Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce and SB707: Are They Misinformed, Or Perpetuating A Falsehood?



Recently, I was sent an email from the State Chamber of Commerce that contained the following several paragraphs:
If you want a test that matters, it matters what you test. Specifically, if you want to make sure that Oklahoma high school students are ready for a career or college when they graduate, use a test that colleges know, understand and look at as part of their entry requirements. That was the point behind
SB 707 (Ford/Denney) which passed in the Senate, but was amended this week in a House committee. The original version of the bill would have allowed the State Department of Education to reduce the number of end of instruction tests and to make those tests relevant. But it was amended to prevent the state from using something like the ACT which a majority of students already take.
Our agenda calls for making sure testing is aligned with college and career readiness. What other reason is there to have end of instruction tests? If your test gives no indication that a student is prepared for life after high school then it is a waste of time and money. The original version of SB 707 keeps control of standards with the state as lawmakers intended with HB 3399 passed last year. The original version of SB 707 had wide support in the education community. It's important for students, parents and the business community that the original language be restored.The language to which the email's author is referring is what we've explained numerous times will disconnect Oklahoma standards from Oklahoma tests so that what is taught does not have to be tested.
Let's parse the State Chamber's argument here:
  1. First of all, the State Chamber argues that Oklahoma should be using "a test that colleges know, understand and look at as part of their entry requirements". This language is euphemistic for ACT. Yes, some colleges use the ACT (or SAT, or a combination of both SAT/ACT) to decide admissions, but they also use grade point average to a larger degree than either test as it is a better predictor of college success than the ACT (OU and OSU say as much on their freshman admission requirements page). If the Chamber's argument is college success, then the ACT is just a portion of what is expected for college readiness so why go to battle over this issue?
  2. The Chamber argues here that SB707 was amended to prevent the state from using ACT by putting back in the words "corresponding student assessments" after the words, "The subject matter standards and". (Don't forget, SB707 changed the Common Core repeal bill from last year (HB3399) to unhook the standards from the tests by removing "corresponding student assessments"). The Chamber felt that 'unhooking' the tests from the standards was necessary to allow the state to use the ACT. Apparently, they didn't do their homework. They've already made this argument about a different part of HB3399 last year while fighting the repeal and that was proven to be a false assertion. This year, I understand several legislators consulted Capitol legal staff for their 'read' of the testing language and both the Senate and House legal staff concluded that the original language from HB3399 does NOT prevent the state from using the ACT. Did the Chamber do any research on this issue before they began to support this bill? What about the original senate author? It would appear not.
  3. The State Chamber maintains in this email that their agenda calls for creating tests that are aligned with college and career readiness. Didn't we just go through the process of proving Oklahoma's educational standards as college ready? Yes. It was determined - in order for the state to get back its coveted NCLB waiver, that Oklahoma's previous-to-the-Common-Core-standards - PASS - met the also-coveted College and Career Ready label. PASS has been certified College and Career Ready, therefore any tests created from PASS would hold students to "College and Career Ready" knowledge. The ACT then, is a red herring and there is no reason to change SB707.
  4. As though they're not informed enough to understand the real argument here, the State Chamber goes on to indicate that SB707 "keeps control of the standards with state lawmakers as intended with HB3399". Not to be rude, but so what? The Oklahoma Constitution holds the veracity of this statement - not HB3399. We found that out after the State Board of Education sued the state over HB3399 and the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers have the final say on Oklahoma educational standards. This is another red herring offered up by the Chamber to solicit support from parents by misleading them. I find that distasteful because it's another fallicy - appeal to emotion.
  5. They end their email with yet another form of fallacious reasoning by pleading that this bill had 'widespread community support'. It certainly has no support in the community of grassroots education activists who worked for years to try and rid the state of the Common Core State Standards. These people are still engaged and active and understand that their work is in jeopardy if HB3399 is allowed to be changed to unhook standards from tests. But then, according to their constant pushback against our efforts, it would seem they don't care about our informed opinions.
In the end, it is important to really read information provided by ANY of the organizations who pushed back against the repeal of the Common Core to discern their agenda and the voracity of their statements. This particular email from the Oklahoma Chamber is full of fallacious reasoning and incorrect statements. Please research and determine this to be true and examine with a critical eye ANY information regarding your child's education. Only parents have their children's best interest at heart and those doesn't follow a legislative agenda.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Legislative Update As Bills Cross Between House and Senate


I'm sad to say, but, as hard as we tried to stay on top of the education bills this year, we just couldn't do it!  There are ALWAYS too many of them and this year wasn't an exception.  Here is the list of just House Education bills for this year in case you want to peruse them and check me up on my definition of too many!  So please forgive our consistent updates.

