Friday, November 15, 2013

A-F: Their words, not mine

An interesting phenomenon happened this week with regards to the A-F grading transition system.  The 3 biggest players in Oklahoma politics (my apologies to the esteemed Senator from Edmond) lined up to defend the A-F accountability system.  I would point out that the A-F accountability system is useless; simply pointing to the fact that it is inaccurate (changing as many as 10 times), it’s flawed (see researchers from Oklahoma State, Oklahoma University, University of North Carolina, and the University of South Carolina), and it doesn’t do what it is designed to do (more on this later).  But there they were, staunchly defending this accountability system that is getting more bad press than Obamacare.  Our Governor, Secretary of Education, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction wrote OP-EDs, conducted interviews on TV shows, wrote letters, and held press conferences in an attempt to defend the system and it’s catastrophic implementation.  Here is the thing; although they each defended the system, they should have choreographed their message. I’ll use their words to make my point.

From our Governor (you can read her OP-ED here)

     The Governor issued an OP-ED saying that Oklahoma’s A-F grading system is a “system that accurately measures success and failure”.  She goes on to say A-F gives “parents an accurateeasily understood method of measuring the quality of education their children are receiving.”  Furthermore, she states that “superintendents and teachers of schools receiving a D or an F must remember: a bad grade is not a punishment; it is a call to action.”

Our State Secretary of Education said this (you can read his response here):

“Reporting school performance in a transparent and understandable way is a valuable tool for educational improvement
He continued his defense of A-F by proclaiming that grades are a great way for parents to compare schools.

And from our State Superintendent of Public Instruction (in her letter to Guthrie Parents)

She starts off with this:  “it is intended to be a clear and accurate report to you and other stakeholders regarding the progress of your child’s school and its current academic status … therefore, parents and stakeholders must have an accurate report about each school’s performance.  The A-F Grade Card is part of an overall information packet that provides you with a comprehensive picture of each school’s effectiveness.

So it appears that every member of the defense committee has the same theme: accurate measure, easily understood, school performance, comprehensive picture.

Now let’s read what the State Department of Education’s website says about A-F (it is listed under “intro to Oklahoma’s A-F School Grading System”

You really should read the entire introduction; it is full of comical contradictions to the big 3!
It starts with: “As this is still a relatively new system, however, we must ensure that A-F system is both understandable and interpreted appropriately” What!? I thought this was supposed to be easily understood as indicated by our Governor and Secretary of Education.  I thought it was clear and accurate as indicated by the Secretary and State Superintendent.  Then why is it necessary to have a 30 page technical document to explain it?  Why the need for the State Department of Education to place a “What is and what isn’t” intended to be measured by the A-F report card?

What is next is what I like to call the death blow to any credible defense of A-F by the big 3!

“The A-F Report Card is not:
·     A measure of the “school” or “teacher” effect on student learning
·     A statement about a school’s overall quality of services provided

In other words, much like a student report card, the A-F grade tells us how students at a particular school are doing…”

Right there in black and white print on the SDE’s own webpage with the State Superintendent’s smiling picture! 

It is not a measure of the performance of a school or the effects of teacher effort!”
It is a measure of the students in a school

So, if it is NOT a measure of the school or the teachers of that school, then why do the Governor, State Secretary, and State Superintendent continue to tell the public it is a measure of a school performance?  Why do they continue to insist on providing a public grade for the quality of students at a school? After all, that is exactly what the SDE claims the intent of the report card does!  And I haven’t even mentioned according to Teacher, Leader Effectiveness legislation 50% of a teacher’s and principal’s evaluation will be based off a report card NOT intended to measure the teacher effect on student learning!

But hey, if you don’t like me saying the A-F system doesn’t make sense, then let me leave you with the State Superintendent’s own words (in a letter to the Guthrie parents). “I agree that this does not make sense. It does not reflect the direct instructional impact of teachers on your child’s performance”.  I couldn’t have said it any better!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Fallacy, Fallacy everywhere, but not a drop to think!

It has been a crazy, almost insane, last couple of weeks for Oklahoma educators.  Here is a short list of the happenings in #OKlaED

  1. Governor Fallin threatens educators who are being critical of the AF transition system.
  2. Politicians (POLs) saying they can't fix the AF transition system because it is the law, or its because of the rules, or its because of the waiver.
  3. CTB wants to charge schools $125 to appeal a writing score that schools don't even have yet.
  4. Governor Fallin writes an OP-ED in the Tulsa World proclaiming the accuracy and validity of the AF transition system.

This blog is not dedicated to those weird events, but to the logical fallacies in these events or the responses from those trying to convince you those weird events are not weird.  A logical fallacy is just a simple error in reasoning when trying to convince, explain, or justify something to someone else.  In politics it’s called "spin". To me, the logic that emanates from politicians when things go wrong is comical. So the purpose of this blog is to point out the absurd by being absurd!

