Friday, July 31, 2015

Get the Scoop! What You Need to Know About Kindergarten Testing and Opting Out

Photo credit: by sarah-ji at Creative Commons.

Please join Oregon Save Our Schools for an important parent information session  particularly designed for parents of incoming kindergarteners. While geared toward this specific audience, all parents and community members are welcome. The sessions are free and open to the public.

This is information you will NOT be getting from your school district or teachers prior to the first week of school when most kindergarteners in Oregon are administered the state mandated OKA (Oregon Kindergarten Assessment) also sometimes referred to as the KRA (Kindergarten Readiness Assessment) at all publicly funded schools (including charters). 

That’s right- these days in Oregon children are introduced to their first high-stakes standardized test in kindergarten-often on the first day or within the first week of school. Most parents don’t know anything about it as it’s presented as being part of a “meet-n-greet” get to know you time. 

Come find out what this assessment is and isn’t, how its data is and isn’t used, and hear first-hand from actual kindergarten teachers what they think about it and how it informs their work. Learn about how the Common Core standards that the test is based on have quickly changed the way kindergarten is being taught. Get information on the origin and history of these changes and better understand sweeping “education reforms” are impacting our publicly funded schools and how. Information on how to “opt-out” will be available as well.  One shorter session will provide information and time to answer questions.  The two hour sessions will also include the viewing of the documentary Education Inc. with a discussion to follow.


3 DATES/2 LOCATIONS/THREE TIMES- all at Multnomah County Library locales

1)             August 20th THURSDAY                 
                MIDLAND LIBRARY          
                805 SE 122nd Ave Portland                           
                Large Meeting Room    
                6:30-7:30 pm

This event will provide important information about kindergarten assessments and opting out.

2)             August 21st FRIDAY                         
                North Portland Library   
                512 N. Killingsworth St.  Portland              
                Upstairs Large Room    
                10:30 am - 12:30 pm

This session will provide important information about kindergarten assessments and opting out as well as a showing of Education Inc., a documentary that examines broadly and deeply how corporate interests are impacting public education. Kindergarten information session will be held for the first hour. Movie showing and discussion will follow.  

3)             August 23rd SUNDAY                     
                North Portland Library   
                512 N. Killingsworth St. Portland                
                Upstairs Large Room    
                2:30-4:30 pm

This session will provide important information about kindergarten assessments and opting out as well as a showing of Education Inc., a documentary that examines broadly and deeply how corporate interests are impacting public education. Kindergarten information session will be held for the first hour. Movie showing and discussion will follow.  

We hope to see you there!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

HB 2655: Oregon Parents Deserve Testing and Opt Out Information Now

This session has been promising for Oregon.  Education issues have been on the minds of our legislators more than ever.

However, one bill in particular has been surprisingly somewhat controversial.

We are talking about HB 2655: The Assessment Bill of Rights and Opt Out Bill.

Now this is a good bill, and Oregon SOS strongly supports it.  The Oregon Education Association supports it as well.
It is a bill that serves the people, parents, students, the public.
It is a bill that fosters information, transparency, and consistency about state testing and opt out rights.

One has to wonder why it has been so hard to get it passed with ease.  Really, it should have been on the Governor's desk by now. 

The answer is simple:  it is a classic case of the public good vs corporate interests

There is a lot of money to be made from high-stakes testing.  And such testing fosters a business model for our public schools.   Such testing fosters a narrative of failure for our public schools.  Such a narrative will open up the potential to have our public schools become charters or go into receivership.  Such testing will try to break down teacher unions as well.  Such testing will label students, schools, and teachers as failures or as a number, and this is wrong.  Our public schools should be held as untouchable and protected as a foundation of our democracy.

Informing parents to include opting out rights stops the business model in its tracks because it denies the existence of the data they crave to justify their plan and corporate policy making.

What this bill does is simple:  it creates a single statewide opt out form, informs parents and students of the purpose, schedule, and information provided by state tests before the school year starts, explains their rights regarding opting out, and allows parents to opt their child out of high-stakes testing for any reason.

So why is this such a problem for some folks?

The corporate reformers such as Stand for Children and Chalkboard feel that without high-stakes testing there is no accountability for our public schools.  They also feel that it helps keep students from falling through the cracks if they are struggling.  They feel these tests are a simple "check up" and good for kids much like taking your vitamins or eating your spinach.

They couldn't be more wrong.

But ultimately, that isn't really the point of this bill. 