At any rate, if you'll remember, we started the 2015 legislative session with the goals of:
  1. Trying to stop the grading of teachers via surveys and high stakes testing better known as TLE. 
  2. Upgrading school choice in Oklahoma to include ALL those who would like to participate. We believe the way to do this is through the establishment of Education Savings Accounts.
  3. Continuing to fight for privacy protection for students from data collection.
1.  Our concern with TLE (beyond the idea that it adds another layer to what teachers are already mandated to do), is that TLE measures were built to test Common Core standards. So far, it appears that the quantitative portion of TLE will be put on hold for at least two years and the qualitative portion will be changed slightly as well.

2.  Education Savings Accounts were represented this session in the form of a bill by Representative Jason Nelson (HB2003) and another by Senator Clark Jolley (SB609).  HB2003 was heard in the Common Education Committee where it received a 9 to 9 vote and was killed.  SB609 was pulled from consideration this session before it reached the floor for a vote by the author, due to pressure to kill the bill in the Senate.  I don't want to get into a discussion about this issue, but I will say that it was very disappointing to see such emotional, untrue and mean/rude commentaries by many in the education establishment.  Though there are many issues to work through, it saddens me to hear people who say they care about the education of children, present such illogical arguments to turn the tide of public opinion.

3.  This year, HB1989 was slightly changed (HB2049) in order to create district-level data protection for students.  The bill has passed the House and has crossed to the Senate.

MOVING FORWARD
Unfortunately, we've had a fight on our hands we didn't expect - that of a repeal (in essence) of HB3399 (the bill to kill Common Core in Oklahoma) by way of SB707, a bill by Senator John Ford.  We've written numerous blogs about this issue so I won't go into detail here, but I will say that the bill is DELIBERATELY being messaged as a bill ONLY to stop End Of Instruction (EOI) exams by such organizations as Stand For Children, the Oklahoma State Chamber, COSSA, the OSSBA, individual school administrators and others.  The only reason I can think this might happen is because there is specific intent to change the wording in HB3399 to untie the tests from the standards in order to bring in an off-the-shelf test - namely ACT - to serve as a single EOI.  Don't forget, these are the same organizations that worked against us so vehemently to keep Common Core and that alone should present a RED FLAG.  It's also interesting here to note that another of Senator Ford's bills - SB708 did the same thing proponents of ditching EOI's wanted, yet it got zero discussion - another RED FLAG.

We've said it before and we'll say it again, we are FINE with removing the EOI's - it wasn't long ago that a high school student had only to complete his course of instruction with C's and above to graduate high school - PERIOD.  The problem comes in when we try to test other than Oklahoma standards - especially when we haven't even gotten them written yet - though we do now have a process to develop these approved by the State Board on Friday (March 12th) and that is very good news.

In fact, in an interesting twist, previous Common Core proponent, Andrew Spiropoulus actually penned an op-ed for the Journal Record pointing the finger at the ACT as a way to bring back Common Core, so if we're wearing tin foil hats over this one, well, you get the picture.

Enter HB1622.  This bill by Representative David Derby, would phase out EOI testing over time, (a very important step simply because education policy of late consists of rushing headlong into situations that later have to be rectified by passing more laws)  substituting them with ONE graduation test that can be both criterion- and norm-referenced as well as include our own Oklahoma standards.  This is a much better plan that doesn't involve gutting the Common Core repeal from last year.

Please stay tuned as we continue to move forward through the legislative process.  We may have to bring out those green shirts again if we can't seem to be heard on this very important issue - dust them off and be ready.  In the meantime we'll let you know something as soon as we know it.

UPDATE: 3/16/15 SB707 was passed by the Common Education Committee 11/4 with an amendment provided by Jason Nelson that puts back INTO the bill the phrase that was taken out. Though there is no record of the amendment at the time of this posting, it should be available by tomorrow morning.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

"Common" Sense Questions About EOI's and ACT


One day while visiting with a legislator, I heard words so true I'll ultimately carry them with me for the rest of my life. As I sat talking to this man about a particular bill, he uttered the sentence,
"Jenni, we make laws up here (the Capitol), that's what we do." 
It was then I understood with crystal clarity why I felt as though I was constantly fighting one bill or another every year. It was then I discovered why I sit uneasily on the edge of my chair from February through May. Legislators see it as their job to make laws. 

