Monday, April 25, 2016

Oregon Education Advocacy Groups Sign Joint Letter Calling for End to Smarter Balanced Assessment

Seven education advocacy groups with members in the Willamette Valley and across the state have written an open letter in response to a recent letter from superintendents in five Oregon school districts asking Oregon to end participation in the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Read their letter below. Also find linked the original letter from superintendents.

An open letter to the citizens of Oregon:

The following organizations stand behind the request made by Oregon superintendents in their letter to Oregon’s Chief Education Officer Lindsey Capps and Deputy Superintendent Salam Noor to reconsider the use of the Smarter Balanced Assessment in Oregon schools.
These school leaders correctly stated that “...our current statewide assessment system carries high costs in instructional time, impact on graduation preparedness, and student and educator attention all of which detract from the benefits of the system.” And while all the signing organizations or members may not necessarily agree with the ideas put forward for an alternative end of high school exam, we do agree with their statement that: “The amount of testing students undergo in their junior year is a serious concern.”

We also agree with the superintendents’ statement that we need “thoughtful consideration of the most appropriate and effective assessments for grades 3–8” and that “...the new tests are lengthy and complex to administer. They require cumbersome and lengthy training that commandeers valuable professional development and teacher collaboration time which otherwise could be focused on meeting student needs, improving instructional practices, enhancing student engagement techniques, and advancing equitable systems in our schools.” We agree with the sentiment that these tests are far too long, at an average of 8 to 9 hours for students in grades 3-8. The superintendents suggest that “Perhaps an ideal statewide summative assessment would take less than an hour to administer...”

Finally, we strongly support the statement in the last paragraph of the superintendents’ letter:

“The changes brought forward by ESSA offer tremendous opportunity for our state, our schools, and our students. We can improve on our state’s system for student assessment and school accountability. We can consider measures of student engagement, college credit attainment, family participation and more in our accountability systems. However, addressing the constraints of our current assessment model is a first step. Please consider how we can help support the development of a new plan that can make Oregon a leader in the field once again.”

We are a broad coalition in support of these statements made by these district leaders. We may not all agree on every detail, but we agree that it is past time for us to have a discussion about what we as Oregonians want for our children. Let’s not waste this opportunity. We encourage public involvement and participation in this process. 

The Oregon Department of Education is holding public meetings around the state to “Reimagine Education” in Oregon. Please attend when they come to your area.

In the meantime, we continue to believe that a moratorium should be placed on SBAC. This assessment is clearly not good for our schools.

Read the original superintendents’ letter here.

Find the schedule of ODE public meetings here.

Oregon Save Our Schools (OSOS)

Parents Across America Oregon (PAA Oregon)

Angry Grandparents Against High Stakes Testing (AGAHST) 

Oregon Badass Teachers (Oregon BATs)

Community Alliance for Public Education, Eugene (CAPE) 

Eugene Parents Concerned About Testing

Salem Creative Network

Monday, April 18, 2016

ODE Holding "Reimagine Education" Public Forums Around Oregon

Below please find the schedule for Oregon Department of Education's "Reimagine Education" public forums being held around the state. ODE is taking public input on how citizens would like to see education change with the new flexibility given to states with passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The first two meetings have already been held in Milwaukie and Pendleton. Locations for Portland forums will be published and this post updated as soon as the locations are made known to us. Please try to attend one of these!

If you are unable to attend, please send comments, suggestions or questions to ODE at The focus of the forums are the following three questions.

  1. What school characteristics are most important?
  2. How should we measure school success?
  3. How do we ensure all students are successful?
Here is the schedule for the remainder of the meetings:

Wednesday, April 20, 2016 – 6:00 pm
Medford School District Education Center (Board Room)

815 S. Oakdale Avenue; Medford, OR 97501

Monday, April 25, 2016– 6:00 pm
High Desert Education Service District (Board Room)
2804 SW Sixth Street; Redmond, OR 97756

Thursday, April 28, 2016– 6:00 pm
Claggett Creek Middle School (Cafeteria)
1810 Alder Drive NE; Keizer, OR 97303

Monday, May 2, 2016– 6:00 pm
Four Rivers Cultural Center (River Rooms)
676 SW 5th Avenue; Ontario, OR 97914

Tuesday, May 10, 2016– 6:00 pm
South Eugene High School (Cafeteria)
400 East 19th Avenue; Eugene, OR 97401

