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Posts Tagged ‘Reading Sufficiency’

Top Ten Reasons to vote #oklaed in the Primary Elections

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With nine days until the primaries this year, I’m starting a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on this.

  1. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.

It wasn’t so long ago that teachers and friends of teachers banded together and let the world know that we were fed up. In 2014, we had been insulted too many times by the person who was supposed to be leading us. The sitting state superintendent had told us that she’d “be damned” if she’d let another generation of children be lost. She called schools failures. She sidled up to Jeb Bush and his merry band of corporate education reformers. She didn’t give teachers the time of day.

In 2014, #oklaed led the movement that fought to override Governor Fallin’s veto of HB 2625 and allow parents to have a voice in the decision to promote third graders to fourth grade. The very next month we really made some noise.

Remember When 6.24.14.png

When Joy Hofmeister won the Republican primary for State Superintendent of Public Instruction on June 24, 2014, and incumbent Janet Barresi came in third, we clinked our glasses together, exchanged fist bumps, and exhaled. Rob Miller even did a little dance.

Maybe we exhaled a little too soon. Other than Aaron Stiles in House District 45, no incumbent lost a race in 2014. Even more critical was the fact that Fallin won re-election over Joe Dorman (something that would be much less likely right now). In other words, for all the things that we eventually elected Joy Hofmeister to do, she had the same governor and essentially the same set of legislators who had enacted A-F Report Cards, third-grade retention, and value-added measurement.

Baxter - support your candidates.png

We now approach this year’s primary elections. The good news is that the power of #oklaed has grown. The problem is that instead of focusing all of that energy on one race, we are focused on many. With over 100 contested legislative races this time around (not all in the primary), the best most of us can do is cherry-pick a handful of races in which it is critical to protect the seat or flip the seat.

Also, we can’t exactly sneak up on anyone this time around. We’re loud and proud. The Oklahoman has attacked us. So has one of the tentacles associated with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. We’re kind of a big deal. People know who we are.

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Superintendent Hofmeister continues to support us. She helped promote an end to End-of-Instruction testing and the failure of Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE). She worked with legislatures to take value added measurements (VAM) out of teacher evaluation. We’re in for a clumsy transition, partly because of federal requirements still, but you have to acknowledge that we are seeing the early stages of the dismantling of high-stakes testing.

Hofmeister campaigned on these principals. Honestly, all six of Barresi’s challengers did. The Legislature has begun to reverse bad policy, but only to a point. Whatever you see the next point being – mine would be ending the third-grade retention law – we need to get the state superintendent and her department some help.

And for the record, I’m not saying that #oklaed activism was the sole reason that Barresi was sent home after one term. It took a rock star candidate to beat her in the primary. We supported the candidate, and it seems to have helped. We have many now who need our support. They need us making calls and knocking on doors for them. Give a day. Give half a day.

This is how we fix #oklaed – by supporting candidates who will support us. The time is now.

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.

See you at the Capitol tomorrow, with all due respect

March 29, 2015 5 comments

I’m going to the Capitol tomorrow – to the rally and into the building. It’s clear that our legislators need to meet with us face-to-face. It’s important that they hear us tell them what’s important to us. They need to hear about our budget cuts, the testing, the seemingly endless vacillation on standards.

Many also need to hear our gratitude. Since passing HB 2625 adding a parent voice to retention decisions for third grade students, we haven’t had a chance to thank them for quickly and decisively override the governor’s veto. For all the frustration we feel, we have our champions as well. Let them know that you know this.

Not everybody is happy we are going, however. The Oklahoman ran an editorial today suggesting that we’re all just going to show up and complain without offering any answers. I won’t bore you with all of it – just their concluding remarks:

Oklahomans undoubtedly want better schools. But improving student achievement requires far more than vague platitudes and hazy funding plans. Rally organizers should offer a credible, serious plan to improve student outcomes, instead of blanket demands simply to spend more money.

If I learned anything from fictional race car driver Ricky Bobby, it’s that you can begin any sentence with the phrase “With all due respect” and have immunity from offending anybody at all.

With all due respect, the Oklahoman still doesn’t have a clue about public education.