Okay, we do call them law makers, but really, is that their job? Is their job to MAKE LAWS or to PROTECT MY LIBERTY? According to the Constitution, my liberty is of the utmost importance, yet therein lies the conundrum. If we elect people to represent us in our government, call them law makers and then send them to the Capitol with a certain number of bills they may write every year, how will individual liberty NOT be subverted in at least some way? It's a shoe-in it will. (So far this year we've had a bill to fine me for wearing a hoodie and a bill to fine me for texting while driving though we already have a law on the books for distracted driving - I rest my case.)

Let's look at the latest infringement of liberty in the education category - SB707 - a bill in which key segments of last year's Common Core repeal bill will be, well, repealed.

I've written about this bill a number of different times and so have many many others. Good grief, at this point, just Google the bill number and Oklahoma together in a sentence and you'll get plenty to read.

This morning, I saw the OKEducationTruths blog on why Oklahoma should use ACT instead of our current End of Instruction (EOI) exams. In the blog was this picture the author had taken at a High Stakes Testing Summit in which people from all over the state had come to discuss the issue.



It's a bit hard to read all of the concerns written on this page, but here are a few:
  1. Technology
  2. If you don't test it it doesn't count
  3. Misuse of Results
  4. Inaccurately Defines Success
  5. Results Don't Return Soon Enough
  6. Psychological Impact to Students and IEP students
Let me address just these few - comments are number-matched:
  1. Technology - though Oklahoma schools have had to use E-Rate grants to upgrade their internet broadband in order to be ready to provide online exams, broadband isn't the only issue involved with online testing. Pearson will be supplying the technology platform for ACT. Pearson, unfortunately, has a terrible record of testing problems - including here in Oklahoma.
  2. The ACT is aligned to the Common Core. Implementing ACT BEFORE Oklahoma creates its own standards (as dictated by the Common Core repeal bill HB3399), will usher in a real possibility where Common Core comes back into the state as teachers begin to teach to the mandated, Common Core aligned ACT.
  3. Results of the ACT is college readiness. Will mandating this test be taken by every Oklahoma high school junior tell us anything other than that they are 'college ready'? 
  4. The ACT is a test that doesn't tell what a student has learned directly in the classroom, it uses its own standards to generate a general test for college 'readiness'. If we are to use ACT as a high school exit exam when not ALL students are prepared to attend college, though the test has never been validated for that use, what results are we expecting? High school transcripts have long been shown to be a better predictor of college success than the ACT.
  5. Online testing in Oklahoma has proved technologically challenging and has produced late or no test results. Paper and pencil tests have not experienced these issues.
  6. ACT does have a provision for testing IEP students. Just recently, we were notified of a parent in another state who also mandates the use of ACT as a junior, whose child had their ENTIRE IEP file uploaded to ACT in order to receive modifications. If that isn't a breach of privacy, I'm not sure there's a definition. That's quite an impact for not only that student, but the family as well. Then, of course, there's the stress that comes with taking a test that was once voluntary, but now has become a high stakes test....
In closing, the OkEducationTruths blog spawned a whole list of questions I would love to see answered. In fact, it's my hope Common Sense overrides the necessity to 'make law' up at the state Capitol on a regular basis, but certainly on this issue. Maybe it would help - instead of acting - to answer these questions first...GO!
  1. Why should we circumvent the bidding process and put a specific test in law?
  2. Why should we name any specific test in law, tying ourselves down to a situation that might possibly have to be rectified with MORE legislation (laws)? Did Common Core teach no one a lesson here about putting specific programs in law before we knew what they would do?
  3. Simply moving from 7 EOISs(only 4 are tested, but 7 have to be prepared) to 1 EOI will save great heaps of money, so to say using ACT is THE financial panacea for testing costs is simply a red herring, isn't it?
  4. Why is using the ACT the best way to go? Isn't grade point average the better predictor of college success?  If so, can't ANY comprehensive test be used as an EOI?
  5. Why commit to using an online test administered by Pearson when Oklahoma has a terrible track record with that business?
  6. How can administrators who ordinarily rage against state mandates be so willing to get behind the creation of yet another mandate?