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Posts Tagged ‘Joy Hofmeister’

We’re cutting again; Now it’s #yourturn

February 23, 2017 15 comments

GR Failure 2.23.17.png

This afternoon, I received the following email from the State Superintendent about finances:

Dear Superintendent,

The General Revenue (GR) failure that was announced on February 21, 2017, has affected the FY2017 Midyear State Aid Allocation. Based on the FY2017 adjusted budget approved by the State Board of Education, we have reduced the funding formula’s GR portion by $7,270,161.

The adjusted funding formula allocation has also been reduced by the projected shortfall in the Education Reform Revolving Fund (1017 Fund) by $39,151,255, for a total cut to the formula allocation of $46,421,416. The adjusted allocation has been posted on the State Department of Education’s Single Sign On (SSO) application under Allocation Notices at https://sdeweb01.sde.ok.gov/SSO2/Signin.aspx.

Additionally, there will likely be a shortfall in the Common Education Technology Fund before the end of the fiscal year. We are closely monitoring the fund and will make necessary adjustments to the allocation in the coming months.

The new adjusted midyear allocation (02/23/17) has a factor of $3,008.60, which decreased by $42.00 from the FY2017 Midyear Allocation of $3,050.60 on January 4, 2017. A comparison report and all of the documentation (reports) will be posted on the State Aid web page athttp://sde.ok.gov/sde/state-aid by Friday, February 24, 2017. Your allocation may be modified as other conditions change.

The Flexible Benefit Allowance (FBA) funding has also been cut by the GR failure in the amount of $3,094,213, but we are able to maintain the allocation without any cuts to the Jan. 1 count adjustment (02/24/17) at this time.

Thank you for the work you do each day to serve your students and communities.  These are difficult times which will require strong leadership at every level within districts and at the OSDE. Please let me know how we might offer greater support or assistance to you in the coming weeks and months.

Where should I start? How about by telling you what these cuts mean to one district with 14,300 students.

General Fund Loss $961,431
Anticipated Tech Fund Loss $336,501
Total FY 17 Loss $1,297,932

That’s about 25 teaching positions (once you factor in benefits and employer taxes). That’s a reading or math textbook adoption for the entire district. Or 14school buses. Or a safe room. Or hundreds of new computers. Or a new roof on a wing of an old building.

That’s money the state told us we’d have available to serve our students this year. We don’t. That’s why we’re planning a bond issue that will take care of some of those costs.

Through the first three weeks of the legislative session, we’ve seen the Senate Education Committee look for ways to provide funding for private schools, in the form of vouchers. We’ve seen a pointless bill requiring students to pass a citizenship test before they can graduate. We’ve seen a bill that would term limit school board members (who are volunteers) and a bill to cap superintendent salaries. We’ve even seen a plethora of teacher pay raise bills, all with no funding source.

What we haven’t seen is a plan that addresses the fundamental revenue shortfalls that cause budgets to fail and all state agencies to reduce services.

This is the third year in a row that the state has seen a massive budget shortfall. It’s the second year in a row with a general revenue failure.

I believe the Capitol has many elected officials who mean well. There are also some who keep telling district leaders that we have to be willing to give something up, to become more efficient.

We cut over $5 million from our budget last year. Here we go again.

Your turn.

Bills about five-day weeks won’t change per pupil funding. Bills about consolidation won’t change per pupil funding. If you consolidated all the schools in Cimarron County into one district, Mid-Del wouldn’t get one more dollar. Nor would Tulsa. Or Miami. Or Chickasha. Or Woodward. Or Poteau. We still will have x dollars over y students. It’s simple math.

Don’t pass a teacher raise if you can’t fund it. Don’t neglect the operational costs we’ve been cutting for years and say you’ve “helped schools.”

Educators and parents: please take to social media and share #yourturn stories. What are you buying or raising money for that schools should be buying? What have the cuts of recent years looked like for you?

Elected leaders: Do something. #FixThisNow

And so it starts…

January 11, 2017 1 comment

A year ago at this time, we were just beginning to learn the depths of our state’s revenue failure. The state had declared a revenue failure, which began a series of cuts for school districts everywhere. It’s not just that we knew we’d have less money for the following school year; no, we had to make cuts right away.

I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Today, superintendents around Oklahoma had a serious sense of déjà vu.

shortfall memo.png

In case you can’t read the image, it’s a memo from Superintendent Hofmeister letting us know of a funding shortfall (which is different than a revenue failure). Here’s the key part:

Based on the December revenue collections, the 1017 Fund is approximately $11.7 million or 3.5 percent below the estimate. The total January deposits are approximately $9.7 million short of the funds needed to make the scheduled payment in full.