With all due respect, they’re still trying to win last June’s primary.

With all due repect, the Oklahoman is one of the main reasons we need to rally in the first place.

Fortunately, the state has more than one newspaper. The Tulsa World editorial page ran an acknowledgement of what the rally organizers hope to accomplish:

It was the biggest mass demonstration in state Capitol history, and, sadly, it’s hard to see what it accomplished. Many legislators shook hands with passionate constituents who attended the rally and then voted for the very legislation the ralliers opposed.

Time passed and the echoes of the rally died away. The Legislature cut the state income tax and undercut revenue from petroleum taxes, making adequate school funding all the less likely. At the end of the session, education funding only rose 2.1 percent and little of that money made it into classrooms.

The Oklahoma PTA with support from the Oklahoma Educational Coalition has called another mass rally for Monday. Oklahoma PTA President Jeffrey Corbett has predicted an even more massive turnout — 50,000 supporters.

That would truly be an unprecedented achievement, although, frankly, we don’t see it happening.

Tulsa Public Schools originally canceled Monday classes, allowing teachers to join the protest. But a severe storm left so many schools without electricity on Thursday that the district had to use its final snow day. Monday’s protest holiday was canceled.

Some Tulsa teachers will still be attending, but the news was the latest reason to suspect the 50,000 prediction will be hard to achieve.

That doesn’t make the rally’s platform — Our Children Deserve Better — any less reasonable. Its specifics: More money for schools, a moratorium on policies that push high-stakes testing and removal of the sunset provision of last year’s reforms to the Reading Sufficiency Act.

Those aren’t radical ideas. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, a conservative Republican, has called for a $2,000 teacher pay raise and a two-day extension of the school year. She also has called for reconsideration of the state’s high-stakes testing laws. The changes to the Reading Sufficiency Act was sponsored last year by Rep. Katie Henke, a conservative Republican from Tulsa. She is pushing for making the change permanent.

But with a $611 million gap in the state budget, it is difficult to see an increase in education funding. Earlier this month Hofmeister had to argue against a legislative cut in school spending while Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman ominously responded that all state agencies should expect funding cuts.

Tomorrow is our day to remind legislators of all of this. Yes, there’s a $611 million dollar hole, but whose fault is that? I know it’s foolish to bite the hand that feeds you, but the hand seems reluctant. We’re not showing up to bite, but we do expect our elected leaders to listen, answer questions, and ask questions of their own.

Public school teachers are struggling to teach more students under more mandates with bigger class sizes and fewer resources than they were seven years ago. Yes, the legislature found $40 million to put back into the funding formula last year, but as Oklahoma approaches 700,000 public school students, that doesn’t get us very far. To the extent that districts are still buying textbooks and technology, they’re using locally-generated bond revenue to do it.

Teachers also haven’t had raises during that time. Seven years. Maybe in most districts they’ve had minimal step increases (a few hundred dollars here and there), but nothing that keeps up with the cost of living. The Oklahoman also provided space today for Joy Hofmeister to make her case once again for raising teacher pay:

The exodus of teachers is alarming and unprecedented, yet not surprising. Given how our teachers endure low compensation, poor morale and burdensome mandates, perhaps the bigger surprise is that so many of them choose to stay in Oklahoma classrooms. They do so because teaching is a calling they don’t want to abandon.

But even the most selfless teachers need to know Oklahomans appreciate their worth. The average teacher pay in our state is $44,373 — about $3,000 below the regional average and $10,000 below the national average. The average starting teacher salary here is less than $32,000, hardly an incentive for a recent college graduate when they can move elsewhere and earn more.

Such obstacles don’t minimize all that Gov. Mary Fallin and the Legislature have done to protect education funding in recent years. Indeed, the state Department of Education has received $150 million in new monies since fiscal year 2014. While many state agencies endured slashed budgets after the 2008 recession, schools have received increases since fiscal year 2011 mostly to keep up with health care. When school leaders, teachers and parents rally at the Capitol on Monday, it’s important that lawmakers receive the thanks they deserve.

