Posts Tagged ‘Reading Sufficiency’

Blog on Hiatus

March 28, 2014 Comments off

I woke up this morning and realized that I haven’t posted anything for 10 days or checked my Facebook or Twitter accounts for a week. I’ve been focusing on other things, and I probably will be for a few more weeks. I’ve decided to take a little break.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be at the Rally Monday, however. I’ll be there in my professional clothes, speaking in my professional voice. The members of the legislature with whom I speak will hear the following from me.

  •          Public education is not failing. Despite the pervasive rhetoric to the contrary, public schools are good at doing the job policy makers have asked us to do.
  •          Policy makers should probably listen to what teachers and parents say more than they listen to ALEC, Jeb Bush, and Michelle Rhee. As we sit on the precipice of overturning the Common Core (and probably replacing it with something very Common Core like), legislators, the governor, and our next state superintendent should remember who votes for them rather than who funds their junkets.
  •          Funding for public education is critically low. Oklahoma schools have more students than we did five years ago. We also have fewer teachers. And in spite of what Superintendent Barresi claims, we aren’t hoarding money in mason jars in the yard.
  •          The legislature has more money to allocate right now than at any other point in Oklahoma history. As Governor Fallin loves to point out, the average income in this state is rising relative to the rate of inflation at a higher rate than any other state except for North Dakota. It is unconscionable to think that public education could still receive a smaller share of the pie than it did five years ago.
  •          If people are moving to Oklahoma for the thriving economy, the state should support the people who teach the children of our new residents. Not only are education mandates continually unfunded; the teachers in this state haven’t had an appreciable raise in years. Their yearly step increases don’t even keep up with the cost of living. (By the way, this goes for school secretaries, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and everybody else in the schools as well.)
  •          The RSA law is highly flawed. The safety nets in place for special education students and English language learners are wafer thin. Parents – in spite of districts’ efforts to keep them informed – are panicking.
  •          Parents are driving the momentum to opt out of testing, not school districts. They are tired of the wasted time. They are tired of the meaningless results. Yes, some of the testing is federally mandated. However, the state adds to that burden. After last year’s debacle, this problem is on their radar more than ever.
  •          The SDE continues placing people in positions that are above their level of experience. This has not gone well. To be honest, we the electorate are partially to blame. We picked the state superintendent.

If you’re thinking that this hiatus is the result of my lousy NCAA bracket, I assure you it’s not. I’ll be back in a few weeks. In the meantime, remember that there are other bloggers in the world.

As Many as Half?

March 10, 2014 4 comments

Oklahoma Watch published an article Friday titled, As Many as Half of Third Graders Who Fail Reading Test Could Win Exemptions. When I read it this afternoon (the Internet has been slow lately), I immediately noted two things I didn’t much care for: the prediction and the title. We’re a little early into this process to start making guesses – educated or otherwise – about how many students will be retained. Second, I find the word Win objectionable. To accept its use imposes the word lose on students not earning an exemption. Since literacy is a gift, let’s not set up the picture to have winners and losers. Here’s the key piece of the article:

“We believe a good number – maybe up to 50 percent – will get a good-cause exemption,” said Tricia Pemberton, spokeswoman for the state education department.

Pemberton said the agency expects to see similar growth in reading proficiency that Florida saw, as measured on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Some experts have attributed that improvement more to reading intervention provided by Florida than to the retention mandate.

The article also cites data from Florida showing the percentage of students failing the test and the percentage retained in the first ten years since their retention law passed.

School Year

% Failing the Test

% Retained

2002-03 23% 13.2%
2003-04 22% 10.2%
2004-05 20% 9.8%
2005-06 14% 6.0%
2006-07 19% 8.1%
2007-08 16% 6.6%
2008-09 17% 6.4%
2009-10 16% 5.9%
2010-11* 18% 7.1%
2011-12* 18% 6.9%

*Florida implemented a more rigorous test.

After reading this article, I tweeted the following:

I quickly received the following response:

And these from Facebook:

Facebook RSA Responses - Copy

The people actually working with our students (and who don’t have their own spokesperson) believe the exemptions will have much less coverage. In particular, the impact on English language learners and special education students will be devastating. Even the Oklahoma Watch article oversimplifies the extent to which these populations are protected.

Some students, such as English language learners or those in special education, may automatically qualify for an exemption. In other cases, teachers, principals and superintendents will review a student’s portfolio and make a judgment call on whether a student’s coursework shows they’re proficient enough at reading to enter fourth grade. Many teachers are drawing up portfolios for students in case they do poorly on the reading test.

This is one of the problems school districts experience trying to communicate the RSA rules to parents. Being an ELL or IEP kid does not automatically qualify you for an exemption. Nor does evaluation of the student portfolios amount to a judgment call. Here’s the actual language:

  • English Language Learners who have had less than two years of instruction in English and are identified as Limited-English Proficient (LEP)/ English Language Learner (ELL) on a screening tool approved by the Oklahoma State Department of Education Office of Bilingual/Migrant Education and have a Language Instruction Educational Plan (LIEP) in place prior to the administration of the third-grade criterion referenced test; and the student must have had less than two years of instruction in an English Language Learner (ELL) program.

