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Reason #7 to Pick a New State Superintendent: PASSing Around Our Standards

Ten days from now, Oklahoma voters will go to the Oklahoma polls to utilize Oklahoma voting technology and choose the Oklahoma candidate who best represents their Oklahoma values. If that seems to be a little bit over the top, it’s because I want to make it clear that this blog is not the part of some out-of-state entity, lurking in the shadows, trying to usurp our schools. I am, as the About page of my blog states, “a long time Oklahoma educator who thinks the false narrative about failing public schools needs to be refuted.”

The meandering path we have taken these last four years has left our schools in chaos this summer. Barresi’s leadership is a big part of why that road is anything but a straight line. Cumulatively, it is worthy of a spot in the Top 10 in this countdown.

#10 – Ignoring Researchers

#9 – The A-F Rollout

#8 – The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

#7 – PASSing Around Our Standards

Before discussing where we are now, let’s look at how we got here. As a reference, I present a timeline straight from the public relations campaign the SDE began last summer, The Road Ahead.

A Timeline of Academic Standards in Oklahoma1983 – President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education releases report “A Nation at Risk”, documenting the need for education reform in the United States. The development of new standards begins.

1996 – A coalition of Nation’s governors and corporate leaders form Achieve, Inc., a bi-partisan organization to raise academic standards and graduation requirements.

2005 – Achieve, Inc. launches the American Diploma Project Network to align standards and graduation requirements to college and career readiness. Concept of the Common Core begins.

2005 – 2006 – Oklahoma joins the American Diploma Project Network.

2009 – Oklahoma joins other states in the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a state-led process to develop more rigorous, higher, and clearer academic standards.

2010 – Three Oklahomans selected for writing committees to draft PreK-12 standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics.

June 24, 2010 – State Board of Education adopts Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics for the Oklahoma Academic Standards.

July 6, 2010 – Governor approves adoption.

2010 – Transition to new standards begins. OSDE leads teacher development, local curriculum revision, and test development.

2011 – 2014 – OSDE provides ongoing assistance to districts for implementation of the Oklahoma Academic Standards.

2012 – State Board of Education adopts revised Oklahoma Academic Standards forSocial Studies and History, written by Oklahoma educators and content experts.

2012 – 2013 – OSDE leads revision process for Oklahoma Science Standards, written by Oklahoma educators and content experts.

2013 – OSDE launches For the Road Ahead family and community engagement initiative.

Spring 2014 – For the final year, state assessments reflect the Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS).

June 2014 – Transition to new Oklahoma Academic Standards complete.

Spring 2015 – New state assessment administered, reflects the Oklahoma Academic Standards.

I don’t know how much they paid for the PR effort, but it came with its own logo. Maybe it’s one of those crazy-high expenses Rob Miller discovered for us last week.*

oas_logo

That’s a pretty selective summary of how we got where we are (minus the 2013 developments). Yes, three whole Oklahomans were on the committee that wrote the Common Core. Three! But prior to that – hey, wait. Something’s missing. Apparently, nothing happened between 1983 and 1995 regarding standards in Oklahoma.

Nothing except for PASS, that is. Yes, the state’s promotional materials left off the standards that arose out of HB 1017 in 1990 – standards that were written by hundreds of Oklahomans! For more than two decades, these were the state standards. Each subject area under PASS has seen multiple revisions, but the title of the overall document has remained the same.

Under Barresi, all academic standards were rebranded as C3 standards in 2011. You can still see it in the logo above. Then in 2013 came OAS – the Oklahoma Academic Standards. It got even more amusing when OAS for science, or OASS as we’ve come to know it, came into being.

standards_billboard

The SDE under Janet Barresi is serious about the business of rebranding. For 20 years, Sandy Garrett had a summer conference called Leadership. In 2011, it was rebranded as Innovation. In 2012 it became Vision 2020. It has grown from a two day conference with chocolate fountains into a four-day extravaganza with an assortment of expensive keynote speakers. It is vendor-palooza, which is fairly important now that public education is in constant chaos.

