Posts Tagged ‘Reading Sufficiency’

Third Grade Reading Scores: Lessons in Bad Form

By 10:00 this morning, most Oklahoma school districts were able to log on to CTB’s secure site and view preliminary third grade reading scores. By 10:48, the Oklahoma State Department of Education had released a bulletin proclaiming the addition of high-stakes testing to the Reading Sufficiency Act a success. It’s a long bulletin, so rather than posting it in full as I normally do, I’m going to get to it piece-by-piece.

Nearly 80 percent of state third-graders to be promoted to fourth-grade

16 percent score Unsatisfactory on Oklahoma reading test

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 9, 2014) – About 80 percent of Oklahoma third-graders are eligible to be promoted to fourth-grade based on the state’s reading test scores, according to figures released today to Oklahoma school districts and elementary schools. Sixteen percent of third-graders scored Unsatisfactory but will have two additional opportunities to demonstrate basic reading skills through a student portfolio or an alternative reading assessment provided for under the state’s Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA).

Under the RSA, schools now will determine which third-grade students qualify for one of the law’s good-cause exemptions to allow promotion to fourth-grade. Students who scored Unsatisfactory will have the summer to take alternate tests and attend summer reading academies. Teachers can provide portfolios of a child’s work to show he or she can read at grade level.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi thanked teachers in pre-kindergarten through third-grade for their tremendous work in helping to ensure every child is able to read.

“Nothing is more fundamental to a child’s education than the ability to read, and it is our responsibility to educators to see to it that all children have the resources necessary to gain this vital skill before they slip further and further behind. We are moving in the right direction,” Barresi said.

“The strong numbers for proficient readers attest to the hard work and tenacity of our children and their teachers. In the three years since the enactment of the RSA’s retention portion, teachers have devoted countless hours and leant their expertise to improving reading instruction for children. They have done superbly.”

Superintendent Barresi heralds the fact that four-fifths of the state’s third graders are eligible for promotion. She glosses over the fact that one-fifth aren’t. We’ve never collectively held back 20 percent of a grade-level in Oklahoma.

Yes, schools are working through Mother’s Day weekend to figure out how to apply the six good-cause exemptions. Unfortunately, they don’t provide much in the way of relief – not even for special education students or English-language learners.

About those three years, though – if the current incarnation of RSA is so great, then why are unsatisfactory rates climbing? As this graphic from Nate Robson at Oklahoma Watch shows, the unsatisfactory rate has risen during Barresi’s tenure.

Part of the problem has been the loss of funding for RSA by the legislature. More importantly, the SDE has confused the implementation of every major reform they have supported. While some of their REACH coaches have provided great professional development for the districts they serve, there has been a lack of focus. If we’re grading people on the value they add…

“Doomsday predictions from some critics of RSA had suggested that anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of our third-graders would score Unsatisfactory. But Oklahoma teachers and schoolchildren were, and are, up for the challenge.”

Statewide, scores for the third-grade reading Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT) were as follows:

1,120 — or 2.2 percent — scored Advanced

32,531 — or 64 percent — scored Proficient

7,070 — or 13.9 percent — scored Limited Knowledge

7,970 — or 15.7 percent — scored Unsatisfactory

The RSA includes special exemptions for students with disabilities, English Language Learners and students who have been retained twice. When these good-cause exemptions are factored in, the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) anticipates the number of students facing retention to decrease significantly.

Four percent did not take the test for various reasons (absent, no longer enrolled, etc.).

I don’t recall seeing the 25 to 40 percent predictions. That doesn’t mean they weren’t there, but I didn’t see them. Next year, when we have an all new test from an all new vendor based on whatever we’re calling the state standards at that time, this will be a reasonable projection.

Barresi also overstates the extent to which IEP and ELL kids will be spared. Yes, in many schools, the majority of students scoring unsatisfactory on the test fall into these two categories. The reality is that the state regulations do little to help. Here are the good cause exemptions relating to those groups:

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.

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.

Anybody who has ever worked with ELL students knows that language acquisition takes more than two years. And anybody who thinks that retaining special education students who are making gains is a good idea has never worked with them. Then again Janet Barresi thinks that most special education identifications are wrong.

