Sunday, December 8, 2013

Questions We WISH Media Would Ask our Superintendent

I get frustrated watching interviews of politicians on the talk shows, both national and state. To my husband's irritation, I often yell at the interviewers: "Ask him THIS. Ask your question again -- she didn't answer it. Ask this follow-up question!!" 

Too often politicians are given a free pass on the tough questions and are allowed to simply spout their talking points, taking all the time for the interview, and never having to face an honest question.

It happened on "Flash Point" last month when Superintendent Barresi appeared. No substantive, knowledgeable questions were asked. My Facebook friends and I brainstormed some questions WE would have asked, if anyone consulted us. The questions we wished the media would have asked. The questions that are important. We vented, and some of our questions were rude and funny and pointed. Then we got down to the business of what questions must be asked of our policy makers.

A few of us compiled questions and then read them to work on the tone of the questions. There may still be flashes of anger and frustration in these questions, because educators feel deep anger and frustration at non-educators sweeping the airwaves with their 'reform' messages.  Many of the Oklahoma 'reform' soundbites neatly parallel American Legislative Exchange Council and Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education. Both these groups have corporate reform as their goal: high stakes testing to promote students, evaluate teachers, and grade schools, weakening of teacher organizations, and privatizing schools with vouchers and online schools.They support more and more testing in the schools, which drains needed funds from the classroom.

So, here are our questions for Superintendent Barresi on two of her achievements: the third grade retention law, and A-F report card law, both modeled after legislation in Florida. Had our state examined the Florida experiences with these laws, we would have seen deep flaws, that after ten years, have not been solved. But here we are, following blindly, instead of leading the way for Oklahoma's children.

Third Grade Retention/Reading Sufficiency Law

The decision to promote or retain students has historically been made with multiple measures, by a team of educators and the parents. Now one test will determine a student’s fate. What is your response to the parents of a third-grader who are upset that they are being left out of the decision to promote or not promote their child to the fourth grade if the child does not pass the third-grade reading test?

The preponderance of research shows holding a child back based on only one subject (reading, for instance), and not being allowed to promote with their peers, is detrimental. Numerous studies  show retention based on test scores does not improve student achievement or progress through school. Please provide us with the research base used to promote this law, and  share the studies that refute the previously-referenced evidence.

How are schools going to accommodate all the third graders who fail? Those testing unsatisfactory are supposed to be retested in November and if they pass, they will rejoin their fourth grade class mid term. At that point, they will be twelve weeks behind their peers. How does this make sense? What do you see this looking like in a classroom?

Are the 3rd grade reading test scores guaranteed to be certified and published by the beginning of the school year next year in order to make timely retention decisions? 

What provisions should elementary schools make for the staffing needs of third and fourth grades next year? Schools need student numbers at the beginning of the summer in order to make their decisions. With students retained, but possibly moving to the next grade in the middle of the year, what is your recommendation to schools for assuring proper staffing at both levels?

State remediation funding from OSDE to schools is less than $80 per child, from which schools are expected to provide professional development to teachers, supplies for remediation, and salaries for tutors. Explain this allocation, and give districts some guidance in how to stretch this money to provide robust remediation.

A-F Report Cards

The recent research study by research scientists at our two leading universities, peer-reviewed by a Distinguished Professor Emeritus, identified major flaws in our current Report Card Grades. Please cite the mistakes in their research. Cite other education research to support your position, besides the in-house ‘study’ prepared by your own office. What other peer-reviewed, recognized research can you cite?

What kind of accountability will there be in the OSDE office for the troubled roll-out of this year’s school and district grades? What is your response to the frustrations of parents and educators who saw grades change more than once?

What are your plans to adjust the system to account for new schools with no testing data and for schools that are configured in a way that does not fit your model? Why did these schools receive an inaccurate grade instead of no grade?

What is your response to the troubles with Florida’s Report Card the last 10 years: changing formulas, inaccurate data, and flawed scores? How are you working to avoid the same here?

A school's grade is dependent on test scores for a small group of its students, thus rewarding or punishing schools on small samples of test scores. What are your plans to expand the accountability measures to better represent the accomplishments and struggles of schools?

Please address specific concerns about details

• What are your plans to adjust the system to account for brand new schools with no testing data, and schools that are configured in ways that do not fit your model?
• Why is 50% of a school's grade based on growth from assessments that are not designed to measure growth?
• What is the reasoning for counting the lowest students’ scores multiple times? How does this give an accurate picture of a school?


  1. So, what journalist shall we send this to? (I know, I know. We should lobby for a change in rules for prepositions!)

    1. Ha! I have no problem with prepositions at the end of sentences. That's an old rule in Latin, anyway. LOVE Churchill's tortured statement: "This is something up with which I will not put!" I feel that way about this issue.

      Do we send them to the education reporters of newspapers? TV stations?

      I think if we keep sharing the questions, we make others realize our MSM is NOT serving our interests. Dreamer, I know.