In my previous post, I spoke at some length on the proclivity of many politicians to use statistics in misleading or dishonest ways in order to support a particular narrative or point of view. When desperate, we have also seen many resort to the use of ad Hominem attacks, half-truths or innuendo in an attempt to discredit or disparage people with opposing viewpoints. Our current State Superintendent of Public Education has become quite good at these tactics.

Today’s article in the Tulsa World about last spring’s field test opt-out at Jenks Middle School is an example of this. Let me say first that I greatly respect TW writer Kim Archer’s integrity and professionalism. I don’t fault her at all for this article—she is simply reporting on the biased “investigative” report that was fed to her by folks at the SDE.

Did you notice something obvious that is missing from this SDE report? How about actual interviews with me, Deedra Barnes (our PTA mom who led the opt-out campaign), or any other parents, teachers, or staff members? They spoke to no one. Thus, the SDE erroneously concludes that I initiated the parent opt-out based on a loose interpretation of hundreds of emails. Of course, they omitted emails which did not serve their purpose of painting me as a “rogue” administrator trying to circumvent state law. If anyone at the SDE had taken the time to speak with a real person, they would have found out otherwise.

Here are the facts and they are irrefutable:

1. Every student at Jenks Middle School was properly scheduled for a test session for every assessment required by state law. Students with parents who chose to opt their child out of the field test(s) were given multiple opportunities to take these tests.

2. Only students with a signed letter from a parent were permitted to opt-out of a field test. No students were excused from participation in any operational test.

3. The school worked with the parents to create an opt-out letter using a template from a national opt-out organization. This was done to ensure that we had a consistent communication for documentation purposes.

4. No staff member asked or encouraged any student to opt-out. On the contrary, we repeatedly encouraged students to participate in all state mandated tests.

5. I did not coerce or encourage Ms. Barnes or any other parent to initiate an opt-out campaign. Ms. Barnes brought the topic up to me after getting increasing frustrated at the amount of unnecessary testing to which her child was subjected. Our parents sent information to other parents using a private email account. The school did not distribute the opt-out letters or information about the initiative with parents; rather these parents were directed to contact Ms. Barnes.

6. No one provided any information about the field tests that wasn’t available on the SDE’s own webpage. The Geography and US History tests were known to be field tests in early October. Teachers and students knew they would not receive a score from these tests and that the results would not affect the school’s accountability measures. Likewise, teachers and students were told that one of the two Writing tests would be a field test. How did they figure out which one was the field test? It wasn’t difficult. The directions in the test administrators’ booklet for the Writing field test clearly stated to students, “You are about to take the FIELD TEST for writing.” Duh!

The bottom line is that no laws associated with the Oklahoma State Testing Program were violated by anyone at Jenks Middle School. We simply have a high number of engaged parents who were fed up and wanted to send a message.

Regrettably, the SDE wants to make this a story about a principal (me) who in less than four days was allegedly able to convince over half the school’s parents to opt their child out of field testing. The story they want to ignore is the one about a large group of highly educated and passionate parents taking a stand over an out-of-control, high-stakes testing machine that negatively impacts their child’s education. These parents are not going away. In fact their numbers are growing every day.

To add fuel to this fire of parent rage, on Tuesday of this week we learned from the SDE that the results from last year’s Geography test “did not yield the statistical data required to produce a high quality assessment with valid and reliable results.” As a result, seventh grade students testing in spring 2014 will take part in yet another field test—oops, I mean “Oklahoma item tryout” and no scores will be available for students or schools for a second year in a row.

Let me get this straight—we had over 40,000 students last year waste their time taking a test that failed to provide valid data. Could it be that when you tell a bunch of young teens that they have to take a test that doesn’t count for anything that they might just choose to opt out on their own? Do we honestly expect a different outcome this year? Didn’t Einstein define insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?” Most states have moved away from this type of field testing because they know the results are tainted. They have moved to more accurate models where a random sample of students are given the field test or field test questions are imbedded with regular test items on every student’s test. Why not Oklahoma?

Here’s the challenge that many school administrators will face this spring. As the number of frustrated parents grows and the momentum behind the national opt-out movement becomes stronger and more widespread, do we have the authority to direct students to take these field tests against a parent’s wishes? Do we issue consequences to students who choose to overtly “blow off” these field tests? What if the student simply fills in the bubbles and completes the test in five minutes? What kind of data does CTB/McGraw-Hill hope to gain from this scenario? Along those lines, are they providing this year’s field test at no cost since they seemingly messed it up last year? Finally, will the SDE be providing guidance to schools on how to handle these issues?

I want to close this post with some direct quotes from our State Superintendent from July 2010 when she was campaigning for office. You can click
HERE for the complete story.

“We have a system that is driven to an unhealthy degree by testing. Instead of concentrating on what is best for students and children, a lot of the dynamic has been dominated by tests themselves, and by the design companies. The debate has been territorial and tied to pass rates. What happens then is that teachers are stuck in a crazy rush from one test to another from the first day of school until April. Then, in the closing weeks they and the students have lost the energy to respond to whatever the test might tell them. The tests are not suitable and a lot of the learning is mere memorization, which is then lost soon after the test.”

“We should be looking at using a handful of reliable and proven instruments, like the ACT and the Iowa tests, and not the mishmash of standardized tests, self-developed instruments, the state now has.

“When it comes to testing, we need quicker and more productive turn-around time. There has to be a tighter tie between the results of a test and the work done with the individual child, how they are performing and how to look forward so they can do better.”

“Rather than so much reliance on standardized tests we need a return to formative tests of the kind you and I remember. Those were tests that regularly checked progress, for instance weekly spelling tests, pop quizzes and other instruments that measured progress regularly, identified gaps, allowed time for teachers to intervene and to fix gaps for the student.”

Don’t you think the people who elected Dr. Barresi in 2010 deserve an explanation for her clearly disingenuous statements on testing prior to her election? When did she change her mind and decide that more testing was what we needed, and why?

She may be able to fool us once. It’s not going to happen again.