Sunday, October 27, 2013

Letter to Legislator

It is a simple question:  Is your legislator representing your interests or are they representing the interests of someone or something else?  The question entered my mind at the District 9 OSSBA meeting when one of our legislators tried to defend the AF grading system.  It didn't bother me so much that he was in favor of accountability, as I'm in favor of accountability.  It bothered me tremendously in the way he defended it.  It was as if a representative from ALEC/FEE or Senator Jolley's office had supplied him with talking points!  He was adamant and passionate about the issue.  I was shocked and dismayed, but then I realized I shouldn't be shocked or dismayed.  It occurred to me he wasn't afraid or even slightly concerned to tow the party line in a room full of educators.

For some proper background, I feel I need to tell you how the defense of AF goes.  First off, it started with this: "It is okay that the grades keep changing.... at least they are getting them right".  Ever notice how people who blindly believe something to be necessary just gloss over the salient details?  It never enters their minds that the 8th or 9th time something is "fixed" that the system is flawed.  They just say that they finally got it right.  Are you serious? Finally got it right?! How the hell do you know it is right!  For all I know they ran out of time, stopped trying to figure it out, or just gave up, but believers just assume the final version is correct.  What if the grades change tomorrow?  Will that grade be correct?  Why don't the believers ask the obvious question; Why did it change?  Then they move on to something like this:  "Our schools are doing an excellent job.... this is not about us it is about (fill in the blank) schools".  So we move from the argument that AF is necessary for our parents & community members to make decisions about schools, to it is necessary for someone else somewhere else to make decisions about schools!  Seriously folks, this is the deflection argument; its the "we don't need it but they do" logic. My mind immediately goes to local control issues!  Ever notice how many politicians say they are for local control, but continue to vote for things that take away local control and make it state control?

This dog and pony show can go on and on and on and on and on. It really doesn't matter (although it is quite entertaining) what they say, it only matters in what they do.  Don't ask them how they feel about testing children into oblivion, A-F accountability systems, or educational funding.  Asking a politician a question is almost like asking to be lied to (no not all politicians will lie to you, some will just talk down to you or just dance around your question). Have you checked the voting record of your senator or representative lately?  How have they voted on education legislation?  Have they given a floor speech advocating for teacher pay raises?  Have they authored any bills that would benefit you as an educator?  Have they voted against things that you believe to be harmful to education?  Check to see how they have voted on CCSS, TLE, A-F, testing, educational funding or any number of educational bills.  Do their actions and their words align?  Or do they tell you want you want to hear and proclaim to be "a friend of education"?  Legislators love to tell you that they are a friend to education, then tell you there is nothing they can do.  It is the political sweet spot.  They tell you they are supporting education, and they get to vote with the leadership and the reformers.

Until we hold our elected officials accountable (they are holding you accountable to difficult tasks) the current trend in education will not change.  Until you get involved, politicians will continue to marginalize educators.  By getting involved, I mean more than just calling or emailing your legislator.  I'm talking about voting and more.  Yes, I believe we have to do more!  I think we should recruit educators to run for office!  I think we should help education friendly people get elected.  We have to start telling people what we think, we have to start knocking on doors, wearing campaign buttons, putting up lawn signs, and donating to candidates to get them elected.  Just by doing this we will put people in office who WORK in schools and not people who just WENT to school.  I sent my representatives a letter asking them to prove they are a friend of education instead of telling me how pro education they are.  You can read my letter here.  I'm tired of the rhetoric, I want action.  My action starts today.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

What do AF accountability systems measure?

My boss and I were driving home after the football game Friday night discussing our AF grades (I said grades and not grade because as of Friday evening each school site had received 6 different versions of an AF grade).  We came to 3 major conclusions:  1) we need to verify that the data the SDE used for our calculation is correct because with 6 different grades we just can't trust that the final product is accurate, 2) the AF grade for our school tells us absolutely nothing we were not already aware of and working diligently to improve, and 3) AF in its current form isn't even close to measuring the quality of our school.  I don't want to waste your time with another diatribe of exposing the litany of errors made by the SDE in calculating AF grades (and using "transparency" as the reason as to why the site was left up is really weak).  I want to focus this blog on what AF actually measures and why it is not a very good system to provide the information it proposes to provide.