At this time, for payment purposes, instead of reallocating State Aid Allocations statewide, we will reduce the percentage of payment based on available cash.

  • For Financial Support of Schools (State Aid formula funding), we are only able to pay 8.47 percentthis month instead of the scheduled 9 percent (a 0.53 percent payment reduction).
  • The January accumulated percentageof the latest allocation is 53.47 percent.
  • To calculate your state aid payment, multiply the accumulated percentage by the most recent allocation and then subtract the amount paid to date. The result is the amount of payment for each month.
  • The effective date for the January payment remains Thursday, January 12, 2017.
  • At this time, all other line items continue to be paid at the scheduled accumulated percentage.

We will continue to look at each month’s cash revenue and re-evaluate our course of action on a monthly basis.

School districts receive 11 monthly state aid payments. They are uneven. There is no July payment. The August payment is eight percent of the overall state aid. September and May are ten percent. The other months are nine percent.

Wait, that’s a lot of numerical verbiage. Let me try it in a table.

Month % of State Aid Received Month % of State Aid Received
July 0% January 9%
August 8% February 9%
September 10% March 9%
October 9% April 9%
November 9% May 10%
December 9% June 9%

For the first six months of this fiscal year, we received the payments we expected to receive. The memo today tells us our January payment will be short.

It will be on time, but it will be short. The shortage will be different for each district, but our payment will be about $281,000 less than we were expecting.

And that’s just January. We don’t know if this fund will be short again next month, or maybe every month for the rest of the fiscal year.

And we don’t know about other funds.

And we don’t know if the state will declare revenue failure again this year.

What I know is that we cut over $5 million from our budget this year and elimnated about 100 jobs. Yet somehow, we’re still taking on water.

That’s why I hate the question, “How can school districts save money?” We’re already doing that. And the people who work for us are busy exploring their options.

At the semester, we had a teacher leave us to take a job in a correctional facility. That’s the most re-tweeted tweet I’ve ever tweeted. Apparently that struck a nerve with people. It did with me. That’s why I tweeted it.

It also struck a nerve when the editorial writers at the Oklahoman tried to make sense of Rep. Kevin Calvey’s press release about Superintendent Hofmeister’s budget request. Their synthesis only made things worse.

Bureaucrats seldom volunteer to embrace efficiency and often resort to doomsday rhetoric when changes to the status quo are proposed. The problems noted with the Department of Education’s budget request won’t be unique among state agencies.

Whether we volunteered for it or not, whether we’re embracing it or not, we’re becoming more efficient. As for the doomsday rhetoric, I’ll refer you to today’s memo and to the teacher leaving us for a correctional facility.

Teachers want raises. They also want to have manageable class sizes. Oh, and they want current instructional materials. Technology that works would be nice too. It’s the little things.

Today, I don’t feel like blaming anyone. I don’t feel like calling out particular politicians who I think have contributed to a climate in which all functions of state government are suffering.

I also don’t feel like being told we need to be more efficient.

A few legislators get it.

A few isn’t enough. Today, we bleed a little more. Next month? I don’t want to think about that yet. I’m just waiting on the weather to possibly give us another four-day week.

icemageddon.png

One way or another, we have to make ends meet, right?

One more chance to get it right

December 13, 2016 2 comments

Critics of Oklahoma’s current A-F Report Card accountability system (including me) typically have two complaints about the system. First is that the methodology is poor. Half the score is simply a rendering of the percentage of students passing tests – which is closely tied to poverty; the other half is tied to growth. In measuring growth, we’re also double counting our lowest-performing students. In other words, our students who struggle the most count a total of three times.

The other issue many of us have is with the A-F label we ultimately attach to each school. It’s insulting to distill all the work schools do into a single indicator. Even though A-F is not explicitly a ranking system, much of the public assumes that an A school is better than a B school. Context be damned. A is better than B. Always.

For these reasons, the Legislature tasked the Oklahoma State Department of Education with leading a task force to make recommendations for improving school accountability prior to the end of this calendar year. As directed, the OSDE brought together “students, parents, educators, organizations representing students with disabilities and English language learners, higher education professionals, career technology educators, experts in assessment and accountability, community-based organizations, tribal representatives, and businesses and community leaders.”

The task force met four times and provided the OSDE with feedback. The last of these meetings was on November 9th. On November 28th, the US Department of Education changed one key piece of the federal requirements under which we have to operate. We no longer have to have a summative score. The task force never met after that one requirement was removed.

