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

$189,765

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

$2,803,883

$948,474 - #2240 - Instructional Staff Development

$667,730

$188,662 - #2630 - Information Services

$218,403

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

$3,058,100


$27,483 - #2670 - Records Management Services

36,636

$4,855 - #2630 - Information Services

$210,922

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

$1,270,390 


$235,429 - #122 - Substitutes - Classified

$331,666


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

1,921,803

(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

$557,460

$486,677 - #480 - Computer Hardware

$640,713


$14,037 - # 550 - Technology

63,037


Totals:

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



Saturday, September 24, 2016

Secretary of State Releases Flawed Audit of Smarter Balanced Asssessment

On September 14, the Oregon Secretary of State's office released its long awaited audit of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, as required by House Bill 2713. The audit appears to have relied heavily on information provided by the Oregon Department of Education and no serious effort at asking school districts to report their actual expenditures of time and money appears to have been made.

A member of Eugene Citizens Alliance for Public Education (CAPE)  has written a letter to the members of the Oregon House and Senate Education Committees which we share here. We urge you to write letters to these committees in the House and Senate  as well as your own state representatives. Watch for more to come from CAPE, Oregon Save Our Schools, and other grassroots organizations regarding concerns with the audit. Find the audit itself here.

The results of the so-called audit of Oregon's standardized tests are bogus.  The ODE's report does not fulfill the purpose of House Bill 2713.

1.  Contrary to the report, the state spent $27,275,803 on Smarter Balanced in July 2014, according to its contract titled "State of Oregon Amendment 1 to Personal/Professional Services Contract #9573 Information Technology System Acquisition Web-Based Computer-Adaptive Testing System".  Yet the audit claims spending less than $11 million.

2. No one can find a district that was asked to record all its own expenditures, such as new or updated computers, increased bandwidth, extra substitute teachers, additional testing coordinators, etc.  Instead, the audit relied on vague generalities.  It should be easy to compare expenditures before and after Smarter Balanced testing began with regard to specifics like hiring substitute teachers, etc.

3. "Boots on the ground" experiences were not taken seriously enough.  The tables for test length are taken straight from SBAC manuals without noting that teachers consistently report test administration requiring 10-12 hours, as well as fifteen or more hours for SPED and ELL students.  SBAC's own manuals state that their time tables don't include individual log-in, breaks, re-booting and various snafus.

4.  This "audit" admits to not addressing issues of content.  Yet the quality of test content should be of supreme importance!  They don't address that juniors are tested on college level material or that third-graders are asked questions appropriate for middle-school.  Note: analyzing online sample materials should avoid any copyright infringement.

The first online practice test I grabbed, which happens to be for third graders, features typos, punctuation errors, faulty logic and material that isn't age appropriate.  "Which of the following sentences has an error in grammar usage?"  "the bestbeginning"  ...

For juniors, reading samples from the Smarter Balanced Document titled "Grade 11 ELA Item Specification C2 T9" use highly arcane and specialized vocabulary.  Yet there is no glossary because somehow SBAC considers these terms general knowledge.  See if you agree:

SBAC itself ranks this passage from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (sic) with a Flesch-Kincaid score of 13.7 - suitable for college sophomores!!!  

mangroves ... riverine ...
Estuarine salt marshes can sequester carbon...
various geologic ... morphology...
leaving sessile organisms alternately inundated


From "Lost in the Bowels of the Earth", by Jules Verne:

following the caprice of another incline...
this impracticable problem...
Konigstrasse", Grauben ...  M. Fridrikssen, Snaefell 


From the Hound of Baskervilles:

assumed his most impassive and judicial expression ...
remain untenanted ...
I had descended from my gig ...
however chimerical 


Applicable documents, sample items and other states' analyses of SBAC, as well as the OEA's teacher survey regarding testing are available to the public online.  However, the Oregon Department of Education does not seem to have availed itself of such.