What does the AF grade of a school measure?  Proponents of AF accountability systems tell you AF systems are an important tool to tell community members, parents, and businesses the quality of the school and the quality of the job the people in the school are doing with the tax dollars they are given.  I say it doesn't do any of that.  Here is my logic.  Did you know that at any high school, AF grade is calculated on 7 tests (school performance) and student testing gains (growth) on Algebra I and English 2 (2 components: all student gains and bottom 25% of student performance gain). Here is why it is important for people to understand the components of our current AF system.  First, student performance is based on only 7 subjects.  On our HS accreditation report, (the one that was due last Tuesday) 119 courses are offered to students at our campus or at the career tech and that does not include the 49 students taking concurrent enrollment (so 49 students are taking 4 college courses this year: 2 each semester). So 50% of the high school's grade is based on how students perform in 7 of 119 or more subject offerings?   Half the grade is based on how students do in 6% of our classes!  Let's take this even further.  The other 50% of the grade is based on student testing gains (25% all student growth and 25% bottom quartile growth) in 2 subjects.  Does this sound like an accurate and all encompassing measure of the quality of the entire school?  This type of measurement of a school is analogous to a homeowner buying a house solely based on the quality of the doorknob on the front door!

The second problem with the current AF system is it doesn't measure the quality of teachers within a school, it measures the quality of the STUDENTS in a school.  And before any naysayers can say otherwise, I am not diminishing the efforts of our teachers. A teacher's role is extremely important in the academic success of students. But we are only talking about 6% of the teachers and not all or even a majority of the teachers.  To make matters worse, we are not even talking about all or even a majority of the students.  We ARE talking about how a very small portion of students account for a majority of the grade.  Here is an example of what I'm talking about:  There are 600 students in our HS.  Let us say that 100 students take Algebra I and English 2.  200 total tests meaning 50 total students account for the bottom 25%.  So 50 out of the 600 students or a little over 8% count 33% of the overall grade.  That is 75 out of 225 total tests (100 for the student performance, 100 for the all student growth, and 25 for the bottom quartile growth for each of the growth subjects) or 33% of a total schools grade. 

So with only 6% of the total classes making up 100% of the grade and 8% of the students making up 33% of the grade, AF in it's current format is a terrible way to measure the quality of the teachers or the overall accountability of a school.  Now let me explain why AF is a terrible way to compare schools. Students are not widgets.  If every school had the exact same kids with the exact same abilities, problems, parents, etc then the current AF system would be perfect to hold schools accountable.   If students were identical, then this system would be an excellent way of measuring the quality of the school and would be an excellent accountability measure.  But because we all have different students, it is impossible to calculate through a formula which school is performing better than another.  How do you compare students with different backgrounds and educational abilities to each other? I'm not saying students shouldn't be held to a standard, and I agree that schools should be measured by how well their students accomplish those goals. Shouldn't we let the parents, community, and businesses of each community decide if the school is doing a good job?  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

And now it begins!

I have always tried to make this blog about issues that are affecting public schools and not about the professional and personal attacks these issues continue to make.  It is becoming harder and harder to do this and yesterday's Daily Oklahoman opinion regarding A-F grades might have just been the breaking point.  For those who haven't read the article or would just like a refresher, you can read it here.   The title of the opinion piece is called "Pending A-F grades will reflect more accuracy in our assessments".  This type of journalism just makes my blood boil.  It is disingenuous at best and downright journalistic malpractice at worst. Do I need to mention the fact the A-F grades have yet to be released! How does the DOK opinion staff know what the grades will be and what the grades say about schools?  Is the DOK opinion staff privileged enough to get a sneak peek of the grades? No! But once again they write a politically motivated opinion trying to discredit any legitimate questions regarding this controversial reform.  They do not know what the grades are, they just want to blindly believe the load of horse manure that is being shoveled out by people who want YOU to believe these grades are accurate and valid.  Let me tell you that A-F grades are neither accurate or valid.  And instead of asking you to blindly accept my version of the truth as better than their fantasy version of the problem, I'll back up my statements with facts and not accusations.