We’ve also rebranded our tests. In 2013, the SDE changed the name of the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Tests (OCCT) to the Oklahoma College and Career Readiness Assessments (OCCRA) – which led to the realization that nobody copy-checks acronyms up there. Also, it spawned this image (have I mentioned how excited I am to have @FakeOKSDE back in the conversation here with us?.

OCCRAIn the meantime, we also dabbled in the PARCC consortium, until abruptly pulling out last summer. I digress – back to the standards.

The biggest problem we’ve seen regarding the standards (and similarly, to testing) is that we’re more interested in image and substance. Are the Common Core State Standards any good? That’s not the relevant question. What do people think of them? That’s what really matters. Last summer, when momentum was building across the country to dump them before full implementation, the SDE pushed us to accept OAS, but here was how they sold it to us.

What are the Oklahoma Academic Standards? OAS…

  • are custom-built for PreK-12 students in Oklahoma
  • prepare students with skills and knowledge needed to succeed in a rapidly changing world
  • provide a route for partners in education to readily follow with fewer, higher, and clearer standards
  • include assessment stops along the way so students get additional help needed to achieve peak performance
  • put teachers back in the driver’s seat to make instructional decisions that set graduates on the road to being college, career, and citizen-ready

I do think the SDE and I have different operational definitions for custom-built. Aside from that, who can argue with these bullet points? We absolutely want to prepare our students for a rapidly changing world.  We want to allow more room for our partners to be … wait, partners? Who are these partners? Is this like how every vendor comes into your school and swears they want to partner with you on your school improvement efforts? Is that why so many companies flock to Vision 2020? Are they looking for fresh meat? The fourth bullet highlights the SDE’s mindset on testing (in spite of what Barresi said in her debate against Hofmeister Thursday night). The fifth is a farce. Nothing about the way the SDE has operated since 2011 indicates that the top leadership there trusts teachers to do anything.

The passage of HB 3399, which overturned the Common Core State Standards, has set off a frenzy of summer activity around Oklahoma. Right now (well, hopefully not at 8:00 p.m. on a Saturday night), teachers and administrators are working to retrofit the work they’ve done over the last four years into PASS. They can’t simply back out. Whereas under PASS prior to 2010, a specific math skill might have been located in one grade, and under CCSS, it is in another, simply switching back would leave gaps in the curriculum. No, this switch back will take considerably more finesse than what Janet Barresi and Mary Failin think.

And why rush? In 2016, we will have yet another set of standards. Every candidate for state superintendent guarantees that they will not in any way under any circumstances resemble the Common Core. They are all going to load up a room with an assortment of people from all over the state and not emerge until new standards are written. It will be interesting to see if the phrase Oklahoma values means the same thing everywhere. Or rigor. Or even a phrase like critical thinking.

In the meantime, we have PASS. Barresi says now that these standards are fine. That’s definitely not how she felt in October.

That’s why I’m excited about the new Oklahoma College and Career Ready Assessments being planned for students for the 2014-15 school year. They move students away from the fill-in-the-bubble, rote memorization tests that now exist. Instead, these performance-based exams include strategies to promote critical thinking and problem solving as well as practical application of securely held foundational knowledge.

I know a lot of people who supported the Common Core. I also know a lot who fought against it. Most of the people I know in both camps are angry at the double-speak we’ve seen from Barresi. When it comes to education, it’s all about the façade. Nothing about her or the reforms she pushes helps children. The fight now is to get people who only marginally follow educational issues to see it.

We have 10 days, Oklahoma. Get it done.

 

*Actually, The Road Ahead was funded by the GE Foundation – yet another out-of-state entity.

