Posts Tagged ‘Opt Outs’

Depends on What Your Definition of “State Mandated” Is

A reader emailed me an exchange between a technology group and Kurt Bernhart – the Executive Director of Research & Development in the Office of Accountability and Asessments – with the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Basically, they wanted to know whether or not the 95% and 90% testing rules* would apply to field testing item tryouts. Here is what he told them:

Hello all,

Regarding item tryouts and the 95% rule, here’s basically the answer. (Sorry for the legal speak, but it is required.)

According to Title 70, Sections 1210.508 and 1210.523 of the Oklahoma Statutes, the State Board of Education is required to conduct criterion referenced tests in grades three through eight, and conduct end-of-instruction exams in grades nine through twelve. Part of this requirement is that the State Board of Education must conduct field testing [item tryouts] to ensure that all criterion-referenced test items are validated and determined to be appropriate for assessing Oklahoma students. In addition to the statutory requirement, the State Board of Education’s administrative rule 210:10-13-2 states that “All public school districts in the state shall administer the state mandated academic achievement tests of the OSTP to all students enrolled in the designated grades.”

Also, not all districts were chosen in the field test sampling plan; however, those that were are required by the statutes and rules mentioned above to administer those assessments. Those districts who do not comply with the statutes and rules could face penalties from the State Board of Education.


Let me begin by saying that I’m not a lawyer, although I have a solid grasp on school law. Many people with whom I’ve talked feel the law he cites is limited in its scope. The term state mandated academic achievement tests, in my view, refers to those we legally have to give, not to the field tests item tryouts. At the end of the testing window, when we have administered all of those tests, we will have met that requirement. The statute and administrative rule are both silent on the issue of whether or not schools must participate in assessments given after schools have administered all of the subject-area tests.

Since we will not receive scores for these exams, I also have a hard time calling them academic achievement tests. Schools will receive no feedback about the extent to which their students achieved anything. They are tests over the standards that will be in effect next year. While most school districts have been working since 2010 or 2011 transitioning instruction from PASS to the Common Core, in most cases, that process is still not complete. Thus the field test item tryouts assess skills that have yet to be integrated into the curriculum. We won’t even know which items were successful in their tryouts and invited to join the squad!

We’ve seen hollow threats from the SDE about “penalties from the State Board of Education” before. The end result was Superintendent Barresi naming districts who did not participate in the Stress Tests in an email newsletter. Are they going to penalize parents who throw down their number two pencils and say, “I’ve had it!”? Will they be called out by name too?

It’s hard-core bluster aimed at the fact that the SDE has lost control of the people from whom it expects sheep-like obedience. We’ve also seen the SDE run away from Jenks and Owasso on this issue while forcing all the other districts to participate. Eventually (June 24th), they’re going to learn that standing in the door with their arms crossed doesn’t intimidate the rest of us either. This administration will say anything to scare school districts into compliance with nothing more than the equivalent of an outstretched finger pointed into our backs.


*Under Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind waiver agreement with the feds, schools failing to test at least 95% of students enrolled in an assessed subject/grade will lose a letter grade on their A-F Report Cards. Schools failing to test at least 90% will receive an F.

Too Little, Too Late, Too Much, Too Soon

April 22, 2014 3 comments

By now, you’ve probably heard about Oklahoma’s Second Annual Testing Debacle, brought to you by CTB/McGraw-Hill, the State Department of Education, and Janet4Kids. At 8:30 yesterday morning, the online testing system for grades 6-12 kicked about 8,000 students offline. The SDE and CTB made the decision – which probably was the only choice available – to shut the system down for the day. Needless to say, Superintendent Barresi was…well, what’s the word…

…frustrated. She was frustrated and angry. For those who found themselves able to watch her press conference live yesterday and/or were able to stomach it in taped form, you saw a visceral reaction to a dumbfounding occurrence. This should not have happened. It definitely should not have happened twice. For that reason alone, we have to hold yesterday’s events, and the reaction to them, to extra scrutiny. That includes this bulletin from the SDE sent around dinner time last night:

Barresi opposes renewal of contract with testing vendor
Some school districts will resume testing Tuesday
OKLAHOMA CITY (April 21, 2014) — In the wake of thousands of disruptions in online assessments today, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said she will recommend the State Board of Education not renew the contract of testing vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill for the next fiscal year.

