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Don’t know much about history?

Yesterday, Governor Mary Fallin vetoed SB 2, which would have eliminated the state test for high school US History. This test costs the state of Oklahoma $2.4 million. It means nothing to the students who take it. As with all high-stakes tests, it forces teachers to narrow instruction to what they think will be assessed. Below is her reasoning.

US History veto message

I want to break down her veto statement one sentence at a time.

Senate bill 2 moves Oklahoma backwards.

Let that sentence linger in the air a minute. During the 6+ years of Fallin’s leadership, can you think of anything else that has moved our state backwards? Could it be three consecutive years of budget collapses? Other than our roads, bridges, schools, colleges, health care, prisons, law enforcement, and state parks, we’re having a fantastic decade! The 2010s will go down in history…oh, wait, they won’t. And even if they do, we won’t be able to afford the history books.

History is a vital component of a student’s academic coursework. It grounds students in our nation’s founding principles and our Constitution…

I agree that history is vital. And with US history dating back to 1607, we can’t cover it all in one year. That’s why the state breaks down the standards into three grade spans:

So the high school test covers the last 140 years. With all due respect, that doesn’t exactly include the nation’s founding.

…and teaches that American exceptionalism led the world to unite behind the concepts that liberty and freedom are fundamental human rights.

Not to be a noodge, but I don’t remember the world exactly uniting behind those principles. They’re great ideals. They’re core American values. And we’ve engaged in wars to end tyranny, which is a great thing.

This span of US History begins with Reconstruction, delves into immigration, westward expansion, and the industrial revolution before discussing WWI. It covers “social, cultural, and economic events between the World Wars,” such as the Great Depression. It moves through the Cold War all the way to our response to 9/11.

It’s more than our founding principles. It’s the narrative of how we got from that ontological perspective to where we are today. It includes our triumphs and our failings. It’s a mix of triumphs and human failings.

A test of facts, dates, and names doesn’t capture that.

In 2016, only 62 percent of students in Oklahoma scored proficient or advanced on their End of Instruction Exam on US History.

If you’ve read my blog for any time at all, you know I’m not really a fan of the single out-of-context statistic. Here are the state pass rates for the high school US History EOI since 2010, when Fallin was elected governor:

  • 2010 75%
  • 2011 80%
  • 2012 77%
  • 2013 80%
  • 2014 86%
  • 2015 79%
  • 2016 62%

If testing is so important, then why did scores go down? Where was your leadership during this time, Governor Fallin?

Or maybe it’s not about leadership. It could be that a new test and a new cut score had something to do with the 62%. Still, I wouldn’t rule out her leadership. This is her circus, after all.

If US History is not measured through a test, its importance in school will be lessened.

That’s just a slap in the face. Apparently the governor thinks our history teachers are incapable of doing their jobs. Strangely, I don’t recall her praising them in 2014 when the proficient rate was much higher.

I’m reminded of the time in 2015 that our governor put her knowledge of our founding principles on display:

You know there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, you have the legislative branch and you have the people – the people and their ability to vote.

Yes, she really said that. She actually forgot the branch of government she leads.

If only there had been a test.

The good thing is that we can fix this. Our Legislature may be struggling to find agreement on a budget right now, but they were pretty solid when they sent this bill to Fallin. The House vote was 65-23 with 10 absences. The Senate vote was 31-10 with 7 absences.

Now is the time to act. The governor’s action was predictable, just as it was two years ago when she vetoed HB 2625, giving parents a voice on third grade retention. At that time, the House voted 79-17 and the Senate voted 45-2 to override her veto.

That was one of the most critical moments we’ve had in the last few years. It showed how strong public education advocates can be when we unite. The state superintendent at that time called it pathetic and outrageous, which was a pretty strong indication we were right.

Maybe that helps us understand this veto. Rep. Katie Henke, the author of HB 2625 two years ago, is the house author for SB 2. The senate author is JJ Dossett, a former teacher who has been very outspoken on education and budget issues this year. I wouldn’t sleep on the role that spite plays in decisions such as this.

We don’t need to waste money on a meaningless test. Another $2.4 million could save about 55 teaching positions. Not that I’m counting.

Besides, if we wanted something resembling authentic assessment, it would look so much different. We can’t afford to continue insulting our teachers. Please call your state senator and representative and ask them to vote to override the veto.

They left the Capitol before 11:00 am today, but their voicemail works. Fill it up.

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Happy Humpday (and enjoy today’s testing errata)!

