Friday, January 17, 2014

Another day Another change

Ever get the feeling the Oklahoma State Department of Education is just lost?  It seems like every day schools get another email from the SDE indicating a change in some policy, procedure, or rule. I’m not even talking about the philosophical reasoning behind these changes. The purpose of this post is to point out, once again, the SDE's willingness to make wholesale changes in programs or policies in the middle of the year or even after students have finished taking all their tests. Last year, the writing exam format was changed along with Social Studies standards in the middle of the year.  To make matters worse, the SDE changed science test cut scores after the science tests had been graded.

The only thing constant this year with the SDE is the number of changes they continue to make during the academic year.  Schools received an email today reminding us of the time frame the SDE will be accepting comments to the "proposed" rule changes.  (I say proposed, because I don't think a single rule has been amended because of comments.) For those who have stopped counting, this is track 5 of rule changes....that means 32 rules have changed this year!  Schools were notified in an email yesterday that middle school students do not have to take the grade level math test if they are enrolled in an advanced math course. This is a great idea; I only wonder why the SDE didn’t think of this earlier! (Before anyone says the Feds require this as part of accountability, I point you to the official email from the SDE. It states the Feds have not granted permission as of yet, but it is too important to continue to wait on them. So if it was too important on January 15th, was it NOT too important in August?)This makes sense for our students; it was embarrassing students had to take a test in a subject they were not enrolled in. As nice as this is for students, it could have a drastic effect on high schools’ A-F grades.  I don't think this change was thoroughly thought through.  If growth or test results from MS students do not count for the high school A-F grade, then the bottom 25% will count 3 times and the top 25% will not count at all! Schools also found out about a change in the definition of Full Academic Year. Now a student can miss as much as 6 weeks of school and be considered a FAY student.  Furthermore, a student can be enrolled in a school for 179 of the 180 days and be a NFAY student (if they are off roll on Oct. 1st, then NFAY it is).  Doesn't make sense to me either.  

The change that will cause the most disruption, in my opinion, is the required online readiness test. (Thoughts of the saying keep popping in my head….This job is only a test, had this job been a real job it would have come with raises, promotions, and other signs of appreciation.) Talk about late minute changes; this one is a doosey.  Schools were notified on January 15th that on January 28th they will be required to participate in an online readiness test on every computer being used for testing.  So tech departments all over the state must drop everything they had planned this week and start loading 2 test delivery programs (yes 2, one for the actual test and one for the “item tryout” company….yet another change) onto computers. Why must schools drop everything just to check and see if the company getting paid millions to conduct online testing has all their bugs worked out?  Is the SDE saying that schools can’t be trusted to get the machines ready for the test? Is the SDE afraid of another complete disaster during testing like last year?  I hope none of the tech people are out sick or on vacation!  Talk about a major blow to instructional time!  What about all those small schools that contract with a computer company to handle their technical issues?  More importantly, what about all those computer classes being held in computer labs having to stop instruction, so tech people can have access to the computers.  God help any teacher who needs a technical problem fixed, so they can teach a lesson!  Tech people used to have plenty of time to get things ready, now they have less than 2 weeks. I don't even think the mandatory tech trainings have even started yet!

I won’t even get into the changes with VAM or the OAM’s in evaluations this year.  I won’t even talk about the changes in Science standards that happened this year.  I’m not even going to mention the proposed changes to Teacher’s retirement. I don’t want to talk about how my schools’ A-F grade changed 10 times! What I will talk about is the next big change; and it happens right in the middle of testing. It is roster verification that all teachers will have to do for their evaluations.  More on that in the next blog.