Saturday, August 27, 2016

Letter to Oregon Education Leaders: Call to Action

Oregon Save Our Schools has sent the following letter to Oregon's superintendents and local school board chairs. As you will read, the letter has also been sent to our state level leaders. If you would like to support this letter, please let your local leaders know you support it by contacting them. You may want to link this blog post.  You should also contact the House and Senate Education committees, the Oregon State Board of Education and Oregon's Chief Education Officer. You can also contact your own legislators.



Dear Oregon Education Leaders, 

As ESSA is rolling out in our state, we urge you to take a stand against the past practices begun with NCLB that created a test and punish accountability system. This system was in place for 15 years and did nothing to improve our schools. 

We have read Salam Noor’s letter to Secretary John King commenting on the proposed ESSA regulations. While we appreciate Dr. Noor’s requests to drop the requirement King proposes for a single summative rating in favor of a dashboard approach to measures of school success as well as his request to allow states to determine, with community input, what measures should appear on state report cards, we wish that his to allow states the time to develop and incorporate “innovative measures of accountability” were a little more direct. 

What we believe that Dr. Noor is trying to get at with the “innovative measures” comment is the fact that Smarter Balanced has been an utter and abject failure, as has every other standardized measure of achievement, at truly measuring how well schools serve our students and communities. Smarter Balanced in fact represented a doubling down on reliance on a very limited measure of student success and achievement, as well as school quality, with a singular focus on test scores in two subject areas. We wish that Dr. Noor had been more direct in condemning not only Smarter Balanced, but the entire failed system of using test scores to drive school improvement and had stated that Oregonians intend to work together to create a new path that uses assessment FOR learning and demands a system of accountability related to inputs in at least equal measure to outcomes. 

We would like to share with you the statement that the Vermont State Board of Education sent to Secretary King because we believe that this is what true education leaders should be shouting to the rooftops: the test and punish system has failed. Tweaking it won’t fix it. It is time to support and fund a well rounded education for ALL students. The gap that must be closed is an opportunity gap, not an achievement gap. Further, requiring all children to meet some sort of time table to achieve a certain number of points on a scale, particularly when there is no attempt to equalize support to those children let alone provide extra support to children who need more, is nothing less than a Sisyphean task that dooms our schools and many individual children to a perpetual label of “failing”. This is why Oregon citizens worked together to pass an Opt Out bill: we refuse to condemn our children to this dysfunctional cycle. We are quite stunned that this was not mentioned in Dr. Noor’s letter. We hope that the will of the people of our state will be supported by our state officials, regardless of any decisions that ultimately come out of Washington, DC. 

It is time to demand clearly and resoundingly a system that puts student assessment and education plans in the hands of professional educators and families and moves away from one-size-fits-all arbitrary timelines and cut scores. It is time to end what the Vermont Board referred to as the “commoditization” of our schools. It is also time to demand that all students are provided with adequate and equitable resources and that local communities are allowed to select and teach curriculum that is culturally responsive to the needs of each community. This is the only way that each child can become his or her best self. It is our job as adults who care for them to demand that.


Oregon Save Our Schools







Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Corporate Backed Stand for Children Should Take a Back Seat in ESSA Process

I woke up the other day to see that one of my favorite bloggers, Peter Greene at Curmdugucation, had written a blog post about Stand for Children. As an Oregon teacher who has worked to improve schools and change out of school factors to help all children succeed since I started teaching here in 1994, Stand for Children is a group I’m very familiar with. I first heard about them when my youngest daughter, who is now 21 years old, was in fourth grade. The class sizes at her school had ballooned to 30 and up (a sad state many, if not most, Oregon classrooms remain in today). Back then, Stand was out there advocating for things like smaller class size and adequate funding and better access to health services. My dad (from here on referred to by name: Rex Hagans) heard about the group and he got involved; so involved that eventually he came to work with their state leadership along with his friend, Tom Olsen. Rex and Tom were both recently retired educators of the PhD variety who had worked at Northwest Regional Educational Laboratories in Portland. Back then we all lived in Canby, a smallish town near Portland. 

Soon after Rex and Tom started working with Stand, they created a local chapter in Canby and I got more involved. With Rex and Tom as Stand liaisons, I worked with Stand and my school district to help get a dental screening program going there. Eventually, I became a Stand member and then chapter leader in Canby. It was right about then that things went wrong. 