Reason #15 to Pick a New State Superintendent: In and out of PARCC

This one is timely. As you probably know by now, Governor Fallin signed HB 3399 yesterday, which among other things, overturns the Common Core in Oklahoma. This was probably inevitable after Oklahoma’s clumsy withdrawal from our testing consortium last summer, but still, it creates a tremendous amount of uncertainty.

I agree with the conclusion that Oklahoma Middle School Principal of the Year Rob Miller reached. With all of the kvetching over Fallin signing the bill and Oklahoma possibly losing our NCLB waiver, it’s not as if Arne Duncan’s hands are tied. He has other options.

On the other hand, Oklahoma could have overturned the Common Core in 100 different ways. We could have held in place while new standards were in development. We could have passed a bill that didn’t give the legislature final approval over the standards and the ability to rewrite them in part or in whole. We could have decided this before June 5th, giving schools a chance to do something about it. We could still adopt the ACT’s standards and tests. So many options are on the table, and we seem to have taken the most obtuse one. It’s a pattern of behavior.

Before I specifically get to today’s entry to the countdown, here’s a reminder of the last several:

#19  Hiring CTB/Mc-Graw-Hill in the First Place

#18 – The Hearing no one Heard

#17 – 2K4T

#16 – Questionable Personnel Decisions

#15 – In and out of PARCC

From 2011 through 2013, Oklahoma was one of the governing states in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium, which was one of two major groups set to prepare Common Core tests. We had sent several individuals, including SDE staff, school district teachers and administrators, and a few retired-educators-turned-consultants, to various PARCC planning meetings. There was to be an experienced cadre of educators who could come back to Oklahoma and train us all on what we will need in order to be ready for the new PARCC exams.

Then Janet Barresi decided it wasn’t working.

If we move ahead with this, we are going to be asking the state to drink a milkshake using a cocktail straw,” Barresi said. “If you look at what happened with testing this year — kids getting screen frozen, knocked off the test — those were technical issues that were from the districts’ end of things. (The testing vendor) crashed for two days because of server problems, but almost every bit of the rest of it was due to district issues. I’m not pointing fingers, but it is the reality.

I don’t know which sounds better right now – a milkshake or a cocktail. With all of the chaos we’re facing now, I don’t even care what time it is!

Barresi pushed for Oklahoma to be a governing state in PARCC. She made the decision to invest the state’s resources in the development and eventual training schools would need over the standards. Then she pulled us out and threw schools under the bus with a disingenuous but. Not that I’m pointing fingers.

A short time later, when the state released the Request for Proposals for the new testing contract, the language made it clear that we were looking for PARCC-like assessments. The difference was that we were going to call them OCCRA – and I’m too tired to spell out the acronym right now.

That led to the November selection of Measured Progress as our new testing company. It’s June now. We don’t know what our standards are really and we don’t have a clue what next April’s testing season will look like. Are we firing Measured Progress? Sticking with CTB? Going back to Pearson? I’d say the following Matt Groening cartoon sums up the current situation pretty well.

Pieces of CCSS & PARCC everywhere!

Pieces of CCSS & PARCC everywhere!

Before we develop our new standards, we need to decide where we are on the mindset that we have to test things for them to matter. With Fallin’s veto of HB 3170 (which would have exempted students from future high school EOIs after they had already passed enough to graduate), we seem entrenched. It’s as if we’re reverse engineering the milkshake/cocktail straw metaphor. Instead of drinking it up through the straw, we’re trying to pour the milkshake from one glass, through the cocktail straw, and into another glass. It’s wasteful. We’re getting milkshake everywhere. When we give students meaningless tests, it impacts how they perform. When we respond by making the test high-stakes just so they’ll take it seriously, the quality of instruction suffers. And we get milkshake everywhere.

It’s settled. I want a milkshake…for now.

How many teachers are going to want to participate in a standards-writing process knowing that the legislature can selectively delete or re-write any part of the product we present them? Yes, that’s in HB 3399. How long is it until the legislature wants final approval over item selection for the state tests? What sane educator will want to spend time out of the classroom to help write assessments?