Thursday, May 12, 2016– 6:00 pm
Location To Be Determined

Monday, May 16, 2016– 6:00 pm
Location To Be Determined

Coos Bay
Monday, May 23, 2016– 6:00 pm
Southwestern Oregon Community College (Lakeview Rooms in Hales Center/Empire Hall)
1988 Newmark Avenue; Coos Bay, OR 97420

Hood River
Wednesday, May 25, 2016– 6:00 pm
Best Western Hood River Inn (Columbia Room)
1108 East Marina Way; Hood River, OR 97031

Please help get the word out about these events.
For more information on these education forums, please contact Jenni Knaus at, 503-947-5860 or Meg Koch at, 503-947-5990.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Oregon Superintendents Decry Time Spent on SBAC, Ask State for Reasonable Assessments

Oregon Save Our Schools has been made aware of a letter sent by five Oregon superintendents to the Oregon Department of Education and the governor's Chief Education officer in which they ask for relief from the Smarter Balanced Assessments and request that our state use the opportunity given with the new ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) to move away from SBAC.

This news was originally published on our Opt Out Oregon page.

This assessment has always been wrong for our students and our state. We applaud these district leaders for speaking up. Smarter Balanced needs to go!

Here is the letter.

January 28, 2016

To: Lindsey Capps, Chief Education Officer (acting) Dr. Salam Noor, Oregon Department of Education

From: Carole Smith, Portland Public Schools 
Jeff Rose, Beaverton School District
Gustavo Balderas, Eugene School District 
Susan RiekeSmith, Springfield Public Schools 
Colt Gill, Bethel School District

Re: Improving Our Statewide Assessment System 

Dear Mr. Capps and Dr. Noor,

With passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Oregon has a unique opportunity to reassess and improve our system of student assessment and school accountability. The prospect of regaining our reputation for innovative and effective student assessment systems is once again within reach.
We applaud ODE’s efforts to quickly begin an inclusive process to guide Oregon’s response to its new opportunities and responsibilities under ESSA. We would like to join in an open dialogue with school district superintendents and other educators across our state about how we can best assess student learning and impact student achievement.

As the leaders of some of Oregon’s largest school districts, we are keenly aware of the importance of student achievement data. We value the information provided by valid, reliable, standardsaligned assessments that are administered consistently to all groups of students in order to provide critical information to educators, parents, students and the public about our students’ knowledge, skills and learning needs. However, our current statewide assessment system carries high costs in instructional time, impact on graduation preparedness, and student and educator attention all of which detract from the benefits of the system.

We ask that serious consideration be given to replacing the current 11th grade state assessments with a standard collegeentrance exam such as the SAT or ACT. Oregon currently sanctions these tests to meet student graduation requirements, but does not include them in school accountability systems. Some states already have made this change with the approval of the U.S. Department of Education, and others are considering following suit with passage of ESSA. We acknowledge that changing the standard high school exam to a collegeentrance exam would require careful consideration of these assessments’ validity to measure progress toward Oregon’s Essential Skills and college and career readiness standards. However, such a change could carry numerous benefits. The amount of testing students undergo in their junior year is a serious concern. Many students in 11th grade complete the Smarter Balanced Assessment, OAKS Science, AP, IB, SAT and ACT tests, in addition to numerous dualcredit exams and teachercreated assessments. For the students who already take the SAT and/or ACT, completing additional state tests can seem redundant, contribute to a sense of overtesting, and further reduce motivation and instructional time.

Designating the SAT or ACT as the statewide high school exam would decrease time spent on testing, open doors of opportunity, improve equity, and contribute to creating a collegegoing culture aligned with Oregon’s 404020 goal. We believe that this change would be in the best interest of Oregon’s students—especially for students who may not otherwise complete college entrance exams.
This opportunity for reflection on assessment and accountability systems may also create space to consider whether current assessments are effective tools for measuring Oregon’s Essential Skills for an Oregon Diploma. This is also an opportunity to consider Oregon’s nine Essential Skills adopted almost 10 years ago. It may be the right time to review their alignment to state standards and the methods we use to ensure students are able to demonstrate Essential Skills prior to graduation.

As discussions progress in ODE’s workgroups, we also ask for thoughtful consideration of the most appropriate and effective assessments for grades 3–8. While the Smarter Balanced assessments improve in many ways on the previous OAKS exams, the new tests are lengthy and complex to administer. They require cumbersome and lengthy training that commandeers valuable professional development and teacher collaboration time which otherwise could be focused on meeting student needs, improving instructional practices, enhancing student engagement techniques, and advancing equitable systems in our schools.