I really can't say when the craziness started, but last Friday night seems about as good as a place to start as any.  Even at10:30 pm schools' A-F grades were still transitioning.  I have started calling the grading system in Oklahoma a transition system because by Saturday morning our grades had changed again, making the total number of changes equal to 10.  So A-F grades are almost in a constant state of flux, transitioning from 1 grade to another.  AND THEY ARE STILL NOT CORRECT!  I really do not want to justify anymore space to discussing the A-F grade transition system because I'm not wasting any more time and effort on a grade that is inaccurate, invalid, and incorrect.  To save space and your time, I'll use bullet points to identify other really weird events so we can get to the logical fallacies of the responses:

·   Gov. Fallin issues a statement regarding the criticisms of the A-F transition system! You can read her statement here.

For starters, why would Gov. Fallin get involved in this? The A-F transition system is not only NOT her problem, and the political fall out is not directed toward her.  So why make a public comment on a failed government program?  I don't know, but not only did she comment, but she made a hum dinger of a comment.  Yep, she implied educators should "get behind" the A-F transition system, and if we didn't, she would cut educational funding!  What, is she going to take away our allowance if we don't behave?!  SO, students will be punished for adults exercising their 1st amendment rights of free speech? (a logical fallacy of my own to point out the craziness of her actions).  Furthermore, her biggest logical fallacy, in my opinion, is in the reason WHY she wants educators to "get behind" the transition system; she said, "it is the law".  So it shouldn't matter if the actual calculation is invalid, incorrect, or inaccurate BECAUSE it is the LAW.  This brings me to my second crazy occurrence of the week.

·   Its the waiver! No its the law! No its the rules! 

This is an example of a circular logical fallacy. They concede that something is wrong with AF transitional systems, but nothing can be done about it, because it is a law, or it is in SDE's permanent rules or it is because of the waiver.  Several times in the last couple of weeks when talking to the SDE, I was told there was nothing they could do because A-F was law.  I talked to a Senator and 2 Representatives who told me there was nothing they could do because A-F was written in the ESEA waiver, and it is our federal compliance document.  This is the classic "It's not my fault" line.  I used to do this with my little brother when I was 10.  "I didn't break it mom, it was Andy; I promise".  So I'm guessing if we do what good principals do and put everyone in the same room and ask the same question, we will either get one hell of a show watching all the POLS throw each under the bus, or we can get to the bottom of this broken system!

·   Barresi saying how frustrating it is to get the A-F grades correct!

This particular statement by our State Superintendent is both accurate and full of indignation at the same time.  I'll give her credit, because she is really good at this type of stuff.  Of course the merry-go-round nature of the A-F transition system is frustrating, and that is exactly what she said.  But it is not frustrating for her in the same way it is frustrating for me.  She's frustrated because educators want a little accuracy to go with our accountability!  I wonder if she honestly believes version #10 is any more plausible than the previous 9 versions? And to back up her point, she pointed to the schools and the over 1,000 data verification correction requests as the reason the SDE has had so many versions. She's RIGHT! But what she fails to mention is between the SDE and CTB, almost every mistake on the A-F transition system was not the fault of the school. But hey, why let the little details drive you off message.

·   CTB offers to regrade the regrades but only for a fee!

The latest by CTB is an absolute stunner.  This is the modern day equivalent of a con game called "3 card monte".  We have 2 and sometimes 3 exam scorers.  Some exams have fallen from ADVANCED to UNSATISFACTORY on the 3rd scorer AND you want us to pay $125 for the 4th! No thank you. Here is the best part. CTB hasn't provided schools with the actual 3rd rescore, but they say if the grade changes the appeal is free. However, if the grade doesn't change the school will be billed.  Let me see if I get this straight. CTB, which has not shown schools the 3rd score, can claim the 4th score was the same as the 3rd score and earn $125! Regrade the test and earn nothing, do nothing and earn $125.  BUT here is the major problem for schools; we have to tell parents there is an appeal available. How can a school tell a parent that their child is not worth $125!  This is crazy.

·  Governor Fallin (or her proxy) writes an OP-ED in the Tulsa World

I’ll get to the point on this one. The whole premise of her argument is the A-F transition system is fair, accurate, and a simple way for parents to determine if their child attends a quality school.  Ask any parent if the A-F transition system tells them anything now that they didn't know before!  The logical fallacy of her argument is this: educator criticism can’t be trusted because these criticisms are coming from educators. It SHOULD be a concern to her that almost every educator (even those pesky researchers from OSU and OU), parents (see the Parent Legislative Action Committee), and newspaper editors (just do a google search for A-F & newspapers) are all saying that the current A-F transition system is not valid because of all the flaws.  This might be the evil triad for POLS; Educators, Parents, & local newspaper Editors agree on something!



Remember all this posturing by people on both sides is because of the A-F transition system. It is the most polarizing issue I've encountered in my 17 years of education.  One side claims it is broken, and the other side claims it is necessary.  So let’s get together and fix this necessary but broken system.  It really is that simple. So why can’t we do it?