It’s important to note that we don’t know how the task force conversation would have sounded if they could have discussed revising our accountability system with this piece of information. I doubt the different constituency groups would have been unanimous in their feelings on A-F Report Cards, or any other type of summative score. We also can’t know what the OSDE would have done with the feedback, even if it had been given. Task force members gathered to provide feedback only. They were not a voting body with any kind of decision-making authority.

To be clear, this is not a criticism of the work that has been done or the leadership under which the task force has worked. Superintendent Hofmeister and her staff expertly led this process. The lead researcher, Marianne Perie, from the University of Kansas, was thorough and good at explaining statistical processes to an audience with a varied background in that kind of work. Ultimately, the methodology of the accountability system being presented to the State Board of Education this week is solid. It will likely yield results that are not singularly correlated to poverty.

The end product is good, and an improvement over the current accountability system. That solves half of the problem from paragraph one. The other half remains – that schools will still receive a summative score.

I’ve always bristled at the idea that we need to label our schools this way. By always, I mean from the moment I began writing this blog nearly five years ago. I don’t think a star rating system would be much better. School accountability isn’t Yelp, or this strange sign I found in China a few years ago.

star-rated-toilet

I believe in accountability and transparency. Publish our schools’ test scores. Publish any data point you want. Just provide context. A summative score doesn’t do that. No matter how much detail is on the OSDE website for each school, the newspapers will skip to the end and publish the thing that’s easiest to consume. Calling A-F accountability, though, is like calling Velveeta cheese. It’s an accountability-like substance.

Recently, a couple of Mid-Del employees put together a list of all the schools in the five largest counties in the state and sorted them by grade span and by poverty. For example, one table showed all the elementary schools that have between 25% and 35% of student receiving free or reduced lunch (FRL). Of the 23 schools in that table, Mid-Del had one, and it had the highest numerical score on the current A-F system.

schwartz

Compared with similar schools, Schwartz Elementary has outstanding academic performance, however you measure it. On the other end of the spectrum, there were 60 elementary schools on the list with an FRL rate at or above 95%. We had one such school, and it had a 68 on the report card. That’s a D+, and it’s higher than 53 of the other schools on the list.

Numerical Grade Distribution of Elementary Schools with at least 95% FRL
70-78 5
60-69 11
50-59 23
40-49 13
33-39 8

Let that sink in. No school in the five largest counties in the state with higher than 95% FRL had a numerical grade higher than a 78. Meanwhile, none of the schools in the 25% to 35% range had a score lower than 80. Does this mean that all schools serving mostly upper-middle class kids are better than all schools serving the kids with the highest levels of poverty? Of course not.

This is the thing I hate – the labels. If you provide most people with this entire view, they’ll get it. An A on a report card may be misleading. So may an F. Even though the new accountability system will do more to provide context, the summative grade will damage that effort.

A-F Report Cards feed a narrative. They are one of the most toxic pieces of the recent education reform agenda. They blur the difference between simple and simplistic.

Please understand that I hope the State Board of Education this week will recognize the hard work of the state superintendent, her staff, and the entire task force. Regardless of how they see the A-F labels, they need to recognize the quality of the work that is being presented to them. I hope the legislature and governor will recognize this too.

2015 Year in Review (Part II)

December 22, 2015 1 comment

Yesterday, I shot down memory lane through the first part of 2015, when everything was unicorns and rainbows, and we were going to save public education with one new elected official and a whole lot of blogging and phone calls.

Murica

It was, as my Boston friends say, wicked awesome. Well, January through June were. The blog post was self-indulgent, but then again, on some level, isn’t all blogging?

Anyhoo…on to the second half of the year…

July: “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” – Malcolm Gladwell, Tipping Point

The quote above pretty much sums up the EdCamp experience at the OSDE summer conference. It was the largest EdCamp in the history of the universe, including the countries that Steve Harvey got wrong Saturday night.

It was the perfect lead-in to EngageOK, Superintendent Hofmeister’s re-branded summer conference. It was nice to spend a few days with teachers and administrators from other districts, OSDE staff, and many other people interested in driving education in Oklahoma forward. It was even nicer to do so without the constant insults we were used to enduring from the previous office-holder.

More than anything, this week showed all of us the power of collegiality. None of us have to be the one person with the brilliant idea. We work together. We build from each other’s thoughts. We improve each other’s ideas and become unstoppable.

Then at the end of the month, we started to see the incredible number of emergency certifications being granted by the state. In case you missed it, in July, the State Board of Education handed out 182 emergency teaching certificates. These are people who didn’t go through a teacher preparation program or qualify for alternative certification.