April 5, 2017 Comments off

It’s April, so let’s all stop what we’re doing and test some kids! That’s why we’re here five days a week, right? Well, five-ish.

I know I should be less flippant about standardize testing, but if I were, how would you recognize me? As a state, we spend millions on tests that give us very little in the way of useful information months after the fact. At least the process is a well-oiled machine, right?

You’d think that. Unfortunately, Measured Progress, our testing company has twice this week had to email us and say my bad! On Monday, it was fifth grade math.

grade-5-math-errata-notice_original.jpg

Certainly our students wouldn’t be confused at having different answer choices in their testing books as they do on their answer sheets, right? F and A are quite closely linked (in a single summative kind of way).

It’s a typo. These things happen. At least they don’t cause us to invalidate tests though.

Today’s problem was a different story.

errata6-10_original (1).jpg

Because of the length of some tests, we give them in two separate sessions. So we should have different directions for each session. The lack of clarity caused some confusion and created test invalidation in some schools. I don’t know how many schools were affected. I was just told some. One was in Mid-Del, and the students affected will have to start the test over.

mistakes were made.jpg

It’s fine, though. Measured Progress is going to make it up to the kids with pizza.

And no, I’m not making that up.

While I make light of testing, I can tell you that our teachers and principals take the process very seriously. They’re rule followers. They don’t want to mess up and jeopardize their careers. They don’t want to frustrate their students. That’s why I try to test monitor in our schools when I can.

Mistakes are inevitable. They’re still frustrating.

A Great Hire

October 24, 2016 1 comment

November 8 can’t get here soon enough.

I know that none of us can wait for Election Day and an end to the shenanigans of the candidates and their surrogates. That’s not what I’m talking about, though.

This:

Dr. Janet Dunlop named OSDE deputy superintendent of assessment, accountability

OKLAHOMA CITY (October 24, 2016) – Dr. Janet Dunlop has been named deputy superintendent of assessment and accountability at the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE). In her cabinet-level position, she will oversee Oklahoma’s state testing program and school accountability measures. Dunlop will also supervise the transition of school assessments and accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal education law, and House Bill 3218, which eliminated end-of-instruction (EOI) exams and marks the end of a culture of excessive testing in Oklahoma public schools.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister praised Dunlop’s expertise and her commitment to Oklahoma’s public schools.

“I am excited to welcome Janet Dunlop to our department. Dr. Dunlop is a tireless advocate for the academic success of Oklahoma’s schoolchildren and brings an impressive record of experience to the position,” said Hofmeister. “I am confident that her breadth of knowledge and commitment to excellence will prove invaluable.”

Since 2010, Dunlop has served as associate superintendent of instructional services at Broken Arrow Public Schools (BAPS). During her tenure, she facilitated the district’s successful literacy initiative, aligned curriculum for grades PK-12 and oversaw the administration of school site and district-level assessments. Dunlop was also instrumental in crafting the new Oklahoma Academic Standards and was recently named the Oklahoma Assistant Superintendent of the Year by the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA) and the Oklahoma Association of School Administrators.

Broken Arrow Superintendent Dr. Jarod Mendenhall commended Dunlop for her service to the district.

“Dr. Dunlop played an important role in helping the district develop a revamped vision that focuses on literacy, engagement and graduation for every student,” said Mendenhall. “Her knowledge about curriculum and education is unmatched, but it’s her love for students and people that really makes her special. Although the district is losing an incredible educator, the state is fortunate for gaining such a passionate advocate for public education.”

Dunlop holds a doctorate in education with an emphasis in school administration and curriculum leadership, a master’s in educational leadership and bachelor’s degrees in English education and English from Oklahoma State University (OSU). In addition, she has held the positions of principal and assistant principal at Union Public Schools in Tulsa and adjunct professor of education at OSU. She began her career teaching English and language arts in Sand Springs, Jenks and Berryhill Public Schools.

Dunlop said she is excited to serve Oklahoma public schools in her new position.

“I am honored by the opportunity to serve our State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and public schools in Oklahoma. With the passage of ESSA, Oklahoma is in a unique position to make choices that will improve the way our schools measure and report student learning,” said Dunlop. “In addition, with hard work, we can provide our students, parents and communities with an accountability system that provides rich and detailed information about school successes and opportunities to support our schools.”

Dunlop is replacing Dr. Kathryn Dunlap, who is retiring.

Dunlop’s first day at OSDE will be November 8.

