McGraw-Hill to OKSDE: “My Cat Doesn’t Like You!”

By September 29, 2014 Uncategorized 7 Comments

The short relationship between our State Department of Education and testing giant, CTB/McGraw-Hill, has been filled with tumult and broken promises almost from the beginning. After a second consecutive spring testing season marred by major dysfunction, we rightfully decided two months ago to dissolve the union and seek another vendor who might treat us better.

The only problem is we apparently forgot about the upcoming winter formal and waited too long to find another date. After making a few phone calls to potential suitors, we discovered no one else was interested in going out with us. The fact that we totally dissed McGraw-Hill before, during, and after our public breakup probably didn’t help matters. As a result, when we recognized we didn’t have a dance partner for December’s testing, we had to get on our knees and grovel so as to coax McGraw-Hill into going out with us one more time.

“Hey, Baby. I know I said it was over when I dumped you back in July. Yeah, I also remember I have that little investigation going on and may be suing you very soon. But, I’m hoping we can put that all aside for a while. What would you think about going out one more time, for old times sake? You know I always secretly liked you. It was my friends who said we were bad for each other. What do you think? I’ll buy you a nice dinner, even rent a limo if you want. I might even channel a little John Cusack, hold a boom box above my head and play ‘In Your Eyes.’ Who knows, it might be a great night for both of us. How ’bout it, baby?

McGraw-Hill originally said yes to our offer (“You had me at hello…and 2.8 million dollars“), yet has now developed cold feet. After the Oklahoma Board of Education voiced their strong disapproval at its meeting last Thursday, and Dr. Barresi piled on with even more negative comments, it became obvious that there was far too much acrimony to make this relationship work.

I also think McGraw-Hill recognized the reality that we were just going to dump them again after the dance, probably with not even as much as a goodnight kiss. More like pushing them out of the car at the curb and leaving them in a cloud of burning rubber.

As a result,  according to a OSDE press release today, our state has received a final breakup message from McGraw-Hill. They seemingly took Kenny Roger’s advice: “Know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to RUN!

OKLAHOMA CITY (Sept. 29, 2014) – In the wake of the Oklahoma State Board of Education decision last week to delay action on selecting a vendor for winter assessments, proposed vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill has indicated it will withdraw from the bidding process.

The board voted Sept. 25 to table a would-be sole-source contract with CTB. The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) had recommended using CTB for the winter assessment window. An estimated 51,000 tests are expected to be given during that period, the bulk of them being end-of-instruction (EOI) exams necessary to meet high school graduation requirements.

OSDE is continuing its work with Oklahoma’s Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to see if any other viable solutions exist. In addition, last week the OSDE submitted a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the spring EOI exams to OMES for review and approval since OMES is responsible for issuing the RFP.

OSDE staff had recommended CTB/McGraw-Hill for the $2.8 million contract because of limited time to realistically initiate an entirely new testing platform before the testing window begins in mid-November.

At the request of OSDE, the Board of Education voted in June to terminate the state contract with CTB/McGraw-Hill. The action came after glitches during the spring 2014 testing.

The board is expected to hold a special meeting within the next several weeks to take up the matter.

I wonder what was in the official communication from McGraw-Hill to our state department. It would be fun if they used once of these helpful breakup lines from

“Is it hot in here or is this relationship suffocating me?”

“I now pronounce you dumped and single. You may now kiss my ass.”

“Do you believe in love at first sight? How about misery after three years?”

“I’ll always remember last night, but I think we can forget about tomorrow.”

“Really, our time together has just become more effort than you’re worth.”

“Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and so were you… but now the roses are wilted, the violets are dead, the sugar bowls empty, and so is your head.”

“This isn’t easy and neither are you…I’m breaking up with you.”

“Our relationship is like a fat guy, What? It’s not working out.”

“My cat doesn’t like you.”

Honestly, it is likely McGraw-Hill concluded that $2.8 million was not nearly enough to make this potentially risky endeavor worthwhile. They could not afford the possibility of another testing disruption and being thrown under the bus one more time. In short, we weren’t worth the effort. This amount of money is pocket change for a multinational company with billions in assets.