There are assessments in existence that correlate well to the Smarter Balanced Assessment and also provide information to teachers and students in a far timelier manner. Perhaps an ideal statewide summative assessment would take less than an hour to administer, it would align with state standards, align with and provide for a balanced system of formative and interim assessments that could inform instruction throughout the year, and validly and reliably measure student learning, all while minimizing the amount of instructional time devoted to testing rather than learning.

We believe that this ideal is possible to achieve. We do understand that the timeline and passionate concerns regarding statewide assessment systems make this new opportunity a “heavy lift” for ODE. We would appreciate the opportunity to continue discussing options to support your efforts to adapt to the changes under ESSA. We also may be able to support the work of ODE by convening a separate, but inclusive, “think tank” to provide thoughtful recommendations to ODE, the State Board, the Governor’s Office, the Legislature, or other interested parties.

The changes brought forward by ESSA offer tremendous opportunity for our state, our schools, and our students. We can improve on our state’s system for student assessment and school accountability. We can consider measures of student engagement, college credit attainment, family participation and more in our accountability systems. However, addressing the constraints of our current assessment model is a first step. Please consider how we can help support the development of a new plan that can make Oregon a leader in the field once again. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

OSOS Brings Authentic Assessment Discussion to Salem

Last Tuesday, Oregon Save Our Schools brought a discussion on what our schools would look like with assessment for learning to Salem Public Library. Our panel included Lew Frederick, who is currently running for Oregon Senate District 22;  Elizabeth Thiel, Portland parent and teacher newly elected vice president of Portland Association of Teachers; Yong Zhao, Presidential Chair and Director of the Institute for Global and Online Education and Professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Policy, and Leadership at University of Oregon; and Rick Stiggins founder and president (retired) of the Assessment Training Institute in Portland as well as a researcher on classroom assessment and author of many books on that subject. 

The four panelists spoke about the flaws in our current assessment system, specifically the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which all agreed is a flawed measurement. Frederick talked about the history of standardized testing as a gatekeeping mechanism used to exclude people of color. Thiel told the audience that the Smarter Balanced Assessment yields no useful information to her as either a teacher or a parent in understanding where a child’s strengths and weaknesses lie and how to help them. Yong Zhao discussed the false meritocracy that the tests support, wherein students who are from higher socioeconomic backgrounds do better on the tests than students from poverty, thus rationalizing maintenance of the status quo and causing an under valuing everything, including the Arts and Music, in favor of high scores in English Language Arts and Math. Stiggins stated that he is still waiting to see any empirical evidence in the form of peer reviewed, replicated studies, that prove that high stakes standardized testing used for strict accountability does anything to improve teaching and learning. He also questioned where the attitude of or effect on the learner in relation to our current system has been taken into account.

The audience had many questions regarding assessment systems, so many that there was not enough time for all of them to be answered. 

All panelists spoke of the opportunity to change our current system under the new ESSA and the importance of involving students, parents, and teachers in that discussion. Lew Frederick mentioned how very important it is for citizens to make their views on education known to their representatives and to stay abreast of and involved in the ongoing political discussions and decisions about education.

Oregon Save Our Schools thanks all of our panelists for helping bring this important discussion to a wider audience. We hope that our audience members will continue to seek answers to their questions about education and assessment and we hope all Oregonians heed the advice of our panelists: stay involved in and informed about what is happening in education, and keep in touch with your state and federal representatives, especially while the new rules for ESSA are being rolled out. We have an opportunity to create a better system. Let’s all get involved and do it! 

Read more here from the Salem Statesman Journal

Photo credit Tim McFarland, Salem Keizer Education Association 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Catcher in the Rye: Revisited

Today we are featuring another post from OSOS and cofounder Joanne Yatvin's blog, The Treasure Hunter.  Many thanks to Joanne for allowing us to repost here.

Today’s post is something I wrote long ago--1994 to be exact.  It came to my mind again because an old friend referred to it.  I have changed a few words to modernize the piece, and I want young readers to know that "The Catcher in the Rye" was a top best seller in its time and often taught in high school English classes.