The feds have given us flexibility to reduce the amount of state testing. So has the Legislature. Having someone well-respected with school district leadership experience helping guide the process will be refreshing.

I’ve known Janet for years. She’s one of the strongest curriculum and instruction leaders I know.

The fact that she starts in her new position on November 8 means we will have at least one good outcome on Election Day.

Less testing. More focused accountability. Light at the end of the tunnel.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

You are not a Test

I have many reasons to be proud to be part of the Mid-Del Public Schools family. We have amazing students and families. We have dedicated teachers and principals. We have a supportive community that includes Tinker Air Force Base and Rose State College. Most of all, we have our priorities in order.

You may have already seen this on Facebook, but in case you haven’t, here’s a letter that a parent of a Ridgecrest Roadrunner posted last night.

Ridgecrest Roadrunners.jpg

We all get hung up on our accomplishments, and to an extent, that’s ok. We should be proud when we do well. When a school raises test scores, I have no problem with the celebrations that follow. As little stock as I place in the A-F report cards, if I were a principal, and my school received an A, I’d hang up a big old banner too.

Still, the second paragraph of this letter to students captures what the best educators among us know to be true:

[The tests] do not know that some of you speak two languages, or that you love to sing or draw. They have not seen your natural talent for dancing. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them, that your laughter can brighten the darkest day or that your smile lightens a room….

What I know about the teachers and principal at this school is that they do care about student achievement. They care about getting their students ready for not just the state test, but also for the next grade or the next school. I know that they have a veteran staff and that they rally around students and families in need.

Because tests have high-stakes attached to them, we must take them seriously. One thing we know to be part of our job is to protect children from harm. Artificial consequences attached to assessments that are poor descriptors of learning and ability and worse descriptors of future success fall into this category. We should not gear instruction solely around them, nor should we act as if they don’t exist.

We also should not, as Rob Miller writes, ignore the fact that some most of our students have other priorities.

The folks making six-figure salaries for testing vendors like Pearson, ETS, CTB/McGraw-Hill, and Measured Progress believe that  children OWE them their loyalty by giving their best effort to this annual exercise: “By God, we’ve worked hard to craft these beautiful measures of student learning, the very least you could do is show your appreciation by doing your best.”

This presumption is so strong in their mind that because this is such self-evidently important work, that they cannot imagine anybody not seeing its value.

These folks live in a magical land where every child is loved, comes to school eager to learn, and loves to sit quietly for hours taking multiple choice tests on a laptop, while unicorns frolic with elves in rainbow-laden fields.

Children are smarter than this. They understand the reality that these tests are simply a means to sort, rank, humiliate and punish kids through various forms of public shaming, things like grade retention, denial of a high school diploma, and forced placement in “remediation” classes.

The testing companies say kids should love these swell assessments because they were crafted with their best interests in mind.

Of course, parents and students have to be made to believe this because otherwise, what’s the purpose of it all?

If a student is bored or tired or hungry or distracted or scared or neglected or angry or sad or just doesn’t care or doesn’t see any point or just feels like playing video games or listening to loud music or playing basketball or singing songs or painting a picture or checking out the hot girl two rows over or thinks that high-stakes testing is stupid or prefers to write open-ended answers in the form of rap lyrics or long rambling run-on sentences like this   .   .   .   if that happens, every single piece of precious data derived from these test results, ranging  from A-F report cards, to teacher VAM evaluations, to student growth calculations, to all of it is craptacular crap.

It could just be that our students love to sing and dance or run and play more than they want to test. It could be that they love to read more than they want to suffer through the reading passages selected for them on the tests. Whatever the variable, we just have to understand that when the test scores come back, they may or may not tell us anything useful.

And for that, we pay millions.

Try hard, kids. Do your best. Then go outside and play.

Hair of the Blog

January 1, 2016 2 comments

As with the rest of us, our two biggest state newspapers are waking up resolved to find hope for what 2016 will bring. Take this cheerful outlook from the Tulsa World this morning:

Meanwhile, the state Board of Equalization certified a preliminary general revenue projection for the coming budget year that is $900 million less than the year before.

That’s roughly the equivalent of overall ticket sales so far for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Unless creator George Lucas can spare some change, or the price of oil makes a meteoric climb, the new year isn’t going to feel very new. Rather, it threatens to be a rerun of 2015 with further downsizing of an already shriveling state government.