Keep in mind that the state offers nine pathways to certification before you have to look at emergency certification. This is truly a last ditch effort. At the same time, our job as leaders is to support these teachers as well as we can. We don’t care how you came to be a teacher. We just want to help you be good at it.

Unfortunately, this group is less likely than any of the others to stay beyond a full year. In fact, many don’t even make it through the first year. Even more unfortunate is the fact that we are now close to hitting 1,000 emergency certifications for the school year – and it’s only December.

One other notable thing happened in July, but it was personal. For the second time this year, I stepped way outside my comfort zone. First was when I revealed my identity on the blog in January. This time, I left a job I absolutely loved in Moore as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction to become superintendent for Mid-Del Public Schools. After five months, I feel I’ve traded one love for another. I’ve never worked this hard in my life, but I also feel closer to teachers and students than I have in years. It’s not one of the easiest gigs, but I feel as if I was made for it. I just hope that feeling remains mutual.

Besides, it’s fun.

August: “I say there is no darkness but ignorance.” – William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Well, crap. I just re-read the post I wrote before sending my daughter out-of-state to college. In spite of the low traffic it received, a close friend told me it’s the best thing I ever wrote. I guess if we’re doing this right, we save our best for our kids.

She’s back from the first semester now, and more…what’s the word? Aware? Maybe that’s it. Her worldview is changing. She’s part who we raised her to be and part what her passions drive her to be. It’s a pretty good mix. Excuse me for a minute. I’m going to pause and listen to Vienna again.

“…take the phone off the hook…” Good one, Billy Joel! What is this, the 70s?

On the #oklaed front, this was the month our kids came back to school. As a state, we’re up 50,000 students since 2008. Funding hasn’t kept pace. Teacher salaries haven’t moved in that time. The mandates have kept coming.

Superintendent Hofmeister made a big splash this month, announcing that she would spend $1.5 million of the OSDE’s allocation to pay for all juniors to take the ACT. Naturally, she met opposition from the usual suspects.

Joy’s press release listed several great reasons why this is a good thing. It included support from Deb Gist and Rob Neu:

The superintendents of Oklahoma’s two largest school districts said this program is great news for their respective students.

“I applaud this effort by state Superintendent Hofmeister and the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Offering the ACT for free to all juniors in Oklahoma will provide invaluable information on individual students and districts; this information is crucial as we retool our curriculum standards to meet the needs of all students,” said Rob Neu, superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools.

“It’s also a benefit to families who want their children to have a successful future after high school; families shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they can afford to take the ACT, this pilot program will lift that financial burden and allow students to focus on this very important achievement test.”

“We are grateful to the state of Oklahoma for providing the ACT exam to our 11th graders through this pilot program,” said Superintendent Deborah A. Gist of Tulsa Public Schools. “Experiencing the ACT is an important opportunity for all students, and this pilot will increase equity, as it will be available to all high school juniors this school year. We welcome the opportunity to use a highly-regarded and widely-used measure of college and career readiness to provide all kids with access to a better future.”

For the record, the superintendent of the 10th largest district agrees.

September: “They use everything about the hog except the squeal.” – Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

It’s funny. I’ve been blogging for close to four years, and it still seems that my guest posts are more popular than the things I write. I knew that UCO professor Dan Vincent had put something strong together when he sent me an email that started with, I’m a public school parent, and I’m pissed off. My first thought was, Stand in line, buddy. So I posted it on my blog, and within days, it was the most popular post ever on okeducationtruths – by nearly 10,000 page views.

Apparently, eight months into what was supposed to be our education perestroika, we still had a little angst. Dan wrote:

We know that money matters and we know that teaching climate matters. Legislative leaders have tremendous power over both and have done little to nothing to create REAL SOLUTIONS for teachers. In fact, I am not big on conspiracy theories but I am now seriously thinking our legislative leaders are purposefully making a teacher’s life miserable so they can justify their own policies meant to ‘help’ the problems in education—problems they have created with the war on teachers. And this is all being done TO OUR KIDS.

