Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Twilight Zone

You're traveling to another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but also of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of the imagination. At the sign post up ahead, your next stop, the twilight zone.'  (Take the time to go find some classic Twilight Zone TV series intro music and reread for the full effect). Oklahoma has moved straight out of reality and into the Twilight Zone with RSA. In this case, RSA might stand for Really Stupid Adults making absurd solutions for real problems.

What am I talking about this time you say? Let me explain: In Oklahoma, we want to know if our 3rd grade students can read at the 3rd grade level by the end of the year. Now mind you, most educators will tell you that by the end of the year, students in 3rd grade should be reading near the 4th grade level, but let’s not get bogged down with these minor details. So to determine reading level for our 3rd grade students, we use a language arts test; you know the kind of test that doesn’t measure fluency, phonics, phonemic awareness, but does ask comprehension, alphabetizing, a student’s knowledge of how to use an index, and their ability to use the dictionary. We are told this test is the test that determines whether 3rd grade students can read sufficiently to be promoted to the 4th grade. This is very important here in the RSA Twilight Zone; we are told the 3rd Grade OCCT is a sufficient measure of a student’s ability to read at the 3rd grade level. Got it? Let’s go on. So what if a student makes a 23 raw score. This student has to be retained because of their 23, but a student who made a 24 goes on to 4th grade. The OKSDE would have you believe this score on the OCCT has a student reading at least 2 grade levels behind (I say this student is 1 raw question short of becoming a 4th grader, and it’s still BS, but for the sake of argument we’ll go on). So what do we do now you ask? To expedite this example, we’ll head straight for the good cause exemption of building a portfolio. In the OKSDE’s very own portfolio FAQs implementation guide, it specifically says teachers are not allowed to use the OCCT to determine mastery. WHAT?! You got it folks, right there on page 17 it specifically says OCCT “reporting categories do not provide enough information to determine whether a student has mastered that particular area of Oklahoma State Standards”.  So a student who might have gotten the majority of the reading comprehension questions correct on the OCCT can’t use the reading comprehension portion of the OCCT to demonstrate mastery!

Please let me say this another way: The OCCT is s good enough test to tell the student they aren’t ready to move on to the 4th grade, but it isn’t a good enough test to determine if a student can move on the 4th grade! It doesn’t make any sense to me either. This, my friends, is the very definition of absurd. Now where is that sign post, the one that points the way back to reality? Someone needs to point our SDE in the right direction.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Haters got to hate!


 Are you a public school hater? Do you know any public school haters? Don’t be too quick to judge! It would be nice to be able to walk up to people and just ask them, but it’s not that simple.  Nobody I know ever answers the public school question with a simple yes. Even the most pure public school haters give some sort of convoluted answer.  They’ll say they think public schools are great, but ….. insert true feelings here. It’s what comes after the “but” that I have found to be the true test of a person’s opinion on public schools. True feelings are shrouded in arguments that make sense to people who just casually listen. School choice, a child’s needs, safety or bullying issues, test scores, and many others are all very valid explanations of why they made a personal decision for their child’s education. Haters take these personal reasons and manipulate them to ATTACK public education to convince other parents to make the same choice! 

Take school choice for example. I personally believe in school choice. I think a parent’s right to choose what is best for them is a fundamental right in Oklahoma. Want to send your child to a Magnet school for fine Arts, to Classen School of Advanced Studies, OSSM, to a school that offers Advanced Placement courses, to a smaller school, to a bigger school, or even to the private school?  Great! Want to convince thousands of parents they should support school choice because public schools are failing? Hater! 

For the record, we have school choice in Oklahoma; parents can move/transfer among public schools, are free to home school their children, or to pay tuition to any private school.  (I don’t put much stock in the counter argument of some parents just can’t move to a good school). But that is not good enough for haters. Haters want to discredit and belittle public education. Haters constantly search for any tidbit of information they can twist, manipulate, or magnify so public education looks ineffective. You hear the mantra that taxpayers are “not getting a good return on their investment”.  Ever notice public school haters want to look at the average of all the testing data and then make comparisons to the world’s best students? Let’s face it, looking at public school testing averages are more of an indication of the students in the schools than the teachers. You think that is harsh? Students who score advanced on EOIs or 30s on the ACT sit in the same classes with the same teachers as students who don’t. So how can this be an indictment of public schools? Yet, they still use it. Ever since OHLAP took effect, more students are taking the ACT test, ACT scores are rising, and Oklahoma colleges and universities have record enrollments. All good indications public schools are doing better than they have ever before. However, no hater ever points this out. 

Here is the number 1 problem between haters and public educator supporters. Haters look at public schools and see the AVERAGE is not as good as the elite. To them, it is always about the average and not the individual. Public school supporters look at the individual kids. We see where they were before and where they are now. We see the struggles, the successes and failures, and we see the kids. We know we aren’t perfect; we recognize that even 1 public school student who doesn’t meet their potential is tragedy. If a parent is dissatisfied with our work, then we support that parent’s right to choose something different. However, we don’t support haters using a parent’s right to choose and trumped up evidence to suggest public schools are failing. It is simply not true. Just remember when you hear the next argument against public education, take a serious look at their reasoning; are they trying to explain why they made the decision or trying to convince you to do the same.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

RSA part 2:

I have engaged many, many people about the merits of my original RSA post. I stand by the fact the 3rd grade Reading Test is a Language Arts Test. Some took umbrage with me saying the non-comprehension questions had nothing to do with reading. Some argued skills like rhyming, figurative language, research, literary elements, and prefixes/suffixes are reading foundation skills. Okay. I will not argue otherwise. Let me clear up what I meant. A reading diagnostic test identifies the grade level at which a student comprehends what they read. The OCCT test does and cannot do this. The OCCT is an ELA diagnostic (of the summative and autopsy variety) test that identifies the SKILLS a student lacks.  This has to be clear: OCCT gives information about skills; Reading diagnostic gives information about reading comprehension level. They should not be confused. They are not interchangeable. The 3rd grade OCCT is an adequate diagnostic of the 3rd grade skills. The 3rd grade OCCT is not even close to a reading comprehension test. AND our leaders keep saying students are reading at the 1st grade level or 2 grade levels below 3rd grade. THEY don't even understand the explanation for the things THEY don't understand. For example: At the end of the 3rd grade year, a 3rd grader should be reading at the 4th grade level or higher. 2 grade levels behind would be the 2nd grade level. Remember the test is given at the END of the 3rd grade. Students shouldn't be on the 3rd grade level AFTER the 3rd grade! Not only do THEY not KNOW what they are TALKING about, they don't even understand their own explanation!

 Finally, let me say this. I think we should have high standards for literacy in Oklahoma. Reading is such an important skill, we should not take lightly those who struggle with reading. But here is my problem with RSA. What makes people think a 5th year of a RSA plan will do what the 4 previous years of RSA plans didn't do? at risk KG - RSA Plan; at risk in 1st - RSA Plan; at risk in 2nd - RSA Plan; at risk in 3rd - RSA plan; repeat 3rd grade?  Why can't we just say, if a child has been undergoing intensive remediation and intervention while on an RSA plan for more than 2 years we let the classroom teacher, principal, and parent make the best educational decision for that child. Why is that so hard? 


My Original RSA post with clarifications in RED



The 3rd grade Reading test is not a reading test, it's a Language Arts test. WHAT?! Let me explain.Yes, a Language Arts test. The 3rd grade OCCT Reading test has 24 questions about Reading Comprehension. It also has 26 questions covering ELA skills.  In these 26 questions, students are asked to alphabetize, identify figurative language such as homonyms, antonyms, synonyms, and homophones.  Students are asked to identify words that rhyme, identify root words and their prefixes and suffixes, and to write general summaries.  That's right, over half of the reading test are questions that do not require a student to read AND comprehend; they are questions over 3rd grade language arts skills. These skills might be a prelude to reading or foundation skills, but they do not require reading comprehension.  A reading test is a test measuring one’s ability to, well READ. It measures fluency, phonics, phonetic analysis, and structural awareness. Oklahoma’s 3rd grade OCCT doesn't test for ANY of those skills.

It is appalling our state leaders can’t be honest with us.  Telling the public it is necessary to retain 3rd graders for scoring unsatisfactory on a Language Arts test because the test indicates they READ below grade level is just absurd. Did you know a 3rd grader can correctly answer 23 of the 24 Reading Comprehension questions AND still score unsatisfactory on the test? Did you also know it is ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE to determine a student’s reading level on the OCCT? The SDE would have you believe students who score unsatisfactory on the test are reading at the 1st grade level. POPPYCOCK! At what level do students who score advance read? A reading level diagnostic test uses vocabulary, sentence structure, and increasing difficulty in comprehension questions to determine reading level. The OCCT test doesn't have any of those capabilities.

So we have a State Department of Education who has convinced Oklahoma it is irresponsible to promote a 3rd grader who can’t read, while using a Language Arts test to determine reading grade level. Talk about irresponsibility!  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Not on my Watch!

ALERT! ALERT! ALERT! 3rd grade students will now be forced to repeat 3rd grade for failing a Language Arts test!  Yes, the new Language Arts Sufficiency Act (OSDE acronym of LASA, pronounced lasa) requires students in 3rd grade who score UNSATISFACTORY on the 3rd grade language arts test to be retained.  Why you ask. Well, according to the State Superintendent "how can we even consider promoting a student who can't read"!

WHAT?! Let me explain. The test 3rd graders will take is a Language Arts test. Yes, a Language Arts test. The 3rd grade OCCT Reading test has 24 questions about Reading Comprehension. It also has 20 questions having nothing to do with reading.  In these 20 questions, students are asked to alphabetize, identify figurative language such as homonyms, antonyms, synonyms, and homophones.  Students are asked to identify words that rhyme, identify root words and their prefixes and suffixes, and to write general summaries.  Yes, almost half of the 3rd grade Reading test has nothing to do with Reading!  A reading test is a test measuring one’s ability to, well READ. It measures fluency, phonics, phonetic analysis, and structural awareness. Oklahoma’s 3rd grade OCCT doesn't test for ANY of those skills. 

It is appalling our state leaders can’t be honest with us.  Telling the public it is necessary to retain 3rd graders for scoring unsatisfactory on a Language Arts test because the test indicates they READ below grade level is just absurd. Did you know a 3rd grader can correctly answer 23 of the 24 Reading Comprehension questions AND still score unsatisfactory on the test? Did you also know it is ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE to determine a student’s reading level on the OCCT? The SDE would have you believe students who score unsatisfactory on the test are reading at the 1st grade level. POPPYCOCK! At what level do students who score advance read? A reading level diagnostic test uses vocabulary, sentence structure, and increasing difficulty in comprehension questions to determine reading level. The OCCT test doesn't have any of those capabilities.

So we have a State Department of Education who has convinced Oklahoma it is irresponsible to promote a 3rd grader who can’t read, while using a Language Arts test to determine reading grade level. Talk about irresponsibility!