Officials with CTB/McGraw-Hill held a conference call late this afternoon with Barresi and representatives of 11 districts, including Davis, Edmond, El Reno, Lawton, Norman, Oklahoma City, Prague, Pryor, Sapulpa, Tulsa and Woodward. CTB indicated  a piece of hardware malfunctioned and caused intermittent disruptions. The situation had been remedied by early afternoon.

Districts are free to continue testing tomorrow or wait until Wednesday based on their specific needs. OSDE suspended testing Monday once the scope of the disruptions became apparent.

About 8,100 Oklahoma students in grades 6-12 experienced disruptions during online testing.

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

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

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

About 11,000 students today were able to complete their assessments.

Third- through fifth-grade students taking assessments were not affected because those tests are pencil-and-paper.

These strong words remind me of how Barresi stood up to CTB last year. It’s one of my all-time favorite quotes from her:

I had zero involvement in the entire process from start to finish.

That’s right. Three weeks after the disruption, she announced that she hadn’t been involved with the selection of the testing vendor at all. I concluded at the time that this represented either an act of malfeasance (doing her job poorly) or nonfeasance (failing to do her job at all). Below is my assessment of this year’s response.

Too Little

One of the things we learned yesterday is that the state can fine the testing company $15,000 per day, up to three percent of the total contract, when testing breaks. Since then, we’ve learned that CTB has given all districts the green light to resume testing. That’s a relief. I’d hate for the textbook/publishing conglomerate to feel any real disruption. I guess they’re just too big to fail hold accountable. CTB is getting $13.5 million in Oklahoma tax dollars this year. Their maximum fine is just north of $400,000. We won’t even approach that.

This should be instructive as we continue hiring and firing companies that fail us on test day. The punishments built into the contracts have to be significant enough to hurt. While contractually, we can’t do much more than this, we do still have one card left to play: field testing item tryouts.

At this point, continuing with the plan to have Oklahoma students take practice tests following the real tests (at least for CTB) is unreasonable. I’ve heard from way too many parents who want nothing to do with this process anyway. Pulling out of the CTB field tests (not Measured Progress – the new testing company that hasn’t disappointed us yet) would allow the SDE to show in way that words cannot how much they want to help us. We’re firing them anyway. Why put our students through this exercise just to give them extra data they can take to another state.

Too Late

Barresi said yesterday that last year, we couldn’t have fired CTB if we had wanted to. She cited the fact that we entered into a five year contract with them and the late date of the testing disruption. Here’s how the SDE announced their contract with CTB in December 2012:

The State Board of Education during a special meeting on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, voted unanimously to recommend that CTB/McGraw Hill be awarded a one-year $8.9 million testing contract for grades 3-8. The contract has four additional annual renewals for a total price of $28 million. The contract will still have to be approved by the state Department of Central Services. If awarded, CTB/McGraw Hill would develop tests in all subject areas for grades 3-8 as well as benchmark assessments in reading, mathematics and writing. The company already has the contract for Oklahoma end-of-instruction exams. This was the only item on the board’s agenda.

From the beginning, the SDE knew we could opt out each year. On the other hand, something about opting out gives them cold sweats. The timing wasn’t an issue either. Last year, the disruption happened April 29. This year, it was April 21. Those extra eight days don’t provide much cushion in the Request For Proposals process. CTB should have been fired last year. Instead, we had an initial response of outrage from Barresi, followed by her blaming schools for the disruption, and then eventually a milquetoast settlement. It’s the worst bastardization of Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief I have ever witnessed.

Too Much

Being late to the game of disappointment and frustration is one thing. Piling on by ensuring that the integrity of test results won’t be compromised is a slap in the face. It shows that Barresi just doesn’t get it. She can’t say enough that the pencil-paper tests of third through fifth grade students wasn’t affected. She makes it clear that disrupted students can pick up where they left off. The tests, however, are no longer valid. That doesn’t mean CTB will invalidate them, though.