Rushing into PARCC and then yanking us out abruptly was the first sign that we were headed nowhere. The things for which Barresi has been an enthusiastic cheerleader have fallen to the wayside. We have struggled for 3 ½ years to implement her precious reforms, and now we’re supposed to go backwards. What about the rest of the Reformer’s Guide to the Galaxy? VAM is far more damaging to the education process. When does the rebellion over that begin?

Hopefully, it begins June 24.

Choose Your Own Words

September 8, 2013 11 comments

The SDE has prepared a sample letter that school districts can use to communicate to parents about test scores:

Dear Parents,Great news for you and your children! Our state is making some significant changes to improve the quality of education in Oklahoma. As positive as the changes are, change in general can be challenging at times for any of us to handle. This tends to be especially so during the transition phase. We are in the middle of transitioning to a new set of standards now. The purpose of this letter is to keep your family well informed so you can understand the specific challenges we are facing as we make the move toward raising the bar for students in Oklahoma. We thought you’d like to know the following:

  • What educational changes can you expect to see? In 2010, our legislators called for the implementation of college and career ready standards for PreK-12 students in Oklahoma. That commitment raised the educational bar for your children. Beginning this year your children’s teachers will be delivering more rigorous instruction aimed at helping your children achieve these college and career ready standards.
  • How will these educational changes benefit your children? Your children will be taught what they need to know for jobs of the 21st century; jobs that require them to think on their feet and solve problems.
  • How might test scores be affected? We expect that as our schools begin to align assessments to the new, more rigorous academic standards, your children’s test scores may drop. This is understandable and even expected. As teachers and students become accustomed to this new, better way of learning, your children’s test scores will rebound.

Thank you for your family’s continued support of improving education in our state! It is important that we all stay the course on implementing college and career ready standards and more rigorous assessments for your children and Oklahoma’s future. We have raised the bar in the past for children. Time and again, they successfully rise to meet the challenge. If there was ever a state that has proven it can rise to a challenge and come out on top, it’s Oklahoma! If you would like to learn more about this transition year and our road ahead, please visit http://www.theroadaheadok.comwww.theroadaheadok.com.

Nothing about this year’s testing cycle – or the increased emphasis on testing in general – is what I would describe as Great news! In fact, I can’t think of many events that would make be begin a communique to parents with an exclamation such as that. With considerable effort I came up with this short list:

  • Great news! Our school set a record for high attendance this quarter!
  • Great news! We are able to offer music, art, PE, and computer education to all students this year!
  • Great news! The district saved 15% on insurance by switching to GEICO!
  • Great news! Your children are no longer going to be subjected to an endless cycle of standardized testing!
  • Great news! Our state fully funded pay raises for teachers and support personnel, and their health insurance rate increases won’t entirely consume them!

That last one does seem a little far-fetched.

Parents deserve an honest letter discussing test scores – not propaganda from a politician facing a tough road to re-election. School district leaders should choose their own words. Mine would look something like this:

Dear Parents,In April 2013, our students took end-of-year tests as mandated by state law. This is something we have done for years, but never under circumstances like this or with results such as these.The bizarre journey began in October, when the State Department of Education (SDE) had to delay the annual writing test for 5th and 8th graders by two months because of irregularities in the bidding process. This created a more compressed timeline for the rest of the testing cycle, as the writing tests had to be administered during the late April/early May exam window. Just before the writing tests were administered, schools were notified that the type of writing to be assessed had changed.

Then, the inconceivable happened: online testing failed – not just here, but in Indiana, at the exact same time. The servers at CTB/McGraw-Hill (the testing company selected again by the SDE, after the contract had to be re-bid) couldn’t handle the load.

Students were kicked out of their tests and had to start over. In some cases, this happened multiple times. Later, when students would re-test, the schools received dual reports. Initially, the SDE blasted the testing company. During the summer, however, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi blamed inadequate technology in schools for the failure. Then, while Indiana negotiated a punitive settlement with CTB, Oklahoma gave them one that appeared costly, but really included free services that no school district in the state has asked for.