The point of this bill is to allow parents to make an informed decision and exercise their rights in a manner that is simple and easy.

This bill passed the House, despite the fact that some representatives, who align themselves with the corporate reformers such as Stand for Children, tried to derail or weaken the bill.  A compromise was delivered which allowed the bill to be in effect for six years before sunsetting as Oregon works to make a transition away from high-stakes testing to a more authentic and valid assessment system that our students deserve.

Then the bill passed out of the Senate Education Committee with a "do pass" recommendation, with only one 'no' vote by Senator Hass.

Now the bill is headed for a vote in the Senate, but suddenly it is stuck in the Rules Committee, as a new amendment (A15) has cropped up that seeks to delay notifying parents for a year of their rights and of the testing information.

Say what?!

Who wants to keep parents in the dark for another year?

Again, this bill is about transparency.  But groups like Stand for Children, Chalkboard, and the Oregon Business Association fear their gains in power and influence with state education policy will dissolve if high-stakes testing becomes a thing of the past.  And their fears are hopefully right.  Their approach is not good for our schools, and in fact, has shown no closing of any kind of achievement or opportunity gap since the inception of NCLB.

And corporate reformers are also highly supportive of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and all his federal policy making as well.  This policy making has supported tying funding to the implementation of such policies. And when you tie funding to policy, that goes down the road of blackmail and loss of state control.  Some fear we will lose money if parents know they can opt out and exercise their right to do so.  So far no school has lost money.  This fear is unfounded and puts the interests of money before children and parents.

Our parents need to know the truth and they need to know their options.  They need to be able to make an informed decision, and our legislature needs to help them.

Please contact the Senate Rules Committee and voice your support for this bill without Amendment 15 and to then ask to have it sent to the floor for vote.

Senate Rules Committee contact information:

Then contact your State Senator and recommend they do the right thing and vote yes on HB 2655A without the amendment to delay notification.

Parents deserve to be informed in a transparent way.  They can then decide what is best for their family using simple, clear, and consistent information.  The state shouldn't have the right to deny them that.

Parents will make their voices heard, and at the end of the day, who will they trust?  Teachers and those who supported their rights.  Not those who stood in their way.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

More Voices Support Parents' Rights/Opt Out with HB 2655A

HB 2655A received its first hearing in the Senate Education Committee May 5th.  Testimony by the public and questions by the committee showed much more awareness and concern about the affects of high-stakes testing and the Smarter Balanced tests.   The Senate Education Committee is scheduled to hold a work session on HB 2655 (Opt Out Bill) on Tuesday, May 19th.

This bill in critical for two big reasons.

First, it informs parents in a clear, consistent, and transparent way about the tests students will be expected to take and why,  how much time it will take to administer, how the test results will be used, and when testing will take place. Second, it will allow parents to opt their child out of state tests for ANY reason, so parents will no longer be intimidated, have to justify their choice to districts, and it makes the process simple.

One teacher and parent, Mindy Legard Larson PhD from McMinnville, presented her testimony on May 5th with much research.   Read about her top ten reasons to support HB2655A here.

Oregon SOS thanks Ms. Larson and others who are speaking out against high-stakes testing in Oregon.  There is still time to make your voice heard to support HB 2655A.  Please email your legislators and the Senate Education Committee (and cc your State Senator), and tell your story or voice your opinion that parents should have the right to clear and transparent information about high-stakes testing and they should be able to opt their child out for any reason.

Senate Education Committee email addresses:
(Note: Sen. R
oblan is Committee Chair and Sen. Knopp is Vice Chair. Gretchen Engbring is Committee Administrator)


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Oregon SOS Offers Feedback on New State Assessment Proposal


 Oregon Save Our Schools

Comments on:  A New Path for Oregon System of Assessment to Empower Meaningful Student Learning Proposal by Oregon Educators”

Oregon Save Our Schools (OSOS) had a voice in this process at a feedback forum, but we would like to offer our additional comments.  We appreciate the opportunity to give feedback and the work that was done by the committee. 

OSOS has the following guiding principles which we used in analyzing these recommendations for feedback:

OSOS’s guiding principles:

      An excellent, well-rounded, and engaging education for ALL of Oregon’s public school students.

      An end to high-stakes testing used for student, teacher, or school evaluation.

      Teacher, family, and community input that informs public education policy.

      Equitable and well-funded schools that support students and classrooms first.

      An end to corporate education models and top-down government mandates which threaten a strong, democratic, public education system.

***Proposed OSOS comments are in bold


Recommendations for Creating a Highly Effective Assessment System
The following recommendations identify factors to consider in transitioning to a new system of assessment for student learning. These recommendations were developed by members from Oregon Education Association (OEA), Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB), Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and school district advisors, who worked more than a year on researching, studying and developing a white paper titled, A New Path for Oregon: System of Assessment to Empower Meaningful Student Learning. These recommendations will be vetted with a diverse group of stakeholders and will be revised based on their collective feedback. 

Recommendation #1: Advocate and prepare for reauthorization of ESEA that allows states to develop a system of assessment that truly supports student learning through greater emphasis on valid, reliable and unbiased high quality classroom, interim assessments and addresses the role of accountability in the system.

·       The end result will be a reduction in the overall volume of tests and the frequency of mandated assessments.  Interim assessments will be chosen at the local level with the state providing resources.  Teachers will be given autonomy to choose assessments that meet the needs of their students.  These could include portfolios and work samples.

·       Technology-based interim assessments will be used sparingly as to not restrict students’ access to technology.  The timing of these assessments needs to be flexible in order for educators to address intervention needs and differences in scheduling.  The manner in which teachers document progress will be at the discretion of the district in collaboration with teachers.  

·       Teachers and the district will work together to develop an assessment calendar to avoid over testing and teaching to the test.  Any data gathered needs to be timely enough to inform instruction.  The entire assessment system needs to be examined to see if students are taking too many assessments in their varying content areas and if an excessive amount of data is being gathered.                                               

Recommendation #2: Support the “Student’s Assessment Bill of Rights” to ensure students know and understand the purpose of assessments, the learning targets that make up the assessment and how the results will be used; and also to ensure students understand the differences between good and poor performance on pending assessments and learn how to self-assess and track their progress. 

·       Parents and students will also be made aware of what data relating to assessments will be kept in state databases.  We support students being a partner in their learning process. Students should be allowed to decide how they prefer to show their learning whether it is a work sample, test, or performance task.  In doing so, we recognize the individual needs of the learner to choose the best and most authentic way to demonstrate their learning.

Recommendation #3: Develop, fund, and implement extensive professional development, with a commitment to a multi-year program, to develop and enhance assessment literacy of educators. The effort should focus on high quality classroom, interim, and annual assessments, both formative and summative uses that have a clear purpose and support state standards and well defined learning targets.  Utilize federal funding as a result of Representative Bonamici’s recent bill that would advance funds to states around assessment practices.

·       Teachers are already highly-trained in the art of assessment. We support their work and believe what they need most is time rather than training in order to effectively assess their students. Because of our misguided current high-stakes testing model, the professional judgment of our teachers has taken a back seat to testing companies as their products are given more value and voice in what constitutes a quality assessment. It is time to recognize the talent and knowledge of our teachers and invest in the resources and time they need to provide quality and timely assessment for their students.  Feedback from teachers states that an even more urgent issue is access to time and materials rather than test development.  

·       The assessment process will be made more clear so it is easier to communicate with parents, students, teachers, and community members about student growth and proficiency. 

·       Federal funding should have no strings attached.  Federal funding should be provided in a manner that allows the vision and values of this plan/document to move forward in an authentic manner.


Recommendation #4: Create a taskforce to conduct an audit of the type and number of assessments currently administered in Oregon schools. Include the amount of instructional hours being devoted to formative, interim, progress monitoring and summative assessments to determine the impact on teaching and learning time. 

·       The task force should include current classroom educators.

·       The taskforce will meet at a time where classroom educators will be able to participate. 

·       The taskforce will also examine the effects of student morale and stress with regards to the testing process.   

·       The most important voices in determining the effects of testing in our schools are teachers, students, principals, and parents.  In collaboration, these groups should work to provide a clear picture of how much testing is going on in their schools, how it is affecting quality instructional time, and how it is affecting student morale and learning. We feel districts should provide such information to this task force so they can accurately evaluate these effects in such aforementioned audit.

Recommendation #5: Advocate for state and federal funds to initiate and maintain a cooperative statewide teacher resource bank which will provide classroom and interim assessments, learning objectives, materials, and technology integration suggestions.  These items in this bank will be designed by certified teachers and housed and run by the Oregon Department of Education.  These assessments will also be vetted valid, reliable, and equitable, and made available for districts and individual educators to use.  The use of the assessment bank will be optional, retaining educators’ rights to select materials that align to learning objectives.  Districts receiving funds for item bank development will post their teacher-created assessments for general use.  A comment section will be provided for teachers to provide feedback and suggestions on the individual items. 

Recommendation #6: Invest in the technology necessary to learning not just for administering standardized tests, and to ensure students have access to technology for college and career readiness.

Invest in technology to ensure that students have access to technology for learning purposes during testing periods.  We suggest that technology primarily be used to support authentic student learning rather than fostering a testing culture. Provide professional development for educators and paraprofessionals to successfully integrate technology into instruction.
Recommendation #7: Examine the current state of accommodations for special education students, English language learners,and other populations of diverse students to determine the impact of the additional testing and determine an appropriate level of assessment for every subgroup of students.  

Special Education and English Language Learners will be required to take the Smarter Balanced assessment only if meaningful accommodations are provided and the chance of success is realistic and attainable.   However, the current accommodations are not acceptable.  

Alternative authentic assessments designed by the teacher to meet the child at their academic level will be encouraged and allowed.

Investment will be made so special populations have access to a comprehensive education that offers enrichment beyond remediation. 

A task force shall be made consisting of teachers of vulnerable populations to develop recommendations for additional accommodations. 

In the meantime, parents of vulnerable populations will be informed of their rights to opt-out of state-mandated summative assessments.  We already have enough information to document the achievement gap.  The urgency is in addressing that gap, not more assessments.

Recommendation #8: Research the feasibility of reducing the frequency of administering the annual statewide standardized summative assessment while ensuring accurate yearly disaggregated data by subgroups through enhancing the use of valid and reliable formative and interim assessments.

·       We encourage the elimination of high-stakes testing when it comes to evaluating teachers, schools, and districts whether it is annual testing or grade-span testing. 

·       We support assessments that are authentic and teacher-created. 

·       Annual assessments are fine as long as they are not punitive or high-stakes, but instead prefer grade span assessments as they take less instructional time, provide fewer opportunities for student stress, and give students a better chance to show growth.

·       English Language Learners’ progress can be monitored by classroom assessments and the English Language Proficiency Exam. 

·       Special Education students should be monitored by progress on the Individual Education Plan.  

·       Other tests such as the NAEP can be used as an valid assessment piece that can give districts, board members, and ODE a snapshot of student learning and may be considered as they are shown to be reliable and do not intrude on instructional time.

Recommendation #9: Advocate for state and federal funds to develop and use high quality formative and interim assessments chosen by educators from a menu of options vetted at the state and district level that meet the needs of their students and high standards of quality. These assessments will be standards-based, vetted as valid, reliable, and unbiased. Students may also develop, in conjunction with educators and administrators, work samples to demonstrate their learning and progress toward common core and other academic standards.

·       Any purchased assessments will be provided by Oregon companies and written by currently practicing Oregon educators. 

·       The use of any of these assessments will be optional by the teacher and the district. 

·       Assessments may be teacher-created. 

·       Any assessments created locally will be posted to the statewide item bank.

Recommendation #10: Allow high school students to opt-in to the Math or ELA section(s) of the Smarter Balanced Assessment earlier than 11th grade so that they take the assessment as it coincides with their actual academic course load rather than the current system which may have students taking a test on content they haven’t studied for two or more years. In essence, allow students to “bank” portions of the test. 

·       Inform high school students to alternatives to the Smarter Balanced Assessment that still count for graduation.  

·       Students with banked OAKS scores shouldn’t be required to take the SBAC. 
Recommendation #11: Enhance and expand options to demonstrate essential skills. Determine if other measures of essential skills exist and promote the most options for students. 

·       Districts will report to the next legislative session the extra cost associated with Smarter Balanced and the extra staff required to increase access to essential skills and other routes.

·       Students may provide a portfolio or a work sample to show proficiency in lieu of taking the SBAC or state mandated summative assessment.

Recommendation #12: Suspend the use of Smarter Balance Assessment results during 2015 for school ratings on report cards, but allow students to use their 2015 Smarter Balance Assessment results to demonstrate Essential Skills for high school graduation and allow for comprehensive analysis of Smarter Balance to determine the value in relation to student learning. Continue to suspend the use of Smarter Balance Assessment results for educator evaluation during 2015-16 while developing a more balanced system of assessment.

·       Suspend immediately and indefinitely all uses of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. 

·       Focus instead on developing a system as outlined in this document. 

·       In the meantime, research validity through the results of other states implementing the Smarter Balanced Assessment.