One of the more dramatic successes to emerge from the RSA concerns students on Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs. Although 11.38 percent of third-graders last year scored Unsatisfactory on the reading test, it is important to note that 6.5 percent more students took the exam this year. That’s because this marked Oklahoma’s first year in which first-time test takers on an IEP did not have the option of taking a modified test. Oklahoma is one of the last states to phase out use of modified tests for students on an IEP.

Although about 3,000 more students with disabilities took the reading portion of the OCCT than in previous years, the percentage of Unsatisfactory scores rose by only 4 percent. Barresi credited that feat to extraordinary work of teachers.

She also praised the efforts of OSDE literacy (or REAC3H) Coaches. The coaches have traveled throughout the state, offering professional development in classrooms and training teachers, administrators and reading specialists to help their students improve reading skills.

“I need to give a big pat on the back to our REAC3H coaches,” Barresi said. “They have helped work miracles. I hear nothing but praise for them from educators from all across the state.”

She credits teachers, praises REACH coaches, and more or less blames the increase in unsatisfactory scores on special education students. That’s not all of the increase, however. The 3,000 increase in students taking the test is six percent of the roughly 50,000 total test-takers. So if all the increase is to be explained by more special education students taking the regular test, that means two-thirds of them scored unsatisfactory.

It’s nice that Barresi publicly credited teachers. As always, though, praise from her rings hollow.

Challenges face the state’s largest school districts. 32.7 percent of Tulsa third-graders scored Unsatisfactory, while 28.9 percent of Oklahoma City’s third-graders scored Unsatisfactory.

“The scores reveal the extent of the considerable work that will be needed in these districts, but great strides are being made,” Barresi said. “Teachers are committed to helping these students. There can be no option but to get these kids on track for literacy.”

The superintendent said educators recognize that many students who scored Unsatisfactory and do not meet a good-cause exemption may be anxious about what’s ahead.

“We want to reassure these students and their families that we will do everything possible to support the efforts to ensure they can read on grade level so they can have the earliest chance of promotion,” she said.

A number of school districts have scheduled summer reading academies, while others have put “transitional” grades in place. Some districts indicate they are considering mid-year promotion.

“An individual who isn’t given the opportunity to learn how to read is denied an opportunity to be a fully contributing citizen. Not only is that individual harmed, but our society is made the worse for it. If you cannot read, you cannot be enthralled by Charlotte’s Web. You cannot marvel at the genius of the Declaration of Independence. You cannot read the word of the Lord in the Bible,” said Barresi. “When Gov. Fallin and state legislators strengthened the RSA three years ago, they did so to ensure all our children have the gift of literacy.”

The scores reveal the extent to which abject poverty impacts our urban schools. We’re not talking about students who barely qualify for free/reduced lunch. We’re talking about a majority of students who come to school hungry. We live in a state that refuses to address poverty or properly fund public education, but we want to make sure the kids can read about pigs, spiders, liberty, and Jesus. In addition to school finance and child development, apparently Barresi also needs a basic course on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Third-graders who score Unsatisfactory on state tests and benchmark assessments are reading at about a first-grade level or below. First-graders proficient in reading can read simple words at the rate of about 60 words per minute. Fourth-graders, however, are expected to read 120 to 150 words per minute, and with more difficult text. They must read fluently for comprehension versus just learning to decode words.

Established in 1997, the RSA requires districts to conduct benchmark reading assessments at the start of kindergarten, first, second and third grades. A district must implement customized remediation plans for students with reading difficulties.

Although the law was in place for 17 years and funded by more than $80 million, the number of third-graders with reading difficulties was not showing improvement.

With the 2011 addition of the amendment on third-grade retention, many school districts have redoubled their efforts to help children read on grade level.

Starting Monday, Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) literacy staff and REAC3H Coaches will be manning telephone hotlines for educators and parents who have questions concerning the application of the RSA.

The RSA Hotlines will be active from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays from Monday through Friday, May 23.

