Monday, April 20, 2015

Beware Gifts Left by Departed Superintendents.

Last week we discovered an ugly surprise left by the former Superintendent of Schools. She left office, and left a grenade that just detonated last week, almost 100 days into Superintendent Hofmeister's administration. In her contract with Measured Progress, Barresi asked for a new feature. In the past, when a student doing his or her test online completed the assessment, and clicked ‘submit’, only the raw score would appear. But this year, we discovered last week, the raw score AND the performance level appeared…in bold letters. Thanks to the former Superintendent, students immediately know their performance level: Advanced, Proficient, Limited Knowledge, Unsatisfactory. They don't know where, within that level, their raw score rests. This instant information can be completely demoralizing to students who have tried their very best. 

I have a story…of course I do.

I proctored for my Grand’s school last week…8th grade math. Not because I support the testing industry, but because I support my Grands’ schools, because I support the educators who are required to submit to the testing industry. My job was to watch the monitors and assure that they followed directions, read everything word-for-word, didn’t feed answers to students, and followed all the protocol.

Because I love kids, I also watched kids…saw who was engaged, who wasn’t. Who appeared nervous, who seemed assured.

Before the testing began, a little pixie of a girl, absolutely swimming in the adult-sized sweatshirt, raised her hand. She asked, gnawing a nail, “Will the score on this test be on my math grade?” I felt confident telling her, no, this is a separate assessment that will not affect her grade. She had a follow-up. “Will this test keep me from going to 9th grade next year?” Again, I could say that schools might refer to the information when putting students into math classes, but her grades in all her classes would be what determined if she went on to Norman High. So, she began the test with those anxieties.

I wandered the room, whispering to the teachers, watching kids work, trying to keep the early-birds quiet while others finished. I can say with perfect assurance, no cheating or deviation from the standardized directions occurred.

Because the Pixie and I had bonded over test- and math-anxiety, I kept an eye on her. We would catch eyes and I tried to encourage her with a smile. She worked longer than many, but never flagged.

I just so happened to be walking past my Pixie when she finished. I just so happened to see the screen flash with her raw score. I know neither of us saw the score, because what we both focused on was the message, “Limited Knowledge.” All her hard work, and what did she see? Limited Knowledge. Limited Knowledge. Limited Knowledge. I saw her shoulders slump inside that sweatshirt, and mine mirrored hers. She not only had to take the test, she had to see, once again, she struggles. Her questions to me before the test were her nightmares..her fears, because she knew she struggled. But here was her label, rubbed into her face...

So, thanks, Dr. Barresi. You’re the one who had Measured Progress alter their program so every child would face their performance level. You’re the one who made Pixie’s shoulders slump. This little girl was well aware of her difficulties. But Dr. Barresi, you made certain she faced them in bold letters.

I learned that the request came in the RFP, not "Reading for Pleasure," but "Request for Proposal." This appears to be the instructions to prospective vendors who may want to bid on a particular job, not the contract itself. I like my meaning of RFP better...I'd rather read for pleasure, than read a dry request for purchase.

After wading through 20 of the 49 pages of the RFP written by the previous administration, I found this:
"C.11.2 Oklahoma’s online testing program s tems from the need for s tudents and educators to receive the results of testing quickly as required by law. The online system must provide to students immediate raw score results (and performance levels for pre-equated tests) and complete student results within two weeks for schools and districts. The supplier should provide a detailed description of the system that addresses each of the topics below. In addition, the SDE prefers an online management system that enrolls and tracks paper and online testers within the same program."

I know Superintendent Hofmeister learned about this ugly feature of the online tests last week when test administrators learned of it. I know Rob Miller, as usual, jumped right on the issue, and put it into perspective for us all. I know Superintendent Hofmeister has been in contact with Measured Progress…I know through the grapevine of #oklaed that to change this feature of the tests, MP had to write a new program, take the test offline, then replace the revised tests online. A lot of work on many people's part to change that little present...

I know today, because the test coordinator at my Grand’s school called, that today when kids hit ‘submit’ all they see is the score. Not the performance level. The work with MP worked! The revision worked! 

Over the weekend, MP had to recode the testing program for all online tests,. They took the system down over the weekend, fixed the program, and had to reboot everything this morning. With fingers crossed.

It worked! Other anxious students will now only see the raw score. Teachers have access though the OSDE website to the information about performance levels and can track their students’ work, That’s the way it should be.

So, that pile of poo, in the paper bag, set on fire at Superintendent Hofmeister’s front door? She deftly stepped aside and found a water hose to douse the ‘present’ on her doorstep. With precision and speed, and firmness, and I'm sure a large measure of charm, she worked with the testing corporation to create a culture that doesn’t rub kids’ faces in the remnants of the dentist’s gift to us all.

UPDATE: Last night Rick Cobb posted another piece about this 'snafu', and made a point I'd overlooked. This RFP was written in 2013. The former Superintendent probably believed, as did many of us, that her reelection was a shoo-in, a walk in the park. She fully intended to be in office last week when we discovered this feature of the Measured Progress contract. When we discovered it and complained, I can predict her response...silence. Or maybe she'd get outraged and then accept more professional development training from MP, instead of working with them to revise and change. But a funny thing happened on her way to the fait accompli...

So, instead of a deliberately-placed bag at the front door, this seems to be a bag left in the haste of moving, of cleaning out. And it must have spontaneously the drummers in THIS IS SPINAL TAP. No matter how it got there, Superintendent Hofmeister did a great job taking out the trash.

I appreciate the proactive response, on behalf of all students who did their very best on the tests, and didn’t need to see immediate evidence of the fact their efforts came up short. There’s time to share that message. Most kids already know.

I wonder what other flaming bags of poo are waiting for our new Superintendent? And our kids? And our teachers? And our parents? 


  1. Love the poo in a bag comparison, Claudia. It is a visual and olfactory reference with which we can all relate:-) I am so glad the poo was cleaned up and properly disposed of.

    1. My understanding is that writing this feature into the testing in the first place was an undertaking on the part of the testing company. I'm sure, in some manner, the cost of this was passed on to the taxpayers of this state. Now we've asked them to write this out of the original code. I'm sure the expense for that fell squarely to them. My point is that this surprise was completely unnecessary. I appreciate the current state superintendent for having the sense of urgency to get this done. I also appreciate Measured Progress to being responsive to this mid-stream change.

    2. Let me understand...are you thinking it's Measured Progress's idea, not the previous OSDE's? I would hate to blame innocent folks. Tell me how the surprise was avoidable. I promise I'm a learner...not a fast one, but a learner, none the less.

    3. The language in the RFP you have cited seems to indicate this was part of our OSDE request as well. MP is trying to earn some positive press. It has not been a great spring testing for them in other states.

    4. Flaming Poo and a This is Spinal Tap reference in the same post? Your coolness quotient just went up by a huge amount!

    5. I DID raise a son of the 80's who was into heavy metal...still is! Glad to think I might be considered cool. Great compliment!

  2. I cannot get that image of the little girl in the over-size sweatshirt out of my head. :(

    1. Neither can I. Sometimes she pulled the neckline over her mouth and nose...sometimes she pulled her arms out of the sleeves and hugged herself. I wanted to hug her and tell her she is much much more than LK

  3. My oldest daughter has anxiety disorders and testing makes it worse. I can only imagine how she would react if her score (any part of it) showed up when she finished. By the time we get her scores, she has long forgotten about the test (at least this was true up through fifth grade) and it's all good. Her scores are usually fine or quite good, but there has been one test that wasn't. I'm so glad she didn't have to face that.

    You all are lucky to have someone willing to fight for what you know is best for kids. That's worth celebrating.