Still, these tests will be used as high-stakes measures for students, teachers, schools, and districts. They will impact graduation plans, evaluations, spending for Title I schools placed on the needs improvement list, and property values of homeowners. Yesterday’s disruption is another illustration of how ludicrous it is to place so much emphasis on one test. These instruments tell us very little. They’re not even good at what they’re supposed to be, however. Even if all goes smoothly, we won’t have scores back in a timely manner and be able to do anything useful with them.

This is why I support any plan to reduce the amount of standardized testing we have in Oklahoma. I just don’t believe that reinforcing bad tests is the way to keep subjects like social studies from being marginalized. If we could get Congress to end No Child Left Behind, states like ours could have a real conversation about the purpose and utility of assessment. Until then, we continue to jump through hoops. This makes us compliant, not accountable.

Too Soon

In a span of seven hours yesterday – from the time of the press conference until the press release in the evening – Barresi flip-flopped on whether or not we could fire the testing company. I hesitate using that term on politicians because I expect reasonable people to be open-minded and open to change. Still, during the press conference, she was adamant that we could not have fired CTB last year. To change her mind that quickly means that she must have been presented with new evidence. I just wonder if that evidence came from her staff at the SDE or her campaign people.

Maybe the difference is that it happened twice. Maybe it’s that it happened in a campaign year. From throwing the new Assistant State Superintendent of Assessment into the fire on the tough questions (Welcome to Oklahoma!) during the presser, to the overuse of adjectives in speech and writing, her response reeks of desperation. I saw quick responses on social media from two of her opponents – Deskin and Hofmeister. I’m sure the other four had equally prompt reactions. Yes, yesterday’s events have to be a factor in the rest of the campaign (63 days until the primary).

If I’m those six opponents, I think I use this Pat Benetar classic in my campaign ads for a while.

Testing is Barresi’s calling card. It is the point of origin for every issue that matters to her. Testing is caring. A-F Report Cards. Third grade retention. Teacher evaluations. Value-added measurements. It is (0,0) on her axis. Any failure in testing damages the extent to which her few remaining supporters can honestly believe in her or her initiatives.

That doesn’t mean we should be complacent, though. She has a self-financed campaign and millions to pump into it. She is buddies with Jeb Bush. At a moment’s notice, she could have his Foundation running the show, and probably shoring up some of the public relations damage.

If you’re an educator, keep letting the parents you see know how badly Barresi and the SDE are doing when they’re supposed to support education. If you’re a parent, tell other parents. Whoever you are, keep calling and writing your elected legislators. Sign the No On Barresi petition. Add your concerns to this survey of Oklahoma Education Voters. Do everything you can to help fire the person who didn’t fire the testing company last year.

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.

About the Bixby Opt Out Policy

March 12, 2014 7 comments

In case you missed it, the Bixby Public Schools Board of Education adopted an Opt Out policy Monday night. This is a response to increased questions from parents about getting their children out of state and federally mandated standardized tests. Before anybody starts an ill-advised investigation, however, we should understand what this policy is and what it is not.

It is a way to inform parents that the district respects their rights and the potential consequences to the student, school, and district if those rights are exercised. It is not an obscene gesture pointed to the southwest.

The district contacted the SDE for legal advice and was told that the district has an obligation to provide a test to every student in tested grades and subjects. The consequences, as outlined in the form that parents would have to complete (which discourages opting out) are outlined by the Tulsa World:

• Oklahoma law requires that a third-grader score proficient or higher on the reading test or be retained in third grade. “There is nothing in the law that would allow for the promotion of those students (who don’t take the test)” unless they meet one of the six good cause exemptions that aren’t predicated on taking the test first, said education department Tricia Pemberton.

• Oklahoma law requires that any person under age 18 to demonstrate score satisfactory on the 8th grade reading test to get an Oklahoma drivers’ license.

• And Oklahoma law now requires students demonstrate mastery of state academic content standards by scoring proficient or higher on four of seven end-of-instruction standardized tests.

Wood also said parents are informed that the school district and its schools’ grades are based on testing. A district is required under the state’s A-F school grading system to test at least 95 percent of enrolled students or drop one letter grade. If 90 percent or fewer students are tested, the district receives an automatic “F.”

There could also be federal funding consequences if the appropriate numbers of students are not tested.

The policy provides parents with information and choices – nothing more, nothing less. That sounds pragmatic and shows parents that the district wants them to think for themselves.

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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