Parents and community members can call (405) 521-3774 to leave comments or questions. The line will be monitored, with responses provided in a timely fashion.

District personnel who have questions should call (405) 521-3301, the main OSDE helpdesk line. Questions will be answered or calls routed to appropriate staff.

Of course, districts and parents are still welcome to contact OSDE for additional help after that period.

Again, Barresi provides misinformation about what the test tell us. They do not diagnose reading level. I enjoyed this response from the Norman Public Schools on Twitter. In what can be described as a great lesson in word choice, they called it the “3rd grade language arts exam” instead of a reading test. This more accurately explains to their parents and community what the scores represent.

Barresi is also wrong about the impact of the law over 17 years. Third grade reading scores did show improvement. Even fourth grade NAEP scores have improved over that time. ACT scores have improved too.

For months now we’ve heard Janet Barresi complain that 17 years of RSA without high stakes brought little gain. Now, with one year of high stakes, scores drop. Explain. And you don’t get to blame the special education kid. Neither do we, for that matter.

The only reason I care about these test scores is because people with no real investment in the children use them to make bad decisions – decisions that hurt kids. Yet in another show of bad form, the SDE released the scores by district on their website and to the media before many districts even had a chance to log on and look at them – much less contact parents. I’m all for transparency, and I’ve always said that test scores by grade, subject, and score level are a much better snapshot of school performance than A-F Report Cards, but these are only preliminary scores. The top of each score report has the following disclaimer:

Preliminary results pending corrections and SDE-approved status codes

This decision frustrated the Oklahoma City superintendent and the Tulsa superintendent. Rather than giving schools time to review the results and contact parents, they had to answer calls from all parents. The SDE added to the problem by creating unnecessary chaos. There will be updates. There will be status code changes. These things will impact whether students are retained.

But in their haste to make a big splash and somehow proclaim the fact that thousands of Oklahoma students may be retained (and that even more are worried) was somehow a victory, Janet Barresi and the SDE stumbled yet again.

This is why we must flood the legislature with phone calls, emails, and in-person visits on Monday. The House will hear HB 2625, which places the decision about retaining students back in the hands of parents and teachers. They will still review the test scores. They will still discuss the application of the good cause exemptions – or if none can be met. In some cases, they will still decide that retention is the best option.

The difference of course is who decides. A year’s worth of evidence will carry more weight than one test. A student’s IEP will carry more weight. A holistic evaluation of what the student knows and can do far outweighs a limited assessment that only arguably tests reading level.

If you’re like me, you’re mad, sickened, frustrated, and sad. Politicians playing with the lives of children will do that.

Calling on the Hotline (in Disco Pants)

All across Oklahoma, schools are approaching Friday with tremendous anticipation. With third grade retention looming, and CTB set to release scores by May 9th, the SDE is now offering a new service.

Oklahoma State Department of Education offers Reading Hotlines

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 6, 2014) – The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) will soon establish telephone hotlines for educators and parents who have questions about the third-grade promotion portion of the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA).

OSDE literacy staff and REAC3H Coaches will answer questions and concerns, provide support for electronic submission of reports and help with communication for parents and citizens.

The RSA Hotlines will be active from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, Monday, May 12, through Friday, May 23. 

Parents and community members can call (405) 521-3774 to leave comments or questions. The line will be monitored, with responses provided in a timely fashion.

District personnel who have questions should call (405) 521-3301, the main OSDE helpdesk line. Questions will be answered or calls routed to appropriate staff.

School districts statewide will receive third-grade reading test scores from testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill by Friday. Only third-graders who score Unsatisfactory on the test and don’t meet one of the state’s good-cause exemptions will be retained.

Students who score Unsatisfactory will be able to take an alternate assessment or a teacher may provide a portfolio of the child’s work to demonstrate that he or she reads at appropriate grade level.

For a full list of good-cause exemptions and more information about third-grade promotion, visit

The first thing I notice is that the SDE insists on calling it anything but a retention policy. I’ve heard people who work there call it third grade graduation Here they call it promotion. Students, parents, and teachers aren’t worried about promotion. They’re worried about retention.