  • Students with disabilities whose Individualized Education Program (IEP) indicates they are to be assessed with the Oklahoma Alternate Assessment Program (OAAP).

  • Students who demonstrate an acceptable level of performance (minimum of 45th percentile) on an alternative standardized reading test approved by the State Board of Education (SAT 10, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Terranova).

  • Students who demonstrate through a teacher- developed portfolio that they can read on grade level. The student portfolio shall include evidence demonstrating the student’s mastery of the Oklahoma state standards in reading equal to grade-level performance on the reading portion of the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT).

  • Students with disabilities who take the OCCT and have an IEP that states they have received intense remediation in reading for more than two years but still demonstrate a deficiency in reading and were previously retained one year or were in a transitional grade during kindergarten, first-, second- or third-grade.

  • Students who have received intensive remediation in reading for two or more years but still demonstrate a deficiency in reading and who already have been retained in kindergarten, first-grade, second-grade or third-grade for a total of two years.  Transitional grades count.

Getting parents (and even non-third grade teaching educators) to understand that the law does not automatically give exceptions for ELL, IEP, or portfolios of student work is no small challenge.

We should also look at Florida’s numbers. In 10 years, the failing rate has dropped from 23% to 18%. The retention rate has dropped from 13% to 7%. Most of those improvements came in the first two years, however. That’s what Oklahoma would be likely to see as well, if we had done the other thing Florida paired with their law…


That’s right – money matters. Without funding interventions, this is a purely punitive law. Florida has pushed $130 million ANNUALLY into intervention programs since passing their retention law. Yes, they’re a bigger state than Oklahoma, but we pumped a paltry $6.5 million into RSA last year. Even Barresi’s request to increase that to $16 million doesn’t take us where we need to be. How much is enough? I’m not sure. The legislature should probably start with a generous amount and keep going. We’re not even close. It’s going to take a while to fill the silo at this rate.

Meanwhile, teachers and parents scramble, hoping we can get half of the students projected to score unsatisfactory on the test out of harm’s way. The law as written lacks common sense and financial support. Without those, nobody wins.

This is also why it is important we support HB 2625, which would restore the retention decision to schools and parents. Watch for it in a legislative body near you!

The Vote after the Condescending Letter

At lunch today, I shared a letter Janet Barresi sent to school districts. Addressed to educators, it had words of wisdom to help us engage parents:

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.

Less than an hour later, the Oklahoma House of Representatives made headway towards that goal, passing HB 2625 by a vote of 84-6 (with 11 non-voting members). That the bill passed only surprised me a little. The margin floored me. Even Jason Nelson changed his vote from committee to join the gang of 84.

This measure would revise the retention language in the Reading Sufficiency Act to read as follows:

Except as otherwise provided, beginning with students entering the first grade in the 2011-2012 school year, if the reading deficiency of a student, as identified based on assessments administered as provided for in subsection B of this section, is not remedied by the end of third grade, as demonstrated by scoring at the unsatisfactory level on the reading portion of the statewide third-grade criterion-referenced test, the student shall be retained in the third grade if a team composed of a parent or guardian of the student, a teacher assigned to the school, the school principal and a certified reading specialist, if one is employed by the school, agree that the student should be retained. The student shall be promoted to the fourth grade if the team members agree that promotion is the best option for the student or if the team members agree that the student should be promoted for good cause as set forth in subsection K of this section. If the team members agree to retain the student in the third grade, the student shall be provided intensive interventions in reading and intensive instructional services and supports as set forth in subsection N of this section. If the team members agree to promote the student to the fourth grade, the student shall be provided intensive reading instruction as set forth in subsection L of this section.

The underlined text is new language. This change keeps the testing. The six good cause exemptions remain in place. Ultimately, the school may still retain a student, but only after a conversation with parents that will include more than a single data point.

This is what so many of us have been asking for. While Barresi and the SDE double down on the original and highly flawed plan, pretending to have been responsive to questions and comments from educators and parents, the legislature has actually provided a solution.

To them, I say “thank you for listening!”

Now, on to the Senate. Then the Governor. Hopefully, this will pass quickly and not leave schools going into May wondering if they have local control or not.

Answers on Third Grade Reading

Janet Barresi and the SDE really, really want us to be ok with the third grade retention law. That explains this message that came to inboxes across the state today:

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.

Many of you have been assembling portfolios of work from your struggling readers. Please continue to do so. By no means are you required to create portfolios for all your students, but if you would like to assemble one for each child, that is up to you, your district or your local board. Remember, however, that a portfolio must clearly demonstrate that a student has mastered state standards beyond the retention level and that he or she is reading at least on grade level. A listing of specific elements required for a portfolio can be found here. If you have questions about what to include, please don’t hesitate to ask the OSDE.