I get this question a lot, so I’ll answer it again. The figure Hofmeister cites – $44,373 – is technically correct. I just think we’re using the wrong term. The average teacher’s salary is about $7,500 lower. If you take out health insurance on your spouse and children, it’s lower than low. This is the average teacher’s compensation package as defined for all states by the National Center for Education Statistics. And yes, we’re still 48th. Here’s how I put it back in January:

Below, I have created a table showing Oklahoma’s historical average salary for each of the years in the NCES dataset. The figures included represent actual dollars.

Year Oklahoma Nation
1969-1970 $6,882 $8,626
1979-1980 $13,107 $15,970
1989-1990 $23,070 $31,367
1999-2000 $31,298 $41,807
2009-2010 $47,691 $55,202
2011-2012 $44,391 $55,418
2012-2013 $44,128 $55,383

As you can see, 45 years ago, Oklahoma teachers made 79.8% what teachers around the nation made. Two years ago, our state’s teachers made 79.7% what teachers around the country made. Basically, we have a long-standing tradition of paying about 4/5 of what teachers make nationally. The NCES dataset also looked at the salaries with each value set to 2012-13 dollars based on the Consumer Price Index.

Year Oklahoma Nation
1969-1970 $42,149 $52,830
1979-1980 $39,060 $47,592
1989-1990 $42,034 $57,152
1999-2000 $42,772 $57,133
2009-2010 $50,907 $58,925
2011-2012 $45,130 $56,340
2012-2013 $44,128 $56,383

Relative to the overall economy, I guess Oklahoma’s teachers are about in the same place they were 45 years ago. In 2009-10, however, teachers were having a pretty good year. This is what we need to aim for.

This has always been a problem, but prior to 2010, we were on our way to improving our placement.

This rally is also about the places we live. As we do every year, this year we have a push for school consolidation. Although I work for a large school district, I have also worked for a small, rural one. I see the value of both. Consolidation of small districts has brought minimal savings to states that have forced the issue. Every year, though, a community or two decides that it can no longer support the district to consolidate on its own. This is what we need to continue doing.

Finally, if you need more rallying points, check out this list of goals, facts, and solutions from the state’s largest parent group – the PTA.

Rally for Students. For Teachers. For Schools. For Communities.

Show up early. Stay late. Be respectful. Eat food truck food. Wear sunscreen. Drink plenty of water. And let’s do even better than this:

Sky Shot - Copy

 

Remaining Focused after the Primary

We all still have work to do, so I won’t spend much time discussing the election or events leading up to it. Before we move forward, though, I would like to share a couple of videos with you. I’ve already pushed them out onto Facebook and Twitter in the last day or so, but if you didn’t happen to be online at the time, you may have missed them.

First is some raw video posted by the Tulsa World of the comments made by Superintendent Janet Barresi at the standards convening earlier this month. This is the Bible-quoting, go to hell speech. In case you can’t watch it on your mobile device, or if you’re trapped in a cubicle somewhere and don’t want to bother those around you, the World has also provided a transcription.

“I’m going to go look at the Legislature next fall, next year and I’m going to say folks, you want this done? Pay up, or you’re going to get the value for the money you put into it.”

“I’m determined. I am determined. Kids in Oklahoma deserve this. You deserve this. God has blessed this state and he blesses these children and I’m not going to let anything get in their way. They deserve the blessings of this state and the blessings of this country. And I need you to help me rebuild that. We are going to build a house.

“Anybody that has any question what we’re doing, read Nehemiah. Open up your Bibles and read Nehemiah. I want you to put on your breast plate and I want you to fight off the enemy at the same time you’re rebuilding the wall. Because there’s a lot of people, a lot of enemies are going to try to creep up the back of your neck and say you can’t do it, it can’t be done. Do me a favor and tell ‘em to go to hell. We’ve got a wall to build. ‘Cause I’m gonna be in there with you, too. I’m going to take the hits. I don’t care, I don’t care. And then we will be, we will be an example to the rest of the country about how you produce a wonderful child that is educated and ready to take control of their life. Are there any questions?