Those who argue that is not the worst thing that could happen, should say that to the face of a public school student or teacher. Ranking at the bottom of the barrel in per-pupil spending for common education is never acceptable, no matter what the circumstances.

On the promising side, Oklahoma has ridden the energy price roller coaster before and always rebounded eventually.

The last line is my favorite. The editorial board is basically saying, We know we’ll see better days. We always have, right? That’s what I call forward thinking. Surely there’s a unicorn out there somewhere!

Still, as usual, it’s better than what the Oklahoman editorial writers have given us this morning. In their 2016 wish list, they have two Thunder-related items, but just one for education: vouchers.

Education Savings Accounts: Status-quo forces in education often claim Oklahoma students’ academic performance will never improve unless huge spending increases are provided. Yet if parents were given the ability to use their child’s per-pupil allotment, as would be the case with Education Savings Accounts, those officials may be shocked by how quickly improvement occurs. ESAs would allow parents to use a portion of the tax money already dedicated to their child’s education to spend on tutoring, online learning, or private school tuition. It’s time Oklahoma lawmakers provide beneficiaries the same flexibility with education funds that they are provided for other government programs, such as food stamps. One size does not fit all students, and it makes no sense to act as though children will receive a better education if they’re assigned a school based on geographic proximity to one’s house rather than based on a child’s individual needs and parental involvement.

This is where that morning-after blurry-eyed effect hurts me. I’m going to have to go through this one sentence by sentence.

Status-quo forces in education often claim Oklahoma students’ academic performance will never improve unless huge spending increases are provided.

I’m glad to see they didn’t use the trite verbiage Education Establishment. Maybe that’s a sign of a resolution they’ve made. Actually, what those of us who teach students and lead districts illustrate is that huge cuts in state aid have hurt our ability to provide services for students. We point out that the state’s abdication of responsibility vis-à-vis funding public schools at a proper level has made providing teacher raises of any significance impossible. This, combined with mandates that create meaningless work for already over-tasked teachers, has driven quality people out of the profession.

We’re not asking for huge spending increases; rather, we want a reversal of the huge funding cuts that we’ve seen since 2008. Let me just point out that for the 2013-14 school year (the most recent available data), Oklahoma districts received less than half of their funding (48.0%) from the state. The rest came from local and federal sources. This continues a 15 year trend that shows no sign of reversing. Year-by-year, the Legislature has been less committed to funding public education, and more committed to regulating it.

School Year % Funding from the State
2013-14 48.0%
2008-09 52.0%
2003-04 53.4%
1998-99 57.1%

Yet if parents were given the ability to use their child’s per-pupil allotment, as would be the case with Education Savings Accounts, those officials may be shocked by how quickly improvement occurs.

Picture0005Actually, we wouldn’t see any improvement, because the voucher pushers in the Legislature and the newspaper also insist that we shouldn’t hold private schools accountable in any way for student achievement. In other words, they want the money, but not the rules.

As for schools, we just get the rules.

ESAs would allow parents to use a portion of the tax money already dedicated to their child’s education to spend on tutoring, online learning, or private school tuition.

As Alex Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jason James pointed out a few months ago, a voucher isn’t going to help the poor families get into private schools to the extent that their supporters insist:

The voucher bill currently on the table, SB 609, would provide benefits to a student who “previously was enrolled in the first one hundred (100) days of the prior school year in an Oklahoma public school district.” In other words, students currently enrolled in private schools wouldn’t have access to the voucher – for now. If 609 passes, expect to see a lot of school-flipping.

Another important consideration is that private schools don’t have to accept everybody. And they shouldn’t have to accept everybody. They have a specific mission, which is why parents choose them. Our mission as a state – as a system of public schools – is to educate everybody who shows up. Given that charge, we do a damn good job, no matter what narrative serves the convenience of voucher proponents.

If voucher supporters truly believe that private schools are better education providers, they need to support doing the schools that would accept voucher students committing to two things:

  1. Accepting all students.
  2. Meeting all state and federal mandates.

Otherwise, this isn’t a serious conversation.

It’s time Oklahoma lawmakers provide beneficiaries the same flexibility with education funds that they are provided for other government programs, such as food stamps.

I’m glad the Oklahoman supports flexibility for how people qualifying for public assistance, such as public school employees, spend their benefits. On the other hand, the paper also supports cuts to the food stamps program.

To be clear, food stamps are a benefit for people living in poverty. Vouchers are a benefit for people in the middle class. Those are the students that private schools would accept. Those are the students whose families could make up the difference.

