Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Oregon Save Our Schools Founder: Listen to Students

Yesterday Oregon Save Our Schools member and co-founder Joanne Yatvin had this article published in Literacy and NCTE, the official blog of the National Council of Teachers of English. She is NCTE's P12 policy analyst for our state. 

A few days ago, I read an article about education that really irritated me.  Although I’d read similar articles before without any reaction, this one was about a plan for schools in our state of Oregon that sounded wrong-headed to me, and was going to cost 3.5 million dollars a year.

According to the article, the Oregon Department of Education and the Chief Education Office have devised a plan that would deploy a team of “on-the-ground experts” to help schools that have a record of severe student absenteeism. That team would be composed of 20 coaches who would receive training, then be placed in selected schools to work on alleviating the problem.
What I saw was another top-down pipe dream, welcomed by school principals who had been unsuccessful in curbing absenteeism themselves, and meant to be implemented by newly hatched experts called “coaches.” Teachers and parents of chronically absent students would be informed about the new plan and asked to cooperate. The only people left out would be the ones who know the most about the causes of student absenteeism and how to reduce them: students.
My argument this time is the same as it has been in regard to other school problems: students should be active players in the planning and execution of any change in school operations—not only because they have firsthand knowledge of the problems and clear views of the causes, effects, and possible solutions, but also because their cooperation is essential if anything positive is to be achieved.
Joanne also spoke to the lack of student input into policy directly affecting students on her own blog, The Treasure Hunter, last month. 
Many thanks to Joanne for her long history of speaking up for students and encouraging policy makers to listen and allow students to speak up for themselves! OSOS is proud to have Joanne as a member and we are incredibly grateful for her leadership. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017



Due to the dire weather forecast, we're postponing our monthly meeting to next Sunday, the 15th. Be safe out there. You're needed in good condition for a hectic 2017!

In the meantime, don't forget to fill out your Opt Out form! Download the form and get more info here: 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Oregon Department of Education Puts Out ESSA Plan for Public Comment

Oregon’s ESSA plan is out. Read the entire plan here.  Comment on the plan here. Comment period closes January 16. Urge your Oregon Department of Education to take back LOCAL CONTROL and END SBAC and all high stakes standardized testing! 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Portland School Board Members Endorse YES on 97

Following is a statement from Portland Public's School Board members who urge a YES vote on Measure 97! Oregon Save Our Schools thanks these board members for speaking up for the schools our children deserve. 

As Portland School Board members we are voting for Measure 97 and implore you to do the same.

And we’re not alone. Across Oregon, public school board members are acutely aware of the precarious nature of state school funding. For 25 years, Oregon school boards have cobbled together budgets knowing we were denying our children opportunities and the chance for a prosperous future we ourselves enjoyed.  Communities have worked hard to fill some gaps, but funding remains unstable and inadequate. Portland Public Schools has had only two years of increased funding in decades, and we are looking at more budget cuts next year unless we take action now. 

Without tax revenues, the state can’t fund education and other essential services, such as healthcare, that have a direct impact on our students and their ability to learn. Since 1990, more than two generations of Oregon students have experienced almost endless cuts; we’re not talking about luxuries, we’re talking about cuts in basic education. 

In spite of having a growing economy in Oregon and adding jobs to the economy at more than twice the rate of the nation as a whole, our corporate income tax structure is so skewed that the state is facing a potential $1.4 Billion deficit in the next biennium.  For Portland Public Schools, our current projections translate that into a potential $60 million shortfall in our 2017-2018 school year - the cost of up to 600 teaching positions, or ten weeks of school.

School Board members, parents, and community members have lobbied legislators in Salem for 25 years for meaningful tax reform to invest in education. We’ve gotten almost nothing.

Parents, teachers, and community groups have come together to support Measure 97— the first serious attempt to restore funding for education to where it used to be. Measure 97 is simple.  It changes four sentences in the existing tax code and lifts the cap on tax payments for the very largest corporations.  It will affect only a small sliver of the business sector in Oregon: C-corporations (those with shareholders) that make over $25 million in sales.  These are the very corporations that have enjoyed unprecedented profits for the last two decades. 
Measure 97 asks big corporations to pay their fair share to support the things that benefit them: an educated workforce and a community that is healthy and able to consume their products.

Measure 97 will bring in $3 Billion a year for essential services and replace the revenue we lost after Measure 5, reversing the decades of catastrophic disinvestment in education and other services that threaten the future of Oregon.  These new revenues should fill the $2 Billion deficit in school funding and finally allow all of this state’s children to get the quality education they need to thrive as adults.  Portland Public schools estimates this will bring an additional $80 million a year.  That translates into realizing our goals for Portland Public Schools students:  raising graduation rates, increasing literacy, decreasing class sizes, addressing deferred maintenance, and adding back the arts, career and technical, and hands-on learning programs. 
We’ve heard the arguments against M97, but the fact is without its passage tax reform will not happen anytime soon, and the desperately needed revenue for our state will be left in the pockets of corporations instead of going to needed services like education for our citizens.
Please vote YES on M97.  Our children can’t wait any longer.