“Love you all. I pray for you guys every day. Every teacher in the state, I pray for you every day. I know there’s some that hate me and want me to lose my campaign. We’re not talking about campaigns right now. I don’t care, I love them anyway. I appreciate their service, I understand the toughness that they’re into and I just offer you up to God and ask him to hold you every day. Thank you all. God bless you.”

As I said at the top, I don’t want to live in the past. This becomes relevant, however, knowing what is on the agenda for today’s State Board of Education meeting. Several items catch my eye. They will be discussing where the state stands regarding our No Child Left Behind waiver. They may act to terminate our testing contracts with CTB/McGraw-Hill (for incompetence) and Measured Progress (because of HB 3399). They will also discuss the new standards-writing process.

That’s where the video comes in. She makes it clear that we’re going to write the best standards in the country, which is a laudable goal, but speaks in terms of holy war. What I would have hoped she might have learned in the last four years is that teachers function best when they are allowed to collaborate. Under heightened stress, such as what she describes, the threads connecting us are more likely to sever. Combine this with video of her speech Tuesday evening, and we have a clear picture that she intends to have these standards written before she leaves office in January.

HB 3399 gives the SBE two years to send them standards. School districts are still wiping the little rubber pellets away from where they’ve erased the words Common Core from all of their curriculum maps. The SDE has charged Teri Brecheen, who “led” the state’s efforts to implement the third-grade retention law. Brecheen also wrote (although it was signed by Barresi) the letter letting the REAC3H coaches know they were no longer employed. Read that again, and you’ll see more evidence of people who think this is a holy war.

If it is, by the way, what does that make the rest of us? Isn’t it possible that the people who think third-grade retention is for the best, along with those who don’t, all have the best interest of children at heart? Do we have to pull from the book of Nehemiah to state our case? I simply don’t think retaining third graders is a great idea. Developmentally, it’s too late. We are slamming on the brakes while emerging readers also develop a love of books, which is key to learning to read or reading to learn or whatever you want to say. I respect your opinion, if you believe differently, unless you stick your finger in your ear when opposition comes at you. It certainly doesn’t help when you call people pathetic.

This is why we must pay attention. This is why I will continue writing about anything that happens in Oklahoma education, if I feel I have something to add. We still have a state superintendent, and we must remain focused.

After the Top 20: Dishonorable Mention

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

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

TLE Implementation

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

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

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

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

Test Exemption in Moyers

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

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

Removing API Scores from the SDE Website

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

Visit the page now and you see the following message:

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

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

Whole Language

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

The Shameful Treatment of Crutcho Public Schools

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

Badmouthing Teachers in Public

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

Illegal Hiring Practices

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

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

Vendor Favoritism

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

Rewards that Nobody Wants

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

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

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

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

Favoring Charter Schools

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

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

FAY/NFAY

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

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

Pricey Propaganda

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Threat

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

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

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

Reason #5 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Fabricating Special Education Percentages

In case you missed yesterday’s endorsement of Superintendent Barresi from the Oklahoman, well too bad. I’m not going to link to it. At best, their praise was tepid. While I mentioned it briefly in yesterday’s post, I didn’t come close to the takedown provided by The Lost Ogle today. They mention the link between the paper and Barresi’s campaign:

Jennifer is a close ally of State School Superintendent Janet Barresi. She was Barresi’s first campaign manager, first chief of staff, and oversaw the creation of Barresi’s squadron of evil winged flying monkeys. She also pulled a Barresi in 2011 and referred to educators as “dirtbags” on Twitter. She’s now doing work for the Barresi campaign through her firm Jennifer Carter Consulting.

I’m telling you this because Jennifer’s husband, Ray, is a former PR flack who just happens to be an editorial writer for The Oklahoman. For a living, he regurgitates conservative talking points, protects the newspaper’s friends and allies, and attacks and destroys their enemies.

They conclude by expressing disbelief that anyone would vote to stay the course.

So there you have it, The Oklahoman thinks you should vote for Janet Barresi because… she’s an abrasive, alienating, bridge-burning tyrant lady who wants to improve education for all students? Uhm, can’t we find some nice qualified person who wants to improve education, too? In case you care, the answer to that question is “Yes.” Just don’t expect the Oklahoman editorial writers to tell you about it.