Before I point out all the idiocy in the DOK's opinion piece, let me provide some facts about the impending A-F grades.  First and foremost, the results given to schools are littered with scoring errors due to the testing company, McGraw Hill's, ineptitude (I will not even talk about how inefficient and incompetent this company is and how corrupt their systems are, not to mention the fact they were given the bid to conduct testing for next year).  At my school, we received notice that 12 of our writing tests will have to be re-scored due to internal rater reliability error.  (It is nearly Fall Break and we have been in school for an entire 9 weeks and we still do not have all of our testing results. WHAT?!)  It has also been reported by our principals and counselors that nearly 30 students have been identified by the testing company as having different scores on different reports; some students received a "Did Not Attempt" when in fact they have been given a performance report from the testing company.  How are these students being recorded for accountability? No one has been able to give us the answer to this question! Will our school be accountable for the Did Not Attempt the testing company is reporting to the SDE or the score being reported to the student? We also have had several students who do not even attend our school show up on our reports for demographic and test corrections.  Some of our students who took modified or portfolios are listed as making an unsatisfactory score on a test they did not take.  Don't get me wrong, I am not saying this process should always be mistake free, but when mistakes seem to be the norm and not the exception, how much credibility will the end result accountability grade have?  To overstate my point about test reporting credibility, I refer to you to the now infamous "testing trailer" pictures.

I swear to you these are actual pictures of our testing materials being delivered or picked up.  These are the same tests we have to inventory, store under lock and key, have test security measures out the wazoo, and face potential teacher certificate issues if they are lost, photocopied, or in this case fall through the gaping holes in the delivery man's trailer!

So to recap why A-F grades are an inaccurate and invalid measure of a school, let's look at some facts. First, the law was changed to ensure schools received a lower grade. Second, the criteria to receive a passing score on some tests changed after the tests were scored to guarantee a minimum of 50% of the students failed. Thirdly, test type and structure was changed without enough notification to change instruction (it is like playing basketball all year long and then when you get to the playoffs they raise the goal from 10 feet to 15 feet without

telling you). And finally, no one can say with any certainty the test data is accurate in the first place - remember the test malfunctions? (Any student who tested on a day in which the online test failed due to CTB's server issues and scored unsatisfactory on the test, their score has been thrown out and it doesn't count toward a school's accountability.) These are enough reasons to raise concerns about the credibility of A-F grades.

Now to the DOK's insanely stupid opinion piece.  There are two logical reasons as to why the DOK would come out with this opinion piece:  to discredit any school arguments about A-F grades and cast blame as to why grades decreased.  Both reasons seem to have a political agenda behind them.  For those who already think public schools are failing, then using the illustrious NAEP (by the way, Oklahoma standards and therefore curriculum and instruction are not aligned to the NAEP; and is the reason why Oklahoma 4th graders do not score well) reiterates their notion that schools are failing and something needed to be done. One the other hand, for those who haven't already sold out to the notion their public school is failing, this piece is quick to point out school grades are decreasing because of changes to the law through legislative efforts.  All this is designed to strengthen the position of the reformers and to weaken the arguments by educators against these reform movements! I've said this many, many times - public schools are not failing!  My school is not a failing school!  Students in my school have the opportunity to get a superior education. We do not need school choice, the political purpose of A-F grades.  If you want to come to my school, move here or walk into our office and fill out the paperwork.  And finally, not everything good that takes place in a school can be measured on a test. As soon as parents and community members get tired of their school being attacked, the DOK will stop printing stupid opinion pieces like this.