We also know that we’re fighting the same fights, day after day, month after month, year after year. Three months later,  I still agree with Dan’s seven proposals to solve the teacher shortage problem:

  1. First and foremost, do your part tofix the educational climate in Oklahoma. Stop the blame game and be real about solutions to our teacher shortage. Ask the educational leaders in our state (who are really informed about the issues they see firsthand) for input and take it seriously.
  2. Stop the High Stakes Testing(found in the RSA, the ACE, the TLE, the A-F). This would also save some money on administrative overhead and ink for signing RSA documents.
  3. Seriouslyrework the TLE. It is well known that value added measures are junk science yet our state leaders insist they can work. This could also save money by reducing administrative overhead.
  4. Stop the A-F charade. OU and OSU put together a prettygood summary of the charade. And this also could reduce administrative overhead.
  5. Publiclysupport teachers, but more importantly seek out educational leaders so your public support can be turned into fully-informed legislative action.
  6. Develop a workable plan toincrease teacher pay. Money matters. Our state invests public money to support the STEM industry and others. Let’s get real about how to invest in the profession that can support all industry.
  7. EitherUNMANDATE or FULLY FUND. There are many unfunded mandates placed on schools and this solution could both create a better climate in schools AND free up money that could be used on teacher salaries. One good example would be to eliminate the ACE graduation requirement.

These are all important steps towards solving the teacher shortage. And no matter what Speaker Hickman says, it’s a real thing.

October: “Pride had given way at last, obstinacy was gone: the will was powerless.” – Emmuska Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel

October was pretty uneventful. Nothing really happened. Well, the OSDE released the fourth edition of the A-F Report Cards, but as I said before, nothing happened. Really, nothing. Apparently, I was busy. I didn’t even mention them on the blog. I did, however, along with a group of hundreds of other superintendents co-sign a letter calling the accountability measures useless.

More importantly, I loved Superintendent Hofmeister’s statement about the release:

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister has indicated she has no confidence in the validity or reliability of the report cards in their current framework. The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) determines the grades using a formula that had been mandated by a 2013 state law. The OSDE supports strong accountability for education, but problems with the A-F Report Cards have seriously undermined the system’s credibility. Even the U.S. Department of Education has criticized the report cards and required modifications as a condition for receiving the No Child Left Behind waiver.

We will probably have the A-F Report Cards, in their current format for one more year. Huge changes are on the horizion. That is, unless someone blocks huge changes, and what we get is merely window dressing.

November: “Some people could look at a mud puddle and see an ocean with ships.” – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Halloween, we were all discussing pennies. Specifically, we were discussing OU President David Boren’s proposal for a statewide penny sales tax to fund education. I never came out and said I loved the idea, but I haven’t seen a better one.

Here’s the problem: education funding (through the formula) is down cumulatively about $900 million over the past eight years. Now, the state faces an overall shortfall for 2016 that is at least that big.

Oklahoma school districts face a cut to per-pupil funding, beginning in January, and lasting through the rest of this fiscal year. The 2016-17 school year budget will be even worse. These are two things we just know.

So why not discuss a penny sales tax? If you don’t like the idea, come up with a better one. Or don’t vote for it.

Of course, first, penny sales tax proponents have to clear the legal hurdle of what should be ruled a frivolous legal challenge to reach the ballot at all:

Then again, one of the OCPA’s side ventures has filed suit – against the reigning State Teacher of the Year, among others – claiming the Boren plan violates the Oklahoma Constitution. In short, they claim the initiative constitutes a “textbook example of logrolling.” By logrolling, the plaintiffs mean that the proposal violates the state’s single issue rule. The fact of the matter is that the proposal is for one thing – a penny sales tax, and what should be done with the proceeds of that penny. The plaintiffs know this. Then again, as I said, they have a long, long history of trying to block all things that would benefit public education.

The State Supreme Court heard the challenge in December. Hopefully, a ruling will come soon. Oklahomans should have the right to vote either for or against this.

December: “How did you go bankrupt?” … “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

It’s December. It’s the end of the year. We still have a budget crisis, and now, our leaders, elected an otherwise, have put their own spin on it.

Oklahoma Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger called the billion dollar shortfall an “opportunity.”

Those who crafted the state budget in May left out one key ingredient: reality. And it has come back to haunt us.

Meanwhile, we’re still fighting the voucher battle. And Congress and the President have finally replaced NCLB with ESSA, which actually is an opportunity – if our Legislature will seize upon that.

The biggest splash of the month, though, came from my former boss, and a few old friends in Moore.

They state simply and clearly the problems we really face. Teachers want what’s best for their students, but they also want what’s best for themselves and their families. They shouldn’t have to choose.


In Part III, I’ll look back at top posts from the year, and a few of my favorites that didn’t really get the clicks on WordPress. In Part IV, I’ll talk about 2016.