For two weeks, the SDE is going to have REACH coaches providing hotline support. All 60 of them? How many phone calls do they anticipate? Will the first call be to complain that CTB’s data site is down and that schools can’t access the scores?

I also think it’s interesting that there are different numbers to call for school personnel and non-school personnel. I wonder what would happen if someone called the hotline  …

…wait a second. I can’t continue without providing you with this classic 70s earworm from the Sylvers…

Now I’m picturing all the REACH coaches dancing disco-style like the band in that video. And yes, calling that song a classic is a bit of a stretch. Then again, so is providing Q & A support during the last two weeks of the school year (the last week in some places) for the third grade retention law. Where was this outreach to parents during the school year?

Back to the question I began to pose before the musical detour: I wonder what would happen if someone called each hotline with the same question. Would we get the same answer? And what questions should we ask when Oklahoma parents, educators, and community members flood the phones? Please share your ideas in the comments.

Caring Doesn’t Make Us Flawed

April 16, 2014 9 comments

The Oklahoman is up to their usual nonsense this morning. This time, they’re criticizing the adults who don’t like the third grade retention clause under the Reading Sufficiency Act.

In sports, citizens often mock the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality or refusal to keep score. But in academics, some find it shocking that officials would acknowledge any students trail their peers. Some critics take things a step further by suggesting there should be no consequence when a child isn’t taught to read.

That’s the wrong approach. Fostering an entitlement mentality provides children no academic benefit. A child’s self-esteem should be based on actual achievement, not social promotion. Self-image improves most when a child initially struggles to achieve a goal, not when “accomplishment” is handed to them.

Keep in mind, the law only prevents students from advancing to the fourth grade if they are reading at a first-grade level or lower. Such students are unable to read and comprehend a Dr. Seuss book.

This is just the first third of the editorial. And it’s so, so wrong.

I’ll start with the youth sports analogy. I’ve coached youth teams where no official score is kept. I’ve also coached teams where the children are in single digits, the adults do keep score, and the kids finish the game completely unaware of the outcome. Some of them are playing soccer, football, basketball, baseball, softball, or anything else for the love of the game. Keep that concept in mind for later in this critique.

I also have problem with the statement that educators are suggesting there should be no consequence when a child isn’t taught to read. The test results that we will ostensibly receive by May 9th will not tell us one damn thing about the teaching that has occurred in the classroom. They won’t show the interventions, remediation, or tutoring. They won’t show that students made gains. They won’t show the level of parental involvement. They won’t show whether the students are getting more and more comfortable in their school libraries. Tests only show what they show. And that’s very little.

Furthermore, there is no entitlement mentality. Critics of forced retention know that third grade is too late to do this. That is why, when we look through the permanent records of many of the students who will be retained this year, we will see that the school recommended retention at an earlier grade for a variety of reasons. Often, the parent overrides that recommendation. Still, most third grade teachers will gladly tell you that they would rather promote their students to fourth grade based on the fact that they are making gains. Maybe they’re not on level. I’d promote an improving student rather than holding him or her back, however.

A number of other bloggers have discussed that the test does not actually diagnose reading level. That is a whole separate battery of tests. In fact, there is tremendous disconnect between the skills assessed on the Oklahoma 3rd Grade Reading Test and the nationally-normed tests that are in place as one of the Good Cause Exemptions. The levels of performance are also mis-aligned. And again, with the Dr. Seuss.  Apparently defenders of this inane law are going to keep pushing this nonsense until we’re all One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish in the face.

The writers also criticize the concept of test anxiety, saying that the leading cause is anxiety over the material itself. I agree that can be a cause of anxiety. It’s not the only one, however. That’s typically true of older test takers – not eight and nine year-olds. For them, this is the first significant standardized test. It’s completely unfamiliar. I’ve never been in a third grade classroom during state tests where the children weren’t at least a little antsy.