And that, my friends, is why I have a list.

#10 – Ignoring Researchers

#9 – The A-F Rollout

#8 – The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

#7 – PASSing Around Our Standards

#6 – Learning to Use Reading for Political Gain

#5 – Fabricating Special Education Percentages

Looking back upon the first half of the Top 10, I see trends. For misinformation, see #10 and #6. For incompetence, see #9. For a combination of those two things, see #8 and #7. Today’s post is about a topic that amounts to part misinformation, and part bullying – which will be a running trend throughout the top five.

I feel I start a lot of paragraphs with the clause, One of the most outrageous/ridiculous/disingenuous things she Barresi has ever said was…. Well that’s where we start tonight – with a line that she has repeated and revised may times since November. To my knowledge, the first iteration was at the candidate forum in November that I often reference (because it is so rich with material). She told the audience that 75 percent of all special education identifications are incorrect; that the school just hasn’t taught children to read. Not only is this complete nonsense; she has to know it is. Sometimes, it’s actually 50 percent. Sometimes it’s a vague number. Whatever it is on a given day, she tends to repeat some version of this line every time she discusses reading.

This statistic is supposed to be evidence that she knows something that we don’t know. It’s a refrain with no intent other than to perpetuate a lie – public schools are failing – and to do so using special education students as a prop.

Few things anger me worse than mistreating students on an Individualized Education Program. This includes dismissing their needs as well as dismissing their abilities. For years, schools have worked to curb over-identification of special needs students, knowing that getting that label early can lead to a life of low expectations. At the same time, when students are struggling to the point that their education suffers – whether it be for cognitive, physical, emotional, or any other set of reasons – we would be wrong not to accept the fact that an IEP is necessary.

Statewide, schools have held steady at an average of 15 percent of students on an IEP for years. That doesn’t mean we can’t find instances of over-identification or under-identification. After all, Cottonwood, the district that Barresi’s executive director of literacy led for years, has one of the highest special education identification rates in the state.

The belief that we don’t know how to place special education students correctly is a terrible indictment of teachers in the early grades. Most students placed on an IEP start to receive services before third grade. With this made-up statistic that Barresi tailors to her audience on any given day, she calls into question the competence of every single teacher children have before age eight.

This is worse than the learning to read, reading to learn trope because repeating the lie as she does undermines the work we do with some of our most vulnerable students. As I’ve repeated on this blog and on social media, the exemptions in place for special education students under the third-grade retention law do not provide much of a safety net.

This is one of the shorter posts of my countdown, but honestly, it doesn’t take a thousand words to remind readers that Janet Barresi does not understand special (or any other kind of) education. Rob Miller explained this well last week in one of his Really posts, hitting several points that I will again raise as we approach the top of the charts.

Reason #6 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Learning to Use Reading for Political Gain

In case you’re wondering, the number one reason to vote Janet Barresi out of office in nine days is that she is awful at her job. Furthermore, she’s surrounded herself with people who are awful at their jobs too.

That’s not how the countdown works, however. Apparently, I’m supposed to list specific ways in which she is awful at her job. As I do, feel free to grade this post for each of the five analytical writing traits separately. Hopefully I’ll get a 4.0 for coherence. On the other hand, I’ve written a lot this month in a short period of time. You can just give me a holistic score if you want. Pretend you work for CTB.

#10 – Ignoring Researchers

#9 – The A-F Rollout

#8 – The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

#7 –PASSing Around Our Standards

#6 – Learning to Use Reading for Political Gain

If there’s one thing I think Barresi has right, it’s the fact that reading is the most important skill our children learn. Within that topic, we disagree over everything else. Her mindset regarding reading instruction is that if a student can’t read after four years in the classroom, the school is to blame. Her mind is set. There is no room for argument.

Since the legislature updated the Reading Sufficiency Act in 2011 to include mandatory third grade retention that would take effect this school year, the SDE has made preparing for this moment a primary focus. At the same time, implementing TLE and CCSS were each a major focus, diluting the attention given to this effort. Still she found some federal money for one year and some Activities Budget money a second year to employ 60 REAC3H coaches, who she said were the cornerstone of the state’s efforts to prepare teachers and students for the test.

