is extending the testing window until May 23 and May 21, respectively. They specifically say that the tryouts should occur after all of the operational tests.

Rob, I hope they pick Jenks too. As for the field tests item tryouts, we know how well that’s going to go. The jig is up already. Students, teachers, and parents know the points don’t matter. Testing fatigue will have set in by then, and all involved stakeholders will have an eye towards summer vacation. The only reason any of this matters, of course, is because politicians want students to give them talking points.

At 4:32, the SDE sent out this second message:

SDE: 2014 A–F Report Card Technical Manual now available

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 01/31/2014 04:32 PM CST

Dear Superintendents, Principals, and District Test Coordinators,

The 2014 A–F Report Card Technical Manual is now available on the State Department of Education’s website (http://ok.gov/sde/f-grading-system). The purpose of this manual is to describe in detail the specifics of how each component of the report card is calculated. Some of the significant changes from the 2013 Report Card Guide include, but are not limited to, the following:

A table of contents, introductory section, and glossary were added.

A description of eligibility requirements was added.

Fifth-Grade Social Studies and Eighth-Grade U.S. History are no longer pilot exams.

Beginning in 2013-2014, OMAAP exams are only available to second-time EOI testers who previously took an OMAAP. Therefore, OMAAP exams are no longer used in the A-F Report Card, and there is no longer a 2 percent OMAAP cap.

Rules surrounding virtual education providers are clarified.

The section on how middle school students who take EOIs are used in the Student Performance Component was revised.

How exams are paired for the Student Growth components has been clarified.

Calculation of the Bottom 25 Percent Growth sub-component has been clarified.

Additional details for bonus point calculations have been added.

Please note that the targeted audience for this manual are school and district administrators who wish to know exactly how the report card is generated and might wish to have the ability to replicate the report card themselves. An A – F Report Card guide that is targeted for educators, parents, and other stakeholders is currently in development and is expected to be released shortly. In the meantime, please feel free to direct any questions to the Office of Accountability and Assessment at (405) 521-3341.

Does anyone reading this feel like we’ve been here before? Like at any moment, the numbers will flip on the clock radio and we’ll be listening to Sonny & Cher?

As most educators would, I spent some time this Saturday morning perusing the new 35 page technical manual for Oklahoma’s easy to understand accountability system. Here are my thoughts on the major changes (not counting the revolutionary decision to include a Table of Contents).

  • Page 7 – A component or sub-component must have at least 10 unique students with valid test scores in order to calculate an index for that component. This means you have to have 10 of something for that group to count – third graders, Biology EOIs, ELL students taking math tests, etc. This number has gotten smaller over the years, and now represents a count with no statistical validity.
  • Page 8 – A Special Note about Virtual Education Providers – Suffice it to say that the SDE wants to clarify its position on grades for virtual charter schools to avoid further legal issues.
  • Page 10 – Students who take an EOI in Middle School Grades – Let’s say some of Rob’s middle school kids take the Algebra I EOI and do well. This section clarifies that in addition to the middle school getting credit for the scores, when the student matriculates to 9th grade, Jenks Freshman Academy will also receive credit for the scores. This is a boon for high schools, if I’m interpreting correctly. The document does not clarify, however, what will happen with middle schools that lose 7th or 8th grade math scores from students who will no longer double test. Maybe we should just count their EOIs twice. We count our lowest-performing students three times, after all.
  • Page 15 – Student Growth – This section clarifies which tests are used for student growth. Only the 3-8 reading and math tests, the Algebra I tests, and the English II tests will be used to calculate growth.  On one hand, this makes sense. You wouldn’t want to calculate growth between algebra and geometry tests. They are totally different standards. On the other hand, you’re really not calculating growth for the vast majority of high school. As such, all aspects of the student growth component for high schools completely lack meaning.
  • Page 20 – Bottom 25 Percent Student Growth – This is where the SDE decision to count groups of ten really comes into play. Many small schools lacked the number of students for this calculation last year. They will count now, and the results will be all over the place.
  • Page 25 – Bonus Points – The technical manual reminds schools that the bonus points are all or nothing. Think about that for a minute. If an elementary school has 94.00 attendance, it receives 10 bonus points – a whole letter grade.  If it slips to 93.99, it gets nothing. The negligible difference between the two schools would be the difference between an A and a B. Or between a C and a D perhaps.
  • Page 38 – Glossary – This is the only place the technical manual discusses the fact that Full Academic Year now begins October 1st. So 94 percent attendance is required or you lose a letter grade, but students can miss the first 6 to 8 weeks of school and still count as FAY. Freaking brilliant!

I find the last paragraph of the memo amusing. This information is for school officials, not parents. The SDE has a habit of underestimating their ability to grasp details like this.

This superficial accountability system is the cornerstone of the Barresi administration. This is their third attempt to get it right. At least they’re starting early this time.