Of course, the portfolio is just one of six good-cause exemptions in the reading law. While the specific structure and language of the exemptions are set by state law, you will work directly with your own districts to determine if a student qualifies for one. If you believe a student has met an exemption, take that evidence to your principal. Your school district will accept or reject the recommendation of your principal.

I have received some questions about the “alternative standardized reading test” exemption. This allows a student who scored Unsatisfactory on the reading portion of the OCCT to move on to fourth grade by passing a different assessment approved by the OSDE.

If you are concerned about a student’s chances on the OCCT, you do not have to wait until the scores are returned to administer an alternative assessment. Districts may begin offering alternative tests immediately after they administer the OCCT. Districts also choose which alternative tests to use.

I hope any of your students who score Unsatisfactory on the OCCT will have an opportunity to attend a summer reading academy. If those students are close to showing reading proficiency, intensive instruction over the summer may be enough to advance them to fourth-grade immediately. If they reach proficiency by Nov. 1, they could be promoted mid-year. That latter option would best serve students enrolled in a transitional grade that combines intensive reading remediation with the content of fourth-grade classes.

Retention is absolutely a last resort. Reading is essential. This law, established in 1997, is intended to lift kids up, not hold them back. The instructional model and retention opportunity was inserted in RSA nine years ago but became mandatory in the 2011 amendment. It sets long-term goals of catching troubled readers with benchmark tests long before they risk retention in the third grade. If they are retained, it should not be a repeat of what they already have learned but an opportunity to ensure they have the skills necessary to succeed for the rest of their lives.

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.

Warmest regards,

Janet Barresi

Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction

Three quick thoughts:

  1. Barresi appears to blame schools for the retention law being necessary in the first place. She states in the third-to-last paragraph that the “instructional model and retention opportunity was [sic] inserted in RSA nine years ago but became mandatory in the 2011 amendment.” In other words, if you had been meeting this unfunded mandate for the first six years, it wouldn’t have come to this! Except, of course, that Florida does it. And we love Florida! She turns this into praise for teachers in the final paragraph, however, with all of the “steadfast commitment and professionalism.”
  2. Apparently, Barresi – or whoever writes these letters for her – believes that a lot of Oklahoma schools are going to create transitional fourth grade classes.  They’re not. At most schools, we would be talking about a handful of students (probably between 0-5). The funding for classes that small just isn’t available. Additionally, in an ideal world, all of these students will ascend to fourth grade on Nov. 1 (which is a month after they would be considered Full Academic Year students, which is an altogether different rant).
  3. In the second-to-last paragraph, she thanks those of us who have made recommendations. This is a far cry from declaring that the time for debate is over. At most, when we contact the SDE, after a lengthy delay, we receive a response that essentially parrots back the FAQs listed on their website. Allow me to list in the following box all the changes that have been made to RSA implementation by the SDE following feedback from educators:

While I do agree that literacy is a gift, and I appreciate her prayers, I won’t pretend this email left me with the intended level of warmth. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I would guess it’s not just me.

Reading Sufficiency: A Tale of Two Papers – Part 849

February 26, 2014 5 comments

The Oklahoman made a splash again this morning with the editorial, Conspiracies, anecdotes no substitute for analysis. The title itself is the deepest part of the piece, but let me quote from it anyway:

Consider a recent Owasso forum focused on education. At that event, some attendees complained about a new law requiring retention of third-grade students who read at only a first-grade level or lower, based on state tests. The fact that children should be taught to read should be obvious, yet the law still has detractors.

Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, has filed legislation to allow parents, teachers and local school board members to socially promote students even when tests show a child is far behind classmates. Nollan’s argument for her bill rested, in part, on an anecdote. “I had a third-grader in my district who threw up on her test,” Nollan said. “This is an 8-year-old.”

Think about that: The justification given for changing a major state law is that a single child out of roughly 50,000 third-grade students in Oklahoma once vomited during testing. The law of averages suggests this scenario happens at schools every day across Oklahoma, regardless of whether testing is ongoing. That child could have simply been sick, or other factors may have induced stress. Yet that isolated instance is pointed to as justification for watering down efforts to teach children to read.

To politicians, anecdotes are the gold standard. Without them, we wouldn’t have the Merry Christmas Bill, the Pop Tart Gun Bill, or so many more of the fabulous entries into our state’s legislative record. Just think back to any presidential debate from the past 20 years. Every candidate has cherry-picked someone’s tale of woe and made it the symbol of what’s wrong with this country.

In this case, however, I’m siding with the politician. I have seen the increase in anxiety. I have seen the students crying after their benchmark tests. I have seen teachers whipped into a frenzy over the fear that in spite all their efforts, a student will have a bad test day and they won’t have the documentation to promote the child anyway.

Selective story-telling isn’t limited to politicians, by the way. The editorialists at the Oklahoman missed the big ideas from the parent meeting. Fortunately, the journalists at the Tulsa World were on hand to do something resembling reporting.

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.

Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, said she has heard that as many as 4,000 third-graders could be retained this year. Robison said state officials estimate that about 12 percent of the state’s third-graders would be in danger of retention.