I’ve also heard claims that the adults are making the anxiety worse. This is mainly coming from Superintendent Barresi, who obviously hasn’t been spending time in schools where she would see teachers making up songs with their classes, entire faculties wearing testing t-shirts, and parents providing support and encouragement non-stop. Testing is the most stressful time of the school year for everybody. The procedures alone are brutal on the adults, who still muster the energy to look at the kids, sing a happy song, and say, “You’ve got this. I believe in you!”

The editorial continues with more inflated nonsense about testing.

Some critics of the reading law suggest “high stakes” testing doesn’t occur outside K-12 schools. Not true. The driver’s license exam is certainly high stakes for most teenagers. College admission is often tied to a student’s ACT or SAT score. Those wishing to serve in the military must achieve a minimum score on the ASVAB to enlist. For what it’s worth, a 2010 Education Trust report, which examined ASVAB results from 2004 to 2009, found 23.2 percent of Oklahoma high school graduates (and 39.5 percent of black applicants from Oklahoma) did not meet the minimum standard necessary to enlist.

Those wishing to work as attorneys must pass the bar exam. Failure on that test means years of college education and thousands of dollars in tuition have been wasted. Talk about high stakes! The same scenario is true for accountants. Even those wishing simply to work a cash register at a retail outlet must typically pass a skills test.

Before the writers drift off-topic to the ASVAB results, they nearly make a solid point. At different stages in life, many of us have chosen to take a test that will have high stakes for us. I chose to take the ACT and SAT in high school (and the GRE after college). I have countless friends and family members who have self-selected to take the MCAT and LSAT and spent hundreds of hours on top of their coursework cramming for those tests. This hardly compares to the experience of our third graders.

I hope the editorialists at the state’s mouthpiece for corporate education reform at least understand that. If they don’t, then they need to read Rob’s blog from last night. Sure, it’s an anecdotal piece of evidence. But it’s a pretty compelling one.

A Little More About the Messenger

April 14, 2014 7 comments

I had a reader question how thoroughly I research people today. The comment was made by Lorie Brady on the Testing (Our Patience) post from last week.

I would like to point out that Teri Brecheen completely transformed her poverty riddled, rural school district. It went from a failing school to a nationally recognized academic success story. If there is anyone who knows about reading instruction and passion for student success, it is Teri. I suggest that you find out a little more about the messenger before you start taking shots at her.

Thanks for the suggestion. I have in fact done my homework on the Cottonwood “miracle.” Here are some basic numbers from the K-8 district in Coal County from the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years (the year before Brecheen joined the SDE, and the following year):

Cottonwood Public Schools 2010-11 2011-12
Average Daily Membership 245.2 247.2
Free/Reduced Lunch % 58.9% 63.3%
Special Education % 33.9% 34.4%
3rd Grade Reading Passing % 90% 69%
4th Grade Reading Passing % 94% 95%
5th Grade Reading Passing % 90% 94%
6th Grade Reading Passing % 100% 75%
7th Grade Reading Passing % 80% 100%
8th Grade Reading Passing % 100% 83%

While I firmly believe that numbers tell part of a story, I don’t believe they tell the whole story – probably less than half (which is why I hate high-stakes testing, A-F Report Cards, VAM, and Roster Verification). In this case, let’s see what story the data tell.

In 2011-12, the state average for special education was 14.8 percent of students. Cottonwood more than doubled that. In fact, Cottonwood has had more than 30 percent of its students on an IEP every year since 1998-99. Prior to that, they were in the teens. Their high year came in 2001-02, when they hit 42.4% of students classified as special education. For the 2011-12 school year, this ranked Cottonwood 12th out of 522 school districts for highest percentage of students in special education programs.

I point this out because Ms. Brecheen’s boss’s boss likes to claim that schools don’t know how to identify special needs students. Last fall, Superintendent Barresi stated that 75 percent of all identifications were wrong. Earlier this month, she said it was between 50-60 percent. It’s also worth noting that those reading scores above only include regular education students.

As for poverty, Cottonwood’s free/reduced percentages are within a couple of points of the state average. In 2011-12, they were above it. The previous year, they were below it. There is a lot of poverty in the community, but not to a remarkable extent.