In the meantime, with a major assist from the Oklahoman, Barresi has taken every opportunity to show that only her opinion matters. She has controlled the narrative with talking points straight out of Florida, faulty research, and a fundamental misunderstanding of what the tests in Oklahoma measure.

There are several points in time that would make sense for starting this discussion. For this piece, I’m going to begin with a campaign forum at which Barresi spoke in November, then hit several key moments that have happened since then.

“If you don’t measure it, it doesn’t matter.”

-Janet Barresi (November 2013)

During this forum, Barresi was debating 1994 and 1998 Republican state superintendent candidate Linda Murphy. At the time, Murphy sounded like a potential candidate herself. At one point, a parent asks her a question, and Barresi defends the retention law.

Barresi fields an emotional question from a parent of a stressed out special education student. She responds by digging in on the third grade retention law. Again she blames school districts, claiming that they waited until this year to act. She conveniently forgets two facts. First is that until August, school districts had received no guidance from the SDE about how to take the six good cause exemptions written into the law from statute to action. Once again, here is the process: Statute to Administrative Rule to Guidance for Implementation. For all of the training that school districts have received (or not received, depending on the REAC3H coaches), in assisting third graders, the real trick is knowing how to enact the law. The second fact is that school districts received no RSA funding last year and still wait to receive their notices of funding for this year. Schools continue working with students and waiting endlessly on the SDE.

The first year the SDE had the REAC3H coaches, they were working their way into the schools they served, between periods of receiving training themselves. Not until the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, however, had districts received anything that resembled official guidance from the SDE. This past school year, the coaches probably spent almost as much time helping their districts with paperwork as they did on training.

The mindset of the SDE seems to have been that they would spend a lot of money and hope that what they were buying made its way into schools. As I’ve written previously, the REAC3H coaches turned out to be a big help. The problem is that they could not reach all the teachers in all the schools in a meaningful way. Sixty people can only be in so many places.

By January, the SDE had sent forms for districts to use to predict how many third grade students would score Unsatisfactory on the reading test. Shortly thereafter, she held a press conference and would only let members of the media ask questions. In fact, when a parent tried to have a word with her, she shut that parent down, asking, “Are you with the media?” She also tersely told those in attendance that “the time for debate is over.” That’s the Barresi way – always shut down dissent by putting her fingers in her ears.

This was also the first time I can remember Barresi using the trope about fourth grade being the age when “children transition from learning to read to reading to learn.” It’s a hell of a sound byte, but it’s completely meaningless. As reading guru Claudia Swisher points out all the time, we never quit learning to read. As for children still in the process of learning to read, they are still using their emerging skills to aid in other learning. In truth, every skill you gain in decoding information assists you in every other academic endeavor.

In February, the retention law came up at a parent forum in Owasso:

Seven legislators and Joel Robison, chief of staff for state Superintendent Janet Barresi, took questions from more than 100 people who asked questions and shared concerns about education funding, the Reading Sufficiency Act and other issues…

Several people also spoke about their opposition to the third-grade reading law, which this year requires third-graders to show proficiency on their reading test or be retained in the third grade.

Robison told parents that there are six ways a third-grader could be promoted to fourth grade after failing the reading test. But one parent told him that has backfired in her daughter’s third-grade class.

“What’s happening, sir, is they are taking instruction time from our children to build a portfolio on every single child just in case they don’t pass,” she said.

After a pause, Robison said, “That’s unfortunate,” bringing a chorus of groans from the audience.

With minimal guidance from the SDE, school districts were doing everything they could conceive to help their students succeed. People who don’t understand instruction, measurement, or child development probably also don’t understand the lengths that teachers will go to in order to get their kids where they need to be. A week later, however, Barresi sent schools a condescending letter that made it sound as if she got it. Here is the opening:

Dear educators:

As you are well aware, this is a critical time for the Reading Sufficiency Act’s third-grade reading requirement. I know that those of you teaching K-3 are working hard to give your students the gift of literacy, and I have seen impressive reading plans in districts large and small across Oklahoma. With the OCCT testing window only a month away, I wanted to address some common questions about how to prepare for RSA today and in the months ahead.