One Year Later: How Far We’ve Come

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year, but it has. On June 24, 2014, Oklahoma voters not only elevated Joy Hofmeister over the incumbent state superintendent; they did so with a more decisive margin than any of us had imagined. Many of us went into the day worried that Hofmeister would fall just short of the 50% tally necessary to avoid an expensive run-off election. As the evening unfolded, Hofmeister not only won the primary, she comfortably surpassed 50. Furthermore, if she had faced a run-off election, it wouldn’t have been against the incumbent. Janet Barresi had finished in third.

Among the Democrats in the race, voters had narrowed the choices to two. John Cox would eventually defeat Freda Deskin in a late summer run-off. Then something amazing happened. Hofmeister and Cox went around Oklahoma debating one another. In public. Pretty much everywhere. It was one of the most civil things I had seen in politics in a long time. When I finally saw them at Westmoore High School in October, the general election was but a few weeks away. By then, they probably didn’t have many surprises left for one another. Most of the discussions were on point. A few barbs by each were political in nature, but very few. It was largely a substantive discussion.

SIDE NOTE: I had this picture in the back of my head of the two of them driving all over the state in an old VW van continuing their debates as they moved from stop to stop. Yes, I know that’s not how it all happened, but don’t ruin this for me.

Meanwhile, Barresi had more than six months remaining in her term. During that time, she continued the work of the previous 42 months. The only difference was that more of us were speaking out against her. She defended herself rather crassly at the Vision 2020 conference. She created a crony position for an in-house investigator who paraded around Oklahoma trying to intimidate leaders in various district. Board members called her out. She swore at one of them. Even on her last day in office, she fired people pretty much just because she could.

At noon on January 12, Hofmeister took office. She then had an open house at the SDE to greet people and set a new tone for her upcoming administration. The big WELCOME #OKLAED banner in front of the building did that. As I chatted with several old friends, we all expressed optimism.

For me, that feeling hasn’t faded.

Superintendent Hofmeister has had some early victories in her administration. She eliminated the field test for fifth and eighth grade writing and announced that the prompt would ask students to write in the narrative mode. A few months later, when the tests came back with the exact same problems as last year, she wasted no time in announcing that the scores wouldn’t count in the A-F Report Card calculations. Last year, if you’ll recall, it took an entire tortured summer for Barresi to finally make that decision.

To me, the most impressive thing she’s done, is gather her assessment team and get Measured Progress to change the practice of a student’s score range appearing on the screen after finishing each state test. She did it quickly. Most Oklahomans were appreciative.

She worked with legislators to try to curb testing. If it hadn’t been for a few in leadership positions, they would have been able to eliminate the writing tests.

This needs to happen, by the way. Nobody values writing instruction more than I do. Lousy prompts on lousy tests lead to dubious writing that is scored by temporary labor who are poorly trained and poorly compensated.

Hofmeister even came to the rally at the Capitol in March and has continued fighting to curb the teacher shortage. At times, it has seemed as if her ideas are left hanging in mid-air because we still have the same governor, representatives, and senators we had before. She hasn’t won every political fight for us, but it was only the first year.

She still has some critics on the fringe of each party. Many of them hold dearly to petty, perceived slights and are susceptible to every conspiracy theory they can imagine. It’s to be expected.

The Oklahoman also hasn’t warmed up to Hofmeister, but then again, they still have Barresi’s first campaign manager’s husband writing editorials. Similarly, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs continues pushing back against her and all things public education. Expecting something different would be like asking the sun not to shine.

In spite of this, I do still feel optimistic. More importantly, I feel respected. I feel that my profession and the children we are passionate to serve have a voice – and that her voice will only become more influential during the next several years.

Going back a year – actually, a year and two days – I hosted the Sunday night #oklaed chat and asked several questions about the primary election. I want to share a few responses to the second question, which was, “What should a new state superintendent do on day one in office.”

Yes, there were a few snarky, Paul Lynde “center-square” type answers in there, but most were along the lines of inviting parents and educators to the SDE (done) and helping remaining SDE staff understand their role as a true service agency (visible progress on that front).

A year has made a huge difference. I’m still excited. I owe that feeling to Joy Hofmeister and the people of this state who decided a year ago that they had seen enough.

Third Grade Reading Scores – Pick a Headline

Today is the day that many third graders, their parents, and their schools have been anticipating. Schools now have online access to student scores on this year’s third grade reading (featuring language arts) test. The data portal seems to have worked for administrators retrieving results, and statewide, scores are up from last year.

For fun, let’s play a matching game. In the box below, on the left are three headlines. On the right are the sources of each. Try to guess which came from where.