Fortunately, I’ve also had the opportunity to hear Ms. Brecheen speak on multiple occasions. I heard her discuss management strategies that are definitely important. It is clear that she paid attention to reading in the early grades. For a superintendent to be that involved in at least understanding where the students and teachers stand in the development of that most critical learning skill is noteworthy.

What I haven’t heard from her is anything concrete in terms of teaching strategies. Every time I hear her talk, it’s an amalgam of folksy anecdotes, and it’s heavier on faith, hope, and love than it is on methodology. I agree with the commenter in terms of Ms. Brecheen’s passion for student success. I remain unconvinced of her understanding of quality reading instruction.

That said, I have nothing against faith, hope, and love. This blog is predicated on the faith I have in our state’s teachers to do the best job they can (while continuously improving). Every student – even the most challenging or at risk kids – deserves our genuine hope. And any teacher incapable of loving children doesn’t belong in the classroom.

On top of that, Ms. Brecheen saying that our students’ struggles are due to our teachers’ inadequacies shows her lack of contact with the rest of the state. Cottonwood is one school district. It’s a small one. It’s a K-8 school. What works there might not work in a K-12 district…or one with 1,000 students…or 10,000…or 25,000. And so on. Her experiences there might not even translate to another district with 250 students in the next county. Every district has different kids, different needs.

Then again, how many of us in the blogosphere have been saying that until we turn blue?

Another way to say this is that I have no need to disparage the hard work of the teachers at Cottonwood. It is clear that they have been tireless and had a tremendous amount of success with their regular education students. I have no data confirming or disconfirming the success of their special education students during Ms. Brecheen’s superintendency. I’d go look at the old API reports from that era if the SDE hadn’t removed them in the name of transparency. Or something like that.

This state has some incredible teachers working in tough situations. No doubt many of them are in Cottonwood and other small communities. I’d just like to hear something resembling respect and understanding from Brecheen – and others at the SDE – when talking about the rest of the state.

Horton Hears What?

Yesterday, Superintendent Barresi and her Republican Primary challenger, Joy Hofmeister, answered questions during a luncheon in Tulsa. This was the first time they’ve spoken to a group at the same time (not counting last summer when Barresi left the building after speaking at a candidate’s forum). I wish I could have seen that. Fortunately, the Tulsa World has reported the details.

Although I could surely point to more, I take issue with three things in particular that came out of Barresi’s mouth during the debate (which may not be the best word to describe the event). Unless otherwise noted, all quotes below are from the World article

Third Grade Testing

In her opening statement, Barresi noted many parents have voiced their concerns about the third-grade reading law, which mandates that children pass the state standardized reading test or be retained in third grade.

The focus should be not on how many students will be retained, but how many students are illiterate in Oklahoma and how it will affect their lives, she said.

“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,'” Barresi said.

This is yet another in a series of talking points that Barresi and her few remaining political allies will be using to influence us. How do we know this? Today, the Oklahoman quoted Rep. Jason Nelson saying essentially the same thing.

Students who fail a third-grade reading test would be granted new options for promotion to the fourth grade under an amended bill approved late Monday by the Common Education Committee of the state House of Representatives.

Students would be allowed to appeal to the local school board if they can obtain the backing of their parent or guardian, teacher, principal and teaching specialist, if the school has one, under an amendment successfully presented to the committee by state Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs.

The students also would be eligible for promotion if they pass one of the screening tests leading up to the main reading test, under an amendment by state Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City.

Nelson said his amendment to Senate Bill 1971 is designed to offer relief to children who can read at the proper grade level, but happen to perform poorly on one test.

However, Nelson argued against Nollan’s amendment, saying it would provide an avenue for children who can’t read books like Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hears a Who!” to be promoted to the fourth grade where they would be expected to read books on the level of “Little House on the Prairie.”

“I just can’t understand how we would be doing anyone a favor,” he said.

Yes, one of our Legislature’s strongest advocates of parental rights wants parents to have no input in retention decisions. Fortunately, this is not the prevailing view at the Capitol right now.