As outlined by the RSA, by this point you already have identified struggling readers through benchmark assessments and have notified parents of the children who are struggling. In the coming weeks, keep doing what you do best — explore the fundamentals of reading with those students using whatever the techniques or resources you think will work most effectively. If you need assistance from one of our REAC3H coaches or the literacy department, help is only a phone call away.

Talk to parents or guardians. If you can reach out to families — especially those where education is not a priority — with accurate information about the RSA and the importance of literacy, you could help spark an entirely new future for those children.

I really took issue with that third paragraph. Schools had been reaching out to families, and yes, there are a lot of households where education is not a priority. When it came to having information about the RSA, however, that wasn’t the line of demarcation. I have had many conversations with parents holding advanced degrees in which I had to carefully walk through each of the six Good Cause Exemptions. For many, disappointment in the provisions for special needs students was apparent.

Here’s how the letter ended:

I want to thank those of you who have taken the time to write to me with your thoughts and recommendations. It helps those of us at OSDE make appropriate adjustments in the program and in the supports we provide to you. Also, thank you to all of you who have attended our trainings. I hope you have found them to be of value.

Finally, I want to thank you for the work you do for the children of Oklahoma. Your steadfast commitment and professionalism are a testament to the greatness of teaching. My prayers are with you and for you and the children you faithfully serve.

These are the same teachers she blames in the letter. These are the same teachers who fought for changes to the RSA law that Barresi would later call outrageous. Yes, teachers, you’re both a disappointment and an inspiration. That’s how this works.

In April, this campaign (not the election – the PR campaign for the retention law) turned even more bizarre. While debating Joy Hofmeister, Barresi said the following:

A child who scores unsatisfactory on a third-grade assessment can’t read and comprehend ‘Horton Hears A Who.’ But they’re being sent into fourth grade where they are expected to read and understand “Little House on the Prairie.

The pairing of these two books seemed bizarre to most educators (but not to Rep. Jason Nelson, one of the few legislators who still sometimes has Barresi’s back). Claudia had this to add:

Back to Horton and Ma and Pa Ingalls. She identifies Horton as a first grade level, and Little House as a fourth. Jason James, who has written extensively about the third grade reading-language arts test, points out DDS Baressi’s two examples are really closer in grade level than she realized. Not a surprise…she is a dentist, not an educator.

Moving ahead to May, the SDE announced that a hotline would be established to help parents, teachers, or anyone else who called to understand the test scores when they were released. Then, inexplicably, the SDE released the scores to the media before schools could get onto the CTB server and pull them. Worse yet, parents could see that their child’s school had a certain percentage of students who received an Unsatisfactory score long before the school could notify them of their child’s status.

We were just getting going. Next came the legislature passing HB 2625, which allows for committees to decide whether students should be retained. Then came the governor’s veto. Then came the overwhelming override (without debate) by both the House and the Senate. Finally, we had another occasion for one of Barresi’s petulant outbursts. When interviewed about the override, she called it pathetic and outrageous.

Since November, we’ve watched and fought as the state superintendent has made crazy statements about the most important thing we teach children. She still thinks our third grade reading test (which is really more of a language arts assessment) can detect grade level. It can’t. She thinks giving parents a say in retention decisions completely guts the law. It doesn’t. She has spent every day of this campaign stomping her feet about the importance of reading. Sometimes, when the light is just right, you can even see the steam coming out of her ears. She blames the education establishment, when really, it was parents who provided the momentum for HB 2625.

As a side note, I’m still curious as to why overwhelming support for this bill held no sway over the governor as it did with HB 3399.

Barresi, when it comes to any education issue, digs in completely. There is no compromise. If a great number of teachers who cumulatively have thousands of years of experience tell her that their time in the classroom has shown them something that she doesn’t believe, she falls completely deaf. She is an ideologue first, a politician second, and an educator never.

The only thing her drive for mandatory retention has accomplished is that it brought fear into the classroom. Now that I look at that statement, I probably had this a couple of spots too low at six.

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