“Overtesting, teaching to the test, high-stakes testing — all has been detrimental,” said Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs. “I had a third-grader in my district who threw up on her test. This is an 8-year-old.”

She said she has introduced a bill that allows for a team of parents, teachers and principals to decide after remediation whether a child should be promoted to the fourth grade.

“We’re really hoping to put it back into your hands to make the decisions,” Nollan said. “The people on the front lines are the best people to make the decision as to whether a child should be retained or promoted.”

The story, when told in full, is much more interesting. The key word here is parents. It’s not just teachers and administrators who hate the mandatory retention law; it’s parents too. Even ones who should have no concerns about how this will impact their children are unnerved. The Oklahoman believes parents should hold the schools accountable for wasting the time of all students by doing the portfolios (which of course are one of the good cause exemptions – and something REAC3H coaches are training districts to complete under the watch of the SDE). On a greater level, what parents should really demand is that we quit wasting such an insane amount of time on high-stakes testing. And by time, I also mean tens of millions of dollars a year.

During a Q&A with KFOR in Oklahoma City yesterday (questions = softballs & answers = blame teachers), Superintendent Barresi did everything the Oklahoman editorial decries. She discussed her sons’ struggles with reading (anecdotal evidence). And she blamed all of the adults for creating the anxiety being felt by Oklahoma’s students.

To that end, I’d agree with her. I just think she’s blaming the wrong adults.

Fortunately, some of the grown ups in Oklahoma City have been listening to parents. Yesterday, the House Education Committee advanced two bills that would provide more options to parents of third graders in lieu of retention. The only two who voted no on each bill were Sally Kern and Jason Nelson. I’ll let that fact speak for itself.

Are You With the Media?

January 27, 2014 13 comments

Upon further consideration, yesterday’s post, Barresi Holds a Press Conference, should have been titled Barresi Holds a Photo-Op. I suppose it’s accurate to label it a press conference, in the sense that only the press were allowed to ask questions. Apparently, when non-media tried to ask Barresi about the third grade retention law, she put them off and never returned to them.

A quick search of Twitter coverage of today’s event using the hashtag #oklaed shows that Barresi trotted out a few of the REACH Coaches, a superintendent, and Amber England with Stand for Children to stand with her during the press conference.

From those reports, here were the press conference’s main points:

  1. We need to dispel the myth that retention is about one test given over one day.
  2. Some districts are creating a 3rd to 4th grade transition year.
  3. All interested parties need to make the legislature understand the funds needed to help students meet the provisions of this law.
  4. It is time for debate to be over.
  5. Schools will have 3rd grade test scores by May 9th if they test that grade at the beginning of the testing window.
  6. Ten years ago, Florida had lower reading scores than Oklahoma. Now they are higher than we are.

Here are my thoughts on those main points.

  1. She’s right and wrong. The state will use the test to generate a list of students in the pool for retention. Then, depending on who can qualify for the good cause exemptions, some will move on. We’re either using the test to override what the teacher knows about the child or using what the teacher knows about the child to override the test. Around the state, most third grade teachers are collecting student work in case they need to build a portfolio. In either case, the test is way too important.
  2. I can’t even fathom how this will look, other than the fact that it will vary considerably from school to school. If you’re in a district with one elementary school, and you have five or six children retained under this law, how are you going to pay for that extra teacher? If it is a district with multiple elementary schools, will they centralize that transition class? And how much of a stigma will that create?
  3. Right now, many districts have taken RSA funds designated for reading support for students in 3rd grade and below and prioritized 3rd grade alone. Tutoring, summer academies, and instructional materials are heavily focused on trying to keep this law from adversely impacting a large number of children. Any help schools, parents, or organizations like Stand for Children can give in educating members of the legislature about the need for targeted funding to support this reform would be appreciated.
  4. She’s not trying to stop debate as much as she’s trying to stop dissent. This is a political tactic. There are bodies of research supporting retention and bodies of research that highlight how ineffective and harmful it can be. We know that the state superintendent only likes research supporting her own agenda. Anything else of a scholarly nature she discards with sarcasm.
  5. This will be a neat trick. I have to ask how CTB/McGraw-Hill can manage this when they couldn’t handle any part of the testing process last year. And since Measured Progress will be taking over for them in the future, how motivated will CTB be to put a rush on scoring our tests. Another thought is that we might actually do better to test students towards the end of the testing window. That’s 3-4 weeks of additional instruction before a high-stakes test.
  6. I’m not sure where Barresi gets her information that Florida’s third graders were reading a grade level behind Oklahoma’s a decade ago. The NAEP scores don’t show this at all. Oklahoma was never ahead of Florida in reading. Since 2003, both states have shown growth, and Florida remains ahead of Oklahoma. I don’t know if that can be attributed to the 3rd grade retention law, improved funding for K-12 education, another reform, or something altogether different.

The questions that I asked yesterday on my blog and that my readers added in the comments remain unanswered. Unfortunately we learned nothing from today’s side show.