Poking the Bear

October 5, 2013 Comments off

I still can’t imagine what compelled Superintendent Barresi and the State Department of Education to take on Jenks Public Schools and JMS Principal Rob Miller. He didn’t break any laws; he just hurt some feelings. He empowered one of the most active parent groups in the state with information. They chose not to participate in all the field tests given by the state. That was their right.

As Miller pointed out on his blog, the SDE’s investigation didn’t even include interviews with school personnel or parents. It consisted entirely of emails provided by the district. That’s hardly due diligence.

Now Diane Ravitch has jumped in, defending Miller. This story is going national.

Good luck with that.

In Defense of Opt Outs

October 4, 2013 8 comments

This might be one of those times the SDE wants to change directions and pretend they never led with the wrong foot in the first place.

In case you missed it, yesterday the Tulsa World reported on the SDE’s investigation into the number of parents in Jenks who opted their children out of non-scored, non-accountability field tests this spring. In particular, they target Rob Miller, principal of Jenks Middle School (and fellow blogger). He responded to the article last night.

I encourage you to read both the World article, as well as Miller’s blog post. This is a critical issue that shows how Superintendent Barresi views school districts, educators, and even parents.

Here is the gist of the case, as reported:

Jenks Public Schools participated in and encouraged a movement to opt students out of field tests last April, an Oklahoma State Department of Education investigation found.

In a July 7 report provided to the Tulsa World this week in response to an open records request, the state said it had evidence that Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller “initiated a movement to opt out ‘teachers and students’ from all field tests administered at Jenks Middle School. This occurred while on ‘school time’ and through school district email,” the report says.

“Furthermore, State Board of Education’s rules and regulations relating to the administration of tests may be implicated — depending on the content or manner in which information was provided to non-district personnel. … This is an issue of fact that can only be determined through further investigation or an administrative hearing.”

I’d love to see the full report, but what it will lack is a link between the actions of Jenks personnel – including Miller – and any statutory violations. Here are a few points he made about the investigation:

1. Every student at Jenks Middle School was properly scheduled for a test session for every assessment required by state law. Students with parents who chose to opt their child out of the field test(s) were given multiple opportunities to take these tests.

2. Only students with a signed letter from a parent were permitted to opt-out of a field test. No students were excused from participation in any operational test.

3. The school worked with the parents to create an opt-out letter using a template from a national opt-out organization. This was done to ensure that we had a consistent communication for documentation purposes.

4. No staff member asked or encouraged any student to opt-out. On the contrary, we repeatedly encouraged students to participate in all state mandated tests.

5. I did not coerce or encourage Ms. Barnes or any other parent to initiate an opt-out campaign. Ms. Barnes brought the topic up to me after getting increasing frustrated at the amount of unnecessary testing to which her child was subjected. Our parents sent information to other parents using a private email account. The school did not distribute the opt-out letters or information about the initiative with parents; rather these parents were directed to contact Ms. Barnes.

6. No one provided any information about the field tests that wasn’t available on the SDE’s own webpage. The Geography and US History tests were known to be field tests in early October. Teachers and students knew they would not receive a score from these tests and that the results would not affect the school’s accountability measures. Likewise, teachers and students were told that one of the two Writing tests would be a field test. How did they figure out which one was the field test? It wasn’t difficult. The directions in the test administrators’ booklet for the Writing field test clearly stated to students, “You are about to take the FIELD TEST for writing.” Duh!

This investigation is nothing more than an attempt to bully people into complying and shutting up. Miller is within his rights to inform parents both what is required and what is allowed. Barresi loves to claim that she respects parents. Her whole reform agenda is framed to appear centered around giving them choices. As I wrote in May when this investigation started, her actions prove otherwise.

I also think this is a huge tactical mistake by the SDE. Jenks has great success in academics. Jenks has great success in athletics and other school activities. Jenks has some of the most active, involved parents in the state. I don’t think an elected official who is over her head running a state agency that’s losing credibility by the day is wise to take these parents on, especially when she is hemorrhaging in the polls in her bid for re-election.

This may end up being Barresi’s proverbial “land war in Asia.”

Maybe that’s why the report was completed in July, but only made public after the World submitted an open records request.

Side note: Rather than complaining to the paper’s editorial board about perceived unfair coverage, Barresi and the SDE should refrain from insulting and persecuting the districts in northeast Oklahoma.

Oklahoma educators need to understand two things: (1) If you oppose the SDE, they will try to come after you. (2) They are prone to overreach.

Oklahoma parents need to understand quite a few things, but one thing in particular regarding this situation: Your collective voice will drive the change we need in education. That starts with changing the state superintendent. It also includes changing the culture of high-stakes, low-validity testing. It includes pressuring legislators to fully fund mandates and support teachers with more than lip service.

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