Portland School Board Members:  Paul Anthony, Steve Buel, Julie Esparza-Brown, Tom Koehler (Board Chair), and Mike Rosen

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Smarter Balanced Fails to Show Any Merit

The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) added information in the opt out form packet that states that if a student doesn’t take the Smarter Balanced Exam (SBAC), then valuable learning information will be lost.  What is this valuable information?  How would this information be used to guide instruction?

Last year, I was called into a full-day meeting to go over the first year’s SBAC results with the intent of looking at what areas of instruction we needed to focus on.  At the end of the day and after contact with ODE experts, we were unable to get one piece of information about which areas we would need to put extra time in for instruction.  We were told that we would have to give additional formative assessments to get that information.  So what were we told is the purpose of the test?  Accountability.  

When the projected cut scores were first released they showed that English Language Learners (ELL) students, had a projected rate pass rate of 5% or less in some of the grades, I filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights.  My complaint was rejected because they said that since most everyone would be failing, then I couldn’t prove discrimination against any protected class, such as ELL or Special Education students.

You don’t need to be an expert in data or statistics to come to the conclusion that this test is not valid.  It does not give teachers the information they need to determine how to better make students college and career ready.  The results don’t come out in time to make instructional decisions.  The test discriminates against ELL students as the pass rate threshold is so low that no valid data conclusions can be made.  The test is an autopsy of our failure to provide adequate services for ELL students.  This is different than what Stand for Children and Chalkboard Project infer that it is because of poor teaching that the students are not succeeding.  We continue to document the opportunity gap, and it should come as no surprise that it is not improving.

Now that the official scores have been recently released by the ODE, we are seeing some articles trying to draw some conclusions about the merit of the test and the performance of the students.  Data can be interpreted in a variety of ways, some of which will support a predetermined assumption or result.  You can look at overall passing rates, growth formulas, and comparing school and district performance with statewide performance.

A congratulatory email from the superintendent in my district went out to all staff outlining our district’s performance against the state’s.  While we are a high-performing district with hard-working dedicated staff, many students are being left behind.  And if we are near the top, what about the rest of the students in other districts?  This breaks my heart, as students only get one chance to be in school.  

ODE says that the SBAC measures the achievement gap with about the same accuracy as the previous assessment.  What is the purpose of this measurement?  

Patricia Muller
McMinville ELL Teacher

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Eugene CAPE Member's Letter to Oregon Legislators, Education Leaders

Rachel Rich, a member of Eugene Community Alliance for Public Education (CAPE) has written this letter to Oregon Legislators and Education Leaders regarding the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Please write your own letter to your legislators as well as to the Oregon House and Senate Education Committees. 

To Oregon Legislators and Education Leaders:

The Oregon Secretary of State just published an audit of standardized testing costs pursuant to HB 2713.  For an accurate accounting of costs relative to achievement, they should have dug deeper into their own data.  To wit:  according to their own contract, they paid over $27 million to AIR to administer OAKS and Smarter Balanced.  Further, the ODE  website lists each district's expenses line by line, including items related to state mandated testing.  No need to guess.

The results are clear:  testing costs have risen significantly.  But in light of today's cost-cutting measures, a test that doesn't provide prompt and specific guidance to individual students and their teachers is a poor expenditure.   Smarter Balanced reports do not offer specific information like whether students understand fractions or grammar, and reports aren’t returned for one full year.  We don't need to tinker with this test, we need to replace it.

While we continue to waste money on this poor quality testing program, there are fewer engaging electives to keep kids in school, while counselors, field-trips, talented and gifted programs, or speech and audiology services are scarce.  Ironically, despite spending massive amounts to identify under-performers, only a fraction was spent on remediation, pre-K, early intervention, and Title I in 2014-15, far less than in 2010-11!  This is not progress.  

By 2010, in just nine short months, Common Core and Smarter Balanced were completed, but still not fully implemented while OAKS was still in use in Oregon.   

Although the state pays generously for OAKS and SBAC tests in the form of annual membership dues, per-pupil fees, data storage, help desk, scoring and reporting, nevertheless, individual school districts were responsible for the rest.  District budget items likely affected are labeled not just "testing", but ranged from staff development and substitutes to technology and data management.  

District staff require extensive training to administer online standardized tests, which dominates both staff meetings (which are not a line item) and paid presentations.  Previously, professional development was devoted to best practices in teaching, instead of testing.  The current trend brings both financial and pedagogical costs.