So, what does this mean? Unless someone at the OKSDE has a rabbit up their sleeve, this decision likely means we will not have a winter EOI test administration. As I tweeted earlier, what now, Janet?

This is a big deal, it really is!

Honestly, I don’t have complete answers to the following questions. I likely don’t even have all the right questions that need to be asked. It is hard to imagine anyone else being able to pull together the technology infrastructure to conduct an online administration of these tests in six weeks. It may be possible to administer the tests in paper and pencil format, but our deadline for this may have passed as well.  And, if there are other options, why were these not presented to the board last week?

So, what does it mean if we do not have a winter testing session as required by law?

At a minimum, the following questions must be resolved by someone at the state department or through legislative action next spring:

1. How will schools with trimester or block schedules deal with this?

I assume this would mean that students will have to take both sets of tests in the spring. This will inevitably affect student achievement on these EOIs and OCCTs. Many years ago, Oklahoma schools used to administer the geography test in 8th grade despite the fact that most students took the course in 7th grade. When the state department finally moved the test to the correct grade, the passing rate increased 20%, even though we were testing younger students. This is just common sense.

So how will students do on an English 10 or Algebra I test when they finished the course four months earlier?  Teachers would never consider giving a final exam to students four months after their course ended yet this is precisely what we would be doing by postponing these EOIs. Passage of these tests is required to earn a high school diploma. Do we hold students accountable for their test scores when it is the state’s fault they couldn’t take the test when originally scheduled?

2. What about EOI graduation requirements and the A-F report card?

It is fair or ethical to hold students responsible for the mistakes of adults? If a student fails to pass his or her EOI next spring—maybe by only one or two questions—is it fair to make them take it again? What about seniors who are retaking an EOI to earn a passing score for graduation?  There are also hundreds of students in alternative programs who were projected to graduate in December if they passed the EOI.

Will some students be asked to complete one of the projects provided by the state department, in lieu of an EOI test? Further, how will we deal with students with special needs who are supposed to be provided a second chance to pass the modified test in December? Will they be allowed to take a OMAAP again in the spring? Will the state board be granting exemptions for students in these types of situations? Will the state board and new state superintendent be inclined to grant more appeals for students impacted by this decision?

Likewise, if student pass rates are lower as a result of this decision, is it fair to blame schools on next year’s A-F report card?  Should we suspend the issuing of A-F grades for next year? What about the quantitative components of the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Model, particularly the Other Academic Measures which are being implemented this school year? What about our Academic Performance Index (API) scores and our priority and focus school designations? Again, these are federal requirements, so how will our state balance address these mandates without punishing students and schools?

3. Finally, how will this affect the bid process for the new testing vendor for spring testing? 

It is almost inconceivable that the state department has yet to issue an Request For Proposals (RFP) to solicit bids for a testing vendor for spring assessments, starting in less than five months. Which testing companies are left to pick from? Would we go back to Pearson after all of the problems we experienced with them several years ago? Dr. Barresi has already dismissed the idea of using the ACT and ACT Aspire tests because they are aligned with common core. House Bill 3399 specifically requires our state to use our own test items in our assessments until new standards are developed. Are other testing vendors available who have the technical expertise and competency to deliver these assessments with such a short turnaround? Will we go back to paper and pencil assessments because of the difficulties associated with computer-based platforms?

The bottom line is we currently have many more questions than we have answers. This will undoubtedly cause confusion and chaos for district IT directors and testing coordinators across the state, not to mention additional stress for school leaders, teachers, parents, and students.

It is certainly no way to run a railroad…or a state department of education…or a bait shop for that matter.

The train has clearly run off the rails.  Suffice to to say that the next state superintendent is going to have a major mess to clean up upon his or her arrival.

Speaking of breakups, the voters of Oklahoma sent an unmistakable message on June 24th that we no longer wanted to continue a destructive relationship with a superintendent that has caused far more harm than good.

Janet is still occupying the back room, making excessive noise, leaving dishes in the sink, and generally stinking up the place. It is time for her to pack her bags, load the U-Haul, and move out! The sooner the better.

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