CTB will continue to serve as Oklahoma’s testing company for this school year.

Schools also reported instances of student scores changing from preliminary data to final results. The testing company could not provide an explanation for this, telling schools to use the higher score. Over the summer, the SDE convened educators to reset the standards for the writing and science tests, causing scores all over the state to take a severe drop.

By the time students were back in school this August, districts still had not received final test scores. In fact, they still had no preliminary science or writing scores. This includes the Biology End-of-Instruction exam, which is one of the tests that high school students can take to count for graduation. Because of the delay, the SDE still has not provided districts with remediation funds for students who did not pass the EOIs.

Meanwhile, the SDE has spent its summer rebranding both the academic standards and the testing process. In 2010, the state adopted the Common Core State Standards for reading and math. Then, two years ago, the remaining content areas that had been labeled PASS since the early 1990s became the C3 standards. Now they are OASS – the Oklahoma Academic State Standards. The SDE even paid for a marketing campaign to promote the rebranding.

Nothing is different, except the name. The SDE also announced this summer that Oklahoma would not be giving the PARCC assessment, in spite of the two years that it has spent sending people to national consortium meetings.

We also should let you know that next month, the SDE will issue A-F Report Cards for each school and district in the state. This year, the formula for calculating those report cards is completely different than it was last year. Between this and the irregularities in testing, skepticism over score reports, and arbitrary changes to the passing scores, we have very little confidence that these grades will be a reflection of our performance – even if we receive good grades. The inconsistencies and seemingly random changes we have experienced over the last year undermine the very concept of accountability.

We honestly have no idea how tests will be administered after this school year. We know that special education students will now take the same test as regular students, but we don’t know what accommodations will be available to them when we start testing over the Common Core. We also don’t know if scores will be reported in a timely manner when we have to make decisions next summer when we are required by law to retain 3rd graders based on these tests. Future standard setting in social studies, reading, and math will also change our passing rates. To what extent this will impact your children, we can’t be sure. In short, we have as many questions as you do.

As always, we appreciate you entrusting your children to our care, and we thank you for your support.

Yeah, that’s a little long-winded, but I had to get rid of my editor in an effort to curb the administrative overhead around here.

So long, PARCC. We mean it this time. Probably.

September 7, 2013 9 comments

The announcement last summer to pull out of the PARCC assessment while remaining as a governing state in the consortium was frustrating and confusing. It meant that moving into the first year of testing over the Common Core (2014-15) we have no blueprint for testing. We were told that the SDE would hire a testing company to develop and deploy “PARCC-like items” for the testing cycle that year. All of this was happening in the context of continuing confusion over last year’s testing cycle and the problems with reporting test scores that continue even now.

Then comes this into the email inboxes of superintendents, testing coordinators, and technology directors:

What:The September 15 data collection for updating school technology resources (broadband and computers) related to online assessment using the Technology Readiness Tool (http://www.techreadiness.net) is cancelled. This is a result of a final decision to withdraw from PARCC completely so we will no longer have access to these resources.  I will be sending a message to your superintendents about this as well.Where can you find it:In the current (7/18/13) Accountability at a Glance document, available from https://apps.sde.ok.gov/documents/AccountabilityAtGlance.pdf, the item is on page 7. Please strike this out and remove it from your calendars.More explanation:

Even though earlier this year we opted out of the PARCC tests and instead are issuing our own RFP, we still had the resources of PARCC available. That would allow us to collect data, then upload to CTB’s data collection so that when districts logged in to prepare for this year’s tests, they would already have their data in the system and would just have to verify it. We are working on eliminating overlapping data collection requirements so that districts only have to enter data once.