Substitute teachers and classified personnel help set up and administer tests, or even serve in the classroom while teachers proctor the SBAC or OAKS.  The SBAC alone, minus preparation, is 10-11 hours long, much more for SPED and ELL students and substantially longer than the old OAKS test.  (Did Springfield purchase the additional interim and practice tests for SBAC?  Those consume still more time and resources - monthly.)  

Online testing increases computer purchases, as well as updates to existing operating systems.  Both Microsoft and SBAC phased out service to Windows XP, which constituted the majority of school computer operating systems.  Besides multiple OS upgrades, testing required increased bandwidth.

Because I taught in Springfield for several decades and that is where my grandchildren attend school, I chose District 19 as a test case. Comparing 2010 and 2014, here are Springfield's budget items likely affected by standardized testing.  Some items went up, while others were reclassified.  Overall, even counting for inflation, costs rose significantly.  

 2010-11 vs. 2014-5 Testing Related Expenditures

$126,262 - #2230 - Assessment and Testing


$1,565,099 - #2210 - Improvement of Instructional Services


$948,474 - #2240 - Instructional Staff Development


$188,662 - #2630 - Information Services


$2,431,265 - # 2660 - Technology Services


$27,483 - #2670 - Records Management Services


$4,855 - #2630 - Information Services


$1,092,642 - #121 - Substitutes - Licensed


$235,429 - #122 - Substitutes - Classified


$3,880,019 - #310 - Instructional, Professional and Technical Services


(new item appears in 2014 budget)

$2,565,340- #380 - Non-Instructional Professional and Technical Services

$70,262 - #390 - Other General Professional and Technological Services

$393,824 - #470 - Computer Software


$486,677 - #480 - Computer Hardware


$14,037 - # 550 - Technology



2010-11:  11,430,728

2014-15:  14,606,110  

Note:  In spite of Oregon's woes, Springfield has expanded programs for English Language Learners and continued to provide support services at Brattain House.   Further, this year the district has appointed a full-time coordinator, former school board member Jonathan Light, to design career strands leading students on a more direct path to success.  The goal is to offer each student career counseling, while rebuilding electives that inspire future vocations and avocations.  But think how much easier that would be if fewer millions were directed to over-testing.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Secretary of State SBAC Audit Finds Serious Problems, Then Ignores Them

This post by is by Oregon SOS member Doug Garnett, written on Sept. 15 and sent out in our monthly newsletter.

Last year the Oregon legislature passed a bill, introduced by Representative Lew Frederick, requiring a state audit of the SBAC testing process. The bill instructed auditors to look at all costs (not merely state line item costs), impact on instructional time, and much more.

This week the Oregon’s Secretary of State’s office released the audit. And it's a conundrum. Here’s a few bits of that conundrum.

First, it finds very serious problems. Just buying the SBAC tests is far more expensive than OAKS was. There’s major confusion about why these tests are given and whether the results have meaning. There’s critical concern that the tests punish certain populations (a typical problem of this type of testing) and that results are used inconsistently. And serious concerns that SBAC isn’t comprehensive - it focuses on only a narrow range of education.

Then, the audit regurgitates SBAC marketing material without challenge. I thought auditors were supposed to be critical thinkers. Instead, for example, they accept at face value the claim that these tests evaluate critical thinking. Experts in testing don’t think it does. Truth is that the only thing known about SBAC is that it CLAIMS to evaluate critical thinking.

Third, the audit ignores critical issues. For example, I’ve estimated these tests drain educational time worth over $200 million annually from local schools and districts. Yet the audit only considers line item state costs of around $10M. Penny wise and pound foolish? 

The audit also doesn’t challenge the idea that individual scores have accuracy. Established fact is that tests like these have incredible error when looking at individuals or small groups. That error is only controlled once 300 or so tests from similar students are grouped together. Yet the auditors seem to accept at face value the claim that SBAC evaluates individuals.

Finally, unbelievably, the audit makes recommendations that ignore what it found. The audit merely recommends, gosh golly, that ODE communicate better and administer the tests more aggressively. 

SBAC failure is NOT a problem of communication but of poorly designed testing theory and educational theory. Communication can’t solve that problem. Even worse, “communicate better” is what Bill Gates has said as it has become clear his Common Core State Standards vision is a failure. So I gotta ask, who’s in charge of Oregon’s education policy?

Sending the audit through my “decoder of bureaucratic language” I conclude that this is nothing more than a whitewash of Oregon Department of Education’s flawed SBAC theory. All I want to know is how the ODE Tom Sawyer got the Secretary of State’s office working on that fence.

Oregon Save Our Schools urges you to contact members of the Oregon House and Senate Education committees, as well as your own state representatives regarding this flawed audit