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.

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