Last week I found out that the decision had been made to withdraw from PARCC completely and confirmed this week that we will lose access to the TRT.  That may mean that the data will be collected using CTB’s data collection tool (RTS) in late October or early November but we may use another method IF it can avoid duplicate data entry. I am also working on how this will affect the annual technology survey – there are a few more bits of information that we are required by law to collect and districts are required by law provide (See 62 O.S. §34.23(D)(1)(b)), but I want to avoid duplicate collection. (Okay – full disclosure – I may not be fully successful in eliminating duplicate data collection but it is definitely an item that I consider in every instance.)

Derrel Fincher, CETL

Director of Learning Technologies

Oklahoma State Department of Education

2500 North Lincoln Boulevard

Oklahoma City, OK 73105

(405)-521-3994

Take a minute to let that all sink in. Remind yourself not to shoot the messenger. Ask yourself, are we disappointed not to be a PARCC state anymore?

In 2010, the selling point of the Common Core was that states would have shared standards, assessments, and results. Oklahoma has since repackaged Common Core as the Oklahoma Academic Standards (OAS – because they don’t run their acronyms by adolescents before marketing them). Oklahoma has pulled out of PARCC in three confusing stages (although their website still lists Oklahoma as a governing state).

I don’t know if we can quantify it, but I wonder how much time has been lost by Oklahoma educators preparing for PARCC. How many trips have been taken to work on developing these tests by SDE and district staff? How much did that cost? How much time has been spent locally determining technology readiness? Can you put a price on people’s time?

Now what do we tell our students, teachers, administrators, and patrons? We have no idea how Common Core will be assessed. We have no idea who will be developing those tests. We have lost three years to this process, and now we have to catch up quickly. In an election year.

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PARCC, the Non-profit

March 13, 2013 6 comments

Frequent visitors to this blog know that I distinguish little between companies that operate for a profit and those who hold non-profit status. For example, Pearson is a for profit company; they make millions in Oklahoma alone from testing. Meanwhile, College Board is a nonprofit; they also make millions in Oklahoma alone from testing.

I’m also not saying that making money is a bad thing. Schools spend money on textbooks, software, hardware, and any number of things legitimately tied to instruction. The companies behind those sales make money, and it’s appropriate.

As far as assessment goes, we’ve been testing for 100 years. The Otis-Lennon, Stanford, and Iowa tests have taken many school days and made money for the entities behind them as well. Again, when a company provides a product or service, it deserves to make money for that.

So it’s no real surprise this week that PARCC – the testing consortium for Common Core to which Oklahoma belongs – is incorporating as a non-profit. From yesterday’s press release:

WASHINGTON – March 12, 2013 – The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) today announced the formation of a new non-profit organization to oversee the development of its next generation assessments. To date, PARCC has been a consortium of states with no legal status; under its new non-profit status, PARCC will become its own legal entity as a 501(c)(3). Launching the non-profit is the first step in the process to ensuring the PARCC assessment system can be sustained in the long term and beyond the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top Assessment grant period which ends in September 2014.

It seems like just yesterday that the National Governor’s Association and the Council for Chief State School Officers gave us Common Core. And it seems like just later in the day yesterday that two testing consortia were formed from the molten promises of the USDE’s grant funding, only to split apart, not unlike Cain and Abel. And now, the path that we have chosen will be its own self-sustaining entity – provided that the 22 member states will actually pay for the assessments, which are being developed at a higher-than-anticipated cost.

If the tests are ready by the 2014-15 school year, as promised, the newly formed non-profit will certainly be looking to maintain its viability. That means providing a service at a cost that allows it not only to avoid losing money, but to increase the bottom line within a reasonable margin. Remember: non-profit does not mean breaking even. Already, the purveyors of the Common Core and PARCC are walking back prior plans to offer testing throughout the school year. They now say that while tests will be available during the year (and not just at the end), they will not be mandatory, but rather available to schools for an additional fee.

I’m sure that is something schools will jump at the opportunity to pay.

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