Headline Source
Slight improvement seen in state third-grade reading test scores Oklahoma State Department of Education
More than 7,000 Oklahoma third-graders failed reading test, face retention Tulsa World
At least 85% of state’s third-graders pass to next grade under RSA The Oklahoman

This is the fun thing about data. All of these things are true. Let’s see how each source framed today’s results.

From the OSDE:

osde rsa

From the Tulsa World:

tulsa world rsa

From the Oklahoman:

jokelahoman rsa

How did you do? If you thought that the OSDE would have the most positive approach and that the Oklahoman the most negative, you’d have been right. Also, keep in mind that the writers don’t typically write their own headlines.

Here’s the rest of Superintendent Hofmeister’s press release:

At least 85 percent of Oklahoma third-graders pass to next grade under Reading Sufficiency Act

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 15, 2015) — Preliminary results from this school year’s third-grade Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT) reading test indicate that at least 85 percent will be promoted to the next grade.

Out of more than 50,000 test-takers, 67 percent statewide scored “Proficient,” while 14.6 percent scored “Unsatisfactory.”

Preliminary results are as follows:

  • Unsatisfactory: 14.6 percent
  • Limited Knowledge: 15.9 percent
  • Proficient: 67 percent
  • Advanced: 2.5 percent

Under the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA), third-grade students who score “Unsatisfactory” on the assessment and fail to meet an exemption are subject to retention for intensive remediation in reading. Students who score “Limited Knowledge” are not held back, but must receive reading remediation in fourth grade.

However, students have multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery in the area of reading.

  • According to the RSA law, “any student who demonstrates proficiency on a screening instrument which meets the acquisition of reading skills criteria shall not be subject to the retention guidelines.”
  • Students can be evaluated with one of seven good-cause exemptions.
  • Probationary reading teams consisting of parents and teachers can meet to determine retention or promotion for students who scored “Unsatisfactory.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said renewed focus on reading as a result of RSA has shown signs of improvement among Oklahoma’s third-graders.

“Literacy is critical for success in academics and throughout life, and the RSA plays a valuable role in ensuring that skill,” she said.

“While these numbers are preliminary and will change slightly, it appears the percentage of ‘Unsatisfactory’ has decreased. And more students evidently scored ‘Limited Knowledge,’ showing improvement between ‘Unsatisfactory’ and ‘Limited Knowledge.’

“But it is important to remember, too, that the current third-grade OCCT test given to satisfy federal test requirements was not designed to measure reading level the way it is being used for RSA. Instead, a valid reading test should include five essential elements: fluency, phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary and reading comprehension.

“For this reason it is very important that students who did not pass the OCCT reading test now be assessed by an RSA committee. These panels will examine other specific reading evidence to determine the need for retention or targeted intervention for next year. As these committees are essential to ensuring success, I urge the Legislature to keep their voices in the RSA process.”

The RSA committees are scheduled to dissolve at the end of the current school year unless lawmakers pass legislation to extend their existence. Additionally, lawmakers are considering a measure that would include “Limited Knowledge” students under the provisions of RSA. This year, for example, that would mean an additional 7,900 students evaluated for possible retention.

Over the next few weeks, school districts are required to contact parents and legal custodians of students who scored “Unsatisfactory” and determine the most effective course of action for these children.

Approximately two-thirds of students who scored “Unsatisfactory” are English Language Learners, on an Individualized Education Program (IEP), or both. That same designation also applies to roughly 39 percent of test-takers who scored “Limited Knowledge.”

Hofmeister’s words make me want to reiterate several important points that I’ve made at other times:

  • Scores have improved (slightly, as the World indicates) from last year.
  • This test is a poor measurement of reading ability.
  • The RSA promotion committees have worked well around the state.
  • Doubling the number of students in the promotion/retention committees dilutes the work needed for our most struggling students.
  • Without the RSA committees, we will be retaining special education students and those just learning to speak English at highly disproportionate levels.

This is why we all need to be aware of ongoing legislative discussions. Senate bill 630 is out of conference committee. The Legislature’s bill tracking site shows the most recent version with a date of April 22. Here are the key changes:

  • Keep the RSA Committees for promotion through the 2019-2020 school year (p. 4).
  • Add an RSA Committee for students not meeting benchmarks on screening instruments in first and second grade (p. 5).
  • Add students scoring Limited Knowledge into the retention discussion (p. 11).

The 2015 legislative session is almost over. Let your representative and senator know what you think about these changes.

