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.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

HB 3499 and English Language Learners: Stand for Children Talks with Oregon Save Our Schools

Recently some members of Oregon Save Our Schools who hold graduate credentials in teaching English Language Learners (ELLs) had a conference call with Stand for Children’s Executive Director Toya Fick and Government Affairs Director Iris Maria Chavez. The call came about after Stand reached out to an OSOS member in response to a Facebook post questioning Stand’s path to helping ELL students. Specifically, that post questioned some of the original contents and intent of Stand’s work on House Bill 3499.

House Bill 3499 in its current form is a result of the work of many people working in coalition. The bill has multiple provisions to help ELL students. Stand’s position from the beginning was to cut the extra funding that is currently given to districts to provide extra help for ELL students if those students did not reach a certain proficiency level within a certain number of years. Stand basically called for a one-size-fits all approach that would require all students to learn English within the same time period. They also actively advocated for more “accountability measures” to put pressure on school districts to boost exit numbers from ELL services without providing additional resources.

The phone call was somewhat unproductive, with Stand repeating the same talking points they have used in recent testimony and propaganda. One of the tactics that Stand has used is to provide anecdotal evidence in the form of finding ELL students and their parents to tell legislators what a horrible experience they have had in public school. Surely there are ELL families who have not had good experiences in certain schools, but research shows that being in ELL classes actually helps students learn English. Historically, the problem that English Language Learners have encountered in the US is that they were not provided enough services, not that they were provided with too much service. And while it is true that students who exit ELD programs prior to entering high school have a higher graduation rate than those who don’t, Stand for Children’s originally proposed solution of merely cutting of funds for students on a predetermined schedule is no solution at all.

Students do not exit ELD before high school for many reasons: some are dual identified as Special Education and ELL; some have an entry date to the US on paper that does not accurately reflect the amount of time they have been in a program or even in the US, as they may have moved from school to school, or even back and forth across the border during that time; some come to the US later in their school careers and do not have sufficient time to learn English prior to getting to high school; some come from situations that have been traumatic or have had interrupted schooling and are not literate even in their first language; most are students who live in poverty.

While the Stand for Children representatives who we spoke with insisted that Stand had not advocated for cutting off funding after a certain number of years, nor stated that districts retain students who no longer need to be in ELD in programs in order to reap some sort of financial benefits, you can see that is not accurate in this blog post by former Stand Executive Director, now Chair of their Advisory Board, Sue Levin. In this blog post, Ms. Levin frequently confuses correlation with causation and misreads, glosses over, or skews the statistics she cites. Some of those statistics may be troubling, but when our experts see them, it raises more questions about what the true problem is than it provides an answer or a solution.
Something else Ms. Levin fails to mention in her blog post, or perhaps doesn’t understand, is that ELL students are those students who have demonstrated that they are not yet proficient in English. The group “ELL students” does not include those students who originally entered school as English Language Learners (ELL) and have now been exited from ELD programs. Those students are no longer classified as ELLs, since they have attained English proficiency. ELL students, by definition, have not yet attained a native-like level of proficiency and therefore, one would not reasonably expect them to pass a grade level test of English Language Arts. Oregon Save Our Schools believes that students who have not yet reached English proficiency should not be required to take a such a test, which does not measure their reading and writing ability but rather re-measures the fact that they have not yet reached that level of English language proficiency.

House Bill 3499, as amended, would do the following:

Develop a uniform budget expenditure coding to make sure funds are spent on ELL programs. Hopefully, the results will dispel the assumption that ELL money is not being spent wisely. OSOS believes that the problem is not how much money is spent, but the lack of it to move the dial for the most vulnerable populations. 

Establish a work group with a greater diversity than previous work groups. The group will develop ways to support exited students and better define the identification and exiting criteria from English Language Development programs. It would also establish a system to help schools based on the focus and priority model for schools in general. Oregon Save Our Schools does not believe in the focus and priority model, as it allows schools to be labeled “successful” while still leaving students behind and labels as “unsuccessful” schools that have the highest percentages of students who come from difficult circumstances. It is hoped that this work group will be scheduled for a time when educators can attend in order to include the voice of those who are true experts in the field.

Provide funds to implement the State ELL Plan that looks to identify successful programs. Caution is urged in this identification. Programs that can be replicated for long-term success in diverse districts need to be found.

Examine the lack of meaningful accommodations on statewide summative assessments. The SBAC will have such a low passing rate that we will not get useful information about the performance of ELL students.

Some concerns are:

 ▪ In developing criteria to classify programs as low performing we should not focus on how schools are classified under the current measures of state report cards that rely on a single high-stakes test. Given that most ELLs are predicted not to pass the SBAC, these measures would continue to label all schools as failures.  When looking for exemplar programs for replication, we should not rely solely on anecdotal evidence only to determine success.

 ▪ The traditional technical assistance offered by ODE using the focus and priority model has not resulted in increased achievement for ELL students or narrowed the achievement gap. We need to look differently at how technical assistance will be delivered to ensure it will specifically benefit ELLs.

 ▪ Giving ODE the ability to mandate how the district will spend its ELL funding as punishment for continued low achievement would not result in improvement. True improvement comes when a school community works together, perhaps with needed outside support, to develop their own plan.

We are encouraged that this bill has a tone of supporting rather than punishing our way into success. Mandates haven’t worked. We assume the good intentions of all educators who work hard in the trenches every day. We hope that the representatives from Stand for Children that we spoke with were simply unaware of the proposals that Ms. Levin had advocated so strongly for and are ready to move forward and figure out what actually will work to help ELL students be more successful in the long term.