Posts Tagged ‘SNAFU’

Writing Tests: Let the SNAFUs begin!

February 5, 2014 7 comments

There has been a lot of good cold weather blogging in the state this week. Maybe snow brings out the best in Oklahoma educators. Here are three must reads from yesterday:

Random Reflections From an Educator: Staying Focused as Testing Season Squeezes Closer

Excellence in Mediocrity: Houston, we have a (testing) problem

A View From the Edge: Did Rob just say the “O” word?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that all three have a testing theme. Nor should the following memo from CTB shock any of us:


TO: District Test Coordinators

FROM: CTB’s Oklahoma Grades 3-8 Program Team

DATE: February 3, 2014

SUBJECT: Grade 8 Writing Secure Test Materials Overage

Dear District Test Coordinator,

Several districts have contacted the Oklahoma State Department of Education and CTB/McGraw-Hill regarding Grade 8 Writing Test Books included in the elementary school shipments containing the secure Writing test materials. A thorough review of CTB’s fulfillment processes identified a discrepancy in the mechanism used to determine the appropriate distribution of the Grade 8 Writing Test Book overages intended for the Middle Schools.

Districts should collect the Grade 8 materials from the elementary schools and put them back in district overage inventory to be redistributed to middle schools who may need additional materials. Please keep a record of these materials so that they can be fully accounted for when they are returned to CTB/McGraw-Hill at the end of the test window.

CTB regrets the inconvenience caused to districts and schools by this fulfillment discrepancy. If you have any questions or require any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact the CTB Oklahoma Help Desk. Our Customer Care representatives will be happy to assist you.

Thank you,

CTB’s Oklahoma Grades 3-8 Program Team

Not only did they fail to count materials and ship them properly, they also have mixed up fifth and eighth grade materials. If this process weren’t so inherently stressful on a good day, I would find this comical – just as I find this CTB letterhead image amusing.

CTB help the blah blah - Copy

For those of you reading in email and unable to view the image, it has the company logo/name, and the phrase “Help the teacher help the child.”

Try harder, CTB. Try harder.

Another one for the SNAFUBAR

October 25, 2013 6 comments

No, that’s not another educational acronym. It’s the most succinct way I can summarize today’s announcement from the SDE:

Release of state A-F Report Cards delayed until early November

OKLAHOMA CITY (Oct. 25, 2013) –To ensure complete accuracy with the A-F Report Cards for Oklahoma schools, the Oklahoma State Department of Education is delaying public release of the grades.

The letter grades, which communicate a school’s academic performance in an easily understood snapshot, had been scheduled to go before the State Board of Education at its Oct. 29 meeting. Instead, the grades will be presented to board members during a special meeting to be held within the next two weeks.

Education Department staff has worked to remedy all concerns with accuracy of the grades, which were calculated using a new formula established earlier this year in legislation, House Bill 1658.

“In an abundance of caution, the State Department of Education is going to take additional time to guarantee absolute, 100-percent accuracy of the grades,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi.

“Despite two periods in which school districts were to certify assessment results as well as the current review underway, our assessment office is still receiving a number of corrections and changes. To say this has been frustrating is putting it mildly. The A-F Report Cards are too critical a tool for parents and communities to accept anything less than quality.”

We’re nearing the end of October, and the SDE still can’t finish the testing process they screwed up in April. Just as when the testing company failed us completely, Barresi is blaming school districts. This has nothing to do with the fact that grades changed at least five times in a 24 hour period last week. This has nothing to do with the different OPI growth scales (explaining that one is another post altogether) that have been disseminated this week. No, it’s the school districts.

It’s not just the districts though; it’s also the legislature. They changed the formula, dontchaknow (that’s my best Sarah Palin voice – deal with it). They changed it months ago, however, and the SDE still can’t get this right.

In case you’re scoring at home, this is two years in a row that the report cards have been delayed. In spite of what the news release says, these grades are not a “critical tool for parents and communities.” They are propaganda.

Earlier today, I had started to write a response to the Tulsa World article discussing Dr. Keith Ballard’s letter to Tulsa Public Schools parents. Ballard wrote, in part:

“Never in my career have I seen this level of dysfunction and ineptitude coming out of the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Last week, school grades began to trickle out, but they were not ready for prime time. As school principals logged into the OSDE website, many of them watched in horror as grades that were initially posted as A’s, B’s and C’s began to morph into C’s, D’s and F’s. A feeble apology was issued by the OSDE for serious miscalculations that should have been caught before any grades were posted. At last count, grades were changed five or six times by the State Department of Education.

To say we have no trust in this system is an understatement. The incompetence in the roll-out of these grades is rivaled only by the testing debacle that took place in April when computer servers of the state’s new testing vendor crashed, interrupting test-taking throughout the state.”

Neither the testing collapse nor the inconsistencies of the grading process point to problems caused by schools. The testing company did not anticipate the surge of students signing on even though they had bid on the contracts knowing how many students each state had. And the SDE simply has not had a clear protocol for applying the formula that they ostensibly want to use.

The World article quotes new SDE Director of Communications, Phil Bacharach, on the agency’s position about Ballard’s letter:

“First, it is important to note that changes in the new law on the A-F Report Card have resulted in a grading formula that is more reflective of academic realities,” he wrote. “With all due respect, given Dr. Ballard’s stated political preference, this letter amounts to campaign material on school district letterhead.It’s unfortunate that the head of a school district would undermine an initiative that gives parents information they need about how their child’s school is doing. It’s worse than unfortunate – and perhaps unconscionable – that he would do so before the grades even come out. Given the academic challenges that exist in Tulsa Public Schools, this letter is disappointing. Tulsa schoolchildren deserve better.”

All of Oklahoma’s schoolchildren deserve better, but not for the reasons stated by Bacharach. Ballard wasn’t campaigning. He was speaking honestly to parents (on school letterhead). Most Oklahoma superintendents share his frustration. So do principals, teachers, and a growing number of parents – who are becoming increasingly aware of the problems their schools have in dealing with the state educational agency.

Of course, the SDE continues to defend these simplistic and statistically unreliable report cards. They (and their defenders) also continue to cast aspersions at the OU/OSU study criticizing our A-F Report Cards. Here is the opening paragraph of the study’s executive summary:

“We are among those who favor examining schools to determine how effective they are in their mission to maximize learning for all children. We are passionate about making the evaluation of schools a truthful and credible process. Oklahoma is one of many states that has chosen to report school performance using a single letter grade generated primarily from standardized test results. In a white paper published earlier this year, we examined Oklahoma’s school evaluation system and discovered fundamental flaws that make letter grades virtually meaningless and certainly ineffective for judging school performance. Our analysis and conclusions were reviewed by two nationally renowned testing and evaluation experts who concurred with our claims. Subsequently, the State made some changes to the system, but the changes do not address the flaws; in fact, the likelihood is that they made them worse.”

What the researchers could not have foreseen is that the revised methodology, in addition to being worse, confuses the people tasked with applying it. The list of reasons for a letter like Ballard’s to parents is huge. It grows daily. The dissatisfaction with the people making decisions at the Capitol and the Hodge Building is not political. It stems from the frustration that our work in school districts suffers from confused interference that threatens the effectiveness of the most competent educators among us. 

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