Barresi Holds a Press Conference

January 26, 2014 14 comments

Late last week, the SDE issued the following press release:

***Media Alert***

State Supt. Barresi holds news conference on third-grade reading

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 01/23/2014 02:40 PM CST*

Who: State Superintendent Janet Barresi

What: This is the first year that third-grade students scoring unsatisfactory on the reading portion of the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT) and who do not qualify for an exemption will not be promoted to fourth grade. Supt. Barresi and other interested stakeholders will discuss the state’s good cause exemptions as well as the importance of the law.

When: 10 a.m. Jan. 27, 2014

Where: Blue Room, second floor of the State Capitol, 2300 N Lincoln Blvd.

As most of the state knows, 2014 is the first year in which third graders will be held back because of the results of a single test. For the past two years, school districts have been informing parents of this law and working to implement policies to deal with this reform. Tomorrow, Superintendent Janet Barresi will hold a press conference to discuss this. I wonder if she’ll take questions. In case she does, here are a few that I would like answered:

  1. Where do you get your information that 75% of all special education placements are a mistake?
  2. Why should a student on an IEP be retained, even when he/she has made gains under the classroom accommodations and modifications as prescribed in the student’s plan?
  3. Why should students still learning English be penalized just because they are still in the language acquisition process?
  4. Why did the SDE take so long to issue administrative rules for the six good cause exemptions?
  5. Is the SDE prepared for a spike in third grade retention similar to the one Florida saw the first year they had their law (from 2.8% to 13.5%)?
  6. In an election year?
  7. How will the OCCRA tests impact retention rates a year from now?
  8. Why has the SDE not ensured that each school district in the state has access to high quality, sustained professional development prior to this law taking effect?
  9. Do you really think promoting students to fourth grade in the middle of the year is a good idea?
  10. Has the SDE’s new $85,000/year researcher reviewed studies on the effects of third grade retention laws around the country?

I don’t have all the answers. Neither does Janet Barresi, however. I suspect the teachers who have spent their entire careers working with our youngest students know a lot more about what’s best for our students, though, and they don’t have a seat at the table.

What other questions should be asked? Add them in the comments below. And hold on tomorrow. This could get interesting.

Planning for Failure

January 7, 2014 9 comments

When readers send me things, I sometimes get a view into the inner-workings of some of our state’s policy measures. In this case, it’s a perspective many of us would have missed.

As all Oklahoma parents, educators, and concerned citizens should know by now, this is the first year schools will be forced to retain third grade students who score unsatisfactory on the state reading test. Since those tests are less than four months away, the Oklahoma State Department of Education has begun to help us plan. This week, schools affected by this law should be receiving a form asking them to predict how many students will score unsatisfactory on the third grade reading test.

The form also asks principals to predict how many students will qualify for each of the six Good Cause Exemptions. For the unfamiliar, they are (and please note that I cannot be held responsible for the lack of parallel structure in the form):

1. Be identified as Limited-English Proficient (LEP)/English Language Learner (ELL) on a   screening tool approved by the Oklahoma State Department of Education Office of Bilingual/ Migrant Education and have a Language Instruction Educational Plan (LIEP) in place prior to the administration of the third grade criterion referenced test; and the student must have had less than two (2) years of instruction in an English Language Learner (ELL) program.

2. Students with disabilities who are assessed with alternate achievement standards (AA-AAS)    under the Oklahoma School Testing Program (OSTP) with the Oklahoma Alternative Assessment Program (OAAP) qualify for the good cause exemption.

3. *Scoring at or above 45th percentile on one of four Oklahoma State Board of Education approved alternative standardized reading assessments:

  • Stanford Achievement Test, Tenth Edition (SAT 10)
  • Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) Complete Battery, Form A, C, or E, Level 9, Reading Comprehension
  • Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) Core Battery, Form A, C, or E, Level 9, Reading Comprehension
  • Terra Nova, Third Edition Complete Battery, Level 13, Reading

4. *To promote a student based on evidence from the Student Portfolio, the Student Portfolio shall include evidence demonstrating the student’s mastery of the Oklahoma state standards in reading equal to grade level performance on the reading portion of third grade OCCT.

5. Students with disabilities who participate in the statewide criterion-referenced test and have an IEP may qualify for a good cause exemption. To qualify for this exemption, the student must meet the following criteria: (A) The student must have been previously retained in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, or third grade; (B) The student’s IEP must: (i) Identify Reading as an area of education need for the student or identify some type of special education service in the area of Reading; and; (ii) Reflect that the student has received intensive remediation for more than two years. Intensive remediation may include any type of program offering intensive reading instruction that is identified as appropriate by the IEP team.

6. Students who demonstrate a reading deficiency and have been previously retained may qualify for a good cause exemption. To qualify for this exemption, the student must meet the following criteria: (A) The student must have been previously retained in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, or third grade for a total of two years, and; (B) The student must have received intensive reading instruction for two or more years.