A food stamp recipient can shop anywhere. The merchant will accept the business because it has cash value. A customer spending food stamps is a paying customer, in their eyes.

A voucher recipient will not have these same choices.

It’s just not the same.

One size does not fit all students, and it makes no sense to act as though children will receive a better education if they’re assigned a school based on geographic proximity to one’s house rather than based on a child’s individual needs and parental involvement.

I agree. That’s why thousands of parents have chosen to transfer their students across school district boundaries. It’s also why I oppose many of the mandates that this paper supports.  We could provide more choices within our arguably-publicly funded schools right now, if the Legislature passed a few simple bills.

  • Replace the EOIs with the ACT.
  • Repeal ACE.
  • Cut all tests not required by the feds.
  • Take quantitative measurements out of teacher evaluations.
  • Create an accountability system that focuses less on testing.

Simpsons_24_10_P1We’re the educators. We would love to focus more on meeting each child’s individual needs. We don’t want to spend another minute preparing our most profoundly disabled students for state tests or the portfolios that serve as their proxy. We don’t want to spend another minute slowing down our gifted kids in classes that continue to get bigger while we prepare the masses for poorly-developed state tests.

The upcoming legislative session is critical. I can think of at least three term-limited legislators who would love nothing more than to pass a voucher bill. Doing so would serve as their springboard into some of the statewide races that will be up for grabs in 2018. Every vote for SB 609 – or anything resembling it – is a vote against public schools.

 

All Star Edition of #oklaed #studentsask Chat

October 25, 2015 1 comment

Here are my favorite responses to tonight’s chat questions, all in Twitter form. Since I had the chance to sit with three high school seniors while co-moderating the chat, their reactions are a factor in my choices. Drew Price, I think you were the fan favorite at my table at Starbucks.

chat at Starbucks

Q1 How can schools balance the need for increased security measures with having a welcome climate for students and parents?

Q2 What has your school or district done to make high school schedules align with research on teenage sleep patterns?

Q3 What should schools do to help students use technology more effectively and responsibly?

Q4 How can schools give students more academic choices and autonomy?

Q4b How can schools make electives as important as core classes?

Q5 Should high schools students be asked to select a major or area of academic emphasis?

Q6 What can we do to make teachers feel less rushed and less focused on testing?

Q7 How can schools help students with testing anxiety?

Q8 How can schools hold teachers and coaches accountable for the balance between homework, activities, and life in general?

Q9 Should all students have a career path chosen by the end of high school?  

Q9b What should schools do to help students explore careers?  

Q10 Should schools limit the number of AP classes students take at any one time? Why or why not?

If you want to review the entire chat, it’s up on Storify. Thanks to all who participated!

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10.25.15 #oklaed chat questions

October 25, 2015 1 comment

I hope you can join me tonight for the weekly #oklaed chat from 8:00 to 9:00. I will have three co-moderators: leadership students from each of the high schools in the Mid-Del school district.

We have a group of 24 students – juniors and seniors, eight from each school – who meet monthly to discuss a variety of issues. They are nice enough to invite me to join them, so I’ve spent a couple of days asking them to come up with questions they’d like to ask us.

Here’s where we’re headed tonight:

Q1 How can schools balance the need for increased security measures with having a welcome climate for students and parents? #oklaed

Q2 What has your school or district done to make high school schedules align with research on teenage sleep patterns? #oklaed

Q3 What should schools do to help students use technology more effectively and responsibly? #oklaed

Q4 How can schools give students more academic choices and autonomy? #oklaed

Q4b How can schools make electives as important as core classes? #oklaed

Q5 Should high schools students be asked to select a major or area of academic emphasis? #oklaed

Q6 What can we do to make teachers feel less rushed and less focused on testing? #oklaed

Q7 How can schools help students with testing anxiety? #oklaed

Q8 How can schools hold teachers and coaches accountable for the balance between homework, activities, and life in general? #oklaed

Q9 Should all students have a career path chosen by the end of high school? #oklaed

Q9b What should schools do to help students explore careers? #oklaed

Q10 Should schools limit the number of AP classes students take at any one time? Why or why not? #oklaed

We’ll start promptly at 8:00 with introductions, and begin with the questions at 8:04. About every 5 minutes, we’ll add a new question, but as always, feel free to keep the conversation going on anything that you feel remains unfinished.

And get your own students to participate, if you can. We need to hear their voices too.

See you tonight!

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