Ten Observations on Three Years Blogging

April 25, 2015 9 comments

This blog turns three today, which is 21 in dog years. How do we celebrate 21st birthdays? I forget. Besides, I don’t own a dog.

nelson-birthday

I don’t know that there’s much significance to the blog turning three. A lot has changed during the last 36 months, and no, I’m not particularly taking credit for any of it. Here are 10 observations from my first 535 posts.

  1. Three years ago, Oklahoma educators were fed up with policy makers who were ripping apart our education system. They’ve had to slow the pace of implementing corporate reform, but they’re still on the move. We’re still fed up. The agenda is still moving forward.
  2. Parents are the best voice for public education. As many educators as there are blogging and contacting legislators, we only impact policy to a point. Parents move the needle. Even better is when parents and educators band together to advocate for children.
  3. Electing a state superintendent who respects teachers is a game-changer. There’s been a change in the mood among educators since January, but there is only one meaningful difference in terms of the elected leaders of this state. We still have the same governor. We still have the same senators and representatives dredging up the same bills. We still have RSA and ACE; A-F Report Cards; TLE and VAM (though maybe with a delay); and funding for public education is still critically low. The difference is that we have replaced the state superintendent who blames teachers for everything with one who goes to bat for them. Joy Hofmeister understands that teachers aren’t bad people. Rather they’re the people who spend all day with our children. They deserve respect.
  4. High-stakes testing is unpopular with most students, parents, and educators. It’s only certain politicians and “philanthropists” who love it. This seems obvious now, but remember that my first post was filled with frustration that we were sorting and ranking schools by test scores, without regard to poverty. Over time, okeducationtruths has become one voice among many expressing anger over this. Those of us calling for testing reform don’t always agree on solutions, but when it comes to the harmful effects of using tests to label people and schools, we’re together.
  5. I enjoy reading blogs probably more than I enjoy writing them. This isn’t a humble-brag statement. If I didn’t think I could write, I wouldn’t. I just know that I’m not the only game in town. At various times, I’ve tried to capture a list of Oklahoma education blogs and national blogs I read regularly. That list is sadly out-of-date. I’ll probably work on it again when the school year ends. Among my fellow Oklahoma educators are writers who say it better, and bloggers who are more popular. There are also some who are just getting started. I try to read them all.
  6. I treasure the friends I’ve made from blogging. These aren’t just shallow acquaintances who happen to share a common interest in saving public education. These are real people with students and families and stories and histories that make them who they really are.
  7. Sometimes I just can’t tell what’s going to be a hit. For example, last week I wrote two posts. In the first, I described how I would introduce poetry to my students 15 years ago. I spent hours on it. In the second, I heaped praise on Hofmeister for acting quickly to find a solution to a tough problem. I wrote that in 15 minutes while waiting to pick up my daughter from play rehearsal. The second post has been viewed five times as many as the first one. I’ve received several comments – both privately and publicly –stating that the first was one of my best, which is how I feel as well. That isn’t to say that people are wrong. I am probably just a poor judge of what will stick.
  8. Teachers will band together to protect their content areas. There’s a reason the APUSH legislation in both houses of the Legislature fizzled into a joint resolution with all the impact of a greeting card. My Save AP post from February is sixth for page views all time on this blog. It’s the most-viewed post that doesn’t talk about the third-place finisher in last summer’s Republican primary. Well except for one…
  9. Teacher pay in Oklahoma still hovers around the bottom of the country. My January post discussing teacher pay jumped to number three when it made another viral run around social media in March. In 1970, Oklahoma teachers made 80% of the national average. In 2013, Oklahoma teachers made 80% of the national average. In between, there’s been little fluctuation. At the rally in March, we heard every excuse imaginable from our elected leaders about why teachers can’t have raises right now. This from the same crowd who don’t want to hear excuses from legislators. What they’re really lacking is resolve, and it’s apparently a generational problem that spans decades and knows no partisan preference.
  10. Blogging anonymously was fun, but getting to know my readers has been better. At edcamp in February, I was able to participate in a roundtable discussion about advocacy and blogging with the likes of Joy Hofmeister, Jason James, Rob Miller, Kevin Hime, and Claudia Swisher. At this year’s education rally, I had many candid conversations with people about what they’re dealing with at their own schools. I wondered how taking off the mask would impact the blog. It’s more popular than ever. Page views, Twitter followers, and Facebook likes affirm that. I just wish I had more time to write.

As Rob explained this morning, we still have much to keep us angered. We don’t fight for self-interest. If that were our motivation, many of us would have changed careers years ago. We fight because we want our schools to be places that help children thrive rather than places that demoralize them. We want teachers to be taken more seriously than tests. Thanks for reading; here’s to another year!

birthday paddlin

 

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