* Good Cause Exemption 3 and 4 are provisions designed for students who read on a proficient level.  

Whether you knew it or not, this should be a solid reminder that the safeguards designed for ELL and Special Education students are quite flimsy. It should also be a wakeup call for anyone who has forgotten the added burdens that school reformers are placing on students and their teachers. The SDE is asking schools to predict – by mid-February – how many students will score Unsatisfactory on the test in spite of being proficient readers. That’s what the asterisked exceptions do.

In addition to having principals complete this worksheet, the SDE will send their Regional Accreditation Officers around in the next few weeks to have superintendents sign their Reading Sufficiency Act Awareness Statement. This form provides assurances – after the fact – that schools have provided reading instruction as proscribed by law, administered frequent benchmark assessments to students, and adopted policies to address issues such as mid-year promotion. It also serves as a de facto evaluation of the REAC3H Coaches who are serving the districts.

None of this will make students better readers or teachers better at reading instruction. It’s another series of checklists and forms. This process, by design, provides cover for the SDE, for schools, and ultimately for teachers. If you believe that more fear and bureaucracy are the necessary components to improving reading instruction, Oklahoma is on its way to 100% literacy by 2020.

Is This Your Card?

January 5, 2014 12 comments

The most important skill of any magician is to be able to get the audience to look one direction while the important action is happening somewhere else. Draw attention to yourself on stage right while the assistant slips away into darkness on stage left. As 2014 begins, we run the risk of being the unsuspecting audience.

Social media is abuzz this weekend because Superintendent Barresi declined a meeting with the OEA. She responded to their campaign questionnaire, insulted them, and heralded her own transparency. From the Tulsa World:

She said she was “refusing to accept more back-room deals and politics as usual” and did not want her views “filtered through the lens of liberal union bosses” at the Oklahoma Education Association, which represents more than 35,000 teachers, school support staff and retirees.

She posted answers to OEA’s candidate survey on her campaign website and challenged her opponents to divulge whether they “were willing to meet with the OEA behind closed doors and what promises were made.”

This really isn’t a surprise. Barresi frequently calls her opponents liberals, even though many of them are Republicans who simply don’t support her. The funny thing about all this is that throughout the first three years of her term, she has frequently tapped the OEA for help. She hired the OEA’s top lobbyist as her chief of staff. She even used them to garner support among teachers during the rollout of TLE. Thousands of the state’s teachers have been trained in the new evaluation system by OEA trainers. The OEA has been a partner with the SDE in the transition to the Common Core State Standards as well.

Painting this issue as one of a transparent conservative against a liberal union serves two purposes. It feeds red meat to her base supporters during the primary campaign. And it distracts from important issues.

Fortunately (and surprisingly) the Oklahoman provided a good overview of several issues that we should watch closely during the upcoming legislative session and campaign season. The editorial posted this morning calls for a more cooperative tone between Barresi and the district superintendents and lists four critical points to achieving this wish:

  • Common Core: Stay the course
  • A-F system: Keep working
  • Third-grade reading: Reality check
  • Teachers and funding: More support needed

The next few paragraphs will explore each these points, which are far more critical to public education than who meets with whom for political purposes.

Common Core: Stay the course

The Oklahoman cites concerns “about some of the specific content in the reading/language arts and math standards” as the source of consternation within Barresi’s own party. This is only partly true. The larger concern is the fact that Oklahoma’s ELA, math, and now science standards were written by national groups and rebranded as if they were written by Oklahomans. I’m in the group that has less of a problem with what’s in the standards than the fact that the SDE continues this masquerade. If they really think that the standards written under the direction of Achieve, Inc. are best for Oklahoma’s children, they should have the guts to say so. At least the Oklahoman has the decency not to use the contrived (and silly) Oklahoma Academic Standards moniker when discussing the Common Core.

Buried in this section of the editorial is a passing reference to testing. This would probably have been my lead. Testing has reached a tipping point in public education. It drives the instructional process, scheduling, accountability, teacher evaluation, and budgets of school districts. Testing will singularly determine whether school districts retain third graders. As the editorial mentions, this focus on test results often comes “at the expense of art, music, science, social studies and other important areas that keep kids excited about learning.” Many parents now join teachers as those who are sick of the obsession with standardized testing.

Staying the course with the Common Core will increase the frequency and cost of testing. It will continue eroding support for all programs not specifically labeled reading and math. It will cause more students, teachers, principals, schools, and districts to be labeled as failures. And it will open the door for more companies – both for-profit and non-profit – that see students as nothing other than potential revenue streams.

I’ve never written specifically on this blog that I either support or oppose the Common Core. The reason is that it’s not as simple as that. I believe in standard-based instruction. Good teachers start instruction with an idea of what skills they want students to learn. A good education in any discipline and at any grade level should not vary much from class to class, school to school, or district to district. To that end, I support the Common Core.

