Sunday, October 27, 2013

Answer to Janet Barresi's Interview With Choice Media and Bob Bowdon

A bit over a week ago Superintendent Janet Barresi was video interviewed by Bob Bowdon of Choice Media.  After viewing the interview, I felt it important to discuss the inconsistencies in her interview.

Dr. Barresi begins by discussing the education reform measures she is directing in Oklahoma:
  • Implementation of Oklahoma Academic Standards
  • A-F grade card 
  • Institution of the end of social promotion – children must be reading by 3rd grade or be held back   
  • Continuation of “high stakes” testing out of high school (ACE)
Bowdon asks Dr. Barresi about her thoughts on testing since the term “high stakes” testing is usually a negative concept.

Dr. Barresi answers by saying she is against “anything that is about drilling and teaching to the test”.  That is why she is excited about Oklahoma’s new “college and career ready” standards “that we’re setting up” which allow teachers to 

”teach in a way to develop student’s application skills…The test will test the student’s application of the knowledge – problem solving – thinking on their feet if you will and so instead of test asking for a correct answer; name the capitols of all of the 8 northeastern states, it’s going to ask a question also of application; of those, which one presents the largest population – or of those, which one of those 8 capitols has shipping – uh, involved – or which – what is a seaport – is any of them a seaport?  And so and that is that application.  Teachers are going to be teaching more then to that application.  And so now the tests become more informative to teachers so they know how to adjust instruction.  Besides, if you don’t test, how are you going to know how you’re doing?”

First; Dr. Barresi gives a rather long answer but never addresses Bowdon’s question.  In her reply, she tells us first that she is excited about Oklahoma’s new “college and career ready” standards “we’re setting up”.  Oklahoma’s ‘new’ standards are called “Oklahoma Academic Standards”.  Once at the link for these standards, you find the statement under both math and English L/A standards headings, 

“The Oklahoma State Board of Education adopted Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for grades K‐12 in June 2010. Pre‐Kindergarten standards are currently undergoing revision. Transitions began in 2010 and will be completed by school districts prior to the 2014‐2015 school year.”

Please note that if you click on the link found for “Oklahoma Academic Standards” under English, L/A you are led to the Common Core State Standards for English/LA, Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects though Dr. Barresi mentions the “Oklahoma Academic Standards”, as though Oklahoma had written individualized, state level standards.  This is also true for the heading “Oklahoma Academic Standards” under the math heading.  When that link is followed, the URL belongs to a PDF labeled, “Common Core State Standards for Mathematics”.  So, does Oklahoma have its own “Oklahoma Academic Standards”, or the Common Core?

Secondly; Bowdon’s question about “high stakes” testing came after Dr. Barresi used this same term in application to Oklahoma’s ACE requirements.  Instead of discussing the issue of “high stakes” testing in relation to ACE (which has been a very contentious issue in Oklahoma), Dr. Barresi clearly switches gears and begins discussing the Oklahoma’s Common Core State Standards testing.  Her answer buffs the shine on what she believes are more rigorous tests that will allow a better picture of a student’s ability to apply their knowledge to the questions posed.

Thirdly; Barresi – in her explanation – gives Bowdon a description – NOT of an application process, but a memory skill.  One doesn’t ‘apply’ knowledge to a question that simply asks a student to recall – from memory – which northeastern capitol is a seaport.  Additionally, Oklahoma educators think Dr. Barresi has no concept of how Oklahoma’s tests are actually structured.  In fact, they disagree with her assessment of the state’s current assessments pretty much across the board.

Fourthly; Dr. Barresi then states that ‘high stakes’ tests are ‘more’ informative to teachers – allowing them to better adjust instruction.  As a former teacher, I feel a large majority of teachers would relay the notion that several federated state tests a year will provide no more information (and possibly less) regarding the position of a student in their individual learning arc than many individual classroom level formative tests given after each section of material taught.  

Dr. Barresi finally tilts her head sweetly and lilts, “Besides, if you don’t test, how are you going to know how you’re doing?”  Teachers have been testing students inside the walls of their own classrooms since the beginning of classroom instruction.  In recent decades, teachers have dutifully taken 2 weeks or more a year out of classroom instruction time to prepare their students for yearly state examinations.  Testing has been part and parcel of a teacher’s duties since the profession began.  This was a question regarding “high stakes” testing – a different, more intrusive form of testing.  In this case, the ACE testing process can make or break graduation from high school for a student – even those with looming college prospects.  Sadly, teachers will still not be privy to the thoughts explaining Dr. Barresi’s love of “high stakes” testing from this interview.

Bowdon tells Dr. Barresi that it seems less expensive to shoulder 1/17th of the test cost in PARCC than Oklahoma developing their own.  

Barresi explains (eventually) that Oklahoma withdrew from PARCC because of:
  • Cost 
  • The amount of time students were having to spend on the test
  • Federal overreach
  • Technology readiness
Essentially Bowdon asks Dr. Barresi how it is less expensive for Oklahoma to develop their own tests.

Barresi responds,

“When you develop a test that’s been in place for decades in Oklahoma that really tests low level questions, it’s very easy and cheap to develop a test like that – when you just ask for answer A,B, C or D.  When you develop a test that has performance items where the student justifies their answer, writes out short answers and…goes…into really showing their understanding, that is a much higher order test – it is much, much more expensive (Bowdon interrupts but Barresi continues) so we knew going to a better test like that that gives better information was gonna cost more.  That’s one of the reasons we participated in this consortium.  Then, after we got in and saw really how the test was being developed in terms of the fine print of the cost of it, we knew then that even with this additional funding – we appreciate that – that really we did not feel responsible for going back to the legislature and asking for another 2 million dollars.  That money needs to be in the classroom.”

