Friday, April 11, 2014

"Curiouser & Curiouser" Or Can We Opt Out of Try-Out Items?


“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn't be, and what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?” Alice in Wonderland

I must admit, I’m feeling much like Alice right now as I listen to conversations about parents’ decisions about opting their children from the field tests try-out items that will be administered this year following the mandated testing window.  

It all started with this message on Facebook. I received it with lines missing.

It has been current practice that parents may opt out of field tests try-out items. Last year Jenks Middle School’s parents did just that, and only about 50% of their students participated. That enraged the OSDE, and fur (and threats) flew. They demanded email records from school administrators and were determined to prove educators were the culprits who undermined the field tests try-out items. They wanted to pull administrators’ teaching licenses.

Well, this year, the state, in anticipation of our transition from PASS standards to OAS standards, and from OCCT tests to OCCRA tests, we will need all new tests. All new tests. It appears that this is the only year that field tests try-out items will be administered, to create a pool of test items for the new OCCRA. Shouldn’t a process like that take years to refine? But like the rollout of CCSS, speed trumps professionalism, and we have to get it done NOW. The results of these field tests try-out items will never be shared with schools, parents, or students. Their results are purely research for test writers. No one knows what will be asked on them, and some parents are concerned about that.

The original announcement said all school districts would participate. Then, suddenly it was announced that Jenks and Owasso would be opted out by the OSDE…Jenks was a hotbed of opting out, and Owasso had passed a resolution supporting opting out…so, they were opted out by the OSDE! NOT ONE student from those districts will take one field test try-out item. The rest of the school districts will carry the burden.

We have been very vocal about parents’ rights to opt out of these test items. They are not mandated. They are not required.  And because they are not mandated, they cannot be used in the Machiavellian A-F grading schemes to grade schools and districts.

So, more and more parents have been contacting schools with letters. One is here. This letter has been accepted by the child’s school district. There are videos with encouragement and suggestions. We know this is scary stuff to parents who strongly support their schools and want the best for everyone involved.

Then, just this week, murmurs began to bubble…schools were telling parents the field tests try-out items were required. They would count on the schools’ A-F grades. Parents couldn’t opt their children out.

Like Alice after she fell through the rabbit hole, now we didn’t know what to believe; we no longer trusted our own eyes and our own judgment. Alice might have believed she wanted a world of nonsense, but soon she realized it was not worth the effort.

Here are snatches of conversations on Twitter and Facebook with smart professionals, trying to figure out what the OSDE is up to.

Some of us are certain the ‘old rules’ apply: field tests try-out items are not mandated, they can be opted out, and they will not affect schools’ grades:
  • ·         We were told they did not affect A to F at all.
  • ·         It is my understanding that they do not affect the grade. But, who knows? That may have changed since yesterday.
  • ·         Unless they somehow change the legislative rules for A-F. I wonder if they could change the rules over the summer to make that threat a reality?? Surely not...
  • ·         I don't see how they could enforce that. Field tests are not part of A-F calculations. Bluff!
  • ·         This is clearly a bluff. There is nothing in our federal waiver that states this. Jenks MS had less than 50% last year.
  • ·         If that were true about field tests, Jenks and Owasso would automatically get an F because they are taking NO field tests. I don't see those two districts letting that happen.

And some were adamant that their schools believed they will be required.
  • ·         From a school principal...if less than 95% do not take any state tests including the field test, it will drop their "grade" one letter grade. If less than 90% take the test, then said school would receive an F. Please provide documentation if possible contradicting this.
  • ·         Yesterday I specifically asked in our faculty's Test Admin training if parents could opt their children out of field tests. "No" was the response.

Some are terminally confused, getting mixed messages:
  • ·         Been texting today with a mom who was told by a principal that it would hurt the district's A-F score if she opted out her children (from the item try outs...the field tests) That can't be right...I have heard so many different things, though!
  • ·         The response to a Union PTA chair from SDE office about consequences of opting out of field tests after numerous attempts to get an answer was finally, it won't affect a schools grade at this time. The "at this time" is why Union PTA took a stand and passed a resolution at their Council meeting yesterday against field tests rather than encouraging parents to opt out.
  • ·         I (a school principal) have not been told that the field test, now renamed "item try-outs," will affect our school report card grade but have been informed by our curriculum director that we are required to test 95% of our students. So go figure... Of course as stated above, that requirement may have changed by now

We are clearly down the rabbit hole and may never find our way. Is this any way to run a state education system?

Also from our discussion: “if you as an administrator don't know for sure about field test opt out, then you have reinforced my biggest problem with Baressi's administration. She doesn't communicate with schools. I think she doesn't know how to do her real job and really just wants to live up to her political persuasions, rather than do a good job for Oklahoma's schools.”

One mother emailed the OSDE directly for clarification. See if YOU think this is clear communication, or Wonderland speak:

“State law requires the State Board of Education to conduct criterion referenced tests in grades three through eight and end-of-instruction tests in grades nine through 12, as well as field tests to ensure all tests are validated and appropriate for administration. In addition to statute, the board's administrative rules state that all public school districts in the state shall administer the state-mandated academic achievement tests, meaning school districts are required to provide a test to every student”

I think my only response right now is: ”How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tail…” I feel like a blithering idiot.

How DID Alice escape her nightmarish Wonderland?

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