Sunday, August 3, 2014

Just the facts, Ma'am.

Just the facts “Ma’am”.  Famous words from Dragnet Detective Joe Friday. I don’t know if the numbers expressed in the DOK opinion piece this Sunday are accurate or not, but I want to talk about the numbers they seemed to ignore.  I know several of my good friends and people who I look to for advice are about to cringe because they have repeatedly asked me not to twist off on the DOK and do a rebuttal blog. However, as I’ve been told more than once in my career – “Jason, you have the right to remain silent but not the ability”.

The numbers as reported by the DOK article this Sunday:

·         998 3rd graders “failed” the 3rd grade reading OCCT
·         342 of 998 meet exemptions in place before the Grade Placement Committee
o   67 were students who had disabilities
o   67 were students who qualified as ESL with less than 2 years of English instruction
o   79 scored high enough on an alternative test
o   118 were on an IEP and had previously been retained
o   10 students were not on an IEP but had already been retained twice

The DOK claims these numbers as evidence of “substantial” exemptions already in place within the law and uses these numbers as a philosophical bat to beat up Oklahoma lawmakers who value the wisdom of local control and parental involvement. Obviously, the DOK editorial board has a bone to pick with the new RSA law. I don’t think I’ll ever know why, but I’d love to sit down and just have a conversation with them about it. They are still drinking the Kool-aid being handed out by those with a highly skewed view of Child Literacy reform.

Let me give you my take on the EXACT SAME numbers the DOK uses.

  •          998 3rd graders “failed” the 3rd grade reading OCCT – The only thing the DOK and I agree on – 998 is too high.
  •          342 is only 34% of the total “failing” students – hardly “substantial” in my opinion of the effectiveness of previous exemptions. 

o   67 students who had disabilities – These are students who took the OAAP test; students who have such profound disabilities they are not subject to the same academic standards. Why does the state force these students to test?
o   67 students who qualified as ESL – research shows the average language acquisition time to understand the English language on a student’s grade level is 7 years. This fact keeps being lost on RSA reformers. They act like this exemption is a good thing. Try telling that to a student who moved to the “land of the free” when they are 16 and can’t pass the Eng. 2 EOI and therefore won’t graduate.
o   118 were on an IEP and had previously been retained. WHAT?  You mean to tell me there were 118 students who had already been RETAINED once and they failed the test? I thought retention was the answer to the child’s reading problems? Retention didn’t work for these 118 students. Now they are 1 or 2 years older than their classmates and according to the reformers still 2 grade levels behind in reading. (I don’t agree with the previous statement; being two levels behind is possible, but you’d have to give some reading diagnostic to be certain and not use an ELA test for comparison)
o   10 students are not on an IEP but have retained twice. This is just tragic. Some research shows over 80% of students who have been retained twice become HS dropouts.

The DOK looks at the numbers and tries to explain how the old RSA law could have worked. They point to their number of 342 students who met exemptions and say “see, the law is working”.  I look at the 656 students who are being forced to repeat 3rd grade, and find it tragic because the adults in their lives failed them. The DOK thinks this blame should be placed solely on the backs of teachers who work at public schools. I think there is plenty of blame to go around. Parents who lack parenting skills are to blame. An economy where parents have to work 2 jobs just to feed their children is to blame.  Ineffective teachers and ineffective school administrators are to blame. An argument could be made to blame policymakers and politicians. However, any argument among the adults as to who is to blame for childhood illiteracy is a complete waste of time. A child who can’t read has been failed not by just someone but by everyone! However, the DOK just wants to blame teachers. But they are just wrong.