Fortunately, two other Jasons (fellow bloggers Bengs and James) have this covered in their respective write-ups of the conversation. Essentially, they point out the disconnect between the Lexile level and interest range and the fact that comprehending Seuss is not exactly the prerequisite a reading teacher would choose before diving into Wilder. These are bad examples and were likely chosen more for the fact that the titles would resonate for political purposes rather than for their comparative value.

Hofmeister had her own thoughts on the RSA law.

As a former first-grade teacher, Hofmeister said that third grade is not a good year to hold children back.

“The evidence doesn’t support that. We need to act on evidence,” she said. “If we’re serious in our state about having third-graders reading at grade level, we need to put the emphasis and the support in place in the kindergarten, first- and second-grade years.”

That’s what teachers and parents have been saying for two years. At least one Republican candidate has listened.

Working With Educators

“Yes, I will fight against the establishment. I will fight against the unions. I am strong and I am committed to move forward with all of the reforms,” she said.

As I’ve mentioned before, Barresi could not have implemented the qualitative piece of TLE without the help of the Oklahoma Education Association – Oklahoma’s largest teacher’s union. They have also been instrumental in providing training in the Common Core. To the extent that anything the SDE has done was effective during Barresi’s first three years, she had help from the teachers she vows to fight.

Hofmeister provided a pleasant contrast.

But Hofmeister, who served on the Oklahoma State Board of Education for more than a year before resigning to challenge Barresi’s re-election, said that Oklahoma education needs leadership that listens and fosters relationships.

“We don’t have that right now,” she said. “I saw missed opportunities as a board member watching how it was all unfolding. I saw missed opportunities to work with practitioners in the field, missed opportunities to work with scholarly experts.’ I saw missed opportunities to keep government small and respect local control.”

Hofmeister said that is why parents are frustrated and teachers are demoralized.

“When it comes to education, those closest to the students know them best and know their needs and the best way to serve them,” she said.

I question anyone with blanket animosity towards the unions, but in any case, it is important to note that there are many teachers who choose not to join. (I recently heard someone say membership is below 50% statewide, but I honestly don’t have the numbers to back that up. It’s safe to say membership varies from district to district.) More than that, Barresi, Nelson, Governor Fallin, and anyone else taking shots at educators for resisting the SDE and their reforms, needs to remember that thousands of parents have locked arms with us in our resistance.

Administration Costs

Both said schools need to be adequately funded, but Hofmeister charged that much of the state’s education funds are being used to “grow bureaucracy at the state Department of Education” rather than going into the classrooms.

Barresi argued that isn’t true, adding that during her term she has trimmed the agency’s overhead and administrative costs by $250,000 a month.

“The only thing that’s growing in schools is the administration. We have to take a look at funneling money back into the classroom … in a targeted and focused way,” she said.

When the people hell-bent on destroying public education find themselves in a corner, they quite predictably launch this missile. It falls flat in the face of facts, however. Below is a comparison of administrative costs from 2008 (the year before budget cuts started) through 2012 (the most recent year with published data). These are state averages.

Year Percent of Total Expenditures for District Administration District Administration Expenditures Per Pupil Percent of Total Expenditures for Site Administration Site Administration Expenditures Per Pupil
2008 2.9%  $222 5.5%  $418
2009 2.9%  $228 5.5%  $429
2010 3.1%  $243 5.4%  $422
2011 3.2% $246 5.4%  $411
2012 3.1%  $235 5.5%  $419
Change 0.2%  $13 0.0%  $1

Figures include salaries for superintendents, principals, directors, and the like. They also include other staff working in administrative capacities, such as secretaries, and the associated costs of running their offices (technology, utilities, etc.). Over the last five years, these figures are virtually unchanged. Adjusted for inflation, they actually represent a decline of about $27 per pupil in administrative expenses over this time period.

It makes a good talking point, but it lacks truth. Barresi’s opponent knows this.

Hofmeister also said that the state Board of Education has become a rubber-stamp for Barresi’s preferences, citing a specific instance when the board agreed to pay millions of dollars to her “vendor of choice.”

“This is an example of centralization of power and decision-making happening at the state department level. That’s not good for the economy and it’s not good for education,” she said.