The flip side of that is sage advice I received early in my career: Follow the money. Public education policy these days follows a disruption-based philosophy. The key is that the public has to believe the narrative that claims public education is failing. Only then can legislatures appropriate less of the funding that education receives away from the schools themselves. Only then can the corporate interests (including for-profit charter school chains and testing companies) extract that funding away the public entities that traditionally receive it. Doing this requires heavy use of loaded language attacking unions, the education establishment, and the dreaded status quo. It requires us to pay attention to red herrings all lined up in a row.

With all that said, I’ve spent four years now indifferent to the fate of the Common Core. I don’t view the standards themselves as completely flawed. Actually, it’s the confluence of supporters behind the development and adoption of the standards that I find distasteful. My apathy has become antipathy. Let it fall. Disrupt the disruption.

A-F system: Keep working

The Oklahoman believes that the state’s signature accountability system “has promise.” I don’t. I believe that we could try our best to improve the system and get the grades right, but that we’d still have a lot of schools serving affluent students making an A or B and a lot of schools serving poor students making a D or F. A letter grade is just too simplistic of a measure to give schools.

The A-F system is only one set of calculations the state uses for accountability. It is window dressing, nothing more. It has no teeth.

More critical to school districts is the NCLB waiver agreement between the SDE and the US Department of Education. Using different computations than what the legislature has established for A-F, schools can receive labels of Focus or Priority. The problem with this is that the SDE, in an overture of transparency, neither makes the calculations nor the lists public. The state can say that a school is in the lowest 10 percent of a subgroup, but they don’t have to show their work. If the tortured month of October taught us anything, it should be that the SDE must always be required to show their work.

Schools subject to the provisions under the waiver face extreme disruption. Portions of their Title I money are diverted away from serving students. Staff have to complete mind-numbing reports and commit to meeting targets. Principals have to guess what the subgroup targets are because the SDE also does not release this information.

The public gets to see the window dressing and sometimes the faulty machinations behind them. What they don’t realize is that if you remove the curtain, there isn’t a window. They’ve really decorated a wall – a cold, sterile, bureaucratic wall that surrounds a system that really has no purpose.

Third-grade reading: Reality check

Again, the Oklahoman delivers a critical point about a major reform:

Under the law, students must pass tests showing they’ve achieved at least a second-grade reading level before advancing to the fourth grade. Sadly, too many students won’t make that cut. Rather than continue social promotion, schools must instead be provided the resources to successfully implement this law and help lagging students catch up. We’re not convinced those resources have been provided.

That’s one big problem. Another is that neither the legislature nor the SDE has figured out how to handle special situations, such as those faced by students on a special education plan or English-language learners. While this is a topic of legislative concern, schools have no guarantee that the flimsy safety net in place for these students will be strengthened.

It comes down to the fact that those who wrote the law (or at least those who sponsored it locally based on model legislation provided by ALEC) did not anticipate the low quality of implementation by the SDE. They also didn’t know that they were placing the law in the hands of a state superintendent who believes that 75 percent of all special education students have been misidentified.

In terms of support, district superintendents received the following email on New Year’s Eve:

Superintendents, Principals, and Reading Specialists,On Thursday, December 19, 2013, the Oklahoma State Board of Education approved, pursuant to 70 O.S. 1210.508E, the following scientifically research-based programs for use by school districts in Summer Academy Reading Programs (SARP) offered to meet requirements of the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA).

1.     Dynamic Measurement Group

2.     Literacy First

3.     LETRS Foundation*

4.     Current Reading Specialists Certified by the Oklahoma State Department of Education

*The LETRS Foundation is a new program approved by the State Board of Education.  30 of our REAC3H Coaches across Oklahoma are certified to train you in this program.  They will be available to help you with this training starting January, 2014.

Please contact your REAC3H Coach if you are interested in training with the LETRS Foundation.

Let me point out here that we start testing in less than four months. Retaining third graders is probably a bad idea in most cases. As usual, the SDE is playing catch up to one of its own initiatives. While district staff work tirelessly to help get as many children as possible to the finish line, Barresi’s staff can’t get out of its own way. It’s also worth noting that while four programs are approved for remediation, the SDE is only providing support for one.

Again, follow the money.

This law makes the most sense to the people who least understand child development. Teachers who work with our youngest students know that third grade is late to be retaining children. They also understand that students in early grades learn at very different rates. The results of this law are potentially disastrous, and this is an election year.

Teachers and funding: More support needed

The Oklahoman acknowledges that schools need more money and that too many students are in poverty:

It’s easy to look at how poorly Oklahoma fares on national rankings of school funding and be frustrated. Clearly, Oklahoma has plenty of room for improvement; students and teachers can’t afford to do education reform on the cheap. Too much is at stake.

Perhaps it’s also time to consider a governmental or at least a gubernatorial Cabinet structure that brings a more cohesive look at meeting all the needs of children. The educational success of children is profoundly affected by whether their other basic needs are met. Oklahoma ignores this reality at its own peril.