I heard that there was a new head of Oregon Stand (I now know her name was Sue Levin). Soon after that, there started to be an uncomfortable push coming from the top of the organization down, asking us to have conversations with people about “teacher quality”. It was a big change in focus from fighting for funding and against poverty. I, as a teacher and proud member of my union, became bothered by some of what I was hearing because it sounded as if someone suddenly thought school funding and poverty were not the problems with schools, but that my colleagues and I were. There was a day when the Stand rep who came from Salem met with us and I told her that I could no longer continue working with them for that reason. I resigned from the group. Many other people at the meeting also quit the local chapter when I spoke up that day. 

Later, Tom Olsen quit the state leadership group. And a soon after that Rex Hagans was asked not to return to his volunteer position at the state level due to his refusal to go along quietly with the new direction of the organization. We were all very disillusioned. Then one day I read this post from Susan Barrett on Parents Across America blog. It sounded exactly like what had happened to us! I told Rex and Tom about it and the next thing I knew, Tom Olsen had written a blog post as well.  Those blog posts brought Tom, Rex, and Susan together to organize the first meeting of what came to be Oregon Save Our Schools. People showed up from all over the Portland area, mostly former Stand members who had had similar experiences and had connected through those blog posts. When I go back and look at those posts now, I see names of people I didn’t know before making comments and connecting to organize: people that I have now worked with for years. We were a group of disillusioned Stand for Children members who recognized that we still needed to fight for school funding and had come to realize that we needed to fight corporate take over of our schools as well. 

What was happening in Oregon and around the country at that time was a result of Stand for Children’s evolving funding sources, what Adam Sanchez and Ken Libby called in a 2011 article in Rethinking Schools “an enormous influx of corporate cash” that drove a change in their agenda.  Frequently over the years since then, as we at OSOS have fought corporate driven policies in Salem we have found ourselves standing on the opposite side of issues against Stand for Children.

At one time, Stand for Children held vast sway in the office of Governor John Kitzhaber, who resigned amid accusations of influence peddling.  And they are still a fairly mighty presence in Salem today in spite of the fact that Kitzhaber, for whom Stand became his go to education advisors, has been gone for over a year. Though their influence has dwindled somewhat, a representative of Stand for Children sits on the Accountability Workgroup, one of the Oregon Department of Education’s four ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) workgroups which are developing recommendations around the new education law. More concerning is that  Toya Fick, Executive Director of Oregon Stand for Children, also sits on the Oregon Department of Education Advisory Committee, the committee which will finalize Oregon’s regulations on how to proceed following the recent passage of ESSA after hearing from all four work groups.  


We at Oregon Save Our Schools have always felt that many aspects of the corporate reform agenda are harmful and a violation of students’ civil rights. Stand for Children has maintained that they are defenders of those same rights. But it appears Stand for Children has run into a bit of a snag in its efforts to represent itself as a civil rights champion. On July 29th, news broke that the national NAACP convention had voted in a resolution on charter schools that, among other things, condemns privatization of public schools as well as opposes publicly subsidized funding of charters. This came just one day after a story out of Washington state where Stand for Children has spent over $100,000 just this month to defeat Washington Supreme Court Justice Barbara Madsen who wrote the court’s opinion declaring publicly funded private charters unconstitutional in Washington. And according to Mercedes Schneider, they stand ready to spend a lot more.

Oregon Save Our Schools is a true grassroots movement. We have no budget and no funding source. We rely on volunteers and an occasional passing of the hat to fund events or purchase materials. I think it’s time to stop pretending Stand for Children is a local or “grassroots” group. I’m tired of hearing them called “community partners” by state officials. They are a lobbying group for national and multinational corporate interests, working in states across the country and funded principally by out of state billionaires’ groups like the Gates and Walton foundations. We at Oregon Save Our Schools have known for a long time that they do not “stand for children”. When it comes to running Oregon’s schools, Stand should take a seat, and not a seat at the head of the table. ESSA is supposed to return control of our schools to the people of the state. Maybe what Stand really needs to do is take a hike.