When I first read J.D. Salinger's novel, “The Catcher in the Rye", the catcher metaphor struck me as silly, a clumsy device invented to justify a meaningless book title. Would any real teenager see himself -- as the novel's protagonist, Holden Caulfield, does--as a rescuer of children, and why were children in need of rescue anyway?
Although I am still cynical about Salinger's creative motivation, I find the "catcher" image far more poignant and real in today's world. In contrast to the world of Holden Caulfield's rye field near the cliff, our world today has so many children who are physically, economically, socially, or psychologically in danger. Statistics don't tell the story of many children's tragic lives, but we as educators see the evidence day after day in their anger, apathy, self-destructiveness, and resistance to learning.
Because we are where children are, because they will drive us crazy if we do nothing, and because we care, teachers must be today's catchers in the rye.
I have lost faith in any and all large-scale solutions to educational problems. They just put more paperwork, regulations, and job titles between children and the help they need. Where schools are failing, it is not because they don't have enough programs and consultants, but because they have lost the human touch. Children mired in the morass of family and community decay can't benefit from higher standards, instructional technology, or remedial programs; they need caring adults to pull them out of the muck and set them on solid ground--one at a time. Only then can each child, in his or her own way, begin the adventure of learning.
I have no magic formula for child catching. Each rescue must be worked out in personal terms that fit the catcher and the child. It probably doesn't matter if the means are sophisticated or crude, gentle or tough, as long as at least one sensible adult is looking after the welfare of each child. I do believe, however, that there are some conditions that are essential for child-catching to work. The framework of operation must be small, physically close, and flexible. Forget any plan for recruiting 500 teachers as catchers, training them, and setting up a schedule for patrolling the rye. We need small schools or schools that are divided into small community units; classroom time, space, and organization that allow personal relationships to flourish; legitimacy for play and conversation in school; authority in the hands of front-line practitioners; and educational visions unclouded by political pressure to cover academic ground, raise test scores, or produce workers for industry.
Within such a framework, teachers are able to catch children who stray too close to the edge. They know each child as an individual and see most of the things that are happening to him or her. Kids hang around and tell them what they cannot see. Teachers also find time to talk to each other about classroom problems and to work with their classes to make changes in rules or processes without having to implement any special programs or bring in any outside consultants.
Although permanent rescue is a slow process and an imperfect one, catching often shows quick, dramatic results. I credit those results to what I call the "wart theory of education". In essence, that theory asserts that children's problems are like warts: If you can destroy just a few of them, the rest will get the message and go away. Children who are carrying intolerable burdens of poverty, family dysfunction, bad learning habits, and social ineptitude may shake them off in the space of a few weeks when a caring teacher takes time to talk through a single problem with them or tutor them in one small skill.
I have seen schools that do an impressive job of rescuing large numbers of children over time. Ironically, they are not the same schools that produce the highest test scores, send the most students on to college, or attract the attention of the media.  Mostly, such schools don't even worry about whether the data on achievement and behavior makes them look good. Catching children is its own reward when you're out there in the rye. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

ODE Leads With Fear: Districts/Schools Fail to Honor Intent of Opt Out Bill

It seemed so simple.  The problem?  For some reason, since the implementation of SBAC, parents were finding it hard to opt out of high-stakes testing. As more parents protested the new assessments by opting out,  districts made up their own interpretation of the rules for opting out, some even going so far as to question parents' request for religious exemption.

The solution?  Legislators passed HB 2655 to provide parents and students with clear and consistent testing and opt out information across the state.

What could go wrong?


First of all, the Oregon Department of Education asked for input on their first draft of the opt out form.  ODE received lots of negative feedback and suggestions to make changes.  Why?  The form was basically an advertisement for how supposedly awesome and valuable the Smarter Balanced test is.  Not only was the form misleading and biased, but it also threw in a guilt trip for good measure, with a statement at the bottom.  It was not well received.

We started to wonder: Why is Dr. Salam Noor, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction at ODE,  pushing for a test that parents and students don't want?  Enter stage left: magic number 95--percent that is.  Ninety-five is the percent of children the United States Department of Education is demanding are tested--or else.  Or else what?  Our state maybe loses some funding? Gets a lower rating?

Big deal.  We are already losing funding when dollars go into buying, supporting, and using this test.  We lose quality schools when we don't authentically assess what really matters.  What really matters is the dialogue, work, and relationship in learning that goes on between a teacher, their student, and the parent.

No one in charge at the state level seems to have the spine to stand up to the USDOE and tell them their test is a problem and that we can assess our students just fine without threats and strings attached. Instead, ODE is all about compliance rather than supporting students, parents, and teachers.

But only for state testing. When it comes to many other types of programs and curriculum, there has never been a question about parents' right to opt out. Why is it that parents have been able to opt out of programs like our state's Healthy Teen Survey, sex education, other school curriculum, or even immunizations with ease, but when it comes to the SBAC, ODE says no dice.  What makes this test supersede the judgement of a parent?