Barresi refuted that charge and said all rules and regulations were followed in hiring vendors and that decisions were made in an appropriate manner.

Really? All of the purchases have been above board? What about the time CTB/McGraw-Hill (good luck with your servers this year, guys – seriously!) was selected as the testing vendor, then the selection was invalidated, and the whole thing had to go back out to bid again? Remember that? Oh, wait, I do. I wrote about that in October 2012. The SDE blamed it on “administrative challenges,” which is code for “people insisting we follow rules when spending wasting millions of taxpayer dollars.”

I’m tired of the nonsense. I’m ready for a change. Whether it’s Hofmeister or one of the Democrats challenging for the position, this state deserves better than having a state superintendent who will say pretty much anything to keep her job.

anyonebutbarresi - Copy

Rally for HB 2625 (among other things)

March 29, 2014 3 comments

I know what I said yesterday. I need a break from blogging. I really do. Unfortunately, taking that break is predicated upon Janet Barresi not sending us ridiculous emails like the one I read last night.

Superintendent Barresi comments on bill
to weaken third-grade reading law 

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 28, 2014) — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi made the following remarks concerning House Bill 2625. Slated for a vote Monday in the state Senate Education Committee, the measure would repeal automatic retention of students who score Unsatisfactory on the third-grade reading test and who don’t meet a good-cause exemption.

“To deny children the opportunity to learn how how [sic] to read is to deny them an opportunity for success. Reading is the most fundamental aspect of an education. It is unconscionable that anyone would think it’s too much to ask that a school teach a child to read.

“Extensive research shows that moving children forward in school without the ability to read proficiently sets them on a course of falling further and further behind. It condemns them to frustration and failure. But there are also severe consequences for the students who are able to read proficiently, as fourth- and fifth-grade teachers must increasingly spend their time in remediation with the struggling readers.

“The Reading Sufficiency Act has been in existence for 17 years to identify and provide intensive remediation for struggling readers as early as kindergarten. And yet after 17 years and more than $80 million in funding, the percentage of Oklahoma students reading below grade level has remained flat. We cannot allow this to continue. We cannot continue sabotaging the promise of future generations.

“I urge Senate Education Committee members to continue to support high standards by ensuring that our children can read. I would ask that they let the RSA work. There already are good-cause exemptions to address an array of special circumstances. Predictions of catastrophe are simply incorrect. When the State of Oklahoma mandated end-of-instruction exams as a condition for high school graduation, critics made similar predictions that the sky would fall. Instead, Oklahoma’s young people rose to the occasion, with the passage rate at 99 percent.

“The good news is that RSA already is working. It is igniting attention and innovation in reading instruction. We see school districts in Tulsa, Bartlesville, Putnam City and elsewhere making impressive gains in reducing the numbers of children with reading difficulties. It would be a mistake to start weakening the law just as it begins to show glimmers of its anticipated positive impact.”

She has every right to have an opinion and to use her position to try to influence the outcome of a vote. I take issue with the language she uses. Nobody is trying to “deny children the opportunity to learn how how to read.” (Aren’t you glad we’re not debating the Writing Sufficiency Act?) Reasonable people – and by reasonable, I mean the parents and teachers who work with children every day – believe that mandatory retention does more harm than good.

I also take issue with her selective use of research in paragraph three. This from the mouth of a politician who derides researchers when it suits her! Everything Barresi says reeks of a selective view of her particular agenda. Research also shows the damaging effects of retention. She never talks about that.

She mentions the Good Cause Exemptions but fails to mention that they are quite limited in their coverage. She also fails to mention that Florida pumped millions of dollars into useful programs when they went down this road ten years ago. Barresi also talks of empowering parents, when it is convenient for her. What’s more powerful than having parents and teachers sit down at a table, discussing student achievement, and making educational decisions together? That’s what HB 2625 would allow.

I’ve recently heard Barresi say that the RSA existed for 17 years before the retention clause was added, and now the Act has “teeth.” Lots of things have teeth. That’s something Barresi can discuss with authority.

Damn it Janet - Copy

Ok, now I’m on hiatus.

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.

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