Sunday, January 31, 2016

Oregon Teacher Evaluation Process

Federal legislation replacing the No Child Left Behind act was recently passed. The new ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) has some changes affecting teacher evaluation that we shouldn’t ignore.

States now have the authority to decide about their evaluation systems. It is no longer federally required to use standardized test scores in the teacher evaluation process. Unfortunately, legislation was passed in Oregon (Senate Bill 290) that led to rule making that requires tying test scores to evaluations. The Oregon Education Association (OEA) participated in the process from the beginning. It hasn’t turned out well and we need to admit it, and then do what we can to fix the situation.

Most would agree that we were sold a bill of goods throughout the entire process of legislation and implementation of SB 290. Initially, teachers were led to believe that it would be a truly collaborative process and test scores weren’t even mentioned. Both teachers and administrators were to work on developing the evaluation system for both employee groups, but in most places teachers had very little input on the administrator evaluations.

Then all of a sudden test scores entered the picture. ODE said that they would consider various options, and so too could individual districts decide how they were to be used. The state eventually made it clear that in the end, they would be choosing the option(s) for evaluation, to be used by all districts. The state did ultimately do so, and they told the individual districts that they must use a certain model. In addition, instead of districts being able to say how student learning and growth goals (SLGGs) are managed, the state requires teachers to write goals that say, “100% of students will _________________.”

OEA tried to do damage control but didn’t prevail on many critical aspects. During a training on the new evaluation system, a teacher asked a question about how you would account for chronically absent students in the goal setting process. The Chalkboard Project representative told the teacher that chronic absenteeism is a result of the teacher failing to motivate the students. This answer was unfortunate and inaccurate; the state allows districts to collaboratively determine with their teams what attendance thresholds would be used.

Equity issues were never resolved regarding educators that don’t teach in the tested grades and how the system would be made fair for those who have to administer the Smarter Balanced tests.
This whole process has resulted in kids being tested to death not just on the high-stakes assessments, but assessments by every specialist that the student comes in contact with.

Ideally, the next steps will be to eliminate the use of Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs), because this data exists nowhere except in the old NCLB waiver. Additional targets of elimination should be the Category 1 SLGG requirements and the use of summative evaluations that result in a number.

The Governor’s office and the Chief Education Officer (CEdO) have been noticeably quiet and absent. Phone calls are not returned. We’re not quite sure what is going on in the chief education office. It’s hard to know what the Governor’s agenda is on any topic. It is election year. I spent $100 last week as a campaign contribution to go to a small mixer where I would have a chance to talk to Governor Brown. I told her the CEdO had not returned my phone calls and asked for her direct contact so I could discuss education related issues. I’m still waiting on the follow up from that contact. The system is not set up for meaningful and consistent educator input.

SB 290 and the corresponding rules need to be amended as soon as possible. At a recent Title III Directors Meeting at the Oregon Department of Education, the new law was explained and then it was simply stated that we have state legislation and we would go on with business as usual. We have no data to show that the millions spent have had an effect. 

-Pat Muller

Sunday, January 24, 2016

An Open Letter to Oregon Superintendents and School Boards

Oregon Save Our Schools has sent a letter to as many Oregon superintendents and school board chairs as we were able to gather. Our volunteers spent many hours going to district's individual websites in order to reach out to them and ask that they not impede parents' right to opt their children out of high stakes standardized tests as well as asking them to join us in speaking out and fighting for the schools our children deserve. We apologize to any districts we may have missed and are posting the open letter here in the hopes that all will get our message.

We would also ask that parents, teachers, and community members who want a better assessment system for Oregon schools send a copy of this letter to your local school board, superintendent, state legislator, or anyone else you think needs to hear this message. Let's get together and create an assessment system that works for Oregon's students and teachers!


Dear Superintendents and School Board Chairs of Oregon school districts,

As testing season approaches, Oregon Save Our Schools would like to address you on behalf of the many parents in Oregon who will be choosing to opt out their children out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment this year. 

As you know, HB 2655 was passed last legislative session. Undoubtably you have received instruction from the Oregon Department of Education regarding participation and informing parents of their right to opt their children out of the assessment. While we understand the need for you to attempt to comply with ODE directives, we write to urge you to respect parental rights as outlined in this bill which was a hard won battle led by parents who did not wish to have their religious beliefs nor their right to direct their children’s education questioned by local school districts. 

With that in mind, we ask that you not put up roadblocks that are not required by the law. Parents are not required by law to meet with anyone in the school district to obtain approval to opt their children out of testing. Further, asking principals to do anything other than accept forms handed in places a problematic burden on them which can result in a mistrust of the principal by parents. That could also be a recipe for division among parents at a school site. This was happening prior to the HB 2655 and the hope was that it would end with its passage.

While the Department of Education encourages parents to submit the form no later than February 1 in order to help districts plan, there is nothing in the law that requires parents to do so. ODE representatives, when questioned, have confirmed for  OSOS members on more than one occasion that it is a parent’s right to opt their child out of testing at any time, even if the child has already begun testing and the parent does not wish their child to continue. We have also been forwarded an email by a founder of Eugene Parents Concerned About High Stakes testing in which Holly Carter, ODE’s Interim Director of Assessment states that crossing out any statements on ODEs form about the value of testing which parents do not agree with should not prohibit parents from exercising their rights.

Additionally, opt out forms should be easily obtainable in school offices, not just available to download, and in parents’ native languages to assure equal access for all parents.

The intent of the law was to stop making it difficult and onerous for parents to exercise those parental rights. If that is at all in doubt,  you can read letters from HB 2655 co-sponsor Representative Lew Fredrick to Dr. Noor here and from co-sponsor Representative Chris Gorsek here.  We urge you to follow the spirit of the law and allow parents who wish to opt their children out to do so without interference. 

We would also like to call on any of you who feel so moved to speak out publicly against the Smarter Balanced Assessment and high stakes standardized testing in general. Note that you would not be alone. In Vermont, the State Board of Education sent this letter to parents in November of last year.  Back in 2011, a Florida school board member took their state assessment and, after seeing his results, felt it was imperative that he speak out.  And more recently, Idaho’s Superintendent of the Year gave a TEDX talk about his concerns regarding high stakes standardized testing. The full talk can be seen here.

We share the concerns of Oregon teachers regarding SBAC and look forward to all of us working together to finish the work begun by OEA and ODE towards a better assessment system.  We hope you will question assessments that do not follow the guiding principles found in the linked "New Path for Oregon" document nor "Student Assessment Bill of Rights" found on page 18 of the document. Our students deserve quality assessments that their teachers can use to inform instruction. We hope you will join us in advocating for that.

In the meantime, we hope you will heed our recommendations, made in the interest of respecting parent and student rights and minimizing divisiveness in local school communities. The new ESSA gives us great opportunity to make local decisions and while it continues to require a 95% participation rate, we believe there is no legal basis for either the federal or state government to withhold funds from a district or school based on parental decisions.

We ask you to join us in advocating for creating an assessment system that works for teachers and students and respects and restores the power of local school communities. 

Thank you for all you do for your students and families.

Respectfully yours,

Oregon Save Our Schools

Monday, January 11, 2016

Parents Be on the Lookout: Districts Are Sending Opt Out Info Thanks to HB 2655!

Thanks to the efforts of all who helped to pass HB 2655 in this past legislative session, districts now have to inform parents of their right to opt out of state summative testing (currently SBAC) for any reason.  Parents have always had that right, but HB 2655 forces districts to inform parents of this right rather than go through "testing as usual"--where parents really had no idea they could opt out, and districts and the state hoped parents didn't ask--and if they did, the process wasn't always easy or straightforward.

Districts are now at their first requirement of having to hand out opt out information to parents prior to testing.  As these letters to parents come home, parents are being made aware of the opt out process and the availability of the (terribly) and newly created state opt out forms they can use.  They are also being told that the tests are important and that opting out can hurt school resources--not exactly objective information from the Oregon Department of Education (but when your state website about "communication resources" on testing puts information by Stand for Children as part of their information to parents, one can only wonder whose interests ODE is serving--a "non-profit" bent on pushing their corporate reform agenda-- or parents whose only agenda is to have happy, healthy, and successful children)?

Hopefully parents will question and understand that SBAC tests aren't that informative (teachers know best, not a computerized test), waste hours of instructional time, are still high-stakes, and are expensive!

Unfortunately, the ESSA still requires that students test annually in grades 3-8 and 11, values a 95 percent participation rate, and threatens schools with the lowest test scores as being labeled as failures.  Opting out is important as it starves the state and federal government of the incomplete or narrow data they misuse to wrongly label some of our schools, students, and teachers as failing (usually our schools and teachers serving high poverty neighborhoods with grossly inadequate funding and supports.)

We at Oregon Save Our Schools have updated information on how and why one should consider opting their child out of high-stakes testing at our "one-stop opt out center" at Opt-Out Oregon. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The New Law is Better but Not Good Enough

Oregon Save Our Schools member Joanne Yatvin comments on the new ESEA reauthorization, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed this week by President Obama. Find the original post on her blog, "The Treasure Hunter"

Today’s post is a response to the law just passed by Congress to replace No child Left Behind (NCLB). The New York Times published a piece by David L. Kirp describing that law yesterday, which I found clear and accurate. So, if you can go to that article (link), I suggest that you read it first for a more complete description of the law than I can give here. Then read my analysis and my concerns.

The major changes in the Every Student Succeeds (ESSA) law are the shift from Federal control to state control and the removal of the rewards and punishments for schools that were used by the the Department of Education to ensure compliance.  Yearly student tests will continue, but they will be chosen or designed by the states. In addition, the effectiveness of schools will will be made on more evidence than just test scores. Finally, actions to improve the performance of students in high poverty schools will be the central  focus of states for the next several years.  Although these changes promise better days for our public schools in the future, I still see much to be concerned about.
First and foremost, the beliefs that have dominated American education over the past twenty-some years still hold sway among decision makers and the public at large. Those beliefs were first voiced in a 1983 report by a commission created by President Ronald Reagan, titled, “A Nation at Risk.” Its central theme was that the United States' educational system was failing to meet the national need for a competitive workforce. On the opening page the report declared, “The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” And it continued with a frightening possibility: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”
Like its predecessor, ESSA will operate on the same beliefs about our system of public education, and for that reason states will be inclined to identify the same goals and use similar strategies to reach them.  We are not done with judging our students, teachers, and schools mainly by test scores, or believing that comparisons with other countries' scores on international tests are meaningful. Nor, are we done with top-down decision making on what, when, and how our students should learn, in disregard of teachers' knowledge and experience.  Many state legislatures--and their constituents--will continue to believe that charter schools, on the whole, are better than public schools and move to increase them.  And some of those states will continue to offer vouchers to a few students to attend private or religious schools in the belief that they are throwing life preservers to drowning children.
Can these aberrations be stopped?  The only ways I see are for parents, teachers, and informed citizens to strengthen their efforts to support our public schools. We need to put pressure on state legislatures to use their funds and power to make intelligent decisions for our schools.  If we are silent, thinking that all is well now that NCLB is dead, the future will be no better than the past.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

New English-Learners Test Rolled Out, Though Not Ready and Harmful

On September 24 at the Oregon Department of Education’s Title III Directors webinar, the directors heard about some changes in the ELPA21 test that could potentially discriminate against English Language Learners.

This slide from the meeting shows the shocking news that was revealed. The new ELPA21 test will be rolled out on time despite dangers to students, civil rights issues, and that it isn’t ready yet.

Historically, ELPA (English Language Proficiency Assessment) scores come before the end of the school year and decisions about whether students can be exited or continue to receive services are triggered by that score. Each district or consortium has an approved Lau plan, which outlines identification and exiting procedures, and the ELPA score is an important part of the body of evidence used to make exiting decisions. The ODE also stated that most of the assessments that have been part of that body of evidence can no longer be used as they are not aligned to the new standards.

The effect of the data delay will result in students and teachers not knowing what to do in order to meet the requirements for exiting the program and many students’ status in the ELL (English Language Learners) program will be in limbo. Schools will have difficulty in planning for staffing requirements for the 2016-17 school year. Students could miss out on the chance to get their desired electives or other graduation requirements because it will be unknown if they have to take an English Language Development class. Older students and their parents have become accustomed to hearing students’ exiting status at the end of the year, and look forward to their “graduation” from the program.

To make matters even worse, it was also announced that the adaptive algorithm will not be functioning this year. The test will not be adaptive resulting in additional testing time and student anxiety. And the practice test for ELPA 21 will not be ready on time so students can practice with Oregon’s platform.

The above factors all point to the need for a delay in the implementation of the ELPA21 test. To go forward with this test in the manner described is further cause for concern that the state is using students as uncompensated test subjects, who have not given informed consent to participate in the validation of an unproven test.

Once again, as with SBAC, the data collection has become more important than the kids.

Video of the meeting:

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Morning musings on NEA and the Wall Street shuffle to pre-K

By Rex Hagans

I awoke this morning to a C-SPAN rerun of "Newsmakers with Lily Eskelsen Garcia" in which one of interviewers was Emily DeRuy, who covers education for National Journal's Next America project. DeRuy previously reported on politics and education for Fusion, the ABC News-Univision joint venture.

Ms. DeRuy almost immediately made the hair on the back of my neck stand up both in her questions to Eskelsen, and in the post-interview analysis where she pretty much trashed NEA for making common cause with the Republicans on accountability and for "breaking with the current administration." She essentially said NEA was now a paper tiger.  When her fellow interviewer from EdWeek noted that he would be cautious about that view, she cited declining union membership and was essentially completely dismissive.

So I just had to check DeRuy out and in that process, I came across some interesting work of hers at "Charter Schools Are Especially Good for ELL Students" and
"Is Wall Street Starting to Recruit in Pre-K? - Proponents of early childhood education are willing to follow the money" [Links not working when we posted this - Ed.]

That "Wall Street " article really got my attention because I believe that:
  • Early Childhood is the next and even more dangerous route the corporate raiders and philanthropic philanderers intend to take in their quest to control and distort public education.
  • We have already seen that door opened a bit here in Oregon, with the passage of HB 3380, which will cost about $27 million and open around 2,700 additional subsidized preschool spots to 3 and 4-year-olds. As I understand it, a big part of this bill allows for public money to flow to private preschool providers, essentially to ensure that we will be moving toward more "high quality" than would have been the case if all of the money had simply gone to proven programs like Head Start to expand the numbers of kids served. In case you missed it, this one passed at the very end of the session, and only after some hard fought negotiations. Some skeptics believe that it only got done after a big chunk of the change was designated for Head Start programs, causing the Head Start leadership to switch from opposition to extolling the virtues of HB 3380 to the very heavens.

Be that as it may, the passage of HB3380 set off a major celebration among the philanthropic "in" crowd, as per this article from The Children's Institute of Portland.

SO as I end my thoughtful meanderings, and get serious about my breakfast, I am increasingly worried about just what mischief the entrenched ECC gang will bring to our door going forward. While our "victories" in opting out, helping to hand Kitzhaber his hat, and (hopefully) at least slowing the crazy testing down have been really fun, I think we have just scratched the surface of the powers out there working constantly to "reform" public education into their own privatized and elite vision. We need to keep looking ahead!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Standing Strong With the Dyett Hunger Strikers

Oregon SOS values several ideas about public education.  Two that are very important are honoring parent voice and supporting neighborhood schools. We are also supportive of social justice issues.  All these issues have convened at Dyett High School in Chicago where parents and community members have been holding a hunger strike to demonstrate the fact that their voices are being ignored and the neighborhood school is being set up for takeover by corporate interests.  We at Oregon SOS support the Dyett 12 who are protesting and standing up for their schools. Here is our official statement with links for more information about this issue.

"Oregon Save Our Schools supports the Dyett 12, who are now entering their second week of a hunger strike to save their local school in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. It is the last neighborhood high school in this community. Bronzeville, on Chicago’s South Side, was historically a major destination for African-Americans who moved north during The Great Migration. The neighborhood has been home to many illustrious African-Americans, such as Ida B. Wells and Louis Armstrong. The school is named for Walter Dyett, an Black music teacher who worked for Chicago Public Schools for 30 years between the 1930s and 1960s and whose students included, among others, Nat King Cole and Bo Diddley.

The Dyett community has banded together and worked with education experts over a period of four years to develop a proposal for keeping Dyett open as Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology School. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS appointed school board seem more disposed to privatizing the school or selling off the property for development. The community feels that the mayor and CPS board have been unresponsive to their needs and requests for dialogue.

Like many schools in low income communities and communities of color, Dyett has been systematically underfunded and neglected in favor of privatization schemes under the guise of “school choice”. It appears that “choice” is something only the well-to-do are afforded by advocates of corporate reform like Rahm Emanuel. 

Oregon Save Our Schools believes in local control of neighborhood schools and social justice. Communities of color, like Bronzeville, have been disproportionately affected by school closures, privatization and gentrification in cities around the country. We believe this is wrong.

We stand with the Dyett 12. "

#FightForDyett #WeAreDyett

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