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We Trust Parents, Except When We Don’t

Today’s Tulsa World explains that the SDE’s probe into the tomfoolery in Jenks regarding parents opting out of field tests (tests that do not count for students or schools) has turned up nothing of substance. Rather, it began when a parent, local PTA president Deedra Barnes, decided that she didn’t think Jenks students needed to be “unpaid subjects by CTB/McGraw-Hill.”

When we first learned about the investigation, we did not know much about its origins. Now we do:

Under the state’s Open Records Act, the World obtained numerous documents from the Oklahoma State Department of Education this week about the opt-out event, including the Jenks internal investigative report and emails among state officials about the issue.

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.

When you begin an investigation with the outcome already in mind, you preclude yourself from other possibilities. Barresi believed that the parental opt-out movement was “orchestrated” by the principal. The SDE had even begun to explore ways to punish school officials who might have been involved:

On April 11, Richey sent Barresi an email suggesting that the department submit an open records request to Jenks for any communication among Miller, Lehman and Barnes about testing.

“While I’m sure the district will conduct a thorough investigation, I would like to see directly what conversation occurred prior to Mr. Miller’s actions,” Richey wrote.

She noted that the department shouldn’t respond to Lehman’s email with details of their concerns so he wouldn’t know what legal basis “we may use to take action later down the road.”

Any case to be made and disciplinary action should come before the state Board of Education, Richey wrote, adding that she was researching the basis for possible license revocations for employees found to be involved.

You read that correctly. The SDE was exploring the legality of revoking teaching licenses in the event that any school staff were found to have been involved in the movement. Never mind that nothing about opting out of field tests is illegal or unethical. They were simply saying they didn’t want to play. Rather than accepting that parents get sick of the testing nonsense, Barresi and company assumed something nefarious and looked for people to punish.

The funny thing to me is that most of the time, Barresi tells schools to trust parents.

So what did the investigation find? Nothing. And of course finding nothing means nothing. There can be conspiracies without paper trails. In fact those are the best kind. Especially when you’re suffering from paranoid delusions.

And what did the SDE report to the public about the outcome of the investigation? Nothing. Because the only thing that the people in charge there hate worse than not getting their way all the time is being proven wrong. Technically, this is not a closed case.

This is nothing but a vendetta (and if an investigation of the SDE proved differently…well, I just wouldn’t believe it). The SDE gets more push back on its initiatives from Jenks than from any other school district in the state. For a leader who says local control and parental choice are important, Barresi sure isn’t showing it here.

World of Jenks

No, the title isn’t a reference to the marginally popular MTV show of the same name; it’s a statement about the obsession that the SDE and the Oklahoman editorial page have with Jenks Public Schools.

I’ve commented before on editorials that randomly take shots at Jenks. This time, it’s the SDE opening an investigation because too many parents opted their children out of field tests. They want to make sure the school didn’t coax the parents into the opt out movement. From the Tulsa World:

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.

It seems to me the SDE is more concerned about not compromising this witch hunt than they are with the extent to which the whole test process has been compromised. Typically, they only investigate irregularities such as excessive erasure marks. This is altogether different.Why do they find it hard to believe that a group of parents would object to field testing? They send their children to school to learn – not to serve as unpaid subjects of a testing company.

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