First; again Barresi did not answer the question asked.  Dr. Barresi never gives any indication of the differences in cost between ‘state developed’ and PARCC tests – ever.  In fact, after a great deal of searching on the OSDE website, I was unable to come to find any indication of test costs.  So much for accountability.  I saw several articles on the web that discussed PARCC test costs, and though Oklahoma was mentioned in several, none had Oklahoma’s test costs reported.  

Secondly; since Nancy Pelosi uttered her now infamous, “We have to pass it to see what’s in it” statement about the Health Care law, many of us have opened our eyes to the fact that this is apparently Standard Operating Procedure for government at all levels.  Most states, for example, passed school code or state law adopting the Common Core Standards before they were even available to read in their final format in order to increase their chances for getting a Race to the Top grant.  Here, we see Barresi admit she jumped into an association with PARCC before she knew what it would cost her state taxpayers.  Certainly all states joined knowing that the federal government had given PARCC an RTT grant to develop the tests and that no tests had been developed at the time they entered their agreement with PARCC.

Thirdly; Page 206 of Oklahoma’s NCLB waiver provides a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Florida Department of Education as the granted PARCC authority and Oklahoma as a Governing member.  Oklahoma received 90K yearly for being a governing member of PARCC – not only that, but according to the MOU, there is NO reason for Oklahoma to have removed itself from PARCC, because Oklahoma’s position in the consortium provided the ability to make changes at any point in the test development progression – ostensibly, that should include costs.  Why leave then, really?

Dr. Barresi’s admission that PARCC represented too much federal overreach is a head-scratcher.  She says the OSDE was,

“Just getting a little too much push from USDE.  We applied for the waiver (NCLB) and then it’s like, “Look what you asked for” and so we’re pushing back on that, but we thought it was time then that we separated us from that government interaction.  We’re developing an Oklahoma test.”

She then goes on to say she is not too sure,

“Barack Obama - President Obama had the right to do that (create the NCLB waiver) but also, I was in a state dealing with the reality that we had an entire array of reforms we were trying to implement and I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole which was No Child Left Behind accountability.  We needed a better accountability system.”

She continues by saying the feds want to meet with her regarding the tests her state is developing on their own and that there is a possibility the feds will pull back on the waiver.

First; would anyone concerned about federal overreach apply for an NCLB waiver knowing what it said when they applied?  I find this to be the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.  I’ve read Oklahoma’s NCLB waiver.  It is very specific in its demands and the state is very specific in its complete submission to those demands. 

Page 31 says, “Oklahoma is committed to full implementation of the CCSS and other college and career ready standards, PARCC and other college and career ready assessments…”  Page 32 of the state’s waiver application gives three possibilities for the state in terms of testing 1. Using PARCC tests  2.  Not using PARCC but working on developing own Common Core tests or, 3.  The state isn’t in PARCC but has already developed and begun to “annually administer statewide aligned, high-quality assessments that measure student growth in reading/language arts and in mathematics in at least grades 3-8…”  The first option was chosen for the waiver.
I would wonder at any possibility of the USDE wanting to meet with Barresi regarding a roll-back of the waiver.  The waiver she signed provided a binding contract between the USDE and the OSDE’s use of PARCC tests.  But then again, who really cares about contracts today anyway?

FYI:  Dr. Barresi has also applied for a RTT Early Learning Challenge grant, several School Improvement Grants, a State Longitudinal Database grant and facilitated statewide 21st Century Community Learning Center grants.  If you’re not a fan of federal overreach, why keep applying for federal assistance?

Secondly; why say you took an NCLB waiver because the state needed a better accountability system? Oklahoma was already following Jeb Bush down the yellow brick road of the A-F grading system prior to receiving an NCLB waiver.  In fact, the same Jeb Bush that invented the A-F grading system, then got Secretary Duncan to jump on board with using the system as a requirement of an NCLB waiver.  Janet Barresi, as a member of Bush’s Chiefs for Change, is well known for utilizing Jeb Bush’s reforms in Oklahoma on a constant basis – waiver or not.

Thirdly; on page 11 of the NCLB waiver, the OSDE told the USDE they would collaborate with them to evaluate at least one program of 3 required in the waiver to “determine the feasibility and design of the evaluation…[to ensure] the implementation of the chosen program, practice or strategy is consistent with the evaluation design.”  Why do this if you are concerned about federal overreach?  Apparently, as states wishing to apply for a SECOND round of NCLB waivers are finding out, this evaluation – via the collection of data via the state’s own state longitudinal database – is proving to be “mother may I” on steroids.

Frankly, I could go on, but it’s pointless.  Dr. Barresi has done the sort of things described in this rebuttal since she took office three years ago.  In fact, quashing the right of parents to speak at state board meetings, deflecting questions, spinning facts and filibustering are some of her favorite fallbacks.  

Sadly, people in states all across the country will be able to relate to this situation.  Superintendent Barresi is simply another in a long line of educrats in states all over the country - many with little to no education background - hoping to widen their sphere of political influence by riding Jeb Bush’s coattails down the trail of never tried nor proven education ‘reform’ methods which make guinea pigs of our nation’s students every day.