Which brings us to gate keeping--controlling and interpreting the procedures to benefit those in charge.

And some districts are indeed gate keeping despite the letter Oregon Save Our Schools sent to almost every school board chair and superintendent in the state.  Why?  Who are they guided by? 

The Oregon Department of Education.

ODE has a communications or messaging toolkit for the SBAC and opt out. They even have a link on their page to testing propaganda by Stand for Children, a education deform group that has received millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation and other wealthy donors. During John Kitzhaber's tenure as governor, Stand for Children was his "go to" source for educational policy advice and was thus able to gain wide influence within ODE. There are also a number of people in charge of programs who, in spite of the new power given to states to make changes by ESSA, are very comfortable with the way things are.

These may be some of the reasons why ODE isn't very objective.

In any case, districts are taking their marching orders from ODE, and when Dr. Salam Noor writes a letter encouraging districts to minimize the number of opt outs so as to not jeopardize the magic 95 percent participation number, then things get even more interesting.

The rules may be being followed, but just barely.

So let's take a look at the law again.

First of all, here is how a parent or student opts out and what needs to be on the form, Section 3 and 4:

Then here is what is supposed to be sent to inform parents at the beginning of the school year:

Section (5):
Finally, sections 6, which makes one think that closer to the testing window, which is more relevant and timely for parent and students,  districts will send out more clear and specific information about what to expect with summative SBAC testing so parents and/or students can then make a more informed choice to take the test or opt out.

The current reality of the implementation of this bill doesn't really honor its intent which was created out of a need to help parents and families make a choice that was best for them.  Instead it appears that the Oregon Department of Education is still trying to make it difficult for parents to opt their children out. It just may be less overt.

Now some districts across our state have links to opt out information up front on their website, which is great.

However, there are still concerns:  Some districts are interpreting "providing" by just throwing a link to information or the opt out form on their web page somewhere and hoping parents won't find it; some districts have the link, but also have all the propaganda from ODE supporting their claims that the SBAC is so fantabulous; some are changing the wording from Opt Out to Parent Exemption, some districts are refusing to print out opt out forms and have them out in the open in school offices because if they aren't seen, they aren't likely to be used--however, this is an equity issue for families without computers and printers; some aren't providing the specific information for section 6, some parents are being called by their district and asked if they are really sure they want to opt out, and some districts are expecting parents to meet with the principal to discuss their opt out choice, even though there is nothing in the law requiring parents to do this. These are just some of the stories we are hearing.

So the question is:  Why are some school districts trying to hide opt out?  The answer leads back to ODE which is leading with fear and threats because they too have been led by fear and threats from the US Department of Education.

We keep hearing that the days of control by the federal government are gone, that states have the right to create their own systems of accountability and assessment. We must seize this opportunity.   This is not the time for bureaucrats who are entrenched and invested in the current system to take charge. ESSA Assessment committees and groups tasked with creating a better system are being formed now by Oregon Department of Education while Oregon teachers continue the work begun in partnership with former Chief Education Officer Nancy Golden towards creating a different way of assessing student learning. We must demand that our governor, who is also the Superintendent of Public Instruction, follow the will of the people and get rid of an assessment that parents, students, and teachers just don't want by calling for a moratorium on the SBAC test and ignoring the threats of the feds.

In the meantime, ODE should be open about the opt out process and instruct school districts to do the same.

If you have a story of you or your child being harassed by district personnel for exercising their opt out rights, please contact us at or find us on Facebook at Oregon SOS.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Humans of Oregon Save Our Schools: Joanne Yatvin

Welcome to our second post on the "Humans of Oregon Save Our Schools" to introduce our followers to some of the many people who also follow us!

This post features Joanne Yatvin, a co-founder of OSOS. 

Joanne  is a retired teacher and school principal. She is also a writer who has produced four books and more than fifty articles on education, including many featured by Valerie Strauss in Washington Post's Answer Sheet. At present she has an internet blog called "The Treasure Hunter" which aims at publicizing the good things in our public schools and invites submissions. Read more about Joanne and her distinguished history as an educator here on her "About" page. 

Thank you to Joanne Yatvin for dedicating a lifetime to public schools and students! 

If you would like your story about why you joined or follow Oregon Save Our Schools, what OSOS means to you, or why you think OSOS is important featured in a blog post, just send a short paragraph with your bio, a photo,  and tell us how and why you are involved!

Send your entries to: