Posts Tagged ‘Reward Schools’

After the Top 20: Dishonorable Mention

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

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

TLE Implementation

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

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

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

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

Test Exemption in Moyers

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

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

Removing API Scores from the SDE Website

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

Visit the page now and you see the following message:

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

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

Whole Language

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

The Shameful Treatment of Crutcho Public Schools

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

Badmouthing Teachers in Public

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

Illegal Hiring Practices

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

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

Vendor Favoritism

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

Rewards that Nobody Wants

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

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

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

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

Favoring Charter Schools

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

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


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

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

Pricey Propaganda

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Threat

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

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

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

Waiting on School Designations

December 16, 2013 1 comment

For the last few months, much of the public education narrative has been focusing on the release, problems with, and reactions to Oklahoma’s A-F Report Cards. Soon – eventually – the less publicized, but more impactful accountability measure will be released. I’m talking about federal designations.

While the letter grades schools receive don’t require them to take any action, being placed in one of the school improvement designations does. In accordance with Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind waiver, there are three improvement categories.

Focus Schools

  • The 10% of Title I and non-Title I schools in the State that either have the lowest performance for any of the three lowest achieving subgroups in the State within each grade span (elementary, PK-8, middle/junior high, and high school) for reading and mathematics based on the detailed criteria in Section 2.E of Oklahoma’s approved ESEA Flexibility Request and has not been designated as a High-Progress Reward School; or have the lowest graduation rate for either of the two subgroups with the lowest graduation rates in the State

Targeted Intervention Schools

  • Any Title I or non-Title I school that is identified as a D school based on the State’s A-F School Report Card System that has not been identified as a Priority School

Priority Schools

  • Any Title I or non-Title I school that is identified as an F school based on the State’s A-F School Report Card System
  • Any Title I school in the bottom 5% of Title I schools as well as any school in the bottom 5% of all schools (Title I and non-Title I) in each grade span (elementary, PK-8, middle/junior high, and high school) for reading and mathematics based on the detailed criteria in Section 2.D of Oklahoma’s approved ESEA Flexibility Request and has not been designated as a High-Progress Reward School
  • Any Title I-participating high school, Title I-eligible high school, and non-Title I high school in the State with a graduation rate below 60% for three consecutive years
  • Any Tier I school receiving School Improvement Grant (SIG) funds to implement a school intervention model

I know that all sounds confusing, and perhaps a little repetitive, but as always, I’m here to help.

The state selects the three lowest performing subgroups and then ranks all schools for their performance within those subgroups. There is a list for Title I schools, and a separate list for non-Title I schools. Within those lists are separate lists for elementary, middle and high schools. If a school is in the bottom 10% of any of those lists, it is on the Focus School list. If it is in the bottom 5% of any of those lists, it is on the Priority School list. Additionally, any school with a D is placed on the targeted intervention list, and any school with an F is placed on the Priority School list.

(I should also mention that the state will put out a list of Reward Schools as well. However, last year, most schools on the list were less than eager to claim their “prize.” Only 14 of 229 eligible schools applied.)

Here we are, the last week in December before Christmas Break, and schools still have not received their designations. This is problematic for many reasons. First is that each school on one of these lists has to complete an improvement plan. We know that all of the D and F schools will be on a list. We know that all of last year’s Focus and Priority schools will be on a list. But it’s possible that a D school could have been placed on the Priority School list and not even know it. It is also possible that a C school could be on either the Focus or Priority school lists. Each list comes with different requirements.

It is also important to note that last year’s Focus and Priority schools remain on the list (because they have to meet Annual Measurable Objectives for two years after being placed on the list). They have not been told if they made AMOs either, and this also impacts the work that goes into planning. In short, schools do not know how to tailor their improvement plans to satisfy the state’s requirements.

This is inexcusable. Once the testing company certified the data in October, the SDE had all the information it needed to calculate the A-F Report Cards. It also had all the information it needed to calculate the school improvement lists. If school improvement is something meaningful – something more than checklists, boring PowerPoints, and meaningless tasks – then schools need this information in a timely manner. It is also worth noting that the School Status Designation Appeal Form lists a due date of January 14. Actually it lists Friday, January 14, 2014, which isn’t even a real date (I swear I’m buying the SDE an editor for Christmas).

The form states schools will have 10 days to appeal their status. That means they are likely to remain in limbo until after New Year’s Day.

The A-F Report Cards are just window dressing. They require no work from schools, other than answering questions from patrons who seem more than capable of understanding how flawed they are. The NCLB waiver designations require a tremendous amount of work. It’s unfortunate that the SDE is causing that work to be delayed.

The Reward Not Wanted

February 6, 2013 Comments off
Two schools diverged on a tested path,
And one Reward status given,
For it scored high in reading and math,
And thus, unburdened of cold state wrath
Was for the students’ interests driven;
The other, though just as fair, it stood
Apart, Priority of reform,
Though teaching in a far neighborhood
With students and teachers just as good
Its scores enticed state leaders to swarm.
Of those offered reward, most chose none,
For with meager treasure came some traps;
The strings of state reforms not quite done,
Conceived not in school but campaigns won,
Leaves better nature of few to lapse.
Few will wonder what they are missing
Somewhere, ages and ages hence;
Of better days, both reminiscing –
Of schools for children all were wishing,
For that would truly make a difference.

(with great apologies to Robert Frost)

Rewards, Anyone?

February 5, 2013 3 comments

At last Thursday’s State Board of Education meeting, six schools received Reward Schools Grants to partner with Priority Schools. The memo provided by Superintendent Barresi to Board members explained the following about the grants:

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

My first observation was that less than five percent of eligible schools even applied for the grant. When I read Barresi’s press release, I had even more thoughts:

Reward Schools are designated as high achieving in all state assessments or showing high progress in reading and math. As part of the grant application, Reward Schools had to propose a partnership with a Priority School, those that are in the bottom 5% of achievement in the state in reading and mathematics, have a graduation rate below 60% for at least three years, or have received a School Improvement Grant (SIG).

Grants were awarded to:

  • Earl Harris Elementary School in Bethany ($71,000), which will partner with Council Grove Elementary School in the Western Heights School District
  • Adair High School ($47,000), which will partner with Okay High School
  • Ripley Elementary School ($47,000), which will partner with Yarbrough Elementary School
  • Kingfisher High School ($71,000), which will partner with Capitol Hill High School in Oklahoma City
  • Ryal Public School ($47,000), which will partner with Hanna Elementary School
  • Edmond Memorial High School ($117,000), which will partner with Justice A.W. SeeWorth Academy Charter School in Oklahoma City

The amount of the awards was based on the total number of certified employees in both the Reward School and the Priority School.

Assistant State Superintendent of Educational Support Kerri White said collaboration between peers is a highly effective methodology for school improvement. She said the vision for the grant is to see schools celebrate successes while collaborating to seek continuous improvement in student learning, school culture, and professional growth. The ultimate goal is to see schools removed from the Priority School list while seeing an increase in the number of Reward Schools.

None of the partnerships are in the Tulsa area. That could mean that the usual group of complainers just decided they didn’t want to participate, or that they were excluded. There’s really no way to know that. Also, I don’t see a lot of commonality between matched pairs. Kingfisher and Capitol Hill? Edmond Memorial and SeeWorth? It makes you wonder how much stakeholder buy-in was developed before they submitted their applications. And how pervasive support will be now.

Gimmicks such as these are not the game-changers we’ve all been promised. Apparently, 95 percent of the Reward Schools agree with me.

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About those Reward Schools

On Monday, April 9, 2012, Oklahoma State Department of Education recognized more than 100 Reward Schools from throughout the state at a special Board meeting. Representatives from schools all over the state who received these awards  – as well as those who did not receive them – found the criteria for them to be quite vague. The first group, with 96 recipients, included schools that were “in the top 10 percent of performance in all assessments from three years worth of data ending in 2010-11.” These are the High-Performing Reward Schools. The second group, with 33 recipients, included schools that were “in the top 10 percent of schools that have made high progress in reading and math.” These are the High Progress Reward Schools.

What these criteria do not explain is how different performance levels were weighted in determining the rank order lists. Were proficient student scores weighted the same as advanced scores, as they were during the Academic Performance Index (API) era of accountability? Or were advanced scores given a greater weight, as they will be during the new A-F Report Card era? And just how is “high progress” different from “improvement,” which will be a criterion for calculating A-F Report Cards for schools?

In any case, awards were given, and people showed up to receive them. Some districts brought individuals. Some brought hoards to pose with the certificates and dignitaries. Still others requested to have the awards sent to them. When somebody bestows an honor on the organization you represent, you say thank you. But if your curiosity gets the better of you, you also start researching.

Looking at the SDE’s website, something clicked in me. Each of the two lists were too homogeneous. So I pulled data from the Office of Accountability to explore this perception and found that I was right. Looking at the free and reduced lunch rates from the three years of test data that were included in the calculations, I found that most of the schools on the High-Performing list had low levels of lot of poverty. The average for the state during these years  is 58.6 percent of students participating in the free and reduced lunch program. Of the High-Performing schools, 91 were below this average.

Not only were most of the schools scoring in the top ten percent below the state average in the best proxy measure of school-age poverty, it wasn’t even close. The median of these schools had a 28 percent free and reduced lunch rate. Think about that disparity. In a state where nearly three in five students come from poverty most of the schools receiving these awards have fewer than three in ten students in poverty. 

Before looking at the High Progress schools, I want to provide just a little more context to the above list. I have also included a list of the ten schools with the lowest free and reduced lunch rates, based on the 2010-11 school year.  Eight of them were also on the first list (one serves only untested grades).

All of this is important because of the culture at the SDE. Time after time, we hear the mantra that “poverty doesn’t matter.” These figures suggest otherwise. As the five schools with free and reduced lunch rates above the state average show, high achievement with high poverty is possible. As the rest of the list shows, it is unlikely.

As I said earlier, the schools on the list worked hard to be there. But it’s likely that the schools towards the bottom of the list worked harder to have high achievement than the schools at the top. Students from homes with greater means have a built-in advantage over students coming from poverty. This is a widely-accepted truth – by most people not working at the SDE.

As further evidence, I present the list of High Progress schools. The lowest three year free and reduced lunch rate of these schools is 25.6 percent. Unlike the earlier list, only eight of these 33 schools are below the state average. Since most of these schools serve high-poverty populations,  some conclusions are fairly obvious. One observation is that schools have to be performing low enough that they can make gains in the first place. Another is that if these schools are representative of the other schools serving similar student populations, there is a strong correlation between poverty and room for growth.

This is not a criticism of the criteria by which these Rewards Schools were chosen. Nor is it a call for us to return to the day of the Academic Achievement Awards (AAA) under the API system. Those awards – which awarded schools with perfect API scores and schools showing the greatest degree of improvement – were no greater indicators of success in unlikely places. 

In 2009, I looked at schools receiving AAA Awards for a separate study. Similarly, the schools honored for having perfect API scores largely worked with low-poverty populations. The schools showing the greatest gains served high-poverty populations.

Neither system is great. Both show the fallacy of simplistically looking at test scores as a means of evaluating the success of a school. In some places, students succeed because of inherent advantages. This isn’t to say the educators there aren’t working hard, but no accountability system can adequately capture their time and effort. Similarly, none of this should tell us that students in poverty should be held to lower standards. The opposite is true.

Students in poverty can learn everything their advantaged counterparts are capable of learning. But the obstacles they face on the journey require tremendous intervention. Poverty still matters. And helping students in poverty requires first that we acknowledge this to be true.

Receiving recognition from the state department is truly an honor, and the schools receiving awards should take pride in their efforts. Unfortunately, we know that many other teachers and administrators worked just has hard (if not harder) as those who were there to shake the state superintendent’s hand. We have two kinds of schools that can receive awards – those that serve very affluent populations, and those that serve very poor populations. And with few exceptions, they remain segregated.

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