Quality costs money. Reform costs money. Improvement costs money. And poverty matters. They’re acknowledging all of these things here, but the words ring hollow. Just a few days ago, they posted on the same editorial pages a column written by one of their frequent contributors, Brandon Dutcher, the senior vice president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs – a conservative think tank. Dutcher disputes rankings showing how low funding is for education in Oklahoma. Jason James effectively refutes his arguments on his own blog:

Mr. Dutcher is of the opinion that money can’t help schools. He says Oklahoma isn’t 49th in educational spending it’s 29th when adjusted for comparable wages. Why is it when educators point out American test scores are the highest in the world when adjusted for poverty – they’re leapers, but opponents of increasing school funding can adjust per pupil funding by using comparable wages – and it’s a legit point? Why is it people who are against paying for a public education are always quick to point out money hasn’t helped Washington DC?  Does Washington DC do anything right?  I know of no one who wants to follow the Washington DC model for education. Blindly throwing money at public schools has never been my or any education organization’s goal to make our schools better for our children. It is a tactic that has been used to persuade public opinion, and it is disingenuous.  What 49th isn’t OK wants, CCOSA wants, OEA wants, and teachers want is for the State of Oklahoma to provide funding for the goods and services required of public schools to educate the public’s children.  Anyone who suggests we can increase the quality and quantity of these services when decreasing funding is just not sane.

Oklahoma has suffered for years under the Starve the Beast mentality of key legislators who want to disrupt public education. They continue significantly cutting taxes for huge corporations while throwing an occasional quarter of a percentage point for Joe Taxpayer. They ask schools to meet more mandates for more students with less money. When they increase funding for education, little of it filters into the school funding formula. Most of the increases are reserved for the SDE and the testing companies.

Continuing their trend behaviors of being late and lacking transparency, the SDE released mid-term adjustments to school districts December 30. Usually these calculations are given to schools earlier so they can plan for second semester adjustments in a timely manner. This time, they also weren’t posted to the SDE’s finance page. It’s always instructive to be able to see who is getting an increase and who is getting a decrease. Last school year, as you’ll remember, there was even some concern that the SDE had miscalculated appropriations. That would be consistent with everything else we’ve seen from them.

This state needs greater support for public education. That means more money, constructive rhetoric, and policies that make sense. Lip service just won’t do.

In Conclusion

I think it’s a mistake for Barresi not to meet with the OEA. It’s bad form, just as it was when she walked out of the candidate forum in Oklahoma City last August. She keeps saying that she wants what’s best for teachers, but she shows them disrespect at every turn. Unfortunately, this is not new information for us.

We have to acknowledge that 2014 is a critical year for the future of public education in this state. We will either restore local control or continue selling out to Achieve and ALEC. We will improve access for all students to diverse and engaging academic choices, or we will hold them up as a sacrificial offering to corporations and shady nonprofits.

In 2013, more voices emerged in the resistance. This year, we need more active bloggers, more strategic social media, and more contact with lawmakers. An engaged public can’t won’t be ignored. There’s nothing magical about a loud, well-informed electorate.

Oh, and Happy New Year.

“Typical” Remediation

November 25, 2013 6 comments

Last week, Oklahoma school districts received their allocation notices for two major reform programs: the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA) and Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE). The RSA money is based on counts of current K-3 students reading below grade level, as assessed by one or more benchmarks. The ACE money is based on the number of students who scored below proficient on the Spring 2013 assessments for seventh and eighth grade math and reading, and any End of Instruction (EOI) exam.

The per pupil allocation for RSA is about $76. For ACE, it is about $66 for each student with an unsatisfactory score and about $50 for each student scoring limited knowledge. If a “typical” district has a going rate for tutoring of $15-20 per hour, and schools decide to use their money this way, there would be enough funds for three to five sessions per student. This, of course, would leave nothing for materials, software, summer programs, or professional development – which is how the SDE recommends districts spend 25 percent of their RSA funds.

The “typical” district has to decide how to manage this. Is it better to invest resources for students in need of the greatest assistance now (third graders, and high school students needing help before re-testing on an EOI) or in those in danger of being harmed by the current laws later (K-2 students, and eighth and ninth graders)? Should we focus on tutoring now, including time away from music, art, and PE, or just plan on having RSA summer school? Should we keep middle school and high school students out of elective courses or provide last-minute cram sessions before the winter and spring re-testing windows?

Complicating this decision-making process is the fact that districts don’t know until November how much funding to plan for. The quantity is finite, and the state splits it up among all participants. In the case of RSA, the SDE has to wait for all districts to report the number of students reading below grade level to slice the pie (in spite of statutory reporting deadlines). In the case of ACE, as they pointed out last week, we know that there are 30,806 more students needing remediation than there were a year ago. We also know that Biology was the only EOI in which the state average pass rate decreased in 2013.

Every district in Oklahoma has to make these choices. Each has to make them differently. See, in Oklahoma, there is no such thing as a “typical” district. The sizes vary – from fewer than 100 students to over 40,000. Some are remote, some are densely populated, and some have both rural and urban characteristics. Poverty levels are different, as are the levels of support from home and community.

The one constant among all districts is the lack of support from the state.

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